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Under her guidance, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice rescinded guidelines that allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.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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Researchers 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.
“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].”
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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After serving in the Navy, a San Diego veteran borrowed $50,000 from the federal government to attend a for-profit college that promised to deliver him a good, well-paying job, U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) told Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week.
But all he has now is $50,000 in student debt. “Should there be recourse for students like him who were enrolled under false pretenses?” Davis asked.
Advocates for students, including NEA leaders, say yes. But that Navy vet isn’t likely to find much support in the DeVos-led Department of Education, which has given the for-profit college industry “everything they’ve lobbied for and more,” Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), an advocate for stronger regulation, told Politico last month.
Reduced loan forgiveness for students who were defrauded by their for-profit colleges, like Yvette Colon, who told Time that she borrowed $35,000 to get a certificate in cardiovascular sonography from Stanford-Brown Institute, only to find out that the for-profit college lacked the accreditation for her to take the licensing exam or transfer her credits to a community college. Stanford-Brown has since been shut down. “This school has totally messed up my life,” Colon told Time. “I can’t do anything. I can’t continue my education. I can’t continue to go forward in my career.”
Hobbled the DOE office charged with investigating for-profit college abuses. The office, which was created in 2016 and included more than a dozen investigators, has been reduced to three people, the New York Times reports. This means several investigations into the nation’s largest for-profits have been abandoned, the Times reported. At the same time, the new investigations supervisor is Julian Schmoke, former dean at the for-profit DeVry University. “Secretary DeVos has has filled the department with for-profit college hacks who only care about making sham schools rich and shutting down investigations into fraud,” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told the Times…
U.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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By Dr. Harry L. Williams, (President and CEO, Thurgood Marshall College Fund)
Dr. Harry L. Williams, the president and CEO of TMCF, says that engagement with Republicans and the Trump Administration is working for the HBCU community.
A few months ago, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) was proud to welcome the presidents and chancellors from 30 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) to Washington, D.C. for the second annual HBCU Fly-In held in conjunction with the leadership of Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Representative Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who are both members of the very important, bipartisan HBCU Caucus.
My experience as a former HBCU president and now leader of TMCF, working on behalf of our 47 publicly-supported HBCUs, gives me a broad perspective on the federal government’s partnership with HBCUs, as delivered through this event’s multiple listening sessions and direct engagement opportunities with members of Congress and senior leadership within the Trump Administration.
Thanks to the commitment of dozens of our HBCU presidents and chancellors who attended our inaugural convening and this year’s fly-in, we’re beginning to see major developments from several federal agencies looking to increase support for HBCUs and to create more opportunities for our scholars.
Thanks to our collective advocacy, several HBCUs that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 received total forgiveness of outstanding loans awarded for the restoration of their campuses in the hurricane’s aftermath. Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard University, Xavier University, and Tougaloo College are free of their repayment obligations on more than $300 million in federal loans, because of direct engagement with and action from this administration and congressional leadership on issues of critical importance to our HBCU’s, like this one.
Perhaps the most significant indicator of our growing partnership has been the achievement of level funding in the President’s FY’ 2019 budget proposal and within the recent Omnibus Appropriations Bills. For example, the FY’ 2018 Omnibus Appropriations bill had major wins for HBCUs:
Pell Grant Maximum Award
FY’17 Funding Level: $5,920 (per student)
FY’18 Funding Level: $6,095 (+$175/increase of 2.96 percent)
Title III, Part B and F, Strengthening HBCUs Undergraduate Programs
FY’17 Funding Level: $244.6 million
FY’18 Funding Level: $279.6 million (+$34 million/increase of 14.3 percent)
Title III, Part B, Strengthening HBCUs Graduate Programs
FY’17 Funding Level: $63.2 million
FY’18 Funding Level: $72.3 million (+$9 million/increase of 14.3 percent)
Title III, Part A, Strengthening PBI Program
FY’17 Funding Level: $9.9 million
FY’18 Funding Level: $11.3 million (+$1.4 million/increase of 14.3 percent)
Title VII, Master’s Degree Program at HBCUs and PBIs
FY’17 Funding Level: $7.5 million
FY’18 Funding Level: $8.5million (+$1 million/increase of 14.3 percent)
We are cognizant that many lawmakers in the majority in Congress favor fiscal austerity to address budgetary issues, but in a legislative environment dominated by talks of budget cuts, critical HBCU funding lines were increased, which is a demonstrable return on our collective investment in bipartisan engagement.
Indeed, TMCF’s decision not to resist, but instead engage in a strategic way and bipartisan fashion on behalf of our nearly 300,000 HBCU students who need a voice in Congress and with the Trump Administration has borne fruit at many levels. I am optimistic that many of our presidents and chancellors departed the nation’s capital with a clearer sense of the propriety of this strategy given our mutual goals, and now having the benefit to witness the rewards of this advocacy effort. TMCF will not stop engaging with all of our federal partners, because bipartisan advocacy with the Congress and engagement with the Trump Administration is paying dividends for our nation’s HBCUs.
Dr. Harry L. Williams is the president & CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. Prior to joining TMCF, he spent eight years as president of Delaware State University. Follow him on Twitter at @DrHLWilliams.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is headed back to the Hill.
On Tuesday morning, DeVos will pitch the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget plan for the Department of Education to the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal money for K-12. It’s a safe bet that DeVos’ public appearance before lawmakers will draw a crowd, given the hub-bub over her “60 Minutes” interview a week ago.
So what else can we expect besides the hot glare of the spotlight? Be sure to watch these three elements of the hearing:
1) Cuts Have Come Back
What’s changed between last year’s Trump budget request for education and this year’s? Aside from the total amount desired for the Education Department, not a ton. A lot was made last year about the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 request to cut over $9 billion from the department, or about 13.5 percent. This year, the Trump team wants to cut 5 percent from DeVos’ department.
Like last year, the budget plan also proposes expanding school choice. This time around, there’s a $1 billion pot pitched for public and private school choice, although the divisions between those two aren’t as clear as they were in the fiscal 2018 budget. Like last year, DeVos also wants to eliminate both Title II, which covers professional development for educators, as well as Title IV, which covers a variety of programs like ed-tech, counseling services, and Advanced Placement course fees. Right now Title II gets about $2 billion, and Title IV gets $400 million…
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Senate education committee Democrats used the confirmation hearing of two top U.S. Department of Education nominees to make their case against the Trump administration’s favorite K-12 policy: School choice.
Both contenders have long records in pushing for charters, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and other types of school choice programs. Mick Zais, who has been tapped for deputy secretary of education, the No. 2 post at the agency, helped create a tax-credit scholarship for students in special education when he was the state chief in South Carolina.
And Jim Blew, who has been tapped as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, spent nearly a decade as the Walton Family Foundation’s director of K-12 reform, advising the foundation on how to broaden schooling options for low-income communities.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel, kicked off the hearing by saying that she finds it “troubling” that Zais shares Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ views on “privatization.” And she told Blew that his “record of promoting school vouchers gives me pause that you will not stand up for students and public schools.”
Senator after senator on the Democratic side of the dais echoed those concerns.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for instance, asked Zais if he was aware that the research on the efficacy of school choice is “abysmal.” Zais said, in his experience, broadening educational options improves student outcomes. But he agreed with Franken that the evidence for that is “anecdotal…”
President Donald Trump has proposed getting rid of the Title II program, which has been around for more than a decade and aims to help districts and states pay for teacher and principal development, reduce class-size, craft new evaluation systems, and more.
The program, which is officially called the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant prorgram, or Title II, Part A, is the third largest in the U.S. Department of Education’s budget that goes to K-12 education. Eliminating it would be a really big deal, state, district, and school officials say. Zeroing out Title II could hamper implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lead to teacher layoffs, and make it tougher for educators to reach special populations of students, or use technology in their classrooms.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a video interview that it should be up to states and districts to decide how frequently to test their students.
“It’s really a matter for states and locales to determine how much testing is actually necessary for measuring what students are learning,” DeVos said Friday. “I think it’s important to know and understand, however, what they are learning, and it’s important for parents to have that information, so that they can be assured that their students are in the right place. … Testing is an important part of the equation, but I think it’s really a matter for the states to wrestle with, to decide how and how frequently the testing is actually done.”
Her answer came in response to a question from WFTV Florida’s Martie Salt, who asked DeVos how much testing is enough and what should change about testing…