Music Education Policy Roundup – Dec 14, 2016

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.

Federal Transitions

By Benjamin Wermund | 12/08/2016 06:00 AM EDT

With help from Caitlin Emma, Michael Stratford, Kimberly Hefling and Seung Min Kim

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which could be on the chopping block once Donald Trump takes office, is celebrating its work over the last eight years — a period in which it became significantly more aggressive than ever before. The office has cracked down on colleges that mishandle sexual assault allegations and used Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, to protect the right of transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice — an issue now headed to the Supreme Court. The department this morning is releasing two new reports highlighting its work under the Obama administration at a celebration in D.C.

The highlights: The office has been flooded with complaints during the Obama administration — more than 76,000 in all, with each year seeing more than the last. It has settled 66,000 of them. That work has been done with a near record-low staff of 563 full-time employees. The office had about 1,100 staff in 1981, according to the report. “Much progress has been made in the past eight years, but much work remains to ensure all children enjoy equitable access to excellence in American education,” U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a statement. “These two reports highlight the ongoing vital necessity of OCR’s work to eliminate discriminatory barriers to educational opportunity so our nation’s students may realize their full potential.”

But the office faces an uncertain future. Civil rights groups say they’re “deeply concerned” that the extension of civil rights protections to gay and transgender students by the Obama administration will be dismantled by Betsy DeVos, who Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department. DeVos’ family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes, POLITICO previously reported. Trump’s surrogates, meanwhile, have said there’s no need to have an Office for Civil Rights, period.

Schools remain hostile environments for LGBT students, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, a group that advocates for LGBT rights. The group conducted in-depth interviews with students, parents, teachers and administrators in Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah and found that in many schools “discriminatory policies and practices exacerbate the sense of exclusion students face.” Teachers still fear for their jobs if they identify as gay or support LGBT students, according to the report. Students in same-sex couples said they were discouraged — or even prohibited — from attending events as a couple. Many schools censor discussions about LGBT topics, and eight states restrict discussions of LGBT topics in schools, according to the report.

The Office for Civil Rights has also become a watchdog over colleges that mishandle investigations of sexual assault on campus. This week alone, the office opened four new investigations, bringing the list of schools currently under investigation to 219. OCR is also currently investigating some high-profile cases, such as the sexual assault cover-up by coaches and administrators at Baylor University that led the Texas school to demote its president and fire its star football coach.


DeVos says media is spreading “false news” about her

Politico By Michael Stratford 12/09/2016 08:53 PM EDT

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, pushed back against criticism of her selection today — accusing the media of spreading false stories about her.

“There’s a lot of false news out there,” DeVos said on stage with Trump at a rally in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich. “All I ask for is an open mind and the opportunity to share my heart.”

DeVos doesn’t have a conventional background in education, such as working as a teacher or schools superintendent. But the billionaire philanthropist has long donated to “school choice” advocacy groups and politicians who are supportive of school vouchers and charter schools.

DeVos told the Michigan crowd she has “the experience, the passion and the know-how to make change happen” in the nation’s education system.

“I’ve been involved in education issues for 28 years, as an activist, a citizen-volunteer and an advocate for children,” she said.

DeVos called for a decrease in the federal government’s role in education. “The answer is local control,” she said, and “giving more choices” to parents. DeVos proposed “letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”

DeVos spoke after being introduced on stage by Trump, who said that the U.S. spends more on education than other nations “and yet our results are terrible.”

“Our reform plan includes eliminating Common Core, bringing education local, and providing school choice,” Trump said, calling for “every child to be able to attend the public, private, charter, magnet or religious school that is right for them.”


Messer huddles with Trump’s education transition team in New York

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 12/05/2016 12:35 PM EDT

Rep. Luker Messer — a big school choice proponent — traveled to Trump Tower today in New York to meet with President-elect Donald Trump’s education transition team.

A source confirmed the meeting with POLITICO but did not provide insight about what was discussed.

Messer (R-Ind.) had been mentioned as a possible Education secretary to Trump before philanthropist Betsy DeVos was picked last month for the job. Messer has long pushed for legislation that would allow states to make Title 1 dollars allocated to the nation’s poorest schools portable, so that students can take the money with them to a different public or private school.

During the presidential campaign, Trump rolled out a $20 billion school choice plan with few details about where the funding would come from. The billions allocated annually in federal Title 1 funding is considered to be a possible funding stream.


Murray says she is “troubled” by Betsy DeVos’ track record

Politico by Kimberly Hefling 12/06/2016 02:50 PM EDT

Sen. Patty Murray — the ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee — said today that she’s “troubled” by what she’s learned so far about the record of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary.

Previously, Murray (D-Wash.), called for a “robust vetting and hearing process” for DeVos. With Murray’s new comments, she joins some other HELP Democrats, including Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), in expressing concerns about DeVos’ record. All three have said they are waiting to make up their mind as to whether they will vote to confirm DeVos.

Murray told POLITICO today that she hasn’t yet reviewed all of DeVos’ record, but added, “I’m troubled by a lot of what I’ve read.” She declined to elaborate further.

DeVos, a billionaire Michigan philanthropist, has a long history of supporting school choice measures such as charter schools and vouchers.


DeVos’ Michigan schools experiment gets poor grades

Politico By Caitlin Emma, Kimberly Hefling and Benjamin Wermund 12/09/2016 05:01 AM EDT

Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, Betsy DeVos, has spent two decades successfully pushing “school choice” in her home state of Michigan — a policy that she and her husband vowed in 1999 would “fundamentally improve education.”

Except the track record in that state shows that it hasn’t.

Despite two decades of charter-school growth, the state’s overall academic progress has failed to keep pace with other states: Michigan ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a nationally representative test, nicknamed the “Nation’s Report Card.” Notably, the state’s charter schools scored worse on that test than their traditional public-school counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data.

Critics say Michigan’s laissez-faire attitude about charter-school regulation has led to marginal and, in some cases, terrible schools in the state’s poorest communities as part of a system dominated by for-profit operators. Charter-school growth has also weakened the finances and enrollment of traditional public-school districts like Detroit’s, at a time when many communities are still recovering from the economic downturn that hit Michigan’s auto industry particularly hard.

The results in Michigan are so disappointing that even some supporters of school choice are critical of the state’s policies.

“The bottom line should be, ‘Are kids achieving better or worse because of this expansion of choice?'” said Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin, a DeVos critic who also describes himself as a strong charter-school supporter. “It’s destroying learning outcomes … and the DeVoses were a principal agent of that.”

All of which raises the question: As Trump’s Education secretary, would DeVos learn from the Michigan experience, or simply push for the same policies on a national scale?

“My hope is that she has a very open mind … and doesn’t think the Michigan approach is the right one,” said Peter Cunningham, a former Obama Education Department official who is now executive director of the Education Post, a nonprofit group that supports charter schools. Cunningham points to Massachusetts’ more aggressive oversight of charters as a better model.

But former Michigan Gov. John Engler insists that despite the “pros and cons” of that state’s much-criticized charter rules, “choice has been very popular.”

“I think [DeVos] made the point that she hopes every child can have the advantage of a quality education — that parents that want a quality education ought to have a range of choices available to them,” he said.

Trump’s transition team declined to make DeVos available for an interview, or provide comment for this story.

Three Michigan school districts enroll some of the highest percentages of charter-school students nationwide — Detroit, Flint and DeVos’ home town of Grand Rapids, where she’s expected to attend President elect-Donald Trump’s rally Friday night, part of the latest leg of his “Thank You Tour.”

Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick, are billionaires who have funneled millions of dollars in campaign donations to support lawmakers who push school choice — a broad term used to promote the idea that parents shouldn’t be locked into neighborhood public schools but should have other options, including publicly funded charter and in some cases, private and parochial schools.

All told, the DeVoses have contributed at least $7 million to lawmakers and the state Republican Party in recent years, and their influence can be seen in just about every major piece of education-related legislation in Michigan since the 1990s. That includes the 1993 law that permitted charters in the state and a 2011 vote to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in the state.

Michigan permits practices barred by some other states, such as for-profit charter operators, virtual charter schools and multiple charter-authorizing bodies. Along the way, fraud and waste has been a problem — one charter school spent more than $1 million on acquiring swampland it doesn’t use, The Detroit Free Press has reported. A federal audit this year noted that Michigan’s charter-school law doesn’t include rules regarding conflicts of interest, among other issues.

To be sure, Michigan has some high-performing charter schools, too. DeVos supporters point to a 2013 Stanford study that found that Michigan charter-school students are learning at a faster rate in reading and math than their public-school peers — seeing an additional two months of gains in each subject. Gains for Detroit charter-school students were greater, at three months.

“A lot of people use the phrase ‘Wild West,’ but there are a lot of places where the Wild West is working quite well,” said Matthew Ladner, a senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, a libertarian-oriented public-policy group.

Recently, some of the state’s most ardent school-choice supporters, including DeVos, backed some level of accountability standards. Earlier this year, state lawmakers took some steps to beef up oversight of charters — steps largely supported by DeVos. They included a measure requiring automatic closure of charters than rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools for three consecutive years.

Michigan also created an A-F accountability system for Detroit, where schools receiving an F for three years must be closed or reconstituted. Authorizers that want to open a new charter school in the city must be accredited.

Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the “new law stands to dramatically change the charter space in Michigan, but it’s going to take a couple [of] years before we see what it does, how effective it is, and how well it’s being enforced.”

While DeVos’ group, the Great Lakes Education Project, supported most of the changes, it pushed back hard against a proposed Detroit commission focused on improving both charters and traditional schools, contending it would be beholden to the city’s mayor and school-district officials.

The Detroit Free Press reported the DeVoses poured $1.45 million into state Republicans’ coffers during a seven-week period — right after lawmakers removed the Detroit commission part of the bill that DeVos vocally opposed.

In Detroit alone, about 70 percent of charter schools ranked in the bottom quarter of the state’s schools, according to an Ed Trust-Midwest report using data from the 2013-2014 school year. The foundation has called the quality of the city’s charter-school sector a “civil rights issue.”

Detroit Public Schools overall rank last out of large urban school districts nationwide for the performance of African-American students in eight-grade math. But the majority of charter districts statewide perform even worse than the city school district for African-American students in eighth-grade math, the report noted.

When state lawmakers were debating a financial bailout for the Detroit school district in February, DeVos authored an op-ed published in the Detroit News saying that the district had outlived its usefulness and should be shut down.

“It is no secret a vast number of Detroit’s political establishment — mayors, city council members, city administrators, judges, and even top DPS officials — send their own children to private or charter schools, instead of to failed DPS schools,” DeVos wrote. “Why should everyday Detroit parents be denied this same opportunity for their children?”

The DeVos family efforts to shape school choice policy in Michigan date back at least to 1990, when Dick DeVos was elected to the state school board and Betsy DeVos created a foundation that gave private-school scholarships to low-income families “so that parents could decide where their kids would go to school,” DeVos told Philanthropy Roundtable in 2013.

But scholarships weren’t enough, she said.

“We realized very quickly that, while it was wonderful to help some families through the scholarship fund, it was never going to fundamentally address the real problem,” DeVos argued. “Most parents were not going to get the scholarship they wanted, and that meant most kids would not have the opportunities they deserved.”

School vouchers, which allow public money to flow to private and religious schools, are one element of the DeVos plan that never materialized in Michigan. The state’s voters overwhelmingly rejected vouchers in 2000, despite the DeVos family spending more than $5 million on a pro-voucher campaign.

Vouchers are now a major tenet of Trump’s education platform. He proposed a $20 billion school-choice plan earlier this year — a plan put together with the help of DeVos’ advocacy group, the American Federation of Children.

The DeVoses have at times targeted Republicans who didn’t fall in line with their education agenda. When state Rep. Paul Muxlow, a Republican elected in 2010, voted against a 2011 effort to lift a cap on the number of charters that can operate in the state, the couple’s Great Lakes Education Project spent nearly $185,000 to support a primary opponent against Muxlow a year later.

Muxlow said he was viciously attacked by DeVos-financed campaign mailers even though the law to lift the cap passed easily, and he is a reliably conservative lawmaker. He said he felt like the DeVoses were looking for a reason to get rid of him, largely because he was a former public-school teacher. Muxlow hung on to survive the 2012 primary by just 132 votes.

“They were watching me like a hawk. I was a teacher on the conservative side — and how could that be?” Muxlow said. “My sense is that Great Lakes Education Project, under the control of the DeVos family, would like to close out public schools.”

Great Lakes Education Project Executive Director Gary Naeyaert said Muxlow was targeted because his voting record contradicted his statements.

“Rep. Muxlow was very clear in his 2010 GLEP candidate questionnaire that he would vote to lift the arbitrary cap on charter public schools, and he earned our endorsement that year,” Naeyaert said. “When he had the opportunity to vote, not only did he change his position, but he led the fight against the bill. To my knowledge, he didn’t communicate his concerns or opposition to us.

“No other legislator had flip-flopped as dramatically as Rep. Muxlow on this very important issue, and we supported another candidate in this race during the 2012 election.”

DeVos has previously said she is not seeking to dismantle public education, but that she wants to give parents options and bring much-needed competition to education.

“We’ve made some changes to address quality and they’re starting to bear some proof,” said Naeyaert, referring to new accountability measures passed this year.

But there’s still room for all schools to improve, he said.

“Is Michigan the poster boy for what we should be doing nationally? I sure hope not,” Naeyaert said. “We’re not doing anywhere near what we need to be doing when it comes to educating kids.”


Trump: ‘We’re going to work something out’ with Dreamers

Politico By Seung Min Kim 12/07/2016 08:51 AM EDT

Donald Trump is adopting a softer tone on young undocumented immigrants granted work permits through an Obama-era directive that the president-elect has vowed to repeal once he’s in the White House.

Some 740,000 so-called Dreamers have been given a deportation reprieve and other benefits by President Barack Obama through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Obama enacted by executive action in 2012. But the status of those young immigrants, who do not have formal legal status, has been in limbo because Trump has said he would overturn Obama’s immigration orders.

In an interview with Time magazine announcing him as “Person of the Year,” Trump didn’t go into specifics but signaled that he could find a way to accommodate the Dreamers.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump told the magazine. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The interview notes that the president-elect did not back off his promise from the campaign trail to rescind Obama’s executive actions. And without details, it’s difficult to divine exactly what policy Trump would support once he is sworn in and has to face this issue.

His selection for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), is also a staunch opponent not only of Obama’s executive actions on immigration but of legalizing those who are in the United States illegally.

A bipartisan group of senators is working on legislation meant to keep the status of the DACA beneficiaries intact should Trump follow through on his pledge and repeal Obama’s executive actions. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the members leading the effort, said last week that more details of the plan could be rolled out at the end of this week


Emanuel defends ‘DREAMers,’ ‘sanctuary cities’ in Trump meeting

Politico By Matthew Nussbaum 12/07/2016 01:45 PM EDT

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel used his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump to speak on behalf of young undocumented immigrants and cities that work to shield them from deportation.

After meeting with Trump, incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus and another adviser on Wednesday, Emanuel said he urged them to reconsider their hardline approach to illegal immigration.

“We are clear as mayors that these are Dreamers who are seeking the American Dream, and we should embrace them rather than do a bait-and-switch,” Emanuel told reporters after the meeting.

Emanuel said he was referring to young people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, initiated by President Barack Obama. It allows certain undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children to apply for a type of legal status and at least a partial shield from deportation. Trump has said he would rescind the program.

Emanuel said he told Trump that such young people “were working hard towards the American dream, and that all of us fundamentally believe that these are students, these are also people who want to join the armed forces, they gave their name, their address, their phone number, where they are, they’re trying to achieve the American Dream, it’s no fault of their own their parents came here. They are something we should hold up and embrace.”

Emanuel came to the meeting with a letter from 14 mayors calling for a reconsideration of how to address so-called DREAMers.

Emanuel also urged Trump not to punish so-called sanctuary cities. Such cities, Chicago among them, decline to adhere to certain federal requests regarding undocumented immigrants.

“I also spoke out strongly about what it means to be a sanctuary city who will support and secure the people who are here, like my grandfather who came to the city of Chicago as a 13-year old 100 years ago,” Emanuel said. “Chicago was a sanctuary city for my grandfather. His grandson today is the mayor of this city, which is a testament to the strength of the values and ideals of America.”

Trump railed against sanctuary cities on the campaign trail, accusing them of putting American citizens in danger. Many Republicans want sanctuary cities blocked from receiving federal dollars. New York and Los Angeles have both said they will continue their sanctuary city policies under a Trump administration. New York mayor Bill de Blasio and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti have both met with Trump since the election as well.


NYSUT plans to fight any ‘destructive’ Trump administration education policies (back)
Politico By Keshia Clukey December 7, 2016

New York State United Teachers is prepared to resist what it says could be harmful federal education policies under President-Elect Donald Trump and his nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, the state’s largest teachers’ union announced today.

NYSUT will join advocates Jan. 19 for a nationwide Day of Action organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a network of community groups and unions.

The union’s participation will help “lead the resistance to efforts to attack public education, immigrants, worker rights, and lift up our positive vision to protect and improve public education,” according to a resolution passed by the NYSUT board of directors last weekend.

The announcement comes as some education advocates nationally express concern over the nomination of DeVos, a billionaire Michigan philanthropist who has pushed school choice through charter schools and vouchers.

“Betsy DeVos has spent a lifetime using her family’s billions to push for policies that would systematically destroy the nation’s public education system, including institutions pre-K through higher education,” NYSUT president Karen E. Magee said in a news release. “Her nomination defies logic and represents the potentially destructive path on which our next president could set this nation.”

On the Day of Action, NYSUT plans to advocate for fully funding community schools, limiting standardized testing, protecting undocumented students and ensuring access to affordable higher education and living wages, according to the news release.

“NYSUT will not relent in its fight to protect students, families, schools and communities against the threats posed by the policies of such dangerous ideologues,” Magee said.


Federal Updates

Early Learning Grants from the ED – December 5 2016

This week, Secretary King announced more than $247 million in awards<>to 18 states under the Preschool Development Grants<>(PDG) program to continue expanding access to high-quality preschool for children from low- and moderate-income families.  The awards are the third year of grants to states working with local communities to prepare the nation’s most vulnerable children for success in school and beyond.  Jointly administered by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the program has invested a total of $750 million and expanded access to new, high-quality preschool classrooms — or improved programs — in 230 high-need communities.

At the same time, the agency released a national report<>and state progress reports<>on the PDG program.  These reports detail how states are meeting high standards and improving access to early learning for at-risk children.  Classrooms improved by supporting well-qualified and compensated teachers, expanding to full-day programs, reducing class sizes or child-teacher ratios, providing professional development, and supplying comprehensive services.  Last school year, over 28,000 children from low-income families had access to quality early learning because of PDG.  This school year, another 35,000 children had the chance to enroll in these programs.



Politico By Kimberly Hefling | 12/07/2016 06:00 AM EDT
With help from Caitlin Emma, Michael Stratford, Benjamin Wermund and Ben Weyl

The Obama administration published final regulations on testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act, including rules for a new pilot in which up to seven states can experiment with new and innovative tests. There aren’t many changes between the final rules and the draft rules , which published over the summer. And the issue has been far less contentious than the Education Department’s regulatory work on holding schools accountable, or the fight over Title I spending under ESSA. In fact, negotiators on a committee charged with hashing out draft regulations earlier this year were able to find consensus on testing, which served as the foundation for today’s final rule. More here<>.

— One of the bigger changes: ESSA has a 1 percent cap on the number of students that states can test with alternate exams, which is typically reserved for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. States can request a waiver of that cap, but state and local education officials thought language proposed by the Education Department earlier this year would make it really burdensome for states to ask for and receive a waiver. In asking for a waiver, the draft rule said states must pay attention to school districts exceeding the 1 percent cap and school districts that “significantly contribute” to the state exceeding the cap — for example, districts that tested .9 percent of students on alternate tests. But now, the Education Department has taken a step back and just wants states to focus on districts that exceeded the cap.

— The final rule also gives states and districts more flexibility when it comes to testing Native American students in their native language. The draft rule said Native American students could be tested in reading and English language arts in their native language as long as they were being tested in those subjects in English “by no later than the end of eighth grade.” The final rule expands this exception to more subject areas — while still stipulating that students need to be tested in English by high school.

— The pilot will allow states to experiment with new test formats, like competency-based tests, in which students might show they’ve mastered certain skills by applying them to a task or project they’d face in the real world. The Education Department wants states to experiment with these kinds of tests as long as they produce some kind of annual, grade-level score or evaluation for each student. States would have to prove that the results of the innovative tests are comparable to traditional state tests if they want to eventually take their pilot statewide. In the final regulation, the Education Department also stresses that test results should be comparable across districts participating in the pilot.


White House announces new computer science education actions

Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 12/05/2016 12:58 PM EDT

The White House, along with two federal agencies and more than 250 other organizations, announced new actions today in support of computer science education.

Specifically, the National Science Foundation will invest $20 million in computer science education next year under the Computer Science for All: Researcher Practitioner Partnerships program, adding to the agency’s $25 million investment in Fiscal Year 2016.

The National Science and Technology Council’s Computer Science for All Interagency Working Group will also work to “develop a strategic framework to guide federal efforts to support the integration of computer science and computational thinking into K-12 education,” the White House said this morning.

The administration also announced complementary efforts to expand broader STEM learning opportunities. The Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers will expand its STEM partnerships, in terms of both scale and scope. The program will now reach involve collaboration among five federal agencies — the Education Department, NASA, National Parks Service, Institute of Museum and Library Services and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and reach students at more than 200 sites across 25 states.

“Through these federal partnerships, students from groups typically underrepresented in the STEM fields will have access to high-quality, hands-on, inquiry-based STEM activities, as well as opportunities to connect directly with STEM professionals, to cultivate interest in the field and enhance college and career readiness,” the White House said.

In response to the president’s call to action, an additional 250 organizations also shared new commitments, meant to help build the resource and knowledge base for computer science education, increase access to these resources in schools, and involve students in CSEdWeek 2016.


Tax reform could address rising college costs, GOP rep says

Politico By Katy O’Donnell 12/05/2016 05:18 PM EDT

Republicans could tackle rising college tuition costs as part of tax reform next year, Ways and Means Rep. Tom Reed, the vice-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, signaled today.

Reed unveiled a draft of a plan he’d previously floated that would require universities with endowment funds exceeding $1 billion to spend 25 percent of their annual endowment income on financial aid to maintain their tax-exempt status. Any university eligible for tax-exempt donations would be required to disclose more information about administrative salaries and amenities, and colleges would need to file “cost-containment plans” to make sure tuition increases don’t outpace inflation.

Reed plans to introduce the bill in the next Congress.

Trump touched on the issue during a campaign stop in Pennsylvania in September.

“I’m going to work with Congress on reforms to make sure that if universities want access to all these special federal tax breaks and tax dollars, paid for by you, that they are going to make good-faith efforts to reduce the cost of college and student debt, and to spend their endowments on their students rather than other things that don’t matter,” Trump said.

Lawmakers put dozens of schools with soaring endowments on notice in February, when the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees sent a joint letter to 56 private schools with over $1 billion in assets inquiring about how universities “are using endowment assets to fulfill their charitable and educational purposes.”

Senate Finance member Chuck Grassley has floated the idea that colleges should pay out 5 percent of their value each year, in line with foundations, to keep their tax privileges. And a Ways and Means subcommittee brought in a handful of college leaders in September to explain rising costs and how endowments are being used to curb tuition increases.


Hunger group: Child nutrition programs in jeopardy without bill

Politico By Helena Bottemiller Evich 12/07/2016 12:06 PM EDT

Congress’ decision not to get a child nutrition reauthorization bill done this year puts programs that feed millions of children each day in jeopardy, Share Our Strength, a leading hunger group, said today.

“This was a huge missed opportunity that will have a negative impact on hungry children across the nation,” Lucy Melcher, the group’s director of advocacy and government relations, said in a statement today.

As POLITICO reported Tuesday, the effort to reauthorize child nutrition programs had been on life support for several months, but Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts declared the bill officially dead this week.

For hunger groups, the failure of the Senate bill is a big blow to efforts to expand access to summer meals for low-income children. The Senate deal would have reduced barriers and red tape and also expand access to summer electronic debit benefits, which would give families extra assistance to feed their children when school is out.

But the bill’s demise has implications well beyond just summer meals, Melcher suggested.

“With the failure to pass this legislation, Congress not only missed its chance to make a difference but also put these programs in jeopardy moving forward,” she said.

The sentiment echoes a warning Roberts issued yesterday, when he said “these programs will be vulnerable to attack without a reduction in the current error rates,” referring to instances of benefits given to children who are ineligible and other incorrect payments.

The Senate bill aimed to shore up verification requirements for schools in an effort to bring the error rates down, but the changes ultimately provoked stiff opposition from teachers unions.


White House report details school districts’ progress on discipline reform

Politico By Caitlin Emma 12/09/2016 12:35 PM EDT

The number of instructional days that Los Angeles Unified School District students lost to suspension declined from more than 75,000 a year to slightly over 5,000 days per year, a new White House report on rethinking discipline shows.

The precipitous drop stems from a number of reforms taken on by the district over the last several years. For example, LAUSD adopted a new school discipline policy and school climate “Bill of Rights” in 2013 that “established a consistent framework for implementing and developing a culture of discipline grounded in positive behavior interventions” and restorative justice practices.

Restorative justice practices help schools move away from punishing students to having students learn from and listen to each other, with a focus on repairing harm. The White House’s report looks at progress made in school districts and states, in addition to actions taken by the Obama administration.

In Bridgeport, Conn., the district developed a restorative justice plan to help eliminate suspensions for all non-violent student behaviors. As a result, the number of out-of-school suspensions in Bridgeport declined by 549 between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the report says.


Education Department imposes strict conditions on the University of Phoenix sale

Politico By Michael Stratford 12/07/2016 07:23 PM EDT

A pending sale of the nation’s largest for-profit college may be in jeopardy after the Education Department said Wednesday that it will only approve the deal if certain conditions are met.

The buyers in the proposed $1.1 billion acquisition of the University of Phoenix’s parent company include a group of investors with close ties to the Obama administration.

But the Education Department says it will only approve the deal if the new buyers set aside more than $385 million in collateral, cap enrollment and accept a prohibition on any new programs, the department said in a letter to the company.

Those conditions appear to be more burdensome than the investors had expected.

As part of the deal, the investors can walk away from the sale if the department attempts to require a letter of credit that exceeds 10 percent of the university’s revenue from federal loans and grants; the department is now requiring a 25 percent letter of credit.

“If investors were betting that the Education Department would rubber-stamp this deal, they bet wrong,” said Rohit Chopra, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official who served a short stint at the department as it was weighing the decision. “The restrictions likely give the private equity buyers the right to walk away. If they can’t squeeze out the profits they need to make the investment worthwhile, they might do just that.”

Under the terms spelled out in the department’s letter, the new owners would have to agree to several restrictions on how they recruit and market the university to prospective students. If the investors accept the conditions and move ahead with the sale, the restrictions on the new owners could last until June 2018, the letter says.

The proposed enrollment cap and freeze on new programs might amount to a “material limitation” on the university’s ability to operate that would run afoul of the investors’ agreement with the current owners, Apollo Education Group.

“Apollo Education Group can confirm that we have received the letter and are evaluating it,” the company said in a statement.

The department said in its letter, which was partially redacted, that the series of conditions it wants to impose on the potential new owners “are designed to ameliorate operational and administrative capability risk,” noting that none of the investors “have experience operating or even investing in Title IV institutions.”

The proposed sale, announced earlier this year, raised questions about potential conflicts of interest because the group of investors seeking to buy the school include several former Obama administration insiders — among them former Deputy Education Secretary Tony Miller.

Several former Obama administration officials had mounted a charm offensive on Capitol Hill this summer, as part of the effort to get the Education Department to green-light the sale.

One of the investment groups is Vistria Group, a private equity firm run by President Barack Obama’s longtime friend Marty Nesbitt and Miller, who would become chairman of Apollo Education if the deal is finalized.

Vistria representatives could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.

Some for-profit college critics, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), had sought to have the Education Department impose some conditions on the university as part of any approval of the sale.

The University of Phoenix, with more than 140,000 students, is one of the most widely recognized brands in the for-profit education sector. In 2010, its enrollment reached half a million students, as nontraditional students flocked to the school seeking opportunity amid the nation’s economic downturn. But an improving economy and regulations imposed by the Obama administration contributed to the school’s financial troubles, and its stock has taken a big hit.

If the investors decide to proceed with the sale, they will also need the University of Phoenix’s accreditor to sign off. The accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, previously said it wanted to defer a decision until the Education Department made up its mind. Some state authorities have also put their regulatory approvals on hold pending the department’s decision.


State Updates

How Do You Judge a School? MA Looks to Expand the Criteria
State officials are looking to broaden the way school performances are judged to comply with new federal standards, moving beyond test scores and graduation rates to other measures, such as the atmosphere a school creates and the availability of art, music, and college-level courses. (Boston Globe, Dec. 5)


MS Raises the Bar Students Have to Meet to Pass Third Grade
State law requires public schools to retain a third grader scoring on the lowest achievement level on the Reading Summative Assessment unless he or she qualifies for a good-cause exemption.(Hechinger Report, Nov. 30)


New Grading System Unveiled in OK
The Oklahoma State Department of Education has come up with a new proposal for how to grade schools. The new accountability system keeps the highly criticized A-F report card system, but calculates the grades differently. (KOKH, Dec. 7)


AK Faces No Penalties After Canceling Standardized Testing
The U.S. Department of Education has granted Alaska a waiver from its standardized testing requirements for the 2015-16 school year, according to an announcement last week from the state Department of Education and Early Development. (Arctic Sounder, Dec. 2)


Ohio passes concealed carry bill

Politico By Kaitlyn Burton 12/09/2016 05:53 PM EDT

Ohio lawmakers passed a bill today to allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on the state’s public universities. The bill also removes a state ban on carrying a concealed weapon in airports and daycare centers, Reuters reports.

The move comes less than two weeks after a student at Ohio State University injured 11 in a stabbing attack on campus. Since Donald Trump’s election win, Ohio’s conservative lawmakers have become emboldened, and the state recently passed two bills restricting abortion.

The campus carry bill is headed to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for his signature, which looks likely. The Ohio governor’s presidential campaign website says he “continues to be a strong supporter of the right to bear arms and, as governor, has signed every pro-2nd amendment bill that has crossed his desk.”

Law enforcement groups were divided on the bill. The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police opposed it, while a state sheriff’s group supported it.

Michele Mueller of Ohio Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for stricter gun controls, said in a statement: “If House Bill 48 becomes law, we’ll work to educate daycare centers and college campuses about what it means for them and steps they can take to protect their communities.”


Research and other articles of interest

K-3 Policymakers’ Guide to Action: Making the early years count summarizes the top policy components 12 of the nation’s top content experts convened by Education Commission of the States prioritized for a high-quality K-3 system.


Politico – Michael Stratford – December 6, 2016

American 15-year-olds are getting worse at applying their math skills in the real world, when compared to their international peers. The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results are out and they show a drop in “mathematics literacy” scores for U.S. students since 2012 and 2009. “Of particular concern is that we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers” compared to the international average, said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. The disappointing numbers come after results on another international study — the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study — recently showed gains made by U.S. fourth and eighth graders in math since 1995.

U.S. science and reading literacy scores weren’t much different from previous years. Boys outperformed girls in science and math, while girls outperformed boys in reading. Scores for Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico were broken out for international benchmarking purposes, and revealed that Massachusetts students, on average, are outperforming students in the U.S. and worldwide in all three subjects. North Carolina students were comparable with U.S. average scores and Puerto Rican students fared worse. PISA measures the performance of 15-year-olds every three years in three subjects across dozens of education systems worldwide. Check out the results here .

Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is in Massachusetts today to hail the state’s success with PISA — while noting that the nation as a whole is “losing ground.” According to prepared remarks, King will say that it’s “a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world. Students in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota aren’t just vying for great jobs along with their neighbors or across state lines, they must be competitive with peers in Finland, Germany, and Japan.” King will say that Massachusetts embodies the importance of perseverance. “The PISA results announced today for Massachusetts didn’t happen instantly or by accident,” he’ll say. “It has taken years of people showing courage — principals, teachers, parents, students, and state and district leaders. It has taken years of overcoming challenges. It has taken years to make real and meaningful change happen. And it will take time to see the work we are continuing to do today truly pay off for students.” More on King’s visit.

Other noteworthy highlights: U.S. students value a career in science and have high expectations of having a science career, but they’re falling short when it comes to skills. Countries like Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan are also seeing better student outcomes than the U.S., while investing fewer hours in actual teaching — giving teachers more time for professional development and advancing their careers.


From Politico – December 6: NUMBER OF H.S. GRADUATES HAS REACHED A PLATEAU, STUDY FINDS: After 15 years of steady increases in the overall number of high school graduates, the United States is on track to record virtually no growth in the number of graduates for the next seven years, according to a new report being released today by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The WICHE report, funded by ACT and the College Board, also breaks down projected increases and decreases in the number of graduates by race.

“We are moving toward a time when nearly half of all high school graduates will be students of color, with the largest increases among Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders,” said Joe Garcia, president of WICHE, in a statement announcing the report. “Meanwhile, as our population continues to shift geographically, the states that will gain the most population will educate the highest percentage of students of color.” Read and see a state-by-state breakdown here.