Music Education Policy Roundup – Feb 14, 2017

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.

NAfME Policy Shop Updates

Quarterly Advocacy Webinar, focusing on the 2017 Federal Landscape is now archived here:


Blog post on NAfME’s support for overturning the Higher Education Act’s teacher preparation program accountability rule: Special thanks to leadership from our two higher education societies for helping us with this issue.


Position Statements – revised statements available for your review

Working with members of the National Executive Board, NAfME has prepared revisions of our two draft statements on Equity and Access and Inclusivity and Diversity in Music Education. These new drafts reflect, to a large extent, the feedback we received from you and other colleagues when the first drafts were put out for comment in November, 2016. We welcome your feedback yet again. Help us make these statements stronger and clearer! Deadline: March 1, 2017.


ESSA State Plan – NAfME Template
As the April deadline for state plans fast approaches, don’t forget that NAfME has created a template for you to use in review of your state’s draft ESSA plan, highlighting where we think you can best find areas of interest to music and arts education. We will update this template as the Education Department makes changes in March (see first article below). The NAfME template is available here:



Federal Updates

ESSA State Plan deadlines still intact – but the template will change

Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/10/2017 04:01 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said today in a letter to states that she’s sticking with the April and September deadlines for states to hand in their plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
“I am writing today to assure you that I fully intend to implement and enforce the statutory requirements of the ESSA,” DeVos said in the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO. “One of my main priorities as secretary is to ensure that states and local school districts have clarity during the early implementation of the law.”
President Donald Trump delayed the Obama administration’s accountability regulations under the law for 60 days and Republicans in Congress are working to overturn the rules. Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, recently told DeVos that if Congress overturns the regulations then states will need clarity quickly.
With the regulatory delay and review, DeVos said the Education Department is reviewing a template that was issued by the Obama administration to help states develop their plans. DeVos said the department will issue a new template by March 13 that tells states what’s “absolutely necessary” for them to consider in developing those plans.
DeVos said that in the near future, the Education Department “will provide more information on its review of existing regulations, as well as additional guidance and technical assistance.”

To see DeVos’ letter to the Chiefs, go here:

To see the timeline your state is working under (April or September) based on their letter of intent to the Department, go here:


DeVos says her opponents are ‘protectors and defenders of the status quo’

Politico By Michael Stratford 02/13/2017 12:17 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today offered a simple explanation for why there’s been so much opposition to her confirmation: she plans to take on the education establishment.
“The work that I’ve done is a threat to those who are protectors and defenders of the status quo and of a system that has continued to fail way too many of our young people,” DeVos said in an interview with talk radio host Paul W. Smith on Detroit station WJR.
DeVos said that her visit last week to a public middle school in D.C. was “a very encouraging experience” in spite of the protesters who briefly blocked her entrance to the building — one of whom is facing assault charges stemming from the incident.
“We had a little bit of a difficult time getting in,” she said, adding that she “had a great visit with the teachers, the parents, the students, administrators for the school.”
DeVos also discussed her clash with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during her confirmation hearing over measuring student progress based on growth or proficiency — an exchange that her critics said showed that she wasn’t qualified to lead the Education Department.
“It’s very much an insider discussion, but those are important conversations to have,” DeVos said. “The more important conversation to have in the future is: how are kids learning and mastering the things that they need to know and the things that they need to learn in order to be able to build upon this past year for the next?”


Education Department flunks spelling
Politico By Rebecca Morin 02/12/2017 05:15 PM EDT

In quoting civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, the Department of Education on Sunday sent out a tweet misspelling his name. And then it sent out an apology that misspelled the word “apologies.”
“Education must not simply teach work — it must teach life. — W.E.B. DeBois,” the Department of Education tweeted at 8:45 a.m.
The Twitter account rewrote the tweet over three hours later, correcting the spelling of Du Bois’ name, followed by a tweet saying: “Post updated — our deepest apologies for the earlier typo.”
That tweet also had a spelling error, with it first saying “apologizes” rather than “apologies.”
There’s probably never a good time for the Department of Education to misspell words, but the timing seemed particularly unfortunate for two reasons. For one, the misspelling of Du Bois’ name came during the middle of Black History Month.
The typos also came during the first week in office for Education secretary Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday. She was a controversial pick that caused a backlash from lawmakers and voters, who bombarded senators with calls and emails to vote against DeVos.
Du Bois (1868-1963) was a civil rights activist throughout the 1800s and 1900s and wrote “The Souls of Black Folk,” an influential book about the lives of black Americans after the Civil War and the end of slavery. He was the first African-American to earn a doctorate at Harvard University and was a co-founder of the NAACP.
The mistake sparked backlash from many users on Twitter.
“Normally not into calling out spelling errors on Twitter because we’ve all been there. But you’re the Department of Education. Of America,” tweeted Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman.
“Um. You spelled his name wrong. It’s DuBois. Happy Black History Month, everybody!” journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted.
“In the Days of Loose & Careless Logic, We Must Teach Thinkers to THINK.” — William Edward Burghardt DU Bois,” the NAACP tweeted, adding emphasis to Du Bois’ last name.
“#DeBois is #DeMan! Looking forward to him and #FrederickDouglas starting for the North in the #NBAAllStarWeekend #BlackHistoryMonth” tweeted former Education Secretary Arne Duncan.


Two Senate Democrats press DeVos over IDEA website failure

Politico By Michael Stratford 02/10/2017 04:22 PM EDT

Two Senate Democrats are seeking more information from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the technical problems plaguing a department website dedicated to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, joined Sen. Maria Cantwell today in sending a letter to DeVos that they are “deeply concerned” that the troubled website — — has been inaccessible to the public for more than a week. The site now redirects to the page for the Office of Special Education Programs, which the senators said provides far less information than the original site.
The website failure predates DeVos’ confirmation as Education secretary earlier this week. But the disappearance of the IDEA website is a particularly sensitive issue for DeVos, who was sharply criticized for fumbling over a question about the federal law during her confirmation hearing.
“The department’s failure to keep this critical resource operational makes it harder for parents, educators, and administrators to find the resources they need to implement this federal law and protect the rights of children with disabilities,” Murray and Cantwell wrote.
The senators asked for more information about the technical problems surrounding the site’s failure, as well as a time frame for when the department expects to get the site up and running.
A department spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Earlier this week, the department’s official Twitter account announced that officials were working on the issue. “The servers hosting our #IDEA website are experiencing technical issues,” the tweet said. “It was not taken down and we are working to resolve ASAP.”


Protesters block DeVos from entering D.C. middle school

Politico By Michael Stratford 02/10/2017 12:45 PM EDT

Protesters physically blocked Betsy DeVos from entering a public middle school in D.C. today, though the newly-confirmed Education secretary eventually made it into the building.
Video from WJLA shows that protesters forced DeVos away from a back entrance to Jefferson Academy in Southwest D.C., where she was scheduled to meet with teachers and parents, joined by new D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson.
One person in the video was heard yelling “shame!” to DeVos as she was escorted into an SUV by her security detail.
DeVos eventually made it into the school. The president of a local community organization tweeted a photo of DeVos inside a school hallway.
DeVos’ visit to the school on her third day as Education secretary was closed to reporters. A department spokesperson told POLITICO on Thursday that this decision was made to create “minimum disruption of the school day.”
A group of several dozen parents and former teachers organized by the Washington Teachers Union held what appeared to be a separate demonstration — which they called a “vigil” — in front of the school. They held signs supporting public education. Elizabeth Davis, the union’s president, said that D.C. teachers were concerned that DeVos would seek to use the nation’s capital as an “experiment” for advancing school vouchers and other policies that they believe undermine public schools.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said on Twitter that DeVos should not be discouraged from visiting public schools.
“Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson,” the union president tweeted. “We don’t condone such acts.We want her to go to pub schls”


Politico By Benjamin Wermund | 02/10/2017 05:47 AM EDT
With help from Michael Stratford, Kimberly Hefling, Caitlin Emma, Josh Gerstein and Elana Schor

The Trump administration is set to issue an executive order on historically black colleges and universities, and it could go beyond the standard renewal of the White House Initiative on HBCUs issued by every president since Jimmy Carter, according to Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Taylor has worked with the White House officials drafting the order, including Omarosa Manigault, who is reportedly spearheading the effort. Taylor told Morning Education that officials this week said the order is “imminent.”

HBCU groups are asking for two things: To move the initiative out of the Education Department (and into the White House) and to include an “aspirational goal” for the amount of dollars spent at HBCUs through government grants and contracts, Taylor said. Taylor was part of a call earlier this week with White House officials and representatives from the UNCF and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, which is the not-for-profit umbrella organization of the nation’s HBCUs. Taylor’s group, the TMCF, represents the nation’s 47 public and publicly supported HBCUs. He said the groups are all on the same page.

When reached by phone, Omarosa Manigault told Morning Education to email her, and then hung up. She did not respond to emails or text messages. Manigault wrote in USA Today this week that President Trump “has made it clear that the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no more, including — and I would argue especially — African Americans.” The piece focused on Trump’s efforts to promote “school choice” programs like charter schools and private school vouchers, and did not mention the HBCU initiative.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited Howard University with Manigault on Thursday. It was part of a celebration for the historically black university’s 150th anniversary. “It was a pleasure to meet with Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick and several student leaders,” DeVos said in a statement. “We had a robust discussion around the many challenges facing higher education and the important role of HBCUs.”

Trump has an opportunity here to one-up Barack Obama, who had a rocky relationship with HBCUs. Taylor was very critical of the Obama administration, which he once said “permanently damaged” some of the nation’s historically black schools. Taylor said he previously requested that the Obama administration make the same two additions to the executive order that are now being requested from the Trump administration, and “it was never responded to.”

“I believe this is not going to be your standard renewal,” Taylor said. He first made the pitch for those additions to the executive order to Manigault and the Trump transition team on Jan. 4, he said. When they spoke again earlier this week, Taylor said officials told him he was clear in January and that they just wanted to make sure they understood what he was asking for. “I’m hopeful,” Taylor said. “I would like to think that since it wasn’t the first time they heard this, that it was the second time, that if the reaction was an automatic ‘no,’ then they would have told us that.”


Trump Will Repeal Common Core, Says Kellyanne Conway (He Can’t)

(Edweek – 02/10/17)
Trump’s adviser made the claim on CNN, but states, not the federal government, adopt content standards like the common core. And current federal law prohibits the Trump administration from influencing states’ decisions about standards. Read more.


In first day on the job, DeVos calls for inclusiveness
Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/08/2017 04:43 PM EDT

Newly sworn-in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asked her staff Wednesday to “set aside any preconceived notions” and “come together, find common ground and put the needs of our students first.”
DeVos’ comments came after the unprecedented swell of opposition to her nomination, and a razor-thin Senate confirmation vote on Tuesday.
DeVos struck a conciliatory tone with her employees, and even poked fun at herself.
“So, let’s turn to the recent headlines. There’s no need to pull punches,” she said in a speech at the Education Department. “For me, personally, this confirmation process and the drama it engendered has been a … bit of a bear.”
DeVos’ reference to her previous grizzly bear comment about guns in schools — one of the low points during her bumpy confirmation hearing — earned laughter from a packed room as she urged unity, inclusiveness and patience.
DeVos was joined on stage by long-time career staff at the Education Department, her husband Dick, and Phil Rosenfelt, a career civil servant who served as acting Education secretary until DeVos was sworn in on Tuesday. As secretary, DeVos will supervise roughly 4,400 employees — some of whom attended DeVos’ speech in person, while others who work outside of Washington watched an online live stream.
“Let’s acknowledge: We’ve just come through one of the most bruising, divisive elections in modern times,” said DeVos, who didn’t initially back Donald Trump during the presidential election. “And that’s OK. Our republic is resilient. We as a people are resilient.”
DeVos also urged her staff to move past the day-to-day roller-coaster of news about the Trump administration, which has included unflattering headlines about herself.
“Often, the morning and evening news cycles make it hard to imagine what might unite our nation,” she said. “The rhetoric and the words can get hot and heated, and the animosity often seems unending. … But all of us here can help bring unity by personally committing to being more open to, and patient toward, views different than our own.”
The comments represented a shift from DeVos’ more combative tone in December, when she joined Trump at a Michigan rally and accused the media of spreading “false news” about her.
On Wednesday, DeVos also stressed that “embracing diversity and inclusion are key elementary for success.” But the new Cabinet member, who is a strong advocate for charter schools and private school vouchers, still faces strong opposition from those who disagree with her vision for public education.
Outside the Education Department, a small group of protesters from two groups, Generation Progress and Higher Ed Not Debt, chanted, “We will not go away. Welcome to your first day.” The groups are backed by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.
The small protest served as a reminder of the furor that engulfed DeVos in recent months, when opposition to her nomination prompted an avalanche of negative emails and phone calls to senators’ offices.
DeVos tried to move past that heated confirmation fight as she addressed her staff for the first time.
“In all seriousness, for many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised more questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought light and clarity,” she said. “So, for starters, please know that I’m a ‘door open’ type of person who listens more than she speaks.”
Teachers unions, civil rights advocates and others have vowed to make DeVos’ job difficult going forward, especially if the Education Department decides to back away from the Obama administration’s strong focus on civil rights enforcement work. DeVos has also been criticized for her family’s donations to groups that support anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that pushed widely discredited “conversion therapy.”
During her confirmation hearing, DeVos distanced herself from those donations, telling senators that she never believed in conversion therapy, and that “I fully embrace equality.”
DeVos told her staffers on Wednesday: “Diversity may be viewed as a cliche, but I believe that getting to know, working with and befriending and including people who are different from ourselves is enriching and expanding. And if we model it ourselves, how much easier will it be to encourage students to do the same?”
DeVos also said she’s “committed” to ensuring that students have “learning environments that foster innovation and curiosity, and are also free from harm.”


DeVos defeat just the start for reeling Democrats
Politico By Elana Schor and Burgess Everett 02/07/2017 07:12 PM EDT

Democrats say their path to winning again starts with this: A string of agonizing losses on the Senate floor.
After falling one vote short of bringing down beleaguered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, Democratic senators are gearing up for grueling losses on three more top nominees this week. The GOP is betting that voters already frustrated with Washington will punish the delay of President Donald Trump’s nominees, but even red-state Democrats are backing delay techniques designed to drive down Trump’s popularity and weaken Cabinet members, if not defeat them.
It’s a brutal show of the minority’s limited power. Democrats are pulling all-nighters in a futile stand of opposition — powerless as their 2013 decision to gut the filibuster is used against them to approve nominees who surely would have been scuttled in years past. But the Democratic grassroots wants to see a high-profile fight, even one that ends in a loss, and senators are happy to oblige.
“It’s so clear the overwhelming majority of the public agrees with us on a number of nominees. The email, snail mail and phone calls are something like 200-to-1,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), adding that Republicans are “setting a precedent that the issue of ethics doesn’t matter.”
Democrats are sensitive to criticism of their unsuccessful campaign against DeVos and the likely confirmation of three more Trump Cabinet members before the weekend. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the party’s vice presidential nominee last year, bristled when a reporter asked if Democrats would be “giving up” on other nominees after their DeVos defeat.
“Why would you ask that? Is there any sign that we’re giving up?” Kaine shot back, maintaining a smile. “Give me evidence that we’re giving up.” Challenged about whether Democrats have the stamina for more all-nighters against nominees whom they can’t bring down, Kaine replied: “Check us out on the next one.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday to expect “long debates” on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Health secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Treasury secretary pick Steven Mnuchin, whose confirmation votes are scheduled after Sessions, are also expected to face Democratic procedural delays.
Other Democrats agreed that their intense opposition on confirmation votes that are typically lopsided affairs would prove successful by branding Trump’s Cabinet as extreme in the eyes of the public.
“We’re telling the American public that many of these nominees are out of the mainstream” by laying down “a marker when it comes to their policy orientation,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told POLITICO.
Republicans predict the gambit will backfire and say that Democrats have misread their electorate by drawing more attention to fights they can’t win.
“They’re going to create a national narrative that the people I think in North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida are going to reject. They want results,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said in an interview, naming several of the 2018 Senate battlegrounds. “At some point, these sorts of theatrical performances are going to have a political consequence.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said questions about Democrats trying to extract a moral victory by nearly derailing nominees is “kind of like asking me if it was a moral victory for the Atlanta Falcons to win the first half” in the Super Bowl (they lost after an historic second-half meltdown). “I reckon I’m going to count the votes and see if we get to 51.”
Democrats don’t have much of a choice other than to oppose and delay many of the new president’s nominees, given the anti-Trump fever among their base. Protesters have surrounded Schumer’s house in Brooklyn to chant “resist or resign.” Clearly there’s no appetite among Democratic voters for moderation.
Democrats also privately say they are merely following the lead of Republicans, who have paid no discernible political price for shutting down the government, blocking a Supreme Court seat from being filled and fighting President Barack Obama’s nominees tooth and nail.
Democrats believe that the more they can saddle Trump’s nominees with ethical baggage and cast them as ultra-conservative — DeVos was parodied on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend — the more the GOP will have to own any Cabinet members who prove controversial. That could make Democrats’ job easier in midterm election battles in red states. They’re looking at a brutal 2018 map, defending seats in 10 states that Trump just carried.
Democrats from states Trump won leaped into the fight against DeVos, despite TV attack ads from conservative groups that tarred her critics as “full of rage and hate.”
Drawing out that confirmation battle until the very last minute was “well worth our time” to see if a Republican vote could be changed, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in a brief interview. “The same for the rest of them. They’re all really controversial this week,” said Tester, who is up in 2018.
Even after the quartet of contentious Cabinet nominees this week, Democrats are laying the groundwork to drag out votes on EPA nominee Scott Pruitt and Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Trump’s pick for White House budget director.
Liberal groups are egging on Democrats. Some activists unrealistically raised expectations among the party’s base about derailing DeVos. One organizer told protesters at a Monday night rally outside the Capitol that he was “very confident” Democrats could prevail.
But Democrats see little downside to the quixotic Cabinet fights. They’re hoping to capture enthusiasm from outside the Beltway and channel it into a political strategy — in a replay of 2009 and 2010, when the GOP largely co-opted the tea party movement to sap Obama’s momentum.
To that end, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out a list-building email to capitalize on the party’s all-night charge against DeVos.
“They’ve awakened a sleeping giant. Some of these people were already activated, but many are coming into the political process for the first time,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the DSCC, said in an interview. “If Trump continues down the path that he’s going, that will create more opportunities in more states.”
Another top GOP target for 2018, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), endorsed his party’s call to fight Cabinet nominees that don’t need Democratic votes to prevail.
“Even if you have a circumstance where you believe it’s locked in and you know what the vote’s going to be, it’s still important to give people time to have their voices heard,” Casey said in an interview. “Because you’ve never seen anything like this in recent American history.”


House votes to kill two Obama education regulations
Politico By Michael Stratford 02/07/2017 06:16 PM EDT

Republicans are moving full speed ahead with their plans to overturn two high-profile regulations enacted by the Education Department under President Barack Obama.
The House Tuesday passed two resolutions that would block the Obama administration’s regulations governing teacher preparation programs and its rule for the accountability provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Lawmakers voted mostly along party lines to pass the two Congressional Review Act resolutions, sending them to the Senate.
The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump would sign both measures.
The resolution blocking the accountability rule cleared the House on a 234-190 vote, and lawmakers voted 240-181 to ax the teacher preparation regulations.
Republicans said that they were undoing Obama administration rules that were overreaching and burdensome to states, schools and colleges. Democrats, meanwhile, defended the rules as key federal protections for vulnerable students and said that any changes should be made through the normal rulemaking process — rather than the blunt instrument of the Congressional Review Act.
Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can halt regulations with majority votes in both chambers and the president’s signature. The Education Department would then be barred from writing any new “substantially similar” rules to replace the overturned regulations until Congress gives it new authority to do so.
Republicans said that blocking the accountability rule would return decision-making to states and local school districts.
Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), who sponsored the resolution to block the accountability rule, said that halting the Obama administration’s accountability rule will “make sure the department does what we intended it to do” under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
But Democrats, like Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member of the House education committee, said that Republicans were taking aim “at the very heart of” the Every Student Succeeds Act. The accountability regulations, Scott said, “provide necessary clarity to states about what it means to ensure that all students are taught to high standards.” Killing the regulations, Scott said, would inhibit the ability of states to submit their plans under ESSA for approval by the Education Department.
The Trump administration for the first time Tuesday weighed in on how it plans to approach the accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will be enforced by newly minted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
In a statement indicating its support of the resolution blocking the Obama administration’s accountability rule, the White House said that it “is committed to local control of education and this rule places additional burden on States and constrains them in areas where the ESSA intended broad flexibility.” The administration added that it would work with Congress “on how the Department of Education can support States and school districts as they implement” ESSA.
HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he expects the Senate to take up the two measures.
“The reason we were able to agree on fixing No Child Left Behind was because so many people were tired of Washington telling local schools as well as colleges so much about what to do,” Alexander said in an interview. “Those two regulations are a part of an administration that too often — well-intentioned as they might have been– insisted on orders from Washington.”
Alexander said that killing the Obama administration’s accountability rule under the Every Student Succeeds Act would restore power to schools and local communities.
“If those regulations were to be overturned, it should not interfere with the schedule that states now have for sending in their application forms for Title I money,” Alexander said. “I’m confident that Mrs. DeVos will want to keep the same schedule, will be able to answer any questions that states have.”


House bill aims to kill U.S. Department of Education
02/07/17 – The Hill Blog

On the same day the Senate confirmed President Trump’s secretary of Education pick by a historically narrow margin, a House Republican introduced legislation to abolish the entire department Betsy DeVos will lead.
Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie’s bill is only a page long, after merely stating the Department of Education would terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.
Massie believes that policymakers at the state and local levels should be responsible for education policy, instead of a federal agency that’s been in place since 1980.
“Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children’s intellectual and moral development. States and local communities are best positioned to shape curricula that meet the needs of their students,” Massie said in a statement.
Former President Reagan called for dismantling the Department of Education, along with the Department of Energy. But that proposal ultimately never came to fruition.

Senate confirms DeVos as Education secretary
Politico By Michael Stratford, Kimberly Hefling and Caitlin Emma 02/07/2017 12:34 PM EDT

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday cast a historic tie-breaking vote in the Senate to seal Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as the next Education secretary, ending an unusually contentious fight over a Cabinet post that has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.
The 51-50 vote to confirm DeVos comes after the billionaire philanthropist and GOP megadonor unexpectedly emerged as the most contentious of any of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
From the start, Democrats have been largely united against DeVos, whom they criticized as an enemy of public education. But a populist backlash against her after her stumbling performance during her confirmation hearing followed by the defections last week of two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — threw her confirmation into jeopardy.
Just before the vote at noon, Patty Murray, ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee, exhorted a third Republican to defect from the party to derail DeVos nomination.
“We just need one more Republican to join us …” she said. “One more to help us show the people across this country that their voice matters in this debate.”
HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander spoke right afterward, reiterating that DeVos was the most heavily scrutinized Education secretary nominee in history, noting Democrats asked her 1,400 follow up questions after her hearing.
The two Republican defections last week had raised the hopes of liberals, teachers unions and other DeVos opponents that they could sink her nomination. Democrats spoke on the Senate floor throughout the night Monday and into Tuesday in a Hail Mary effort to pressure a third Republican to join them so they could thwart her confirmation.
Majority Whip John Cornyn said the fight over DeVos “is about power and the desire to keep power over public education right here inside the Beltway.”
He stressed that one of DeVos’ strengths is that she’s not just another “education bureaucrat” who “knows all the acronyms” and “arcana.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that DeVos understands “parents, teachers and school boards” are best suited to make education decisions — not the federal government.
Democrats should let her “begin the very important work before her without further delay,” he said.
But Democrats took their fight to derail the nomination as far as they could. Their all-night debate was not a filibuster, which is a tactic that seeks to delay or block a vote. Instead, it was an attempt to call more public attention to the vote, and increase public pressure on GOP senators who have already received tens of thousands of calls and emails from constituents who oppose DeVos.
With backing from teachers unions, civil rights groups and parent organizations, Democrats held out til the final moment, hitting DeVos hard as a nominee with no public education experience, whom they said had actively sought to undermine public schools throughout her career — a charge DeVos denied but was never able to put to rest.
“When presented with a nominee who says that public education is a ‘dead end’ for students in this country, people take it personally,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat said shortly after 4 a.m., referring to a 2015 speech given by DeVos. “It hurts, because we all know that public schools can be better … but we know it’s not a dead end/ “
He read a letter from a worried educator who noted that DeVos has never been a public school teacher, administrator or the parent of a child in a public school — and has no conception of the inequities facing public schools.
“She has never wrestled with the incredible want for resources, the choices that we have to make every day, all within a city and state with some of the most prestigious and wealthy schools just a few steps away,” Reed said, reading from the letter. The 24-hour marathon of speeches concluded at around noon Tuesday, when the Senate began to vote.
Again and again, Democratic senators read letters from concerned constituents, stressing that the messages are just a few of thousands received by their offices. Shortly after 6 a.m. Rhode Island’s Jack Reed said he received more than 12,500 “calls from Rhode Islanders — an unprecedented negative response to a nominee.”
Around 3:30 a.m. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) spoke about DeVos’ bumpy confirmation hearing last month. During the hearing, Kaine asked DeVos if all schools that receive taxpayer funding — whether public, charter or private — should be held equally accountable.
“And she said, ‘Well, I believe in accountability,'” Kaine said. “Well, that’s not my question. I believe in accountability too.”
Kaine said so-called school choice options are supposed to promote competition and “encourage everyone to step up their game.”
“But if you hold public schools accountable while you’re taking some of their money away and you give that money to private schools, and you don’t hold them accountable, you’re not promoting fair competition,” he said. “You’re not promoting student outcomes. You’re just basically taking money away from public schools and giving it to private schools.”


State Updates

NM – Bill to Boost STEM Education Advances
Legislation that would require the state to adopt national standards for science and math cleared the House Education Committee on an 8-3 vote Wednesday. (Ruidoso News, Feb. 9)


CO Educators Will Soon Be Required to Take Training for Teaching English Learners
Aspiring and existing Colorado educators soon will be required to get additional training in an effort to better teach the state’s growing English language learner population. The State Board of Education on Wednesday directed the education department to begin drafting new guidelines that will lay out what sort of new training will be required. (Chalkbeat, Feb. 8)


(Politico) Meanwhile in the battleground state of Florida, a state Senate committee moved forward on a plan to award state funding to public colleges and universities using on-time graduation rates as a factor. The debate was emotional, reports Jessica Bakeman.


KY – Bills Would Eliminate Master’s Degree Requirement for Teachers
Two bills filed in the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives would eliminate the requirement that teachers obtain master’s degrees within 10 years of beginning their teaching careers. (Messenger, Feb. 6)


GAO report: D.C. charters discipline students nearly twice as much as national average

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 02/09/2017 04:37 PM EDT

D.C. charter schools suspend and expel students at nearly double the rate of charter schools nationally and at a faster clip than traditional public schools in the district, a new Government Accountability Office report finds.
The trend is even worse for black students and students with disabilities, who were disproportionately suspended and expelled, the report found.
Education agencies need to come up with a plan to bring those discipline rates down, the report concluded.
The report examined discipline rates from the 2011-12 through 2013-14 school years. During that period, suspension rates in D.C. charter schools dropped from about 16 percent of all students to about 13 percent, while expulsions dropped from 0.7 to 0.4 percent.
However, black students, who represented 80 percent of students in D.C. charter schools, accounted for 93 percent of those suspended and 92 percent of those expelled. Sixteen of D.C.’s 105 charter schools suspended over a fifth of their students over the course of the 2015-16 school year, according to the report.
A response from the D.C. Public Charter School Board, included in the report, says that more recent data shows that the discipline rates have continued to decline.
“The fact is that since the D.C. Public Charter School Board began aggressively focusing on reducing school discipline in SY 2011-12, charter school suspensions and expulsions have fallen steadily, and across all subgroups,” the reponse says. “And this decline has been aided by steadily improving cooperation across D.C. agencies.”
Read the full report here.


NC – Bill to Ease Class-Size Limits in Early Grades Passes Panel
North Carolina school districts would preserve some flexibility with early-grade classroom size limits under legislation that cleared a House committee on Tuesday. Supporters say the bill could preserve staffing for supplemental programs such as art and physical education. (Associated Press, Feb. 7)


WI – Tony Evers, School Advocates Propose Teacher License Changes to Address Staffing
A group of school officials, including state Superintendent Tony Evers, is asking lawmakers to address potential staffing shortages in Wisconsin schools by making the way teachers get licensed less complicated. (Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 5)


Lawsuit alleges California teachers unions are collecting unconstitutional fees

Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/06/2017 06:00 PM EDT

Less than a week after President Donald Trump announced his nominee to the Supreme Court, The Center for Individual Rights is again challenging California’s mandatory union fees in court.
The nonprofit has previously sued over the same issue, in the Friedrichs case. The new lawsuit alleges that state law violates the First Amendment by forcing teachers who are opposed to the union’s activities to nevertheless pay collective bargaining fees. The plaintiffs in the new case are eight California public school teachers and the Association of American Educators.
The Center for Individual Rights filed the new case, Yohn v. California Teachers Association , against the state and the statewide teachers union in federal court. The Supreme Court last year deadlocked in Friedrichs following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and later declined a petition to rehear the case.
“With judicial nominations now moving forward, it is imperative to have the issue ready for the full Supreme Court to consider,” the Center for Individual Rights said in a statement. “Questions of fundamental rights — like the right to free speech and free association as laid out in this case — deserve a final and binding decision from the court.”

MI – Bill Would Make ’21st-Century Skills’ a High School Grad Requirement
A new bill in the Michigan House would make “21st-century skills” a high school graduation requirement. House Bill 4114, introduced by State Rep. Tim Kelly R-Saginaw Township, would replace the current requirement of one credit in visual arts, performing arts or applied arts to three credits of 21st-century skills. (Holland Sentinel, Feb. 2)


Research and other articles of interest

Choice, Vouchers and the Trump Education Agenda
EdWeek, February 7, 2017

Summing up to this point, we can say that there is no evidence anywhere that a country, state or province can enter the ranks of the top performers using choice strategies alone.  There are certainly countries that have both high achievement and strong policies favoring choice. However, there appears to be a trade-off between choice and equity, and, crucially important, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find examples of countries that have high achievement at scale in which government does not play a very strong role in both designing and running the system using a broad spectrum of strategies.

Read the full blog here.


Politico February 14 2017

Here’s some research that could be disappointing for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who once said “school choice” can help “advance God’s kingdom”: It turns out that school vouchers actually diminish churches’ religious activities, according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, which focused on Catholic schools in Milwaukee, finds that vouchers may help “ensure the survival of churches,” but also lead to a decrease in religious activities in those same churches.

The key takeaway from the study: “The idea that public funding would provide an important, even dominant, source of support to congregations would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But this possibility has quickly become reality,” says the study, which claims to be the first to look at how school vouchers affect the churches that receive them. “In our data, the typical parish accepting vouchers gets more revenue from government-funded vouchers (nearly a million dollars annually) than from offertory donations. But our work highlights the complexity of this relationship: The meteoric growth of vouchers could provide financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.”

The average voucher program drove down churches’ spending outside of schools by $177,000, or by 15 cents on the dollar, according to the study. Revenue from outside of the schools dropped even more — declining by almost $313,000 or 26 cents per dollar of voucher revenue.

The findings provide a window into the potential impact of Trump’s $20 billion “school choice” plan. That plan, which was drafted with the help of DeVos’ school choice advocacy group, would include using vouchers to expand private school options for low-income students, according to the details Trump offered on the campaign trail. That would likely mean a lot more public money flowing into religious schools. According to the study, among all students attending a voucher-accepting private school between 2007 and 2009, 85 percent went to a religiously oriented school.

The researchers haven’t quite nailed down why vouchers seem to drive down religious activities. “There are several stories that fit our findings,” said Daniel Hungerman, an associate professor of economics at Notre Dame, who wrote the report. “Vouchers could affect churches by changing the decisions of the leadership of the parish, the laity at a parish, or by causing some people to move between parishes.” Hungerman said the findings should send an important message: “If you are a community that is going to use vouchers, you want to make sure that everyone — both in the classrooms and in the pews — understands that vouchers can be a powerful resource, but that they can shape your community in far-reaching ways.”

An important caveat: The negative effects on religious activities created by vouchers could be compensated in the long run if students who used vouchers to attend Catholic schools end up going to Catholic churches as adults, the study notes. “Our data cover over a decade, but it is still the case that the long-term effects of vouchers on religious vitality could be more positive than what we find here.”

Read the study here.


Teachers unions ramp up recruitment efforts at charter schools
Politico By Mel Leonor 02/13/17

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has called charter school expansion “part of a coordinated national effort to decimate public schooling.” But in October, the union leader was at a charter school in Chicago, fighting for its teachers.
The teachers at UNO Charter School network are union members, and they were getting ready to strike. Weingarten was on hand to express support. The school ultimately worked out a deal with its teachers, and avoided what would have been the nation’s first charter-led teachers strike.
With President Donald Trump expected to push for an expansion of charter schools, the growing battle between union organizers and charter operators is poised to become more significant.
Although charter schools have become known for operating outside the realm of unions — and flaunting that fact — teachers unions are making a play to increase their membership within the charter sector. And charter schools have noticed.
“AFT for a long time has tried to organize charters. But recently has quadrupled down on that effort,” said Todd Ziebarth, who leads state-level advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “It was a priority, and then it became a huge priority.”
A union leader in Chicago called last fall’s UNO negotiations an “important marker of what is possible for charter school educators,” while a progressive blog tracking the fight called it “a nightmare for neoliberal ed reformers.”
For AFT, an aggressive plan to organize charters in urban hotspots — the same areas where charter proliferation has diluted its ranks — will go hand in hard with continuing to oppose laws that encourage charter school expansion.
One charter school leader said the union’s two-pronged approach amounts to “cognitive dissonance.” An AFT organizer countered that the union’s growing charter presence is motivated by the simple desire to make sure that charter teachers are included in decision-making — just like teachers at traditional public schools.
“Charters were supposed to be about management and teachers collaborating locally — that’s not what is happening,” an AFT charter organizer said.
The National Education Association, the other major teachers’ union, has also moved toward charter school organizing. Secky Fascione, a local organizer for the NEA, said that as charter enrollment has grown, “The need to have uniform standards demands that we respond.”
Serving as a backdrop is an ideological debate over what charter schools are and should be. Does organized labor elevate teachers’ voice in an industry where year-to-year contracts are the norm, or does it saddle schools with the red tape of traditional school districts?
In 2012, just 7 percent of charter school teachers belonged to a union, according to the Center for Education Reform. That number has now risen to 10 percent, the center estimates.
In Chicago, it’s even higher: Roughly one-quarter of charter school teachers belong to a union, according to an estimate by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. About half of the nation’s unionized charter teachers are bound by state law to local collective bargaining agreements. (In Maryland, for example, all of the state’s charter school teachers — roughly 840 of them — are unionized. Kansas, Iowa and Alaska have similar laws.)
But those state laws haven’t changed in the last few years, which suggests it is union organizing that’s driving the recent increase in membership at charter schools.
Teachers’ unions, for example, have pumped resources into local charter organizing campaigns. When a group of teachers at a school begin to mull unionization, union hands are ready to assist.
The American Federation of Teachers, which employs a local organizer focused solely on charter schools, has active campaigns in Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City and Chicago. AFT is also investing resources in New Orleans, where it is reviving unionization in a city with few organized educators after the city’s schools were largely handed over to charter management organizations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The campaigns have given the American Federation of Teachers the strongest hold on the charter sector, with 227 unionized schools in 15 states that add up to roughly 7,000 members. The National Education Association would not provide details on its charter school membership.
Meanwhile, the largest charter school organizing drive in the country is unfolding in Los Angeles. The prize at stake: the 28-school Alliance College-Ready Public Schools charter network.
With a growing enrollment of over 12,000 students, Alliance is the largest independent charter school network in the Los Angeles Unified School District. A successful unionization push would be a big win for organized labor.
From the outset, the organizing drive has been ambitious, with the goal of organizing all of Alliance’s schools, and roughly 700 educators, collectively under one contract. An AFT affiliate, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, is leading the charge.
Organization efforts rose above chatter in March of 2015, when 70 Alliance educators from across the network announced in a letter to charter management that they intended to seek unionization under the name “Alliance Educators United.” By the end of the year, roughly 150 educators had signed the pledge. Union officials refused to provide an updated number of signatures.
Alisha Mernick, an art teacher at Alliance’s Gertz-Ressler High School, is one of those leading the effort. Mernick said talk about unionization at her school began about 5 years ago, but last spring’s formal announcement was the “birth” of the current drive. She said educators at the core of the organizing effort spent days editing the letter of intent, which calls for teachers “to have a collective and effective voice in the decision making processes at the Alliance.”
Mernick said that key decisions at the school — such as how to incorporate technology in the classroom — were made without teacher input.
“The only difference between a unionized charter and a non-unionized charter is that leaders have to consult with teachers before major changes,” Mernick said.
The letter of intent also asked that Alliance leaders not interfere with the unionization effort, and come to an agreement on a neutral process.
Alliance’s top leaders responded by issuing this public statement: “We acknowledge the rights of our teachers to undertake this effort. We also recognize that our teachers are under no obligation to participate.”
A website paid for by Alliance features a memo on the benefits of Alliance’s independence, and states the network’s position on the issue: “We respectfully disagree with the assertion that unionization with UTLA would help advance educational opportunities for our students. We do not think being a part of the ongoing antagonism between UTLA and LAUSD and limiting our flexibility and autonomy would be beneficial to our students and our teachers.”
A fact sheet, also on the site, warns teachers in all-caps that, “ONCE UNIONIZATION OCCURS, IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO REMOVE THE UNION.”
Some teachers in favor of unionization allege Alliance’s opposition has amounted to unfair labor practices, and they complained to California’s Public Employee Relations Board.
One complaint details a July incident where an Alliance leader allegedly called police, claiming Mernick was trespassing by handing out leaflets about unionization near a school building. Teachers have also accused Alliance of intimidation and interference — UTLA emails, for example, were once routed to teachers’ spam folders.
“Within a month, it evolved into an illegal anti-union campaign,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl.
The state labor board has asked Alliance to cease-and-desist from any unlawful interference, and to restore the union’s access to Alliance email servers. Separately, Alliance is also being audited by state lawmakers after accusations that the charter operator is using public funds to pay for its anti-union efforts. The audit was requested by state Sen. Tony Mendoza, a former UTLA board member whose district does not include any Alliance schools.
Alliance spokesman Catherine Suitor said the network is “just trying to get a balanced presentation of facts, instead of a one-way conversation, which is what UTLA wants.” Regarding the audit, Suitor said Mendoza and UTLA are “playing politics with our schools.”
At the core of their message to educators, Suitor said, is an argument to preserve the structure of Alliance’s schools, which boast some of the state’s highest test scores.
“The high level of autonomy and flexibility is part of the model of providing personalized support and instruction,” Suitor said.
Nationally, charter advocates are making the same argument: that a union-free environment has fueled the success of many schools.
“The reason we’ve been able to succeed to a large extent is that we have nimble, entrepreneurial-minded leaders who are running schools, can hire qualified teachers and pay them with a differentiated payscale,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “They have the freedom to expand the school day and school year without having to consult a union.”
Rees said that collective bargaining agreements keep school leaders from making “mid-course corrections quickly” — a problem, she said, that ails traditional public schools.
“All of a sudden, the establishment is difficult to move,” Rees said. “It’s what’s led to the state of education we have today.”
A memo to charter school attorneys sent by the Alliance for Charter School Attorneys, a branch of NAPCS, explains that recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board, which governs charter unionization in places where charters are deemed private employers, have expedited the unionization process.
“What’s a charter to do? Be proactive!” the memo reads.
Although charter teachers in Chicago threatened to strike, that sort of tension is rare. Once the schools are unionized, collective bargaining at charters generally goes on without major hiccups.
Still, Ziebarth, the state-level strategist for NAPCS, said “operators are concerned about losing the flexibility and autonomy. I think people are concerned that all the work they’ve done over the years, that that’s going to go by the wayside, and they’re going to have to abide by some inflexible collective bargaining agreement.”
Ziebarth said he frequently advises charter operators that the best way to protect their flexibility is to ensure educators “have a voice in their school.”
“If you fall short, you open yourself to losing that flexibility, to unionization and collective bargaining,” he said. “If you want to be free of that, you better make sure the teachers are happy.”
Union leaders insist that charter schools, when initially conceived, were always meant to be unionized.
Indeed, former AFT President Albert Shanker is credited with pioneering the charter school concept. He envisioned a new kind of public school that would grow out of a proposal by a group of teachers asking to do things differently.
Those teacher proposals would spark the creation of independent new schools that could test new instructional methods, but the schools would need to be approved jointly by local education leaders and the union.
“I would approve such a proposal if it included a plan for faculty decision making, for participative management,” Shanker said in a 1988 speech. “A way for a teaching team to govern itself.”
By the time Shanker died in 1997, charter schools had become more of a mainstream idea — and unions had been cut out of the concept.
“The right wing had co-opted the charter school idea and used it as a way to get around unions,” said Richard Kahlenberg, who wrote a biography on Shanker and studies the charter school landscape.
“From the first charter school legislation, unions and charters have been at odds,” he said. “The idea became that charter schools would be the competition and kind of whip traditional public schools into shape.”
That discord at the outset has cemented in the years since. Flash forward to today, and charter supporters are deeply skeptical of the surge in unionizing efforts at their schools.
Overall, teachers union membership has declined over the last five years. And while that trend isn’t solely because of charter school growth, it is a factor.
Two key examples: New Orleans and Detroit, where union membership was all but eradicated by a surge of non-unionized charter schools. Both cities are now a priority in AFT’s charter organizing campaign.
But the organizing effort hasn’t tampered the union’s outspoken criticism of charters in general. In Chicago, where Weingarten, the AFT president, supported charter teachers who threatened a strike, there is strong resistance to charters among union members who work in Chicago Public Schools. The day after UNO charter leaders and the teachers union reached a tentative deal to avoid a strike, the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to ratify its contract with Chicago Public Schools.
That contract includes a provision that will effectively ban all new charter schools in Chicago until 2018, and will cap the growth of existing charters to 101% of current enrollment until then.
Weingarten publicly celebrated that contract.
Over at the NEA, president Lily Skelsen-Garcia was one of the first to praise last year’s resolution from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that called for a moratorium on new charter schools.
In Massachusetts, teachers’ unions successfully campaigned to stop a proposed charter school expansion in that state. Voters in November rejected the Massachusetts charter expansion, and it was the unions that provided the organizing backbone for the “No” campaign.
Union supporters say it’s possible to both fight the growth of charters while also representing teachers who work at those same schools.
In Chicago, union leaders say the charter school cap works in favor of charter school teachers too. “The more schools that are allowed, the more stretched the money is,” said Chris Baehrend, president of the Chicago Association of Charter School Teachers, a branch of AFT. He said that in Chicago, the quick proliferation of charters has drained the public school system, a situation made worse by declining enrollment. “Charters are cannibalizing other charters,” he said. “Just because I work in a charter school doesn’t mean I support more charter schools.”
In L.A., where UTLA has also fought charter school expansion, Caputo-Pearl says the union can support charter school educators and also work to slow the growth of charters.
“We are serious about organizing charter educators because we have a lot in common and because we need each other,” he said. “We don’t think it is sustainable to have unlimited growth of charter schools, but that does not mean we are anti-charter or existing charters. It just means were pro-sustainability.”