Read here for brief updates on policy developments affecting music education around the United States. These news items are compiled periodically by Lynn Tuttle, NAfME Director of Content and Policy, and include federal, state, and local items that may be of interest to music educators.
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Federal Education News
Education advocates say President Donald Trump’s budget contradicts his campaign pledge to make college more affordable with its proposed elimination of subsidized student loans and cuts in other programs that help students pay tuition.
The 2018 budget, unveiled Tuesday, slashes funding for the Education Department by 13.5 percent.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that it “reflects a series of tough choices we have had to make when assessing the best use of taxpayer money. It ensures funding for programs with proven results for students while taking a hard look at programs that sound nice but simply haven’t yielded the desired outcomes.”
The head of the Education Department’s student financial aid office resigned Tuesday night over what he said were simmering management problems at the agency that culminated in a dispute with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her insistence he testify before a congressional oversight panel.
James Runcie, chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, submitted his resignation at about 10:30 p.m., suggesting in a memo to colleagues that his office had been micromanaged by political appointees and was being stretched too thin.
I am incredibly concerned about significant constraints being placed on our ability to allocate and prioritize resources, make decisions and deliver on the organization’s mission,” Runcie wrote in the memo that was obtained by POLITICO. He added that he was “encumbered from exercising my authorities to properly lead this great organization” and that he could not continue as chief “given the risk associated with the current environment at the Department.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised Monday night that the Trump administration would propose “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history,” but said that states, rather than Washington, D.C., would make the decisions.
“When it comes to education, no solution, not even ones we like, should be dictated or run from Washington, D.C.,” she said.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been pushing the expansion of school choice — alternatives to traditional public schools — for decades. You could say she has been playing a long game.
DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who has publicly called traditional public education a “dead end,” says all parents should have educational choices for their children. Her critics argue that she has been trying to privatize public education, with her advocacy efforts having begun in Michigan and then moving to other states.
Why this spate of bills and initiatives in Congress that address quality and accreditation during just the past few weeks? Because quality and value in higher education command the attention of the federal government. And, because accreditation has been, for a century now, the primary means of assuring this quality and value in colleges and universities. Eighty-five different organizations examine thousands of institutions and programs every year.
What do all these bills have in common? They continue the march to more and more regulation of accreditation and higher education that began with the George W. Bush administration and accelerated throughout the Obama Administration. Whether the Trump administration will join the march is still an unknown.
This animated chart — called a connected scatter plot — tracks the fortunes of workers with and without college education. Starting in 2000, it follows what most of us already know anecdotally and instinctively — that more educated workers saw a smaller surge in unemployment during the 2008-2009 recession, and more rapid wage growth afterward. Joblessness hit less-educated workers much harder, and their wages have taken longer to recover.
President Trump’s proposed cuts to the federal education budget have elicited the usual howls of dismay and condemnation from the education establishment. Yet, drill down into the actual cuts and there are a lot of good reasons to put these programs on the chopping block.
Take, for example, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program, which established before- and after-school programs, plus summer programs, aimed at improving student academic outcomes. President Trump’s budget eliminates this $1.2 billion program. In response, liberal defenders of federal government education spending went nuts.
The Trump administration has some ambitious goals that include trillions in tax cuts, a significant military buildup and a fresh investment in infrastructure.
The White House released details of how it plans to pay for it all in its full budget request for fiscal year 2018: by slashing spending on pretty much everything else, but also by boosting economic growth enough to generate more than $2 trillion in new revenue over a decade.
What the president’s team is failing to consider is that many of its spending cuts, such as reduced investment in welfare and education, will actually impede the administration’s ability to achieve its target growth rate of 3 percent, up from about 2 percent today.
DeVos: Federal involvement in school choice works for D.C.
By Caitlin Emma
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said this morning that federal involvement in school choice policies has created valuable opportunities for D.C. students. DeVos appeared to be referring to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded voucher program in the country. “The reality in the District of Columbia is that the federal government is involved — and has to be —because of the nature of the district,” she said in response to a question about how she would respond to conservatives who argue the federal government should stay out of school choice. “I think the choices that have grown up and been afforded to families here are very, very strong and encouraging.”
She added, “I think there’s continued room for more choices and improvements across the board, but I’m very encouraged by the variety of choices that the families within the District of Columbia have today and the opportunities they’ll have tomorrow with a continued robust environment of choices.”
Some conservative think tanks like The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute support school choice but don’t embrace the choice provisions in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal because of concerns they would expand the federal footprint in education.
DeVos made the comments while visiting Eagle Academy Public Charter School.
The federal judge overseeing a legal battle involving the Education Department’s debt collection contracts on Wednesday chastised Trump administration attorneys for failing to notify the court about the resignation of the top department official responsible for student financial aid and other “relevant developments.” U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge Susan G. Braden cited last week’s resignation of James Runcie as one of several reasons for extending her order prohibiting the department from assigning any defaulted student loans to its existing debt collection firms. Braden said she wants to maintain the “status quo” as she considers the merits of lawsuits filed by companies that lost out on a round of new debt collection contracts awarded in December.
Education journalists from around the country will gather in Washington this week for the 70th annual National Education Writers national seminar. The event, which starts Wednesday on the campus of Georgetown University, unfolds as beat writers cover a new era in education policy under President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ahead of the conference, the association announced that DeVos declined the group’s invitation to speak. Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman, said the event didn’t work out with her schedule this year. The decline comes as association leaders have approached the Education Department about journalists obtaining better access to DeVos and information out of the department, says Caroline Hendrie, the executive director of EWA. Here, Hendrie talks about the conference and covering the Education Department in an interview with POLITICO.
State Education News
Gov. Bruce Rauner said Thursday that he would not sign an education funding reform bill that passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly Wednesday night just before the regular legislative session ended. But Senate Democrats say they’re waiting for “cooler heads to prevail” and filed a procedural hold on the bill — preventing a 30-day clock from starting on having to deliver the bill to his desk. The bill would add close to $300 million in additional state funding for the Chicago Public Schools, and potentially more in subsequent years. And it would, for the first time in the history of the state ranked last nationally in funding schools, send any new education money first to districts most in need. “In its current form, absolutely not,” Rauner told the Chicago Sun-Times when asked if he would sign it. “The amendment on there really amounts to an unfair-to-Illinois-taxpayers bailout of CPS.” John Patterson, spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, said the bill’s hold is meant to give the governor time “to recognize that we’re delivering a win to his desk.”
Angel Vazquez is 9 years old, has hearing loss in both ears, has trouble speaking and struggles to concentrate in class. He’s a year behind in school, just learned how to read and is still learning English. For nearly two years, his mom, Angeles Garcia, tried to get him evaluated for special education at his elementary school in Houston. Garcia sent the school three letters, pleading for an assessment. She even included medical documents describing some of his disabilities, but she says the school ignored her. When a response finally came, officials at the Houston school district told Garcia that Angel would have to wait another year to be evaluated because he’d emigrated from Mexico and needed time to assimilate. According to federal law, that’s no excuse. To make matters worse, the school communicated with Garcia using letters written in English, not her native language, Spanish.
The Nevada Senate approved an education budget that leaves out funding for the Education Savings Account program in a dramatic afternoon Thursday in Carson City. The K-12 budget bill passed with only Democratic caucus members present after Republican lawmakers left the building during a recess and did not return for the vote. Democratic senators also passed two other budget bills during the Republicans’ absence. In a joint statement following the vote, the leaders of the two chamber majorities said they wanted to reach a bipartisan compromise on the ESA program, but Republicans had “undermined” discussions. “We continue to have deep concerns about how diverting public money to subsidize wealthy families would weaken our education system and threaten our children’s future,” read the statement from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford.
A draft document outlining how schools should treat transgender students is drawing criticism from advocacy groups. Representatives of the Minnesota Family Council and other groups held a news conference in front of the Minnesota Department of Education on Thursday to object to a “transgender toolkit” the department is developing. The toolkit cites a 2016 federal letter on transgender issues saying students must be able to use restrooms and other facilities in accordance with their gender identities. The draft document also offers best practices on dealing with gender pronouns in student records and accommodating students on field trips and in dress codes. The Trump administration withdrew the 2016 letter in February. However, Minnesota Deputy Education Commissioner Charlene Briner said no new guidance was issued in its place, so the 2016 document remains one of several sources in the toolkit.
It’s being called legislation by “scam” — and that’s not the worst critique of the new education bill that the Republican-dominated Florida legislature has now approved. Will Republican Gov. Rick Scott veto it, as school superintendents, school boards, public school advocates and even some Republicans are advocating?
The legislation, known as House Bill 7069, was passed by both the Florida House and Senate at the end of their legislative sessions without time for serious consideration or debate, but rather this way, as a piece in the Orlando Sentinel explains:
Instead of carefully considering education proposals one at a time, Republican leaders went behind closed doors to cram 35 different proposals — rules on everything from sunscreen use to charter-schools incentives — into a single, 278-page, take-it-or-leave-it bill unveiled at the last minute. For me to simply reprint the bill, it would take 75 columns this size … and you still wouldn’t get to the part where legislators want to siphon money away from traditional schools until column No. 46.education.
State budget writers remained at an impasse Friday and planned to propose three spending plans – one Democratic and two competing Republican versions – as talks continue to resolve major differences over education funding.
With the new fiscal year less than a month away, members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee gave up attempting to coalesce behind a single budget proposal. Instead, Democrats are proposing a budget that includes $320 million in additional K-12 education spending, funded through a 3 percent tax surcharge on wealthy Mainers. Senate Republicans are proposing a more modest $100 million increase without the tax surcharge, while House Republicans are backing Gov. Paul LePage’s original proposal to eliminate the tax surcharge and provide an additional $19 million to schools.
The split — particularly among the two Republican caucuses — highlights the political challenge facing legislative leaders as they work to avoid a potential government shutdown on July 1.
New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was in Plattsburgh Thursday to hold a public hearing on the state’s draft regulations to meet the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind.
In December 2015, President Obama signed ESSA, or the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA’s requirements include provisions that all schools teach to high academic standards, annual statewide assessments to measure progress toward those standards, advancement of equity in schools and districts, and accountability and action to address low-performing schools. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia explains that since the law was signed states have been reviewing its regulations and determining their draft plans. “We have been working for over a year with representatives from organizations and groups and many teachers, parents and administrators and really practitioners in education to give us their thoughts on what should be included. So what we have is a draft plan. There are still requirements from the federal government that may not please everyone. We have to do those requirements. But we’ve taken the time I think to get feedback from professionals across the state in education to help us to craft a plan that’s that is good and supportive.” Elia adds that the draft plan relies on more than just test scores to assess schools. “That will be a big shift. The way, the approach that you take with the school that may be having a difficulty moving their students toward success is much more productive, much more supportive and understanding that every school’s not the same, every community is not the same.”
There are many popular explanations for why college tuition tends to rise faster than inflation, and each of these motivate different policy proposals about whether, how, and whom to subsidize in our higher education system. In recent years, two explanations, the so-called “Bennett Hypothesis” and “state disinvestment” (state funding cuts for public universities), have received a lot of attention. Surprisingly, researchers and the media have demanded very different levels of evidence to determine whether each explanation is a major driver of tuition. What would they find if they held both explanations to the same standards of analysis?
In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The main goal of the law was to raise the minimum nutritional standards for public school lunches served as part of the National School Lunch Program. The policy discussion surrounding the new law centered on the underlying health reasons for offering more nutritious school lunches, in particular, concern over the number of children who are overweight. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in five children in the United States is obese.
Willie Nelson’s song “On the Road Again” encapsulates one aspect of my civil society work at AEI because being on the road affords me an opportunity to exchange ideas with people of varying degrees of enlightenment and tolerance regarding our hopes, fears, and aspirations for American education. This essay is about my road trips to two charter association-sponsored events, and one event for school principals where charter schools were part of the conversation.
Research suggests increased spending on education can improve student outcomes, especially among low-income students. This means that targeted increases in funding could help narrow the achievement gap between poor and nonpoor students. But given the complexities of our school finance system, can policymakers actually direct funds to the students who need them most?