Music Education Policy Roundup – Dec 20, 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


Politico By Michael Stratford | 12/20/2016 05:54 AM EDT

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Education secretary, has been unabashed about using her wealth to help elect Republicans and advance her own agenda. And now, after giving millions of dollars to politicians over the last two decades, she heads into her Senate confirmation hearing with an advantage: DeVos and her husband, Dick, have donated to the campaigns of 17 senators who will consider her nomination — four of whom sit on the Senate education committee that oversees the process, which is expected to get underway next month.

— Senate education committee members Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have all accepted money — collectively $50,000 — from DeVos and her husband since 2010. In that same time period, the couple contributed a total of more than $160,000 to senators who will consider Betsy DeVos’ nomination, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

— Asked about DeVos’ political donations, Sen. Scott suggested that plenty of President Barack Obama’s nominees had given money to Democrats. “I would love to see the list of Obama appointees and who they donated to,” he said. A spokeswoman for Murkowski said the money wouldn’t influence her decision, and spokespeople for Cassidy and Burr didn’t respond to requests for comment.

— “It’s just another reflection of the distortion of our politics due to massive campaign contributions,” said Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, who said he finds DeVos’ political contributions troubling. “People who receive campaign contributions from her are far less likely to scrutinize her than people who have not.”

— Republicans have been largely unified in their support for DeVos. And while Democrats have indicated they plan to question DeVos’ support for public education and her lack of traditional education experience, such as working as a teacher or school administrator, they have been less interested in going after her political donations to members of Congress.

— Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate education committee, has been critical of DeVos but said he doesn’t worry about her political donations. “It wouldn’t be the first time that a nominee has made political donations,” he said.

— But DeVos’ role as a Republican mega-donor could still emerge as an issue in the confirmation hearings, which are expected next month. A senior aide to a Democrat on the Senate education committee said DeVos has spent money for years to advance what the staffer described as “her anti-public education agenda.” “So there will certainly be interest into whether she’s continued this pattern with her own nomination,” the staffer said. Read more.


Kaine appointed to Senate HELP Committee, has concerns about DeVos

Politico By Michael Stratford 12/19/2016 08:04 PM EDT

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced today that he’ll be joining the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee in the new Congress next year.

The former Democratic vice presidential nominee said in a statement that he’ll use the new post to work on “two long-time passions of mine, healthcare and education.”

One of the first orders of business for the Senate HELP Committee next year is holding hearings on President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees, including Betsy DeVos, his pick to lead the education department.

Kaine “shares the concerns that others have expressed about DeVos’ support for private, religious and charter schools,” a spokesperson said today. “He will look more closely at her background on key education issues such as accountability, equity and access as the Senate considers her nomination and looks forward to discussing these issues during the hearing process.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Kaine advocated for debt-free college on the campaign trail. He also criticized then-candidate Donald Trump’s plan to create a $20 billion program to expand charter and private school options for low-income children.

In the Senate, Kaine has been a proponent of career and technical education.

“Serving on the HELP Committee will allow me to continue my work in the Senate to advocate for CTE, ensure postsecondary education opportunities are affordable and high-quality early childhood education programs are accessible, and support job training initiatives to expand economic growth in the U.S.,” he said in a statement.

Democrats on the Senate education committee are reshuffling since they’ll be losing the retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) next year. Senator-elect Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) announced last week that she has also been appointed to the committee.


Senator-elect Hassan appointed to Education Committee

Politico By Michael Stratford 12/15/2016 10:59 AM EDT

Senator-elect Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) announced today that she has been named to serve on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next year.

Hassan, the New Hampshire governor who unseated Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), will use her perch on the committee “to hold down the cost of college tuition and reduce the burden of student loan debt,” her office said in a statement.

Her appointment comes as Senate Democrats on the committee will lose retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) next year.

Hassan also announced that she will be serving on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“I’m honored to be appointed to these important Senate committees that will allow me to continue to focus on critical New Hampshire priorities,” Hassan said in a statement.


Hanna Skandera under consideration for top Education Department post

Politico By Caitlin Emma 12/15/2016 07:10 PM EDT

New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is under close consideration for education deputy secretary or undersecretary in the Trump administration, sources tell POLITICO.

Skandera brings both K-12 and higher education experience to the table.

She was Florida’s deputy commissioner of education for former Gov. Jeb Bush, and also served as senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff at the Education Department under former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Skandera was also undersecretary for education for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Skandera is a core state education chief in the education reform group, Chiefs for Change, and has taught education policy courses at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, her bio notes.

Skandera could not immediately be reached for comment.

In January, she took over as head of the governing board for the PARCC test. That test is aligned to the Common Core, which President-elect Donald Trump and his pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have vowed to get rid of — although the Every Student Succeeds Act prevents them from doing so.

Skandera was nominated for her post in New Mexico by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in 2011, but she was finally confirmed last year after the Democrat-controlled Senate initially refused to vote on her confirmation. Democrats have criticized Skandera for a lack of experience and an intense focus on standardized testing. And she has had a contentious relationship with teachers unions, who’ve sued her over the state’s teacher evaluation system.


DeVos spokesman responds to elections fine criticism

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 12/14/2016 06:00 PM EDT

A spokesman for Betsy DeVos, the billionaire tapped by Trump to lead the Education Department, says she shouldn’t have to pay a long-overdue elections fine owed to the state of Ohio.

A handful of Senate Democrats today called on DeVos to pay the $5.3 million fine, which was incurred by a DeVos-backed political action committee. The senators wrote that the PAC demonstrated a “blatant disregard for the law.”

Ed Patru, a DeVos spokesman, said the senators’ letter is a “transparently political maneuver.”

Patru also dismissed the years-long legal battle over the fines as “a politically driven effort to derail education reform in Ohio.”

“Betsy was not a party to the suit, a trial court judge ruled none of ACM’s officers or board members can be held liable for the fine,” he said. “That ruling was never challenged by the state of Ohio, and as a result, the issue was put to rest eight years ago.”

The unpaid fine, previously reported by POLITICO, dates back to 2008, when All Children Matter — a group that lobbied for school-choice legislation and was run by DeVos — broke Ohio election law by funneling $870,000 in contributions through its nationwide PAC to its now-defunct Ohio affiliate, according to the Ohio Elections Commission.


Democrats call on DeVos to pay $5 million in long-overdue elections fines

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 12/14/2016 11:23 AM EDT

A group of Democratic senators are calling on Trump’s education secretary pick to repay more than $5 million in election fines owed by her school-choice advocacy group.

The All Children Matter group, headed by billionaire Betsy DeVos, owes the state of Ohio more than $5.3 million for election law violations — a record fine that is now nearly a decade past due, POLITICO previously reported.

Four Democrats, including Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sent a letter today to DeVos that expresses “significant concerns” about the fine, and urges her to pay it.

“The blatant disregard for the law that your PAC demonstrated is deeply troubling,” the letter says. “If confirmed as Secretary of Education, you would be responsible for administering our nation’s student loan programs and ensuring that borrowers repay their loans in a timely manner. However, the PAC that you chaired failed to pay fines that were imposed on it over eight years ago. This demonstrates a serious lack of judgment by the PAC’s board and a willingness to avoid paying legally obligated public debts.”

A DeVos spokesman and the Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The unpaid fine dates back to 2008, when All Children Matter — a group that lobbied for school-choice legislation and was run by DeVos — broke Ohio election law by funneling $870,000 in contributions through its nationwide PAC to its Ohio affiliate, according to the Ohio Elections Commission.

Essentially, All Children Matter was pushing money through its national PAC, which was based in Virginia — where there are no limits on political contributions. Ohio has a $10,000 cap on individual gifts.

The Trump transition team previously called the fine “nothing more than a partisan witch hunt by a Democratic Secretary of State to undermine Ms. DeVos’ courageous advocacy for Ohio children and families.”


Military groups urge Betsy DeVos to support quality education standards

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 12/19/2016 12:55 PM EDT

Military education-focused groups released a letter today to Betsy DeVos — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department — urging her to remember the “importance of high, consistent standards.”

The letter doesn’t specifically mention the Common Core standards, but one of the ten co-signers of the letter is the Collaborative for Student Success — a group that was created to advance the Common Core standards. Other co-signers include the Military Officers Association of America, the Military Child Education Coalition and the National Military Family Association.

The letter reminds DeVos that military children are “particularly at risk of a poor education experience because of academic standards that are inconsistent as they move from place to place due to a parent’s commitment to serving the nation.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Trump’s transition team issued a statement that didn’t specifically address the issue of the standards, but said that, “If confirmed, Betsy DeVos looks forward to working to support all children — including those of our brave men and women in the Armed Forces — to achieve and succeed.”

Trump has been an ardent critic of the Common Core. At a recent event in Grand Rapids, Mich., DeVos said she supports “letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”

The Common Core standards have been adopted in more than 40 states. They spell out what math and English skills students should grasp in each grade level. It was a state-led effort, but the Obama administration dangled incentives to states that adopted them, which led to accusations of federal intervention.


Trump transition team: DeVos “fully committed” to U.S. School kids

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 12/12/2016 01:03 PM EDT

Betsy DeVos — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department — is “fully committed” to helping all children, Trump’s transition team said today.

The comments come in response to a joint press release issued earlier today by than 30 civil rights groups and unions. The groups said they are “deeply” concerned about DeVos’ level of experience, her views on school vouchers and charter-school oversight, and her connections to anti-gay rights causes.

“If confirmed, Betsy DeVos is fully committed to ensuring that all children are safe to learn and thrive in high-quality schools,” the transition team said in a statement to POLITICO.

DeVos is a philanthropist and billionaire who has long supported making educational opportunities available to school children beyond traditional public schools.


Civil rights groups: DeVos’ record, inexperience is “deeply” concerning
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 12/12/2016 12:13 PM EDT Updated 12/12/2016 12:44 PM EDT

More than 30 civil rights groups and unions said in a joint statement today that Betsy DeVos’ lack of experience and her views on school vouchers and charter school oversight “calls into question core principles of fairness, equality and a commitment to education.”

They call President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of her to lead the Education Department “deeply” concerning.

DeVos is a Michigan billionaire and philanthropist who has long supported making educational opportunities beyond traditional public schools available to U.S. kids — views that she has said help low-income families trapped in failing schools.

But the groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, disagree.

“DeVos’ very public support for voucher schemes which siphon away all-too-limited public education funds and fail to provide protection from discrimination and segregation, and her opposition to appropriate oversight of charter schools, run contrary to the department’s mission to ‘promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access,'” they say.

The groups also say they are concerned about DeVos’ connections to anti-gay rights causes.

“While we have heard little of DeVos’ record with regard to the rights and interests of English learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities and religious minorities, we are deeply troubled by the unacceptable rhetoric of the President-elect during his campaign and the absence of a record of DeVos’ support for these students,” they say.

Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Federal Updates

GOP Lawmakers Put ESSA Accountability, Teacher-Prep Regulations on Hit List

EdWeek By Alyson Klein Dec. 13, 2016

The Obama administration’s teacher preparation regulations under the Higher Education Act and its accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act appear headed for the trash heap, if the Senate Republican Policy Committee gets its way.

Both sets of regulations are being targeted by the policy committee for the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to vote to strike down rules lawmakers don’t like, essentially putting the kibosh on them. If a set of regulations is subject to the CRA, the administration can’t issue similar regulations until there’s new authorizing legislation. Congress has until May to use this option to get rid of recently enacted Obama administration regulations, according to the committee’s website.

The incoming Trump administration can also take immediate steps to pause the implementation of some recently finalized regulations, by essentially delaying their effective date.

It’s unclear if school districts and states actually want Congress to toss the accountability regulations. State and district advocates raised some serious questions about the administration’s draft regulations, which solicited more than 20,000 comments.

But the final version, released late last month, got largely positive reviews from groups including the Council of Chief State School Officers and the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. Both said the department assuaged their concerns by granting more them more time and flexibility to implement ESSA.

If the regulations are scrapped, it could make it tougher for states to finish their ESSA plans, which they can begin filing this spring. To keep the momentum going, the Trump administration would have to outline its own vision on accountability.

The teacher-preparation regulations call for states to collect new data on starting teachers they have trained, with the aim of tracking whether they work in high-needs schools, stay in the profession, and are able to improve student learning. The regulations, which were finalized in October, have come under fire from teachers’ unions, and some state officials say the new requirements could be a capacity challenge.

Interestingly, an arguably more-controversial set of regulations for a spending provision of ESSA known as supplement-not-supplant is not on the Republicans’ target list. That could be because those regulations haven’t been finalized yet. But there’s another set of draft regulations, pertaining to Planned Parenthood, that is on the policy committee’s hit list. Of course, it’s hard to imagine Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education panel, would be on board with any final rule that looks similar to what the education department proposed earlier this year. So that regulation could easily end up on this list, once it’s finalized.


Education Department launches new innovation grant program

Politico By Caitlin Emma 12/15/2016 06:16 PM EDT Updated 12/15/2016 07:31 PM EDT

The Education Department today launched the Education Innovation and Research grant competition, which replaced the Obama administration’s Investing in Innovation grant program through passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The new grant program is different in that states, as well as school districts, can get grants to launch and scale up innovative programs aimed at helping students who are considered at risk. Grant applicants can consult with a wider variety of organizations for their projects. About a quarter of the new funds will support rural areas.

The Education Department has spent $1.4 billion through the i3 program on 172 projects across all 50 states. All of the 2016 grantees will be receiving federal grants after securing matching funds, the department noted.

Grantees for the new program are expected to be announced in fall 2017, pending congressional appropriations. Obama requested $180 million in his 2017 budget for the program. But it’s unclear whether the program will be a priority for the Republican-controlled Congress, since it’s so similar to the Obama administration’s signature i3 grant program.


New final rule aimed at tackling racial, ethnic disparities in special education

Politico By Caitlin Emma 12/12/2016 12:05 PM EDT Updated 12/12/2016 12:44 PM EDT

The Education Department today made public a final rule under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to tackle racial and ethnic disparities in special education across states.

African American students are pulled out of the traditional classroom for special education services more often than their white peers, and African American students with disabilities are disciplined more often, for example.

That’s partly because states use a variety of different methods for identifying such disparities — termed “significant disproportionality” by the Obama administration — and rarely take action to fix them, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said today.

The final rule will require all states to use the same method for identifying racial and ethnic disparities and force them to grapple with the root problems, including setting aside 15 percent of federal funds under IDEA to address the issues.

One clarification in the final rule: The Education Department says states don’t have to identify significant disproportionality in school districts that are making progress for two prior years in a row.


Obama appoints Catherina Lhamon to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Politico By Michael Stratford 12/15/2016 07:06 PM EDT

President Barack Obama plans to appoint Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, to the U.S Commission on Civil Rights, the White House announced today.

Lhamon, who currently heads the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, will serve as one of the panel’s eight commissioners. Each of the commissioners are appointed for six-year terms.

Since being confirmed to her post at the Education Department in 2013, Lhamon has overseen the Obama administration’s sweeping civil rights agenda in education. That has included a focus on the rights of transgender students, campus sexual assault cases, and school discipline issues.

Obama also appointed Debo P. Adegbile, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, LLP and former counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to the commission.


Defense Department penalties against the University of Phoenix were unjustified, McCain says

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 12/16/2016 01:04 PM EDT

The Defense Department’s decision to temporally halt new military members from enrolling at the University of Phoenix last year using its tuition assistance program was based on “specious” reasons, a report released today concludes.

The report was written by the office of Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. McCain is a long-time supporter of the University of Phoenix and a frequent critic of the Obama administration’s crackdown on for-profit colleges.

In a statement, McCain said the probationary status for the school, which lasted roughly three months, was a “gross abuse of power.”

“Undoing the Obama Administration’s eight-year war on for-profit colleges through onerous rulemaking and regulatory actions should be a priority of the next administration and Congress,” McCain said.

In a letter to the University of Phoenix, the Defense Department said that the “frequency and scope” of the university’s violations was “disconcerting.” The letter spelled out infractions that included the college’s use of trademarked military insignia — mock “challenge coins” — and its failure to get permission from education advisers before entering military installations.

But McCain’s report concludes that by the time the Defense Department acted, the University of Phoenix had already corrected the problems. It says Defense Department officials acted “as a result of a lack of clear lines of authority, supervision and accountability.”

Defense Department officials testified last month before McCain’s committee that a new framework is being rolled out in January to better assess the quality of college programs participating in the military’s tuition assistance program.


Education Department finalizes rule for state regulation of online college programs

Politico By Michael Stratford 12/16/2016 10:12 AM EDT

The Obama administration today finalized its last major regulation governing higher education: a rule aimed at getting states to beef up their oversight of online college programs.

The long-awaited rule will effectively require states to have a process for reviewing and taking “appropriate action” on student complaints about online programs that enroll their residents — even if the college isn’t physically located in the state.

The rule will also require online programs to follow the process for obtaining state approval in each state in which they enroll students.

The regulation is largely unchanged from the proposal the department published in July. The department clarified in the final rule that state reciprocity agreements allowing online colleges to simultaneously obtain approval in multiple states cannot prohibit any state from enforcing its own laws and regulations against a college.

“We’re proud that these regulations build on good ideas from stakeholders across the nation that balance accountability and flexibility for institutions as they seek to better serve students and taxpayers,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a statement today announcing the new “state authorization” rule.

The new requirements will affect distance education and online programs, which the department said collectively enroll 5.5 million students. The rule applies to all types of degree-granting institutions, but the Obama administration’s efforts to step up state oversight of online schools was motivated largely by concerns that some state regulators were falling down on the job when it comes to for-profit schools.


Virtual charter shareholders shoot down transparency proposal

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 12/15/2016 12:00 PM EDT

Shareholders of the nation’s largest virtual charter school company — K12 Inc. — today shot down a proposal that would have required the company’s board to produce a new report detailing their lobbying efforts.

The proposal came from a group of shareholders, represented by Arjuna Capital, who say the company spends millions on state lobbying, even as its stock has fallen and revenue has dropped. They had called on the company’s board to prepare an annual report detailing spending on “direct or indirect lobbying or … grassroots lobbying communications.” They also wanted the company to report K12’s membership in, and payments to, any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation — such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

But the board urged shareholders to vote against the proposal, saying in SEC filings that “its adoption is unnecessary in light of the company’s existing practices regarding lobbying activities and expenditures and is not in the best interests of our stockholders.” The proposal was shot down during the company’s annual meeting today.

Earlier this year, K12 Inc. agreed to pay $168.5 million to settle alleged violations of California’s false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws, though the company admitted no wrongdoing. In 2012, K12 settled a federal lawsuit for $6.8 million. The suit alleged its executives inflated stock prices by misleading investors with false student-performance claims.


King calls for unity in final policy speech

Politico By Caitlin Emma 12/14/2016 10:01 AM EDT

Education Secretary John B. King Jr. this morning will call for unity in his last major policy speech at the Center for American Progress.

“We may disagree about tactics and strategies, but, as advocates of public education, we cannot afford to disagree about the need to make choices that reflect the best interests of students, and to push ahead bravely,” he’s expected to say, according to embargoed remarks.

King’s remarks come amid a lot of uncertainty at the Education Department, as career employees and political appointees work to finalize the Obama administration’s priorities while facing the possibility that their work might be undone by the Trump administration. King will say he’s not sure about his next career move, while stressing that there’s more work to do.

On school choice, he’ll call for a rejection of the “false choice between allowing public charter schools and supporting traditional public schools. Our primary concern shouldn’t be the management structure of schools; it should be whether they serve all students well.”

King will also call for better teacher pay and resources to ensure that teachers have the time, opportunity and career ladders to perform at their best.

And on education funding — alluding to the contentious issue of supplement, not supplant — he’ll lament that “even a modest proposal to ensure that federal funds reach the students they are meant for has faced fierce opposition inside the beltway. But that’s just the start of the conversation we need to be having about equitable access to resources.”


Student homelessness on the rise in most states, data shows

Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 12/13/2016 02:26 PM EDT

Thirty-five states saw an increase in homeless students between 2012 and 2014, according to new data released today by the Department of Education. Of those states, 21 saw an increase of 10 percent or more. Only five states saw a reduction of 10 percent or more in homeless students.

As of the 2014-15 school year, there were 1,263,323 children and youth, enrolled in pre-K through grade 12, who identified as homeless. The number of unaccompanied homeless youth — those who experience homelessness apart from their families — also increased 21 percent over three years, reaching approximately 95,032 students.

Homeless students are more likely to transfer schools frequently, more likely to miss school and 87 percent are more likely to leave school prior to graduating, according to First Focus Campaign for Children, a nonprofit bipartisan children’s advocacy group.

The research also shows that academic achievement among elementary school students slows down during “periods of homelessness and housing instability.” In addition, unaccompanied homeless youth are more vulnerable to threats like sexual exploitation/trafficking and negative health outcomes.

“The data released today confirms what schools and communities see every day — too many children and youth struggling to survive without a home,” said Barbara Duffield, SchoolHouse Connection executive director, in a statement. “The new provisions for homeless students in the Every Students Succeeds Act need to be fully funded and implemented so that every homeless student is given the support they need to succeed.”


Obama administration unveils new diversity grants, to be awarded under Trump

Politico By Caitlin Emma 12/13/2016 02:08 PM EDT

The Education Department today unveiled a new grant program to promote socioeconomic diversity in schools — investing $12 million in up to 20 school districts or groups of districts that want to develop plans.

The announcement comes as Education Secretary John B. King Jr. visits Goldsmith Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., today to talk about the importance of school diversity.

Rural school districts and those that want to explore inter-district efforts will receive priority through the program, the department says. Applications are due in February, and grantees are expected to be chosen this spring.

Some civil rights advocates have expressed concerns about whether the Trump administration will continue the Obama administration’s encouragement of socioeconomic integration in schools. The Trump transition team said this week that Betsy DeVos, if confirmed as education secretary, “is fully committed to ensuring that all children are safe to learn and thrive in high-quality schools.”

The new grant competition, called “Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities,” comes after the Obama administration previously called for a much-larger $120 million “Stronger Together” grant program in the 2017 budget proposal. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) this summer unveiled a bill that would’ve authorized that grant program. Both proposals failed to gain traction in the GOP-led Congress.

The Education Department today also announced $15 million in grants through the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, which helps schools pay for long-term efforts to promote diversity and better academic performance.


State Updates

In Some States, a Tug of War Over ESSA Plans
Now that states are moving to take on new authority over K-12 policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act, skirmishes are breaking out in several states over who’s in charge. (Education Week, Dec. 13)


PA – New Grades for Schools Would Give Less Weight to Testing
Calling it the Future Ready PA Index, state education officials say the new grading system is meant to tell a more accurate story about Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts. While testing would still play an important role in gauging school performance, officials say, other indicators of student learning and achievement would take on greater importance than they do now. (Associated Press, Dec. 17)


MD State School Board Considering Vouchers, Charters for Failing Schools
The state school board is considering bold measures — offering vouchers, creating new charter programs and establishing a statewide school district — to improve consistently low-performing schools. (Baltimore Sun, Dec. 18)


DE: Proposal Would Require DE High Schools to Offer Computer Science
Delaware Rep. Debra Heffernan announced plans to pre-file legislation that would require all state high schools to offer computer science courses. Rep. Heffernan, a Bellefonte Democrat, said she will introduce a bill mandating all public and charter high schools offer at least one computer science class by 2020. (Delawae State News, Dec. 8)


ESSA State Implementation (ASCD): Illinois recently released the second iteration of its state plan, requesting comments by December 27. When he introduced the first draft, state superintendent Tony Smith said, “ESSA provides the opportunity to contemplate what is meant by ‘the whole child,’ and from this, to consider the type of programming that will support the strengths and needs of each and every child.” Based on comments received from around the state, this second version includes growth models and begins to detail what an accountability system looks like when academic indicators and school quality indicators are weighted differently. Smith says he envisions “schools as the centerpiece of growing healthy communities where the needs of the whole child are met.”


After State Delays Timeline, Anxious MI Schools Must Wait Until Next Year to Learn Their Fate
Michigan schools waiting anxiously for word on whether they’ll be shut down next year will have to wait a little longer. State officials initially planned to release their annual state rankings, which will be used to decide which schools will be forced to close, by the end of this month. (Chalkbeat, Dec. 16)


TN – Nashville ESSA Town Hall Creates Plenty of Feedback, Questions
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen made a stop at Pearl Cohn High School on Thursday to talk about the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act draft plan ahead of its release — possible sometime within the next week. (Tennessean, Dec. 15)


DC Public School Requires AP Class for Seniors
For the first time, Cardozo is requiring seniors to take Advanced Placement English literature. Esperant Kazzembe, 19, has noticed a positive change in his reading comprehension and writing. (WJLA, Dec. 13)


Head Start’s State-to-State Gaps Held Up in Most Comprehensive Report Card Yet
In the most comprehensive study of the program yet, “State(s) of Head Start,” released Wednesday, researchers from the National Institute for Early Education Research, at Rutgers University, looked at data on Head Start programs from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories. (Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 14)


AR – State Program Eases License Rules to Lure Back Former Teachers
The Arkansas Department of Education is asking formerly state-licensed teachers to consider regaining their state credentials for a possible return to work in the classroom. Any former teachers heeding that call between now and March 31 can get that state license after completion of 36 hours of professional training — much or all of it online and free of charge. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dec. 11)


California: New Legislation to Promote Media Arts Education

California State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson recently introduced legislation to improve media arts education so that students will be better prepared for careers in movies, animation, video games, virtual reality and other media arts fields. Updated media arts standards will help teachers improve their practices and set rigorous learning expectations for students. More



Politico – Caitlin Emma – 12/14/16

The Education Department is insisting that California administer old science tests while piloting new ones aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, EdSource reports. The state and federal officials have been at odds over the issue. California wants to pilot a new test while delaying the reporting of student scores through 2018. But the Education Department told California officials in September that the state has to administer its old science exam while piloting the new one, so that all students are tested and there’s transparency on how students are doing. California officials filed an appeal earlier this month, but the Education Department is holding firm. It’s unclear if the state will get its way once the Trump administration takes over. More.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and State Board President Michael Kirst said in a joint statement that they’re “deeply disappointed by the U.S. Department of Education’s denial of our waiver request. We reject their insistence that we double-test. We believe the denial of this request harms our students, who will be forced to study science based on state standards adopted in 1998 that are outmoded and not designed for the 21st century. California plans to move full-speed ahead implementing our new, computer-adaptive science assessment pilot in 2017 based on our new Next Generation Science Standards.”


Last remaining New Orleans public schools want to become charters

Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 12/14/2016 10:06 AM EDT

New Orleans’ five remaining public schools are interested in becoming charters, Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis said Tuesday, while noting his own support for the plan.

Ben Franklin Elementary, Eleanor McCain Secondary, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Mary Bethune Elementary and McDonogh No. 35 College Prep would join the city’s other 80 schools, which are already charters, the Times-Picayune reports.

“We welcome the opportunity to empower our network school leaders and their school communities to determine the best path forward and access to the same financial resources and operational autonomy as other schools in our city enjoy,” Lewis said in a statement. “I have full confidence in the leadership of our schools to make informed, student-centered decisions.”

The schools plan to form a new charter group called ExCEED, and will have until Jan. 27 to submit formal notice of their intent to apply. They will then have to submit their full application by Feb. 24.

Lewis said he sees charters as a means of “pushing as many dollars as possible to the schools,” and in fact, the schools would receive up to an estimated $1,000 more per student by chartering. But other than that, Lewis said not much would change in terms of how the schools operate.

Parents and alumni have had mixed reactions to the news. Some are concerned by the lack of a vote, or see the move as a destruction of historical institutions. Others remain hopeful that the city will do whatever is best for the students — whether that means chartering or not.


Idaho program aims to advance dual enrollment

Education officials in Idaho are hoping the state’s Advanced Opportunities program will help boost the number of students who enroll in college after graduation. The program provides up to $4,125 per student to pay for some academic costs, including dual-credit classes, which have been associated with higher rates of college enrollment.

The Idaho Statesman (Boise)


CA – College Campuses to Receive $8 Million to Boost Teacher-Prep Programs
Twenty-nine California colleges and universities will share $8 million in state grants aimed at stemming teacher shortages by increasing the number of credentialed teachers. The program will help boost the number of undergraduate students who receive teaching credentials in four years, at the same time that they earn a bachelor’s degree. (EdSource, Dec. 8)


Research and other articles of interest

How Could Betsy DeVos Use ESSA to Champion School Choice?

By Alyson Klein on December 15, 2016 8:43 AM

President-elect Donald Trump and his education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos, may not get the giant voucher program they want, at least not right away. But they don’t need new legislation to push other forms of school choice.

The year-old Every Student Succeeds Act includes a host of provisions that DeVos and her team could use to promote public school choice, such as virtual learning, and charter schools. It’s important to note that almost all of these features are optional for states and districts. They don’t have to take advantage of them if they don’t want to.

Still, if DeVos is confirmed, expect her Education Department to use its new megaphone to highlight these parts of the law, and give states and districts guidance on how to make the most of them. DeVos could do that in much the same way that John B. King Jr., the current education secretary, and his team have put a spotlight on the parts of the law that call on districts to use evidence-based interventions for struggling schools or offer students a well-rounded education, for instance. 

So what are likely to be DeVos’ favorite parts of the law? Here’s a quick rundown:

Weighted Student Funding Pilot

ESSA allows up to 50 school districts that want to try out a “weighted student funding” formula to combine their federal funds with state and local money. Weighted student funding formulas essentially allow districts to tailor the amount of money each student gets to those students’ needs. That means, for instance, that English-language learners or students in poverty could get a bigger piece of the school funding pie than kids from middle class families whose first language is English. There are some requirements attached to the pilot. For instance, these new formulas would have to ensure that each high-poverty school gets more per-pupil funding than it did in the previous academic year.

GOP lawmakers billed this part of ESSA as win for school choice. But importantly, districts don’t have to use it for public school choice programs if they don’t want to. And the money can’t go to private schools. Still, if a district or state does want funding to follow individual kids to say, a public charter, participation in this pilot could make that a lot easier.

The pilot project only lasts three years. After that, the Institute of Education Sciences is supposed to report on districts’ progress. At that point, the secretary can decide to renew the flexibility and, potentially, broaden it to other districts. More information on the weighted student funding pilot here.

So far, the Obama administration has been busy laying the groundwork on other parts of the law and hasn’t opened up this pilot yet. It might rank higher on Team DeVos’ priority list.

Title I Set-Aside

States can, if they choose, set aside 3 percent of their Title I money—the main funding source in ESSA—for a bunch of different purposes, including tutoring, credit recovery, expanded access to rigorous courses, and personalized learning. Districts could also use the money to allow students in schools that have been flagged as needing improvement under the law to transfer to a better-performing public school, including a charter.

Most of the money—99 percent—has to end up in district coffers eventually, but states that take advantage of this provision would get to decide how it’s used. And states could choose to dole the money out competitively, as long as they give a leg-up to districts with a lot of schools that have been singled out for extra help.

Organizations that DeVos has funded or sat on the boards of—like the Foundation for Excellence in Education, started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—are big fans of virtual and online courses. So it’s easy to see her working to make sure that states know about this set-aside.

Chiefs for Change, a group of state and district leaders, has a helpful guide on this part of the law, which you can check out here.

Funding Flexibility

ESSA also allows states to transfer money from Title II of the law (which deals with teacher quality) into Title IV of the law, which is hugely flexible and can cover a whole range of things. That includes technology and anything that would help students become college-and-career ready, such as Advanced Placement courses. This provision could open the door to districts using their federal funds to expand choice, at least in the form of virtual courses.

Public School Choice

Under ESSA, districts can let students in schools that have been flagged as needing serious help (called “comprehensive support” under the law) transfer to better-performing schools in the district, including charters. Districts that decide to exercise this option have to give priority to struggling, low-income students. It’s hard to imagine a ton of districts jumping to do this—not many folks took advantage of the choice provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act, the previous version of the law. But DeVos and company could make sure districts know it’s an option. And they could even try to highlight this provision for parents so they’ll put pressure on local leaders to make use of the flexibility.

Private Schools

Believe it or not, ESSA contains some provisions on private schools, although none of them are expressly aimed at promoting choice. These aren’t brand-new for ESSA—they were in previous versions of the underlying Elementary and Secondary Act—but ESSA beefed them up.

Here’s how these provisions work: Private schools don’t get Title I money for disadvantaged children like public schools do. But, the kids they enroll who are eligible for Title I count toward the school district’s overall allocation. And those students are supposed to be able to get the same access to services provided by the district as other Title I kids that attend regular public schools, including after-school or tutoring program. Districts are supposed to “meaningfully consult” with private schools to find out what these students need, and ESSA gave more thorough instructions than previous versions of the law when it comes to what that consultation should look like.

ESSA also tasked state education agencies to identify a “private school ombudsman” who can help make sure that districts are following through with these provisions. More in this blog post from Andrew


COLLEGE ENROLLMENT CONTINUES DOWNWARD SPIRAL: The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says in a new estimate , released Sunday, that fall enrollment fell nationally by more than 270,000 students compared with a year earlier. The declines were heavily concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, with 39 states seeing enrollment drops. Also of note: nearly 165,000 fewer students enrolled in four-year, for-profit colleges. Overall, it said there were 19 million students enrolled in all types of institutions. “The trends of a declining adult student enrollment and the shrinking for-profit sector are now joined by stagnating numbers of new high school graduates,” says Doug Shapiro, the center’s executive research director. “These forces show no sign of slowing and will continue to challenge institutions in their planning.”

— Top 5 states with the largest enrollment decreases: New York (30,695); Illinois (26,089); Michigan (25,841); Pennsylvania (18,390); and Virginia (15,613).

— Top 5 states with the largest enrollment gains: New Hampshire (21,413); Utah (20,498); Florida (16,989); Georgia (10,607); and Arizona (5,655).


Q&A: Dweck discusses “false growth mindset”

A misunderstanding of growth mindset is leading some teachers to promote “false growth mindset,” in which students are praised for their effort — even when they fail — says Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University. In this Q&A, Dweck asserts that the trend is part of the movement to build students’ self-esteem.


New Reports from Education Commission of the States:

State-Federal Partnerships in Postsecondary Education 

As states look for approaches to increase postsecondary education attainment rates and meet changing workforce demands, the interaction and connectivity of state- and federal-level policies plays a critical role in helping states meet their individual goals and support student success. Policymakers are often challenged with marrying federal and state higher education policies to develop a comprehensive policy playbook that supports students and moves the nation toward meeting aggressive, yet necessary, attainment goals.
To support policymaking efforts, Education Commission of the States coordinated the creation of 10 policy briefs focused on the interaction between state- and federal-level policies pertaining to higher education. The briefs are composed by a diverse collection of education policy thought leaders representing state and federal perspectives from both a public and private viewpoint.
“As both state governments and the federal government share responsibility for constructing and implementing postsecondary education policies that support students and provide opportunities for a high-quality education, it is imperative that these policies be cohesive and streamlined,” said Brian Sponsler, vice president of policy and director of the Postsecondary and Workforce Development Institute at Education Commission of the States. “This series of briefs explores policy nuances across key postsecondary issue areas and serves as a roadmap for policy action.”


50-State Comparison: Civic Education and Companion Report – Education Commission of the States

With the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have innovative opportunities to provide students with a well-rounded education. Civic education is a vital aspect of a well-rounded education and states across the country have passed legislation related to civic learning and engagement. The ultimate goal is to provide students with opportunities to actively participate in civic and democratic life.

This 50-State Comparison is an update to the 50-State Comparison: Civic Education Policies, released in 2013, and provides a statewide overview of social studies and civic education legislation and identifies trends, distinctions and outliers. The Companion Report for this 50-State Comparison highlights key legislation and specific school curriculums related to civic education.

“Exploring and understanding how states across the country approach civic learning and citizenship education through policy and curriculum opens the door for opportunities for improving policies and increasing student engagement in civic issues,” said Jan Brennan, project leader for the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement, a center within Education Commission of the States. “This 50-State Comparison serves as a resource to help states evaluate their current civic education policies and ensure their students are prepared for future civic engagement.”
Some key takeaways from this report:

  • More than half of the states require some form of civic education assessment.
  • The majority of states do not include civics, social studies or citizenship in their education accountability systems.
  • States vary considerably in the policy device and manner in which they address civic education in statute, administrative code, and curriculum and standards frameworks.