Music Education Policy Roundup – December 23, 2017

Read here for brief updates on policy developments affecting music education around the United States. These news items include federal, state, and local items that may be of interest to music educators, and are compiled periodically by Lynn Tuttle, NAfME Director of Content and Policy, and Tooshar Swain, NAfME Public Policy Advisor.


  • Our first ALF call of 2018 will be held on Monday, January 22nd at 6PM EDT.  We will discuss federal and state policy initiatives as we enter an election year.  We will also be discussing some new opportunities that may be helpful to your state advocacy initiatives.    You can register with the link below:


  • NAfME has completed its analysis on all ESSA state plans submitted.  The message was clear in the review of the first 13 state ESSA plan submissions, including the District of Columbia: advocacy by music and arts educators at the state level had been successful and music and arts education were found in several key areas of the plans.  In this larger cadre of state plans, the work of music and arts education advocates is still found, but in a variety of places and spaces.


  • We’ve made our list and checked it twice.  As a number of items are under consideration in the United States Congress that could impact education policy and music education across the country, please read NAfME’s Legislative Holiday Wish List.





GOP tax bill passes Congress

The House on Wednesday approved a massive Republican plan to overhaul the tax code, clearing the bill’s final hurdle in Congress and sending it to President Trump to be signed into law.  The measure passed the House 224 to 201 as overwhelming Republican support carried the bill past unanimous Democratic opposition and ‘no’ votes from 12 GOP members. The House vote comes after the Senate approved an identical measure early Wednesday morning, with all Democrats opposed and all Republicans present in support.  The plan would permanently drop the corporate tax from 35 percent to 21 percent, while also rewriting the individual tax rules to lower rates and restructure deductions. The plan would cut taxes in 2018 for the vast majority of households, with by far the largest benefits going to the wealthy. Many of the tax breaks are set to expire at the end of 2025, leaving a large section of the middle class to pay more in taxes. But Republicans promise a future Congress will intervene to prevent that tax hike from happening.


House Republicans Finalize Overhaul of Higher Education Act

House Republicans finalized a legislative proposal to overhaul the Higher Education Act – the mammoth federal law through which the entire student financial aid system is run – late Tuesday evening after a 14-hour marathon committee debate over the details of the bill.

The final vote, 23-17, along party lines, advances the proposal, known as the PROSPER Act, to the full House for a vote.  The bill would overhaul entirely the existing law by streamlining the student aid system, eliminating various regulations and elevating post-secondary programs that offer professional certificates and job training.


‘Too Much, Too Fast’?

The Republican-led Congress’s early attempt at rewriting the federal Higher Education Act uses incentives and deregulation to encourage new twists on college, including competency-based education, short-term programs and nonaccredited providers.  Experts continue to absorb details about the complex bill from Republican leaders on the U.S. House of Representatives’ education committee, which on Tuesday voted to pass a 590-page version. Some applauded the innovation push but worry about the bill’s lack of “guardrails” that seek to keep low-quality offerings in check.  “We’re trying to not look at all the negatives, but rather be heartened by the fact that they’re having the right conversations,” said Lexi Barrett, senior director for national education policy at Jobs for the Future.


Republicans fight Democrats — and themselves — as shutdown looms

Even as Republicans are poised to pass a $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill, a brewing fight over federal funding may lead to a government shutdown at week’s end.  Speaker Paul Ryan plans to pass a continuing resolution later this week to fund the government until Jan. 19, but there are major disagreements within the House GOP over the move. There are also disputes between House and Senate Republicans, as well as the ever-present struggle with Democrats.  Right now, no one on either side of the Capitol has any clear idea how this three-way funding fight will play out, but all the major factions are digging in. Lawmakers and aides said the House and Senate could end up “ping-ponging” a spending bill back and forth until the issues are resolved, although some worry that Congress could blunder into a shutdown. Ryan on Tuesday instructed lawmakers not to leave town, signaling how concerned leadership is about the Friday funding deadline.


Education Department unveils plans for higher ed rules in 2018

The Trump administration plans to move forward next year with new regulations governing campus sexual assault and rewrites of Obama-era policies targeting for-profit colleges, according to regulatory plans released today.

Here’s a summary of some of the key details from the department’s regulatory agenda: Title IX regulations.  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans to propose new Title IX regulations governing campus sexual assault in March 2018, according to the agenda. “The secretary plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to clarify schools’ obligations in redressing sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual misconduct, and the procedures by which they must do so,” the department wrote


Education Department to seek input on delay of Obama special education rule

The Education Department intends to seek comment on whether it should delay by two years an Obama-era rule aimed at ensuring minority students with disabilities aren’t over-represented in special education.  That’s according to an updated version of the Trump administration’s Unified Agenda, released Thursday, which details information about regulations under development. The department’s request comes as the administration embarks on a regulatory overhaul.  In October, POLITICO obtained a draft Federal Register notice showing the agency was considering seeking input on whether the rule should be delayed by two years — and whether it should ultimately be modified, replaced, removed or left unchanged.


DeVos: House Higher Education Act rewrite ‘a starting point’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told reporters Thursday that the House GOP’s rewrite of the federal law governing higher education is “a starting point,” but there’s “going to be a lot more conversation down the road.”

DeVos said she’s “not had an opportunity to look at the details of it.”  “Obviously the Senate has not yet entered into the discussion,” DeVos said of the GOP’s rewrite of the Higher Education Act, H.R. 4508 (115).

The House education committee approved its legislative rewrite late Tuesday night along party lines. Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) told reporters on Monday that “Secretary DeVos has had a chance to look at a draft of the bill and we’ve had no push-back.”


University presidents: We’ve been blindsided

University presidents say they have been blindsided by charges that they are catering to the wealthy at the same moment that conservatives attack them for elitism, turning their once-untouchable institutions into political punching bags.  POLITICO talked to more than a dozen college and university presidents, from small colleges to Ivy League universities and top public institutions, who expressed fear that they’re losing public and political support at an alarming rate.  The GOP’s tax plan is the clearest and most recent example of that backlash – and college presidents say it was a wake-up call. While the colleges successfully fended off some aspects of the plan they detested the most, the sweeping changes to the tax code would still target universities in a way they’ve never been targeted before, taxing the richest private schools’ endowments.


The best — and worst — education news of 2017

It’s that time of the year when best and worst lists are compiled — and that’s no easy task when it comes to education in 2017.

A lot has happened since President Trump took the oath of office and Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary by the Senate, after Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee. So what were the biggest education developments? And what were their effects?  Every year, Larry Ferlazzo, a veteran teacher of English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, takes on the job of deciding. Here is his latest effort. Ferlazzo has written numerous books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has his own popular resource-sharing blog.  See whether you agree with his assessment. You can find links to his lists from past years at the bottom of this post.


Education inspector general calls on agency to process backlog of student debt relief claims

The U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general issued a report this week urging the Office of Federal Student Aid to take action on tens of thousands of debt forgiveness applications languishing at the agency.  The report puts a fine point on the criticism student advocates and liberal lawmakers have directed toward Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for refusing to process debt relief claims submitted by federal student loan borrowers who were defrauded by their colleges. The inspector general said that while the procedure for processing claims could be improved, the system works well enough that there’s no excuse for the Education Department failing to clear the backlog of pending claims.




Maryland receives federal feedback on its Every Student Succeeds Act plan

Maryland is the first state to receive federal feedback on its Every Student Succeeds Act plan of the 34 submitted to the Education Department this fall for review and approval.  A letter posted this week details what Maryland must work on and clarify in its plan for how it will hold schools accountable for student learning and progress, among other things.  Maryland must ensure that certain “academic” factors for holding schools accountable — such as test scores, graduation rates and the progress that English language learners are making toward learning English — are weighted more than others when holding schools, particularly high schools, accountable.


Texas education agency faces mounting questions over canceled special education contract

Texas Education Agency officials are keeping quiet about why exactly a controversial no-bid data mining contract took a nosedive last week, losing the state $2.2 million in federal funds for kids with disabilities.  After spending weeks defending the contract and the unusual way it was rolled out, TEA last Friday terminated its agreement with Georgia-based SPEDx, the company hired to both analyze how schools serve students with disabilities and help create a long-term special education plan for the state.  The now-terminated contract was a large part of TEA’s plan to overhaul special education services statewide, after a series of extensive reports last yearalleged that school districts were denying necessary services to thousands of students at the agency’s behest. (TEA has repeatedly denied it capped special education services.)  But critics have questioned why a contract so central to addressing a priority issue for TEA officials was awarded to a relatively unknown company without allowing other firms to bid for the job. 


Alabama’s education plan short on details, federal officials say

Alabama education officials need to provide more details about their federal education plan before the U.S. Department of Education can determine if the plan meets mandates under federal law, according to an official feedback letter, dated Dec. 13.

That letter contains more than six pages of tables indicating which areas of the state’s plan need more information for how Alabama education officials plan to implement requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA as it is called.  Scroll down to see the letter. 


Higher education is the economic catalyst

San Antonio, TX- The economic development ecosystem of a major city is complex. Getting it right is a mix of art and science, and how much of each is needed is a constant topic of debate among economic development experts.

But there is one subject that unites the experts. No matter what economic advantages a city has to offer, education, traditional or otherwise, must be part of that package. Having a strong network of engaged educational partners is a critical asset that is undeniably linked to a thriving and growing economy.  Any community looking to compete in today’s marketplace must have a strategic, long-term plan for building the workforce pipeline that will attract new business and compel existing businesses to expand. But a city relying only on solutions that look 20, 10 or even 5 years out cannot compete in today’s market. A community has to build the workforce needed right now, in addition to 20 years down the road, or it risks losing attractive new-business opportunities — not to mention putting itself at risk of losing the enterprises it currently enjoys.


Oregon education department does too little to raise state’s lousy graduation rate, audit says

Given Oregon’s abysmal high school graduation rate, the state Department of Education should be doing far more to help schools and districts usher more students to earn diplomas, a state auditsays.  In particular, the education agency should take steps to help schools know more about their students at high risk of dropping out — those who have a rocky experience in middle school, transfer from one district to another during high school or fail too many classes — and the most effective strategies the could use to help them.  Those recommendations are among more than a dozen contained in an exhaustive review by the Secretary of State’s audit division that was made public Tuesday.  Colt Gill, acting head of the education department, agreed in his formal response that the agency must do better, and he said some improvements were underway before the audit reached that conclusion.


Gov. Scott Looks For Input On School Spending At Statewide Education Summit

Vermont- Last month Gov. Phil Scott put out a call for a statewide education summit, and more than 300 people took part in the meeting which was held at Norwich University on Monday.  Scott was criticized when he introduced a plan to address Vermont’s education spending problem towards the end of the last legislative session. Now, as lawmakers get ready to return to the Statehouse in January, Scott wants to begin the conversation early.  The governor’s Education Summit had to be moved to a cavernous gym on the Norwich campus because there was so much interest in the issue.


Jon Lender: Education Chief Admits Her Department’s Failures In Nepotism Snafu

James Mindek, a Department of Education administrator disciplined last year after he helped his son and a coworker’s daughter get temporary state jobs, grimaced with an “oh, c’mon” expression as Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell recounted why she imposed a 60-day unpaid suspension that cost him $24,000 in salary.  “There was a use, and an abuse, and really a distortion and a corruption, of our state contracting processes in order to provide employment to the children of a director and a supervisor in our department,” Wentzell testified Monday to the state Employees’ Review Board in the state office building at 450 Columbus Blvd. in Hartford.


EG High Students Fight For Music Education

EAST GREENWICH, RI—Budget cuts ended the choral program class at East Greenwich High. But the music is still playing. Student musicians decided to start a chorus club and keep singing.  Here’s how it’s been going. We’ve faced some obstacles. It hasn’t been easy to rehearse, for example. Since we’re not an official class, we are not allowed to perform in the Band and Orchestra concert at the High School.  So, we rehearse one hour every week during our free period in advisory. The size of our group fluctuates between 10 and 15 students. As the director, I’ve created practice recordings of everybody’s parts. That way, students can learn their parts in advance and be ready to rehearse the music together in advisory. Because of the limitation of time, we have to work very hard to be independent and learn the music on our own.




New evidence on school choice and racially segregated schools

The charter school sector is presently on the hot seat because many charter schools are highly segregated by race, and often more segregated than required by the demographics of their catchment areas. Such racial imbalance can happen when the student body of any particular school is based on a lottery among applicants to that school.  This allows for self-sorting on racial, ethnic, and other dimensions.  If the ability of parents to choose schools is a precondition for disproportionate concentrations of students of the same background in some schools, then it is important to examine school segregation in the context of school choice writ large.  In many large school districts, parents are able to choose among traditional public schools, not just among charter or magnet schools.  We know little about the effects of choice in this context.