End Head Start, School Lunch Programs to Cut Deficit? Federal Report Probes Options

End Head Start, School Lunch Programs to Cut Deficit? Federal Report Probes Options

Education Week logoCapitol Hill’s budget arm says that among the many options federal lawmakers have for cutting the budget deficit, they could consider eliminating Head Start and federally supported school meal programs.

The Congressional Budget Office’s “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028” is the latest in a series of reports the office releases to help lawmakers consider options for reducing the federal deficit, which in fiscal 2018 stood at $778 billion, or 3.8 percent of gross domestic product. There are a total of 121 possibilities the CBO lists for reducing the deficit, and there are a few programs listed that education policy advocates and observers might be interested in. The report also explores changes to Pell Grants and certain loan forgiveness programs available to teachers.

Keep in mind that this report from the CBO doesn’t require or place any burden on Congress to do anything—the office is just listing options for lawmakers to consider. Also: The CBO isn’t explicitly endorsing any of these options.

Child Nutrition Programs

Instead of the current funding and structure provided to school meal programs, the CBO outlines an approach familiar to many who deal with education policy and politics: block grants.

“This option would convert SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps] and the child nutrition programs to separate, smaller block grants to the states beginning in October 2019. The block grants would provide a set amount of funding to states each year, and states would be allowed to make significant changes to the structure of the programs,” the report states.

The budget analysts say this approach would reduce total spending on child nutrition programs by $88 billion, while savings for SNAP would be $160 million over the same time period. Spending on child nutrition programs like school lunch totaled $23 billion in fiscal 2018…

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Democrats Want Government Watchdog to Sniff Around Virtual Charter Schools

Democrats Want Government Watchdog to Sniff Around Virtual Charter Schools

Education Week logoTwo Democratic senators have asked the Government Accountability Office to look into how full-time virtual charter schools work and their results.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, expressed concerns about the virtual charters’ student-teacher ratios, students’ performance compared to their peers in traditional public schools, and their transparency when it comes to issues like executive pay and advertising.

“Accountability models, funding formulas, and attendance policies were created for brick-and-mortar schools, and yet, state funding and accountability policies have not kept pace with the growth of virtual charter schools,” Brown and Murray wrote to the agency.

Virtual charters have been going through a very difficult stretch. There’s intense skepticism about their performance and management practices. In Brown’s own state of Ohio, for example, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow disintegrated after a lengthy court battle over its claims about student enrollment. (Brown and Murray mentioned the ECOT fallout in their letter). Cyber charters in states like Georgia and New Mexico have also struggled to stay open.

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Education Department Gets Small Funding Hike

Education Department Gets Small Funding Hike

Education Week logoDespite past pledges to shrink or eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, the spending bill that President Donald Trump signed into law provides a small boost to the department’s budget for this fiscal year.

The increase of $581 million for fiscal 2019 brings the Education Department budget to roughly $71.5 billion. It’s the second year in a row Trump has agreed to boost federal education spending—last March, Trump approved spending levels that increased the budget by $2.6 billion for fiscal 2018.

The spending deal for fiscal 2019, signed late last month, includes relatively small increases for Title I (the main federal education program for disadvantaged students), special education, charter schools, career and technical education, and other programs. Although fiscal 2019 began on Oct. 1, the agreement mostly impacts the 2019-20 school year.

In addition to Education Department programs, funding for Head Start—which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services—now stands at $10.1 billion, a $240 million increase from fiscal 2018. And Preschool Development Grants, also run by HHS, are level-funded at $250 million.

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Puerto Rico’s High Court Clears Way for Vouchers, Charter Schools

Puerto Rico’s High Court Clears Way for Vouchers, Charter Schools

Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court has dismissed a legal challenge to the U.S. territory’s plans to allow charter schools and vouchers, spelling a potential end to one of the biggest controversies about the island’s education system since two major hurricanes hit the island last year.

Earlier this year, the island’s government approved a plan to create “alianza” schools, which are intended to be like charter schools, as well as a “free school” selection program similar to vouchers. The legislation creating both, signed by Puerto Rico’s governor and backed by Secretary of Education Julia Keleher, would create restraints on both programs: In the first year of the voucher-like program, for example, the number of students would be capped at 3 percent of total student enrollment, and then at 5 percent in the second year. Keleher said the programs would help the island’s educational system better meet students’ needs and help transform a long-struggling system.

However, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the island’s teachers’ union that represents nearly 30,000 active teachers, sued to stop the vouchers and charters in April.

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Trump’s Move to Pull Obama-Era Diversity Guidance for Schools Angers Democrats

Trump’s Move to Pull Obama-Era Diversity Guidance for Schools Angers Democrats

More than a month after the Trump administration withdrew guidance designed to encourage racial diversity in the nation’s public schools, Senate Democrats have rebuked the decision, saying it will lead to confusion in schools as well as at institutes of higher education and restrict opportunities for historically disadvantaged students.

In an Aug. 6 letter to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, which formally revoked the Obama-era guidance in early July, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee, also demanded to know how the decision to revoke the guidance was reached. The two senators also asked for a list of complaints of discrimination based on race and ethnicity filed against K-12 and postsecondary institutions with the Education Department’s office for civil rights since the start of 2016.

In their joint letter withdrawing the guidance, the Trump Education and Justice Departments told schools that the Obama administration’s guidance advocated for “policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution” and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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School Integration Advocates Highlight Wins and Losses, Possible Capitol Hill Action

School Integration Advocates Highlight Wins and Losses, Possible Capitol Hill Action

Education Week logoResearchers and advocates who support school integration had a message on Capitol Hill Thursday: There are several setbacks to creating integrated schools, but new opportunities as well.

In a panel discussion on integration here hosted by the National Coalition for School Diversity, they highlighted the downside of what they characterized as the Trump administration’s recent U-turn on diversity efforts, court rulings that have undermined local desegregation efforts, as well as what they said was the resegregation of America’s schools.

But they also highlighted additional funding for the office for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as efforts in Congress to remove barriers to integration efforts.

Action on Capitol Hill to promote integration includes House and Senate education appropriations bills for fiscal 2019 that for the first time since the 1970s removes language barring federal funding from being used for transportation to create more integrated schools.

In addition, Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., plans to introduce legislation after the House August recess that removes a prohibition on using federal education aid for this purpose that’s currently part of the federal General Education Provisions Act.

“The threats that we’re facing right now … are not the same threats as the massive resistance of the 1960s. They are shape-shifting,” said Damon Hewitt, the executive director of the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, who moderated the panel. “They threaten to erase the dream of [Brown v. Board of Education].”

The Obama administration put diversity and integration center stage in education policy debates, especially during the latter stages of Barack Obama’s presidency. Then-Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said schools that are diverse and socioeconomically integrated can be education powerhouses. And in late 2016, the Obama administration announced a $12 million grant competition to help schools boost diversity.

However, the Trump administration has a very different approach to these issues. It scrapped that $12 million grant program, for example. And more recently, the Trump Education and Justice Departments withdrew Obama-era guidance on racial diversity in education because they said it went beyond what the Constitution requires—advocates at the panel singled out that move in particular for criticism.

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How Do Districts Plan to Use Their ESSA Block Grant Money?

How Do Districts Plan to Use Their ESSA Block Grant Money?

Education Week logoMany districts are about to get a big boost in funding for the most flexible piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, better known as Title IV of the law. The program just got a big, $700 million boost from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018, bringing its total funding to $1.1 billion. And it could get even more money next year, because the House appropriations subcommittee in control of federal education spending is seeking $1.2 billion for the program in new legislation.

Districts can use Title IV funding for a wide range of activities that help students become safer and healthier, more well-rounded, or make better use of technology. And districts have a lot of leeway to customize Title IV to their needs. However, districts that get $30,000 or more must do a needs assessment, and spend at least 20 percent on an activity that makes students safer, and 20 percent on something that makes kids more well-rounded.

So how do districts plan to spend the money? Three education groups—AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, and Whiteboard Advisors—surveyed districts to find out. Since May, 622 districts have responded to the survey…

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Want more on Title IV? Check out this explainer. And if you want to dive even deeper, check out an archived version of this webinar.

House Votes to Cut Children’s Health Insurance Funding as Advocates Keep Watch

House Votes to Cut Children’s Health Insurance Funding as Advocates Keep Watch

Education Week logoLast week, the House of Representatives voted to approve a package revoking about $7 billion in funding reserved for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The decision hasn’t gone over well in the children’s advocacy community. But what’s next for this controversial proposal?

First, some background: The House vote last week dealt with a $15 billion “rescissions” package proposed earlier this year by President Donald Trump. The Trump team is seeking to slash the government’s bottom line—even though Trump signed a big spending increase into law for fiscal 2018. Most of the cuts would come from unspent federal funds.

Nearly half of that rescissions package, part of a bill that the House passed 210-206, comes from CHIP, which provides health care to kids from low-income families. As we reported earlier this year, $5.1 billion of the rescission would come out of a part of CHIP that reimburses states for certain expenses. Roughly $2 billion would be cut from CHIP reserves, which help states deal with higher-than-expected enrollment in the program. The Trump team has argued this unspent money is no longer needed. The rescissions would not impact current payments to states.

But when the Republican-controlled House moved to approve the rescission package, including the CHIP cut, opponents of the Trump administration’s move re-upped their previous criticisms of the proposal.

After House passage of the rescissions bill, Child Health USA, an initiative started by the child advocacy group First Focus, published a series of tweets blasting the vote:

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DeVos: It Would Be a ‘Terrible Mistake’ for States Not to Expand School Choice

DeVos: It Would Be a ‘Terrible Mistake’ for States Not to Expand School Choice

Education Week logoU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used a speech at the American Federation for Children’s national summit in Indianapolis on Monday to rally states behind the cause of expanding school choice, even though the Trump administration won’t force them to do so.

In the speech before the school choice advocacy group that DeVos used to lead, the education secretary said President Donald Trump soon will propose “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.”

She didn’t provide any details on how those choice programs would work as the Trump administration prepares to release its fiscal 2018 budget. But DeVos did say that while Washington won’t force states into expanding choice programs and will leave states a lot of flexibility, those states that decline to do so will be held accountable by their constituents.

“If a state doesn’t want to participate, that would be a terrible mistake on their part,” DeVos said. “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids…”

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DeVos Defends Civil Rights Record

DeVos Defends Civil Rights Record

Education Week logoHouse Democrats and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sparred over civil rights, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and teachers’ salaries at a hearing Tuesday, but lawmakers from both parties largely avoided controversial questions about school safety in the aftermath of a Texas high school shooting last week that left 10 students and staff dead.

Appearing before the House education committee, DeVos emphasized that the federal school safety commission she leads is working quickly, and that its ultimate goal is to ensure that schools “have the tools to be able to make the right decisions to protect their own buildings and their own communities.”

She said the commission was developing a timeline for its work, but also said that she planned to have the commission report its findings by year’s end. 

“We are looking forward to [hearing from] every interest group, every constituency, particularly teachers, parents, and law enforcement and school leadership,” DeVos told lawmakers, later adding that, “We seek to look at models across the country.”

The commission has only met once since it was created in March after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., although the secretary met last week with school safety researchers, as well as parents of children killed in school shootings. Its other members are Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. DeVos previously has said that schools should be able to decide if they want to provide staff with firearms to improve safety, but did not share detailed personal opinions on school safety in general with the committee…

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Source: Education Week Politics K-12. May require Education Week subscription.