Read here for brief updates on policy developments affecting music education around the United States. These news items include federal, state, and local items that may be of interest to music educators, and are compiled periodically by Lynn Tuttle, NAfME Director of Content and Policy, and Tooshar Swain, NAfME Public Policy Advisor.
NAfME NEWS AND ANALYSIS
- The budgetary cycle for FY 2018 has traveled a difficult and confusing path, and much more work needs to be done. Read NAfME’s latest analysis on the federal budget, tax reform and reconciliation.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may have been President Donald Trump’s most controversial nominee — the first in American history to require a tiebreaking confirmation vote cast by the vice president.
Yet she runs the administration’s smallest and arguably least potent federal department; DeVos does not enforce America’s laws like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or direct its international relations like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And after nine months in office, it has become apparent to the Education secretary that she has limited power to transform the nation’s schools. When it comes to the most contentious debates surrounding America’s K-12 system — vouchers, standards, incentives, tests — DeVos had more tangible influence as a private citizen in Michigan than she does now in Washington.
DeVos spoke with POLITICO Magazine in a series of interviews on Sept. 18 and 19 at her Washington, D.C., office.
The House Republican tax bill released Thursday would impose a new tax on private college endowments — and it would eliminate several tax breaks for student loan borrowers and families paying for college.
Under the plan, private colleges and universities would be subject to a 1.4 percent excise tax on the net investment income of their endowment. The provision would apply only to private, not public, schools with at least 500 students and an endowment valued at $100,000 per full-time student.
“Endowments at many private colleges are large enough that parity requires that they be placed on equal footing with private foundations when it comes to paying a tax on net investment income,” said a Republican summary of the bill provided by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Public school advocates and teachers’ unions on Thursday said the House GOP tax proposal is misguided because it would allow even the wealthiest Americans to use tax-free accounts for K-12 private school tuition, advancing the cause of school choice.
Meanwhile, groups that support school choice either praised the bill or expressed some disappointment that House lawmakers didn’t make a bigger play.
The bill would end Coverdell Education Savings Accounts — tax-free accounts that have allowed families to set aside up to $2,000 to cover K-12 costs, like private school tuition — and expand “529” college savings accounts to cover K-12 expenses of up to $10,000 per year at public, private and religious schools.
The Education Department is asking for $2.7 billion in hurricane relief for K-12 schools and higher education institutions in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to a document obtained by POLITICO. A plan submitted to OMB by the department would provide a funding boost that could be used to reopen schools and help students displaced by Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma. The proposal is part of a package of hurricane relief proposals under review by OMB that would next go to Congress, if approved. K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities sustained widespread damage. This week, Puerto Rico officials said they expected just about 150 of the island’s schools to be operating, compared to more than 1,100 before Maria struck on Sept. 16. Nearly all college campuses in Puerto Rico that receive federal aid still remained closed as of mid-October, according to Education Department data.
KANSAS CITY, Missouri—It is strange, if a bit unsettling, to see U.S. Marshals constantly hovering near the U.S. secretary of education, a 59-year-old evangelical Christian grandmother whose hobbies are bike riding, yoga and visiting grade schools. But as Betsy DeVos approached Kansas City Academy on a sunny Friday morning in mid-September, it was clear why she wants them there. It was the final day of her “Rethink School” tour, the familiar fly-around trip taken by a Cabinet secretary to capture some local news coverage and emphasize priorities—in DeVos’ case, to highlight unique and innovative learning environments across the country. But at this particular stop, tension filled the air. Several hundred protesters gathered outside—vastly outnumbering the 76 students, grades 6 through 12, who attend the school—while a procession of speakers denounced DeVos as a destroyer of public education and an enabler of campus rape.
More than nine months into the Trump administration, the majority of Senate-confirmable posts at the Education Department remain unfilled by permanent leaders.
Of the 15 positions requiring Senate approval, President Donald Trump has moved to tap nominees for only eight of them. Only two nominees — Betsy DeVos and Peter Oppenheim — have been confirmed by the Senate. A third nominee, Carlos G. Muñiz, has advanced from a Senate panel. An Education Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on why the posts have not yet been filled. Here’s a rundown of where various department positions stand.
With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools. One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. While the Koch network has long been involved in school choice battles, the push by Libre represents a new front in the fight by targeting Hispanic families — and a recognition that with Congress gridlocked, it’s on the ground at the state level where the network can disrupt the educational status quo. The Koch message on schools is shared by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime ally.
The Education Department on Friday said it plans to withdraw nearly 600 “out-of-date” documents meant to clarify law and policy, as the agency proceeds with President Donald Trump’s regulatory overhaul. “Each item has been either superseded by current law or is no longer in effect,” the agency said in a press release. “Removing these out-of-date materials will make it easier for schools, educators, parents and the public to understand what guidance is still in effect.” A task force dedicated to regulatory reform at the Education Department also released a report detailing its efforts and a list of all the guidelines considered “out-of-date.”
President Donald Trump Thursday nominated Kenneth L. Marcus to be the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights — one of the most high-profile positions at the Education Department below Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Marcus is the president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit that works to combat anti-Semitism on college campuses. Previously, during the President George W. Bush administration, Marcus served as the acting assistant secretary of education for civil rights. He also has worked as a staff director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and as the Lillie and Nathan Ackerman Chair in Equality and Justice in America at the City University of New York’s Baruch College. He has degrees from Williams College and the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.
Tucked away in the much-anticipated Republican tax bill are a few provisions that are sure to rattle universities, student loan borrowers and anyone paying for college. The legislation unveiled Thursday by House Republican leaders taps into some proposals that have created division within the higher-education sector, including whether well-heeled schools are paying their fair share. It also delivers on some long-standing promises to simplify and streamline the credits and deductions provided to families and students, but in ways that may leave some Americans frustrated.
Parents would be able to use a tax-free savings account originally created for college expenses to put away money for private K-12 school tuition under a proposal in the GOP tax reform bill, a move that would largely aid families who can already afford private school tuition.
The 529 college savings plan encourages parents to save for their child’s college education by allowing them to earn interest and withdraw money tax-free for higher education. But the tax reform bill would allow parents to use those same plans for up to $10,000 a year in private school expenses. It would allow them to start saving the money before their child is born.
Long bike rides are an annual tradition for Dr. John Sygielski, who spent several weeks biking from New Orleans to Nashville this summer, traveling along the Natchez Trace Parkway and passing through Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Along the way, he raised close to $5,000 for his school’s emergency grant fund through a GoFundMe campaign. Sygielski, known to most as “Dr. Ski,” is the president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, an institution serving approximately 25,000 students on five campuses in the greater Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area. The emergency fund helps students cover the unexpected — a car breaking down, a security deposit for an apartment or a medical bill. Students can apply for a one-time grant of $500.
HENRICO, Va. — As a history and civics teacher in suburban Richmond, Schuyler VanValkenburg has seen his class sizes climb over the years. When he began teaching more than a decade ago, he averaged 25 students in a class. Now it’s 30. And it even reached 35 once.
“We’re seeing a huge assault on public schools,” said VanValkenburg, 35, who teaches at Glen Allen High School. “Public schools are the main way you can create opportunity for people . . . and the main way to have a thriving locality and state.” He is one of at least three candidates for Virginia’s House of Delegates with a background in education. Having witnessed firsthand the demands on students and the financial strain on school districts, these candidates decided to wade into politics with the goal of improving public education. VanValkenburg is a Democrat running in the state’s 72nd District in Henrico County, a historically conservative area that’s grown kinder to Democrats in recent elections. The seat is open after Republican Jimmie Massie decided not to seek reelection.
The State Board of Education voted in its November meeting to close Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy in Bertie County after a series of issues that the Charter School Advisory Board Chair Alex Quigley called, “a pattern of failure.” Quigley said the school had financial and academic issues and failed to meet multiple reporting deadlines. The board first discussed the school’s problems in June and placed several stipulations on the school’s renewal application, which it did not meet. The school was also the only charter school to miss the deadline to apply for its renewal. Records show Department of Public Instruction staff made multiple efforts to seek a program compliance from the school, and it also failed to meet that timeline for correction.
Hundreds of Arizona school districts and charter schools have been shorted or overpaid when it comes to federal funds for low-income students and students with disabilities, the Arizona Capitol Times reports. Some schools received more federal Title I funds for poor students than they were supposed to receive, while others were left with far less for at least the last four fiscal years. Problems were first identified by the state auditor general and the federal Education Department during the 2013-14 school year. The Arizona Department of Education is also telling school districts and charter schools that the state under-allocated $15.2 million in federal funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Errors in how the funds were doled out were first identified in 2015, but state education spokesman Stefan Swiat said the full scope of the problem wasn’t known until recently. In negotiating with the federal Education Department, state education officials said they plan to hold schools “harmless” if they were overpaid, meaning they won’t have to pay back any funds. And the state will pay schools that were shorted Title I or IDEA funds using state education funds that are carried over from year to year. Arizona education officials have to clear their plans to repay school districts with federal officials. It’s unclear if federal officials will approve the plans. “If I had a crystal ball, I’d be able to tell you,” Swiat told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I can’t speculate other than to say our conversations with U.S. Ed has been nothing but positive.”
Two higher ed institutions in the University of North Carolina system have partnered to help develop a new path to certification for thousands of teachers. The program will target lateral entry teachers, who are educators with knowledge in a specific subject but lack a teaching license or certificate. The state employs more than 4,000 lateral entry teachers, but it also has an attrition rate 79% higher than other states. The new program will enable enrollees to remain employed while working towards certification in online courses. The schools expect to begin a pilot program this fall with 80 lateral entry educators, continuing in the following semester, and the schools hope to reach as many as 5,000 students. The new CBE program is the first of its kind in the region.
With more than 4,000 homeless students in its schools last year, educators in the Dallas district decided they needed to try something new, especially to support the most extreme cases—students living in cars, parks, or abandoned buildings. The district is teaming up with After8toEducate, a local nonprofit, to turn one of its unused elementary schools into a 35-bed shelter and a 24-hour drop-in center that would provide homeless students with wraparound services, such as mental health counseling, primary medical care, and tutoring. District officials say that when the facility is up and running next year, it will be the first of its kind—a shelter and one-stop-shop for homeless students on a school district campus—in the country.
Teacher license reciprocity allows candidates who hold an out-of-state license to earn a license in a receiving state, subject to meeting state-specific requirements. Reciprocity agreements allow states to work through variations in licensing systems to coordinate license transfers and fill vacant teaching positions with qualified candidates. Most states have policies in place to improve reciprocity for certain teachers, but few states provide full reciprocity for all fully licensed teachers.
Recently submitted state plans for implementing the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) provide insight into how research is making inroads into education policy at the state level. Based on my review of a sample of plans, a fair answer is that it is not. A previous post in this series by Martin West describes how ESSA created opportunities for states to use research and evidence in ways that improve student outcomes. Opportunities, yes—but most of what is in the plans could have been written fifteen years ago.