Despite 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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The office of nonpublic education, which was previously part of the soon-to-be-defunct office of innovation and improvement, will now report directly to the office of the secretary. DeVos is a longtime advocate for vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and other forms of private school choice.
That move and other reorganization changes were first reported by Politico.
DeVos is also planning to move the department’s budget office, which she has reportedly sought to eliminate, into a new office of finance and operations. That office’s other jobs will include finance, accounting, budgets, contract management, personnel, business data analysis and more.
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U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who is in a fierce race for the Senate, has hit his opponent, Republican Sen.Ted Cruz, for wanting to take money away from public schools, and for being the “deciding vote” in favor of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation.
“At a time when nearly half of the school teachers in Texas are working a second job just to make ends meet, Ted Cruz wants to take our public tax dollars out of their classrooms, turn them into vouchers,” O’Rourke says in a new campaign ad. “He was the deciding vote in putting Betsy DeVos in charge of our children’s public education. I want to pay teachers a living wage. I want to allow them to teach to the child, and not to the test. And when they retire, I want it to be a retirement of dignity. Those public educators have been there for us. Now it’s time to be there for them.”
It’s true that Cruz has been a big proponent of private school vouchers. And he was the author of a provision in the new tax law that allows families to use 529 college-savings plans for K-12 private schools.
“There are so many active-duty military families today who are making decisions about how they advance within the military, or where they are going to live… based on educational opportunities for their children,” Secretary DeVos recently said in a conversation with Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation. “I think we have the opportunity to change the dynamic for them.”
Maddie Shick is from one such family – and, despite being a bright student, she faces challenges that accompany a military-connected lifestyle. A self-proclaimed “professional new girl,” Maddie is now a sophomore at Robinson High School in Tampa, Florida.
Her formal education began in Georgia, but she’s learned across the country and around the world – even moving to Germany, where her father was deployed, for a year.
She’s attended a dozen different schools since preschool – and some of them have provided her with strong opportunities to learn and grow. As a middle school student in Columbus, Georgia, Maddie joined the drama club and performed in West Side Story. The school taught an International Baccalaureate curriculum.
The following year, the family moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where Maddie had the opportunity to cross-country ski at school. She also joined the wrestling team – and she fell in love with the sport. “Girls can wrestle, too,” Maddie said.
But in Fairbanks, Maddie had to put her love of acting on hold: the school didn’t offer drama, and her family couldn’t find an active children’s theater group in the area.
And when the family next moved to Tampa, Florida, Maddie had to abandon her love of wrestling, too: when she switched schools within the district, she was disqualified from wrestling with her new team.
Maddie took advantage of the opportunity to explore new activities as she moved from school to school – but that also meant giving up ones that she’d once loved.
“There’s good and bad to all these schools,” Maddie said, “But the really bad part is that I don’t ever get to stay long enough to benefit from any one type of school.”
Military-connected students are often required to compromise – on top of the traditional pressures of maintaining good grades, preparing for tests, working, volunteering, and planning for life beyond high school.
Maddie with her family.
“Moving and starting over every two years makes all these pressures worse,” Maddie said. “Now, imagine you have to focus on all these things at three different schools, in three different states, in a four year period. It’s tough.”
Military-connected families deserve the opportunity to attend schools that work for them. They deserve – as the Secretary said – the flexibility to “customize their child’s education.”
That’s why the Secretary has called on all of America to fundamentally rethink school, including asking questions that were once considered “non-negotiable” or too difficult to answer. For example, students like Maddie are often required to fall in line with the pace of a new school – even if she’s ahead of her classmates.
“I was in gifted education for most of elementary school, but when we moved to Alaska I did not qualify for their program,” said Maddie. “Now, I don’t want to even try for gifted programs because I am tired of repeating all the testing every two years and most of the gifted programs are limited anyway.”
Military-connected students and all students should have options – perhaps attending a traditional public school for some classes, and attending an online or charter school for others. Rethinking school means that students, like Maddie, to whom “learning comes easy,” can advance quickly in subject areas that interest them.
“We do live an adventure,” Maddie said. “But some parts are really hard. School is one of them.”
Maddie deserves high-quality opportunities. She deserves the freedom to pursue subjects that interest and challenge her, in an environment that meets her needs.
All students, including those in military-connected families, should be free to learn, grow and thrive.
Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances.Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.
After the unveil of explosive reportswhereU.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, openly considered allowing schools to use federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) funding, to purchase firearms and provide firearm training to educators, members of theLeadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (TLC) have stepped in with an open letterto the same administrator—in protest.
Comprised of over 200 national organizations working together to promote and protect civil and human rights of all people, the open TLC letter was released on Sep. 17, demanding that “the department immediately publicly clarify, that ESSA funds could not be used for weapons.”
“On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights… we write to share our significant concern regarding the Department’s reported contemplation of the use of Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants provided to states under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for purchasing firearms and firearms training for school staff,” the letter stated.
Questioning the department’s intent, the letter further went on to the explore the risks of increased violence that this option could potentially cause.
“The Department’s consideration of this use for the funding is inconsistent with both congressional intent and evidence-based educational practices, working against ESSA’s purpose to ‘provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close achievement gaps.’ Having more firearms in schools would expose children and school staff to a greater risk of gun violence and make everyone in schools less safe,” the letter continued.
Inher letter to Congress, DeVos stated that she would not take “any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff,” however, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and a member of TLC, reflected that an ‘option’ such as this, should have never even been presented.
“This is whole idea is just lousy and makes no sense,” Morial said. “ESSA money should be used to by books and give disadvantaged youth a chance at better education. African Americans already face large amounts of gun violence outside of school, so to even propose such an idea is an added insult to injury.”
“School should be a safe haven for students and there is not one scant of evidence that shows children are safer around guns. The National Urban League does not want or support this,” Morial continued.
“We simply cannot afford to use federal education dollars that are intended for teaching and learning to pay for weapons that will compromise our schools and communities,” New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia wrote.
In a report done by CNN, Black Americans (particularly males), were shown to be more likely to die and to be involved with gun violence over their White counterparts, a startling statistic that the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), an legal organization devoted to fighting for racial justice,fears might spill into the classroom, should states actively pursue such an option.
“We need the department of education to immediately and publicly clarify, that ESSA funds cannot be used for weapons,” Nicole Dooley, a LDF general counsel member said. “The only thing that this option will do is place more students at risk, especially African Americans, who experience implicit bias daily. The purpose of ESSA is to improve educational opportunities, not to create more dangerous practices.”
Before she was even sworn in as Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos emerged as one of the most controversial members of the Trump Administration. Her confirmation required a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence after every Senate Democrat and two Senate Republicans voted against her. In the months since, like many others in the Trump Administration, DeVos has set about rolling back Obama-era policies, from Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault to regulations on for-profit colleges. She quickly found support from conservatives who had backed her previous work as a school choice advocate, but she struggled to build broad national support for her initiatives. DeVos, a prominent Republican donor, faced criticism from Democrats, teachers’ unions and civil rights advocates, many of whom noted that she did not have a background as an educator.
It would be an understatement to suggest that DeVos’ first year alone has sparked a number of controversies, some of which include:
In September (2017), DeVos rolled back controversial Obama-era guidance on how universities should handle sexual assault complaints on campus. The 2011 guidelines had instructed universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when adjudicating sexual assault complaints instead of the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which requires a higher burden of proof and was used by some schools at the time.
DeVos stoked further controversy when she held meetings on campus sexual assault in July (2017), speaking with victims of sexual assault as well as students who say they’ve been falsely accused. Coupled with the acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights assertion that 90% of sexual assault complaints “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.’
Under her guidance, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice rescinded guidelines that allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.
In June (2017), an internal memo indicated that the department was scaling back investigations into civil rights violations at public schools and universities. In the two months that followed, the department also closed or dismissed more civil rights complaints than previous administrations had in similar periods of time.
DeVos has also led efforts that blocked the Obama Administration’s protections for students attending for-profit colleges. The regulations would have provided debt forgiveness to students defrauded by for-profit colleges and would have cut off funding to for-profit colleges that burdened students with loans while failing to prepare them for gainful employment.
Let’s fast-forward to now. DeVos is once again making waves and headlines as she ponders whether to allow grants from the academic support fund to be used for a highly controversial purpose: guns. The $1 billion Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants is intended for the country’s poorest schools and school districts to use the money toward three goals: providing well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning and improving the use of technology for digital literacy.
Given the fact that the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in 2015, is silent on weapons purchases, that omission would allow Ms. DeVos to use her discretion to approve or deny any state or district plans to use the enrichment grants under the measure for firearms and firearms training.
In addition, such a move would reverse a longstanding position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weaponry. It would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns.
DeVos is clearly an anomaly, who is ill prepared for the job. She is the first education secretary in the department’s 35-year history to not have been a public-school parent or student. DeVos attended private institutions for both grade school and college, and her four children were educated at private schools, too.
In my view, Betsy DeVos is unqualified, clearly unfit, and obviously too conflicted to serve as the U.S. Education Secretary and who, for all intents and purposes—appears bent on taking down the very institution she’s entrusted with.
In an Aug. 6letter 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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WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Education today announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes to rescind Gainful Employment (GE) regulations in order to provide useful, transparent higher education data to students and treat all institutions of higher education fairly.
“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”
The Department continues to believe that data such as debt levels, expected earnings after graduation, completion rates, program cost, accreditation, and consistency with licensure requirements are important to consumers, but not just those students who are considering enrolling in a gainful employment program. Therefore, in the NPRM the Department invites public comment concerning whether or not the Department should require institutions to disclose, on the program webpage, information about the program size, its completion rate, its cost, whether or not it is accredited, and whether the program meets the requirements for licensure in the State in which the institution is located.
In addition, to provide prospective students with important, actionable, and accurate information that could be used in college enrollment and borrowing decisions, the Department plans to update the College Scorecard or a similar web-based tool to provide program-level outcomes including, at a minimum, median debt and median earnings for all higher education programs, at all title IV participating institutions. The Department believes that this will improve transparency by providing comparable information for all programs and helping students understand what earnings they might expect based on those of prior graduates. This would also increase accountability of institutions by making it more difficult for institutions to misrepresent program outcomes, such as the earnings of prior graduates, since prospective students would have access to accurate data provided by the Secretary of Education.
The 30-day public comment period for these proposed regulations will begin once published in the Federal Register. In the interim, an unofficial version of the proposed rule can be found here.
Educators’ fear of overstepping federal student privacy laws can make it tougher for law enforcement and schools to share information that could prevent a potential school shooting, advocates told President Donald Trump’s School Safety Commission at the panel’s latest hearing, held in Washington on Thursday.
Clarence Cox III, the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers, told the commission that fear of overstepping privacy laws can be impediment to information sharing.
“For law enforcement, this is one of the greatest hindrances facing intelligence gathering,” he said.
And Francisco Negrón, the chief legal officer at the National School Boards Association, argued that local districts would benefit from being able to use their discretion in deciding when to share information.
“Collaboration and communication with local law enforcement agencies is an essential part of these efforts. That is why school boards would benefit from eliminating barriers that hinder the collaboration of agencies providing services to children,” Negrón said.
He added that: “Local educators know and care about their students and their school communities. They know the school climate, community concerns, the history of student interactions, and their needs. They are in a unique position to share information when necessary to maintain a safe school environment.”
The panel has heard in the past from student privacy rights experts, but none spoke at Thursday’s hearing.
The commission, chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, was created in response to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. thursday’s hearing was one of the rare meetings that involved all four members of the commission: DeVos; Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services; Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security; and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. This hearing, which focused on “proactively protecting students,” was organized by the Justice Department.
Sessions seemed sympathetic to the idea that the feds could tweak—or at least clarify—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act—so that educators and law enforcement don’t have to worry about collaborating to head off a possible violent incident. Sessions said the 2004 approval of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gave more discretion to educators in helping students in special education. He thinks that might the right strategy for FERPA.
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The creation of a Department of Education and the Workforce, which the administration proposed June 21, aims to help the nation’s schools catch up to counterparts in other countries that handle both issues in one agency, including some that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited on a recent swing through Europe.
“I saw such approaches during my first international trip as the U.S. secretary of education to schools in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom,” DeVos wrote in an Education Week commentary that appears in this issue. “Each country takes a holistic approach to education to prepare students for career and life success…”
But congressional Democrats overwhelmingly panned the proposal, which would almost certainly need their votes to pass. Republicans said the idea is worthy of consideration but haven’t introduced legislation to make it a reality.