Music Education Policy Roundup – December 4, 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.



  • Join NAfME’s public policy team on Tuesday, December 5th, at 7:00PM EST for a free webinar: “ESSA at the Local Level: What to Look for, What to Expect, and How to Get Involved.” Music educators can complete a short quiz after the webinar to receive recognition for professional development valued at one contact hour. NAfME holds public policy webinars quarterly, and the next free webinar is scheduled for Feb. 13, with a focus on Title IV and state/district budgets.  REGISTER TODAY for the December 5 webinar:
  • Read NAfME’s analysis on tax reform and its implications on Education policy and funding. 



Senate GOP gets breathing room as tax plan advances

Senate Republicans got some sorely needed momentum behind their tax overhaul Tuesday as key GOP swing votes inched closer to backing the legislation — after Senate leaders launched a frenzied round of negotiations to persuade the holdouts.  The Senate Budget Committee voted to advance the GOP tax reform bill on Tuesday on a party-line vote, with both Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) backing the measure a day after threatening to withhold their support. That critical vote came after President Donald Trump came to Capitol Hill to rally the troops in the tax battle.  Johnson voted for the tax bill after he and Trump had a back-and-forth during the lunch, according to senators, over the Wisconsin Republican’s main concern: that the proposal currently gives more benefits to corporations than to businesses that pay taxes through the individual system.


GOP tax plan rattles higher education

Congressional Republicans’ plans to slap unprecedented new taxes on higher education have left college leaders shocked and scrambling — the latest salvo in what some observers say is a growing culture war on a higher education system seen as elitist and out of touch.  While most college leaders said they don’t believe they were targeted directly in tax reform legislation — and are rather collateral damage — they say the hit was startling, as higher education has long enjoyed bipartisan support. Higher education also is a powerful lobbying force on the Hill.  “I don’t think anybody expected this,” Tulane President Mike Fitts said. “I don’t think a month-and-a-half ago anybody expected this many and this level of changes in the support for higher education in the United States.”


DeVos says she’s scrutinizing Obama-era school discipline guidance

Education Secretary Betsy Devos said Monday the administration is “looking closely” at Obama-era guidance on the disproportionate suspension and expulsion of minorities and students with disabilities.  DeVos’ comments came during a visit to southwest Florida and less than two weeks after a stakeholder meeting at the Education Department about scrapping the guidance.  “It would be premature to say anything about that right now, but we want to make sure that all students have an opportunity to learn in an environment that’s safe,” DeVos said, adding she has “great personal interest” in the issue, according to the Naples Daily News.


How a powerful senator schooled Betsy DeVos

Several months ago, Sen. Lamar Alexander phoned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with a message: Back off.  Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, was furious that a top DeVos aide was circumventing a new law aimed at reducing the federal government’s role in K-12 education. He contended that the agency was out of bounds by challenging state officials, for instance, about whether they were setting sufficiently ambitious goals for their students.  DeVos’ agency quickly yielded to his interpretation of the law — and she “thanked me for it,” Alexander told POLITICO.  Alexander’s heavy hand raises questions about who’s calling some of the shots at the Education Department, an agency he once headed — and to which DeVos came with virtually no expertise in running government bureaucracies.


Congress speeds toward shutdown over Dreamers

Concern is growing in both parties that a clash over the fate of Dreamers will trigger a government shutdown this December.  House conservatives have warned Speaker Paul Ryan against lumping a fix for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors into a year-end spending deal. They want him to keep the two issues separate and delay immigration negotiations into 2018 to increase their leverage — which both Ryan and the White House consider reasonable.  But many liberal Democrats have already vowed to withhold votes from the spending bill should it not address Dreamers, putting Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York in an awkward spot if they don’t go along.


Education Dept. wants to narrow civil rights work in schools

WASHINGTON — The Education Department wants to narrow the scope of civil rights investigations at schools, focusing on individual complaints rather than systemic problems, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.  Under the Obama administration, when a student complained of discrimination in a particular class or school, the education agency would examine the case but also look at whether the incident was part of a broader, systemic problem that needed to be fixed.  Proposed revisions to the department’s civil rights procedures, distributed last week among civil rights officials at the department, remove the word “systemic” from the guidelines.


Tax bill reflects rift between many Republicans and higher education

Ending a tax deduction for interest paid on student loans. Raising taxes for more than 100,000 graduate students who receive tuition waivers. Imposing a levy on endowments at certain private colleges and universities.  These actions are anathema to higher education leaders across the country. Yet they all appear in the House-approved Republican tax overhaul, evidence of a growing disconnect between large segments of the GOP and colleges that, for generations, have wielded enormous clout on Capitol Hill.  “I didn’t see it coming,” said Robert L. Caret, chancellor of the public University System of Maryland. “Obviously, there’s a very different tenor here in Washington.”  The bill the House passed Thursday would deliver a $1.5 trillion tax cut, with benefits tilted toward corporations, business owners and wealthy families. Republicans say the cut will spur economic growth, helping families, students and schools with a simpler set of revenue rules.


House Republicans mull sweeping changes in higher education law

House Republicans want to make major changes to the Higher Education Act as they work to reauthorize the law for the first time in nearly a decade, according to talking points about the plan obtained Wednesday by POLITICO.


A New and Improved Education Law

The Higher Education Act hasn’t had a major update in nearly a decade – and it shows. The nation’s signature higher education law was last renewed before the peak of the last housing and financial crisis, before the e-commerce revolution bankrupted retail juggernauts Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack and Circuit City, and even before Facebook introduced the “like” button.  First written in 1965, when most students attended four-year colleges or trade schools after high school, the law no longer reflects the needs of today’s students. Thirty-eight percent are older than 25, 58 percent work while attending college and 26 percent are parents. Today’s students are more likely to attend multiple institutions, change careers and acquire skills and knowledge outside the confines of traditional higher education.



Some Charter Schools Can Certify Their Own Teachers, Board Says (New York)

The State University of New York took a step on Wednesday that will make it easier for some charter schools to hire teachers.  The charter schools committee of SUNY’s Board of Trustees voted to approve regulations that will allow some schools to design their own teacher-training programs and certify their own teachers.  The proposal had been criticized by opponents of charter schools, including teachers’ unions, and others. But proponents of the regulations said that they were needed to allow the schools to broaden the pool of candidates.  “In the midst of a widely recognized teacher shortage, SUNY’s vote today ensures that kids of color will have access to great teachers and exceptional educational outcomes,” Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools, wrote in a statement on Wednesday.


Wyoming’s method for funding education largely comparable to other states, consultants say

A funding analysis of parts of Wyoming’s education system showed that the state spends similarly to its peers in those areas, consultants told lawmakers Wednesday.  “It’s comparable to all the studies in general,” consultant Mark Fermanich told lawmakers on the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration, which is conducting a broad examination of Wyoming’s education system. 


Getting a jump-start on higher education (Maryland)

One of the goals we’ve set for ourselves as the Howard County Public School System is to provide all students with equitable opportunities to earn college credits or industry certification.  We know that high school graduates with early college experience are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college or begin successful careers. The Board of Education voted recently to move forward with the JumpStart initiative, a significant expansion of our partnership with Howard Community College that will more than double dual-enrollment opportunities for students to earn college credits —up to completing an associate degree —while still in high school.


Oklahoma highlighted for poor education funding

TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — Like a broken record, Oklahoma is yet again in a negative spotlight for education funding.  “Here we are again,” said John Waldron, a teacher at Booker T. Washington and a candidate for House seat 77.  “My campaign is riding a tide of righteous indignation right now,” he said.  Adding fuel to the fire, a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that Oklahoma is funding education at a level that’s more than 28% less than it did in 2008.  “As a public school teacher I think I can best refute legislators who say that we’re not cutting funding to education, that the kids are fine, that there’s other solutions to the problem than “throwing money” at the problem, as if we’d know, we haven’t thrown money at this problem in years,” he said.


RI public college funding will be tied to performance

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — New funding for Rhode Island’s three public college will now be linked to how they perform on a series of targets, part of a national effort to hold higher education more accountable for increasing graduation rates and producing students with majors in high-demand fields.  Rhode Island is among 35 states that now tie state funding to performance, a movement that began in Tennessee during the 1970s and has become increasingly popular as cash-strapped states are asking colleges to demonstrate that they deserve additional state support.  The so-called accountability movement in higher education mirrors what states have been doing in K-12 public education for the last 10 years, since the adoption of the now-defunct No Child Left Behind legislation, which judged school districts based on a set of specific academic targets.  In Rhode Island, the new standards are aimed at helping public colleges reach Gov. Gina Raimondo’s goal that 70 percent of Rhode Islanders will have a college degree or certificate by 2015.


More than 68,000 high school students took college courses in 2016-2017 academic year (Ohio)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – More than 68,000 high school students took in Ohio college classes during the 2016-17 academic year, earning college credit while meeting their high school graduation requirements and collectively saving more than $144 million on the cost of higher education, the Ohio Department of Higher Education announced Monday.  The department released information on the second full year of Ohio’s College Credit Plus program.  The state pays for the classes, with tuition rates negotiated with colleges. Some middle school students also participate. Students take college classes offered by any Ohio public college, or from any participating private college. They take  classes at their high school, on the college campus, or online.  More than 54,000 students participated the first year, saving more than $120 million in tuition, the higher education department said.


New plan for early childhood education (New Mexico)

SANTA FE – Democratic lawmakers have tried repeatedly to tap into the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education.  But a slimmed-down proposal targeting a smaller permanent fund might surface next session in the Senate.  Teacher Martha Pacheco works with students Ailin Frayre, 5, and Guillermo Hernandez, 5, during a summer class earlier this year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)  Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said he’s been working behind the scenes to build support for a joint resolution that would ask voters to authorize an extra distribution from the Severance Tax Permanent Fund, which receives revenue from oil and gas production.  About 4.7 percent of the fund is already disbursed each year into the state operating budget, providing about $220 million a year.  Sapien’s proposal would boost the distribution to 5.5 percent, making another $35 million a year available and dedicating it to early childhood programs and services.


Nevada students may soon face added math, science requirements

Nevada may soon join a handful of states that require students to pass four credits of math to graduate high school, a move critics say would limit student choice.  “I really strongly disagree that four years of math are required for students to be college and career ready,” Jesse Welsh, an assistant superintendent in the Clark County School District, testified at a state education workshop last month. “This is coming from a former math teacher.”  The state is planning to revamp graduation requirements for students in the class of 2022, who will be high school freshman in the fall of 2018.  At the moment, the plan includes adding one credit apiece of math, science and social studies to current requirements.  At a workshop in October, local school officials were expecting State Superintendent Steve Canavero to solicit comments on a plan that would include one additional science or one additional math credit — not both — to the graduation requirements.


DeVos approves Michigan’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan


The Education Department tonight announced it has approved Michigan’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan.  Michigan was among the 16 states and the District of Columbia that submitted plans to federal officials this spring for review and approval. It’s one of the last state plans from that batch to get approved.  Federal officials told the state in August that the plan — which is supposed to detail how the state will hold schools accountable for student learning and progress, among other things — was incomplete.  In May, Michigan had sent the Education Department a plan that included three possible options for how it will hold schools accountable — and reportedly faced criticism from federal officials for not deciding on one.  The state has since decided to ditch an A-F approach to grading schools, instead opting for a “dashboard” of data. Federal officials asked for more information on how that dashboard will look. And the state’s plan had to go through another round of review by a team of experts known as peer reviewers.  Michigan submitted a revised plan to the Education Department on Nov. 15, according to the state Department of Education’s website. The website says the “dashboard is currently under development by the Michigan Department of Education. It is expected to be made available to the public by early 2018.” State officials also sought public input this month on the dashboard.  There are seven components to the dashboard, each based on a 0-100-point index. When it comes to measuring academic achievement, Michigan says it will seek a waiver allowing the state to include science and social studies in its dashboard, in addition to math and English, as required by the law.



The Progressive Case for Charter Schools

Despite recent evidence suggesting that many public charter schools are improvingoutcomes for students—especially for low-income students of color—broad support for charter schools may be waning. According to one recent poll, support for charter schools among self-described Democrats has fallen over the past year. This decrease in progressive support may be due to a skewed representation of charter schools in the media as well as a conflation of charter schools with ineffective private school vouchers—such as those Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration champion. However, to simply devalue all charter schools is unreasonable. The highest-quality charters exemplify progressive values and practices, most notably through their foundational principle of providing low-income students of color with equal educationalopportunity and access they may not otherwise have.


An Inconvenient Testing Truth

Oh those halcyon days of 2010. The nation’s economy was beginning to rise out of the Great Recession, Kesha’s “Tik Tok” stood atop the Billboard charts and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promised a new generation of standardized tests that would revolutionize the way we assess children’s academic performance.  In a now-forgotten speech entitled “Beyond the Bubble Tests,” Duncan announced the Department of Education’s investment in the two Common Core-aligned testing consortia, PARCC and SBAC, with some pretty strong predictions. He said that these assessments would “test students’ ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media” and have students “design products or experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests, and record data. With the benefit of technology, assessment questions can incorporate audio and video. Problems can be situated in real-world environments, where students perform tasks or include multi-stage scenarios and extended essays.”


60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, how racially balanced are America’s public schools?

It’s been more than 60 years since the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, ruled “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional. In that time, school populations have diversified, thanks in large part to an increase in the numbers of Hispanic and Asian students attending U.S. schools.  But how closely do America’s traditional public and charter schools look like the communities they serve? And if schools’ student bodies don’t reflect their neighborhoods’ racial makeup, how come?

In “Balancing Act: Schools, Neighborhoods, and Racial Imbalance” (PDF), Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Richard V. Reeves, Nathan Joo, and Pete Rodrigue examine the share of white, black, and Hispanic students at 86,109 public schools—both traditional and charters—across the country and identify schools whose racial imbalance with respect to their surrounding neighborhoods makes them ‘outliers’ within their states.