Music Education Policy Roundup – April 2, 2018

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.


  • Read NAfME’s Statement on FY 2018 Bipartisan Omnibus Agreement which includes important funding for ESSA’s well-rounded programs, including Title IV, Part A



More Than School Safety: What the Huge Hike for ESSA’s Block Grant Means

As part of a massive new spending bill, lawmakers are poised to provide $1.1 billion in aid that congressional aides say will help boost school safety and mental-health resources in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.  The money is intended “to expand school-based mental health services and supports; for bullying prevention; and for professional development for personnel in crisis management and school-based violence prevention strategies,” according to a House fact sheet.  But the increase isn’t just good news for school safety and counseling programs. It also being cheered by everyone from advocates for music education to fans of dual enrollment programs.  The money would go to a relatively new program and very broad grant program, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, better known as Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Title IV received $400 million in fiscal year 2017 (or the 2017-18 school year).  This proposed increase would mean the program would get nearly three times as much money as it is receiving currently, and would make Title IV one of the largest federal K-12 programs.


DeVos touts social and emotional learning during Pennsylvania school visit


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promoted social and emotional learning as a tool against drug abuse during her visit Monday to a low-income elementary school in Johnstown, Pa.  At Johnstown Elementary, DeVos observed a kindergarten and fourth-grade class implementing the “Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies” program — which targets aggression and other behavioral issues in children. During DeVos’ visit, students discussed bullying and jealousy, according to local reports.  The Greater Johnstown School District in Cambria County is among the poorest in the state, and Cambria ranks second in Pennsylvania for drug-related overdose deaths. The program is part of its prevention efforts.  “I was really impressed with the Greater Johnstown School District’s focus on social and emotional learning,” DeVos said. “Its programs are aimed at promoting good behavior instead of reacting to bad behavior.”

DeVos added that when schools value social and emotional learning, they can address “underlying … social, emotional and environmental factors that can lead to drug abuse and violence.”  DeVos’ staff told the local paper that her visit to Johnstown was not a response to recent comments before a House Appropriations subcommittee about visiting struggling schools.  More from the Tribune-Review.


House Ag Democrats: Farm bill could cut billions from SNAP

House Agriculture Democrats say a Republican farm bill would cut an estimated 1 million people from food stamps as part of a broader plan to slash spending on food stamp benefits by more than $20 billion over a decade.  The committee’s minority staff on Tuesday outlined numerous concerns with the nutrition title of the bill, and for the first time revealed specific policies sought by Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who has kept a tight lid on his proposal to overhaul the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by focusing on tightening eligibility and work requirements.  The Republican bill would trim billions in spending on food stamp benefits, while also mandating some $13 billion in new administrative and other costs — including a massive expansion of state education and training programs and a new requirement to drop parents from SNAP who don’t pay child support unless they cooperate with state officials, according to minority staff. The savings and cost estimates are moving targets as the committee is still drafting the bill.  Minority aides cautioned they’ve only been provided CBO estimates for bits and pieces of the nutrition title under consideration, and it’s not clear whether they have the latest estimates.


Alexander ‘not a big fan’ of arming school personnel

The Republican chairman of the Senate education committee said he’s “not a big fan“ of training and arming school personnel in the wake of the Florida school shooting last month that left 17 people dead.

“I’m not a big fan of that. Again, that’s up to states,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters in Tennessee on Monday. “I think teachers have their hands full without carrying guns.”

“We don’t arm pilots,” he said, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We arm marshals who are trained professionals, who ride the airplanes from time to time. So we need resource officers or policemen in schools, that’s one thing. I think teachers ought to teach and let policemen have the guns.”

Alexander’s comments stand in contrast to the Trump administration’s support for the idea.  The White House said earlier this month that it will support states interested in providing school personnel with firearms training, leveraging Justice Department funds and supporting “the transition of military veterans and retired law enforcement into new careers in education.“  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said that arming school personnel shouldn’t be mandatory, but an option for interested states and school districts. She has also said that a gun in every classroom wouldn’t be “appropriate.”

“It should only be those capable and qualified and only in places where it’s appropriate,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show earlier this month.  “The point is that schools should have this tool if they choose to use the tool,” she said. “Nobody should be mandated to do it.”


Senate Education Democrats request hearing on school shootings

Democrats on the Senate education committee are asking Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to hold a hearing on the “causes and remedies of school shootings.”

“As senators, it is our responsibility to address gun violence like the public health crisis that it is, investigate the causes of these deadly acts of violence and hatred, and make policy changes to ensure that they no longer happen,” the lawmakers write in a letter dated March 21.  “Doing so necessitates hearing from survivors of gun violence and others who have been affected, including students, parents, and teachers,” they continue. “It also requires hearing from experts who can speak to how public health research and interventions could support our efforts to end school shootings in this country.“  All of the Democrats on the House education committee — in addition to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — have also requested hearings on school shootings.  A new White House commission on school safety, led by DeVos, will meet for the first time on Wednesday. The commission is expected a review a number of issues, including threat assessment strategies for schools and whether to repeal Obama-era guidelines on school discipline.


DeVos approves Texas’ education plan

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved Texas’ plan for holding schools accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Education Department announced today.  In a release, DeVos praised Texas for setting “rigorous, yet achievable goals“ for students and including “strong support and interventions to assist low-performing schools.”  Texas first submitted its plan to federal officials in September. In December, the Education Department asked the state for more information and questioned why it was setting long-term goals for students based on whether they were approaching grade-level performance in math and English, rather than performing at grade-level.  As a result, the state tweaked its long-term goals. Texas went from having a goal of 90 percent of students approaching grade-level by the year 2032 to having 75 percent performing at grade-level by 2032.

DeVos has approved plans for 34 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Her agency is working with other states to resolve remaining issues.


Congress rebukes DeVos over her plans to reorganize the Education Department

Congress rebuked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a massive new spending bill not only by rejecting many of her 2019 budget priorities but also in this unusual way: It inserted language forbidding her from making fundamental changes in her own department’s budget office.

The language on Page 998 of the omnibus spending bill — agreed to by congressional negotiators on Wednesday to avoid a government shutdown Friday night — says this:  Provided, That, notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education available for obligation or expenditure in the current fiscal year may be used for any activity relating to implementing a reorganization that decentralizes, reduces the staffing level, or alters the responsibilities, structure, authority, or functionality of the Budget Service of the Department of Education, relative to the organization and operation of the Budget Service as in effect on January 1, 2018.  With this language, legislators are essentially accusing DeVos of making structural changes to her budget office — part of a major reorganization of the entire department — without telling them the details.


Dept. Of Education Fail: Teachers Lose Grants, Forced To Repay Thousands In Loans

America needs teachers committed to working with children who have the fewest advantages in life. So for a decade the federal government has offered grants — worth up to $4,000 a year — to standout college students who agree to teach subjects like math or science at lower-income schools.  But a new government study, obtained by NPR and later posted by the Department of Education, suggests that thousands of teachers had their grants taken away and converted to loans, sometimes for minor errors in paperwork. That’s despite the fact they were meeting the program’s teaching requirements.  “Without any notice, [my grant] was suddenly a loan, and interest was already accruing on it,” says Maggie Webb, who teaches eighth-grade math in Chelsea, Mass. “So, my $4,000 grant was now costing me $5,000.”



Vermont education chief to step down

Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe is stepping down, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said today.  The governor told Vermont Public Radio that it was a “personal decision“ for Holcombe.  “She just thought was best for her to leave at this time,” he said, noting her last day will be April 1.

In a statement, Scott praised Holcombe’s work to oversee implementation of a 2015 school governance law, called Act 46, that required the consolidation of some school districts. Holcombe was also a key figure in developing the state’s plan for holding schools accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Through her expertise and tenacity on Act 46, Rebecca has had a positive impact on Vermont’s schools and education system, working diligently to broaden the scope of opportunities we can provide our kids, improve equality and ensure they see a quality education,” Scott said.  “In the context of this law alone, Rebecca has likely met with every superintendent and school board member in the state, and this work remains very important as we move forward,” he added.  Holcombe was first appointed state education chief in 2013 by then-Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.


Justice signs bill ending Education and Arts, proposes new department

Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday signed House Bill 4006, which dissolves the Department of Education and the Arts and the position of the Cabinet secretary that led it, sending its agencies elsewhere in West Virginia’s government.  But he also said in his 4:41 p.m. news release announcing the signing that “we are going to create the Department of the Arts and Culture and History that will answer directly to me.”  The release didn’t provide any details on this proposed new department. Justice chief of staff Mike Hall said it would have to be created through legislation and that, if there’s going to be a special legislative session on such legislation, “I’m not certain when it will be, at this point.”  When asked what would actually go into the new department, he said, “That’s part of the discussion” and “I don’t have all the details, but they’ll be forthcoming in the next few days.”


Why Republicans are now bragging about their investments in education

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who made his name attacking unions and slashing school funding, is promising a “historic investment” in public schools as he campaigns for reelection.  Florida Gov. Rick Scott, another proud cost-cutter, is bragging about his more recent increases to school funding as he prepares to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate.  In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, who won office on a “shrink government” platform, now boasts of his own plan for more school money, backed by a $1 million advertising campaign promoting the increases from supportive state businesses.

The new rhetorical approach represents a major turnabout for a generation of conservative leaders who came into office promising to get better results with less taxpayer money for public schools. The backlash that boiled over into a teacher walkout in West Virginia is playing out in several states, as teachers and the public demand more money after years of tight budgets and a Republican focus on tax cuts. That has forced a change in strategy, even as the legislators continue to resist calls for new taxes.  The schools in all of these states have not yet gotten back to the levels of per-pupil spending they had before the 2008 recession, when adjusted for inflation, and school administrators say teacher quality and student results have suffered as a result. But the spreading protests have not yet faced the typical GOP pushback against public employees and their unions. It is a shift that could have big consequences for the national debate over education, as Republicans in Washington have begun to embrace more populist rhetoric that is sympathetic to the plight of public employees.


Maryland Senate approves state budget proposal that gives $200 million more for education

The Maryland Senate unanimously approved a $44.5 billion budget Thursday that allocates $200 million in new education funding, using additional tax revenue that state residents are expected to pay as a result of changes in the federal tax code.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had proposed changing state law to fully offset an estimated $400 million in additional state taxes Marylanders would have to pay as a result of changes on the federal level affecting which state tax deductions residents can claim.

But lawmakers opted for an increase in standard deductions that would reduce the extra tax burden to $200 million, rather than eliminating it altogether.  Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County) said fewer than 10 percent of residents would see a net increase in their overall taxes as a result of the changes approved by the Senate.  Committee members viewed it as their job to make “sound fiscal decisions,” he said, including to fund proposals expected from the Kirwan Commission, which is studying how to make education in the state more equitable.

“This fund demonstrates our commitment to education excellence now and in the future,” Kasemeyer said.  The Senate bill restored more than $110 million that was cut by Hogan, including $10 million for school safety grants, $5 million for violence-prevention initiatives and more than $20 million for providers serving the elderly and children in foster care.


Is Richard Carranza Ready to Run America’s Biggest School System?

If the New York City school system, with its 1.1 million students, were its own metropolis, it would be the 10th largest in the country, bigger than Austin, Indianapolis or San Francisco. And starting next month, there will be a new mayor in town.  Richard A. Carranza will become chancellor of the system, with its 75,000 teachers and 1,800 schools, on April 2, taking on a job that is organizationally complex, intensely political — in a word, daunting.  But Mr. Carranza comes to the position with only modest big-district experience on his résumé, making it difficult to judge the skills and accomplishments he will bring to the job. He spent seven years in San Francisco, first as a deputy superintendent and then leading the district, but there are just 14 public high schools in San Francisco. In New York, there are more than 400. Then he ran the schools in Houston, which is a larger system, but Mr. Carranza’s time there was so short that graduation rates from his first year in office have yet to be released.


Thousands of #RedForEd Arizona teachers rally for more education funding

Thousands of Arizona’s educators and supporters are rallying at the Capitol and across the state Wednesday as a show of #RedForEd protest over low pay and low state education funding.  Organizers of Arizona Educators United, the grassroots group that launched Arizona’s #RedForEd movement, announced their demands of Gov. Doug Ducey and the state Legislature at the rally.   The Department of Public Safety estimated 2,5000 attended the rally. La’Sharon Mcginnis is a special education teacher in the Glendale Union High School District. She said teachers’ paychecks “do not coincide with the cost of living” or the extensive education and qualifications they must have.  She said students’ parents should be advocating for better working conditions for their child’s teachers alongside the teachers themselves.  “Your child spends more of their waking hours with us than they do with anybody else,” Mcginnis said. “We often put your kids before ours. We take out of our kids’ mouths to make sure your kids, if there is no money, to make sure they’re fed and they have what they need.”


Oklahoma Legislature passes tax hikes for teacher pay

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A package of Oklahoma tax hikes aimed at generating hundreds of millions of new dollars for teacher pay and averting statewide school closures received final legislative approval Wednesday night.

The Senate voted 36-10 to increase taxes on oil and gas production, cigarettes, fuel and lodging — narrowly receiving the three-fourth’s majority needed to pass — and the chamber broke into applause afterward. The House passed the plan Monday. It is designed to generate about $450 million for lawmakers to spend, and Gov. Mary Fallin said she “absolutely” plans to sign the package.  “We finally got the job done, and I applaud the bipartisanship of the House and Senate,” Fallin said just moments after the Senate approved the bill.  It includes a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes, a 3-cent increase on gasoline, 6-cent hike on diesel and an increase on the oil and gas production tax from 2 percent to 5 percent. Amid a furious, last-minute lobbying effort by the hospitality industry, House and Senate leaders agreed to pass a separate measure to repeal the $5-per-night hotel and motel tax that was projected to raise about $45 million.


States to Prioritize Hiring Teachers of Color

THEY’RE CALLED “WARM demanders” and “cultural guardians,” polite nods to the additional roles with which African-American and Latino teachers – often the only teachers of color in their schools – are typically tasked: disciplinarian, mentor, translator.

Lawrence Battle, a 29-year-old African-American social studies teacher at YES Prep’s White Oak campus in Houston, would prefer to see those roles be ones of leadership positions: instructional coach, principal, school administrator.

“It is imperative that students see a reflection of themselves in the classroom, in the administration and in the highest level of education,” Battle says. “We must put more men and women of color in these classrooms to show students that we are invested in your future, we are here and we care about what happens to you and we’re here to guide you through a world that presents so many distractions.”



Longitudinal Analysis of Music Education on Executive Functions in Primary School Children

Research on the effects of music education on cognitive abilities has generated increasing interest across the scientific community. Nonetheless, longitudinal studies investigating the effects of structured music education on cognitive sub-functions are still rare. Prime candidates for investigating a relationship between academic achievement and music education appear to be executive functions such as planning, working memory, and inhibition.


Teacher Evaluations

Teacher evaluations can be used by states and districts to support and develop an exceptional workforce. Accurate evaluations based on quality data can help differentiate teacher performance, inform feedback, improve professional development, provide opportunities for pay increases and advancement, and provide rationale for teacher dismissals. Yet many states, districts and schools struggle to create and implement the type of trusted evaluation system that meaningfully differentiates teacher performance and provides teachers with opportunities for tailored support, development and advancement.