Music Education Policy Roundup – Feb 25, 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

NAfME releases statement opposing the rescinding of transgender guidelines for schools.

 

NAfME Position Statements – REVISED Equity and Access in Music Education and  Inclusivity and Diversity in Music Education statements available for your review and comments. DEADLINE: March 1, 2017

 

Federal Updates

Trump’s transgender decision skirts thorniest issues
Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/23/2017 07:14 PM EDT

President Donald Trump’s move to scrap an Obama directive on transgender student rights satisfied his evangelical base while avoiding the thorniest moral and legal issues — whether transgender students are protected by federal education law at all and whether they should be.

Since taking action Wednesday night, the Trump administration has managed to send very mixed messages.

The letter to schools rescinding the Obama directive made its argument based on states’ rights, saying, “there must be due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.” It didn’t address the underlying legal issue at all — whether Title IX, the law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational programs, protects against gender identity discrimination. Conservative-led lawsuits against the Barack Obama directive argue that his administration unilaterally rewrote Title IX to include gender identity under “sex-based discrimination.” But that argument wasn’t raised in the Trump administration’s letter.

With the Supreme Court set to hear a case on transgender rights next month, the Justice Department may have to clear up where it stands. The court on Thursday asked the parties in the case, a transgender high school senior seeking bathroom access and his Virginia school district, how they want to proceed based on the Trump administration’s move. They must tell the court by March 1. Some legal experts believe the administration’s rescinding of Obama’s directive could kick the case back to a lower court.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered sometimes conflicting answers as he was bombarded with questions on the issue at his daily briefing Thursday.
“I mean, there is no way that you can read Title IX from 1972 [when the law was passed] … and say that was even contemplated back then,” he said. “There is nobody possibly suggesting that the law that was passed in 1972 did that.” “The guidance put forward obviously sends a signal to the court on where the administration stands on this issue,” he added.

But Spicer also said the president doesn’t want to “force his issues or beliefs.” “It’s a states’ rights issue,” he said. “That’s entirely what he believes.”

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, accepted that the Trump administration made its argument in terms of states’ rights, rather than in moral or religious terms.“The White House won’t be deciding the bathroom policies for schools and districts across the country,” he said.

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & HIV Project, described the administration letter as “odd.” He noted that while it doesn’t stake out a position on Title IX, it suggests that the law protects students from bullying.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly pushed to include the bullying language.

Block also noted that the administration didn’t pull back on a number of documents relevant to transgender student rights — for instance, a document on best practices for accommodating transgender students.

That document upholds policies from Washington state as an example, noting that “school districts should allow students to use the restroom that is consistent with their gender identity consistently asserted at school” and no student “should be required to use an alternative restroom because they are transgender or gender nonconforming.”

“It mostly seems like another example of confusion while these people try to do a lot in a short time and not really understanding the parameters of the policymaking process,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership, law and policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center.

“At the same time, Trump has said positive things about trans and LGBT issues in general so it might reflect a degree of ambivalence,” he said.

DeVos was reportedly at odds with the Justice Department over rescinding the guidance — or at least the way it was done. And the apparent split was underscored by two very different messages pushed by the agencies Wednesday night, with DeVos firing off statements about the federal government’s duty to protect students.

“At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools,” DeVos said.

The Justice Department put out a more direct statement stressing that states and local governments are best equipped to deal with transgender rights.

But at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, DeVos said Obama’s transgender directive was “a very huge example” of federal overreach. It was a “one-size-fits-all, federal government, top-down approach to issues that are best solved at a personal level, at a local level.”

While nearly half of states have sued over the issue, many blue states and school districts across the country said Thursday they planned to uphold transgender student rights. And bills in state legislatures across the country to limit bathroom access are floundering, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

“All students deserve a safe and supportive school environment,” said California state Superintendent Tom Torlakson. “California will continue to work to provide that environment for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students regardless of any misguided directives by the federal government and the Trump administration.”

 

DeVos: Obama transgender rights directive was federal overreach

Politico By Michael Stratford 02/23/2017 02:15 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today defended the Trump administration’s decision to scrap federal guidance directing schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“This issue was a very huge example of the Obama administration’s overreach,” she said during remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. DeVos called the transgender rights directive that her agency repealed on Wednesday a “one-size-fits-all, federal government, top-down approach to issues that are best solved at a personal level, at a local level.”

DeVos, who reportedly disagreed with the White House’s decision to move ahead with eliminating the federal protections for transgender students, said that she still envisioned a role for the federal government in protecting students’ civil rights.

Although the “role of the federal government should be as light of a touch as possible,” DeVos said, the Education Department still has “an important role are around the needs of special needs students and the civil rights issues we referenced earlier.”

“It is our job to protect students and to do that to the fullest extent that we can,” DeVos said, adding that she wants “to provide students, parents, and teachers with more flexibility around how education is delivered and how education is experienced, and to protect and preserve personal freedoms.”

The federal government during the Obama administration played “too much of a role” in education, DeVos said.

 

Arne Duncan: Rolling back transgender student protections is ‘cruel and sad’
Politico By Louis Nelson 02/24/2017 08:59 AM EDT

The White House’s decision to roll back rules allowing transgender students to use the public school bathrooms of their choosing is “thoughtless, cruel and sad,” former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published today.

Writing alongside former Deputy Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon, Duncan attacked the White House’s reasoning behind the roll back, that the issue should be left for states to decide, as being a “fundamental misunderstanding of the federal role in protecting the civil rights of students.”

“Worse yet, it confuses states and school districts, and puts real, live children at greater risk of harm,” the two authors wrote.

“This decision is thoughtless, cruel and sad and was implemented without serious consideration for the students it affects.”

The White House’s suggestion that the bathroom guidance, issued by the administration of former President Barack Obama, was done without “due regard” to local school districts is “categorically false,” the op-ed’s authors wrote. The Obama-administration guidance was issued with the input of teachers, parents, school boards, school administrators and parents, they said, in addition to transgender students.

“Withdrawing guidance, offering no information instead, and noting that the federal government wants to ‘more completely consider the legal issues’ is a dangerous default to ‘local control’ politics instead of honoring the letter and the spirit of the law,” Duncan and Lhamon wrote.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos deserves “some credit,” they said, based on reports that she was initially opposed to revoking the Obama-era guidance before signing off on the measure faced with the alternative of resignation. But the authors expressed concern that the early defeat for DeVos could signal future losses on a host of other issues.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that there was any dissent on the move to pull back the bathroom guidance, telling reporters at a press briefing earlier this week that there was “no daylight between anybody — between the president, between any of the secretaries” and that DeVos in particular was “100 percent” on board.

“When it comes to protecting students, the law is clear: Civil rights are paramount,” the two authors wrote. “These are real issues affecting real people and carrying consequences every day for children in classrooms. They deserve better.”

 

Sessions, DeVos differ on Obama’s transgender student protections
Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/22/2017 12:47 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pushed for a cautious approach on the polarizing issue of transgender student protections — but she was overruled by a White House and attorney general who preferred a swift removal of Obama-era protections.

That directive from the feds, expected to become public as soon as Wednesday, essentially abandons the Obama administration’s efforts to protect the right of transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. LGBT advocates believe strong federal protections are critical to protecting transgender youth, who are among the most at-risk populations when it comes to bullying and suicide rates.

The Trump administration’s plan to dismantle the protections sparked a major disagreement between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DeVos, The New York Times reports, with DeVos initially resisting signing off on a draft letter to schools outlining the new rules.

Under pressure from Sessions and the White House, DeVos relented, according to the newspaper.

The Education Department and White House couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The Justice Department declined to comment. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump believes “this is a states’ rights issue and not one for the federal government.”

Advocates who’ve spoken with administration sources told POLITICO that the Justice Department was eager to withdraw Obama’s directive before the Supreme Court hears arguments next month in a case involving Virginia transgender student Gavin Grimm. But DeVos seemed interested in moving more deliberately.

A Republican with contacts in the Trump administration offers a similar description of the Cabinet feud.

“What I have heard is that Secretary DeVos’ preference would’ve been to have a notice of comment period on this rather than just rescinding the policy effective immediately,” the Republican said.

The Obama administration’s Education and Justice Departments last May issued a directive to schools across the country, saying it was their duty to protect transgender students under Title IX — a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs. That includes the right of transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms in alignment with their gender identities. The Obama administration threatened schools, districts, colleges and universities with the loss of federal funds if they weren’t compliant. Nearly half of states sued over the issue, complaining of federal overreach.

Another Republican familiar with the Trump administration conversations stressed that it’s normal for agencies to disagree, but said DeVos has a weakened role. In addition to losing this fight with Sessions, the source said, DeVos appears to have been cut out of the conversation on whether the administration should get rid of or maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was started by Obama and provides protections for young, undocumented immigrants.

“People are beginning to dismiss her and just go to other agencies or the White House where they believe — real or perceived — the real influence is,” the Republican said.

Sen. Patty Murray , the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, released a statement saying she was “glad to see reports that Sec. DeVos agrees with me and so many people across the country that rolling back this guidance on protecting transgender students would be absolutely wrong and should not be done. I hope Sec. DeVos stands strong on this issue and doesn’t cave to pressure from Attorney General Sessions and allow this to move forward when she knows it is wrong.”

The Trump administration’s draft letter to schools, obtained by the Times, cites lawsuits nationwide and confusion over the transgender issue as a reason for rescinding the previous directive. The letter also states that schools must protect LGBT students from bullying.

“School administrators, parents and students have expressed varying views on the legal issues arising in this setting,” the draft letter says. “They have also struggled to understand and apply the statements of policy and guidance” in the Obama orders.

During DeVos’ confirmation process, she stated that “every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive and grow.”

But Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said rescinding the Obama directive will only cause problems for schools and parents. She said the Obama administration waded into the issue last year in response to questions from schools and districts.

“This is going to confuse schools quite a lot,” she said. “They’re not going to know what to do and it’s going to open them up to litigation.”

Keisling said the Trump administration’s move amounts to a “brazen and shameless attack on hundreds of thousands of young Americans who must already defend themselves against schoolyard bullies, but are ill-equipped to fight bullies on the floors of their state legislatures and in the White House.”

Last week, LGBT employees at the Education Department asked DeVos in an email to commit to upholding protections under Title IX.

“At a time when students and individuals across the nation are being targeted with overtly discriminatory treatment, our nation needs you to remind and empower students about their right to equal access to education,” the staffers wrote.

Next month, the Supreme Court is set to consider Grimm’s case, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board. The Trump administration’s move to rescind the Obama directive could kick the case back down to a lower court, however.

The court is set to consider two questions: whether the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX is correct and whether it was right for a lower court to defer to that interpretation. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Grimm, plans to file a brief arguing that it’s critical for the high court to provide clarity on whether Title IX protects against gender identity discrimination.

Grimm, a 17-year-old high school senior, told POLITICO in a recent interview that being treated differently based on his gender identity has caused his grades to suffer.

“It’s really, really detrimental to your high school experience,” he said.

 

Tech opens new war with Trump over transgender rights rollback
Politico By Tony Romm 02/23/2017 12:11 AM EDT Updated 02/23/2017 05:19 AM EDT

Apple, Uber and Microsoft took aim at President Donald Trump after he issued a directive on Wednesday that rolls back federal protections for transgender students in public schools.

In a statement, Apple stressed its belief that “everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination,” adding: “We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals. We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections.”

Uber, meanwhile, said it’s “proud of our longstanding opposition to harmful initiatives aimed at the LGBT community,” and it pledged it would “continue to speak out against discriminatory actions and in favor of good policy that champions equality and inclusion for all.”

And Microsoft, through a tweet from president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, swiped at the order in a subtle way. “Since Jan. 1, 1863, the federal government has played a vital role in protecting the rights of all Americans. Let’s not stop now,” Smith wrote, referencing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Under the new policy, issued late Wednesday, the Justice and Education departments jointly declared they had “decided to withdraw and rescind” protections put in place by President Barack Obama, which ostensibly allowed transgender students to use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. As states challenge the order in court, the Trump administration halted it in order to “further and more completely consider the legal issues involved.”

Many tech giants previously have been vocal advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. But companies including Airbnb, Amazon, Lyft, Microsoft, Salesforce and Twitter, in the hours after the order was published, did not respond to requests for comment. Google and Facebook both declined to comment.

Trump’s move still marks an escalation in the bitter standoff between Silicon Valley and Washington, which erupted last month over immigration, after the president issued an executive order that limited travelers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. The policy, which has since been challenged in court, drew opposition from a tech industry that employs scores of workers from around the globe — and has long sought to expand its ability to attract and retain foreign engineers.

Trump’s stance on transgender rights, however, strikes even deeper at the political heart of the tech industry’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area, an epicenter in the country’s decades-old LGBT civil-rights movement.

In recent years, tech giants have sounded off in support of issues like same-sex marriage, which matter greatly to their employees. Apple, Facebook and Google signed a court brief opposing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, before the Supreme Court overturned it in 2013. Years later, those same companies fought vigorously when Vice President Mike Pence, then Indiana’s governor, signed a so-called “religious freedom” law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate and lesbian and gay customers. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in particular, played a vocal, active role in both battles, years after revealing himself as gay.

And in North Carolina, which sought to restrict transgender students to using bathrooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate, many tech giants similarly leaped into action. Companies like Airbnb, Apple, Facebook, Salesforce, Twitter, Uber and others slammed the bill, known as HB 2, in a joint letter that called the law discriminatory and damaging to their businesses.

Even one of Trump’s top technology advisers — Valley investor Peter Thiel — has opposed such restrictions on transgender Americans. Months before Trump won the election, Thiel, who is gay, appeared on stage at the Republican National Convention and urged the party to refrain from waging “culture wars” against the LGBT community. He specifically cited the debate around bathroom access as a “distraction from our real problem[s].” A spokesman for Thiel declined to comment.

 

Judge orders Trump to take position on Obama’s ban on student loan fees

Politico By Michael Stratford 02/23/2017 08:36 PM EDT

A federal judge has ordered the Education Department to determine whether it will continue to enforce the Obama administration’s ban on the collection of certain student loan fees.

U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta said in an order tonight that he wants to know by next Thursday whether the Trump administration agrees with the Obama administration’s view that the fees are prohibited by federal law.

Mehta is overseeing a legal challenge to the Obama administration’s 2015 guidance , which specifically prohibits guaranty agencies that collect federally backed loans from imposing collection fees when a borrower defaults on his or her debt but quickly agrees to start repaying.

United Student Aid Funds, a former student loan guaranty agency, has sued to block the guidance, arguing that the Higher Education Act permits them to impose such fees.

Mehta, an Obama appointee, also ruled tonight that USA Funds could introduce additional evidence to show that the Obama administration’s guidance was a departure from the longstanding industry practice of collecting the fees.

USA Funds last month agreed to pay $23 million to settle a related case involving collection of the fees, though it did not admit wrongdoing. The class-action settlement provides for reimbursements for some 35,000 borrowers.

 

DeVos takes on colleges and universities in remarks to conservatives
Politico By Michael Stratford 02/23/2017 01:45 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized the media, the Obama administration and American higher education in remarks today to a gathering of young conservatives.

DeVos suggested that college campuses are indoctrinating their students and stifling free speech in a short speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think,” she said. “They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

DeVos noted that her desire is to shake up the status quo has made her a controversial figure.

“The media has had its fun with me, and that’s OK,” she said. “My job isn’t to win a popularity contest with the media or the education establishment here in Washington.”

She said that she is “perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch” — a reference to an exchange during her confirmation hearing where the Vermont independent asked for her thoughts on making public colleges tuition-free.

In addition, DeVos criticized the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants as a $7 billion failure that had “zero impact on student outcomes and performance.”

“They tested their model, and it failed miserably,” she said.

 

Despite hiring freeze, Interior moves to hire Bureau of Indian Education teachers

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 02/22/2017 04:58 PM EDT

The Trump administration is in the process of authorizing exemptions to the federal hiring freeze to fill more than 100 teaching vacancies in Bureau of Indian Education schools, an Interior Department official told POLITICO.

Heather Swift, a department spokeswoman, said that in addition to the teaching jobs, the administration is “looking at a number of BIE positions” to make exempt. Earlier this week, the department said 427 BIE positions are affected by the hiring freeze.

The BIE runs schools mostly on reservations that are among the nation’s lowest performing. It has long faced teaching shortages and other administrative problems. The Obama administration started a restructuring of BIE, and, as a result of that process, many positions remained unfilled when President Donald Trump took office.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and several other Democratic senators asked Trump in a letter late last month to exempt BIE and several other federal programs that provide services to Native Americans. “Even before the hiring freeze was announced, federal agencies that provide these services were struggling to recruit and retain a qualified workforce, with personnel vacancies consistently cited by the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general as a major factor in the lack of available essential and basic services for Native peoples.”

Trump ordered the hiring freeze on Jan. 23 as part of an effort to shrink the size of the federal government.

 

Supreme Court sends service animal case back to lower court

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 02/22/2017 11:55 AM EDT

The Supreme Court today backed the family of a Michigan girl with cerebral palsy who was told by her school not to bring her service dog named Wonder to school.

In an unanimous ruling written by Justice Elena Kagan, it sent the case by the family of Ehlena Fry back to a lower court. The justices want the lower court to take a closer look at whether the family can move forward with the case in court without first going through a potentially cumbersome administrative process. And the justices suggested doing so was a possibility under the law for the family.

The ACLU of Michigan, which is representing the family, tweeted “VICTORY” in response to the ruling. Two lower courts previously ruled in favor of the district, Napoleon Community Schools.

The case has been watched closely because it focused on the legal remedies available to families with children with special needs. Wonder, a specially trained Goldendoodle, appeared outside the Supreme Court the day the case was heard.

The district argued that Congress set up an administrative process through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that families must use before suing. It maintained the process was designed to be more efficient and less costly than suing.

It also said it made accommodations for Ehlena by assigning her an aide and allowing a trial period for Ehlena to bring Wonder. After an Education Department Office for Civil Rights determination in the family’s favor, the school did not admit it had done anything wrong, but said it would allow Wonder in school. But the family opted to move to a new district.

 

DACA survies Trump’s immigration crackdown – for now

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 02/21/2017 11:53 AM EDT

A program protecting undocumented students from deportation has survived the initial stages of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.

Guidelines obtained by POLITICO today say the administration plans to hire 10,000 immigration and customs officers, while making clear that all “removable aliens” could be subject to immigration enforcement. The guidelines, however, call for ICE officials to focus on deporting convicted felons and people “who are involved in gang activity or drug trafficking.”

The guidelines specifically exempt those protected by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy that grants temporary permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The document says that all other “existing conflicting directives, memoranda, or field guidance regarding the enforcement of our immigration laws and priorities for removal are hereby immediately rescinded.”

The guidance issued today prioritizes the arrest of deportable immigrants who have “abused” public benefits, misrepresented themselves or “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

DACA appears to be President Donald Trump’s soft spot on immigration. He said last week that it is one of the most difficult issues he’s faced since taking office.

Federal authorities, meanwhile, arrested a DACA recipient earlier this month in Washington state. He remains in federal custody and is set to have a hearing before an immigration judge this week.

 

Trump: “DACA is very, very difficult thing for me”

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 02/16/2017 02:38 PM EDT

President Donald Trump — who vowed on the campaign trail to “immediately” end a program that protects undocumented students from deportation — now says the issue is a “very, very difficult thing for me.”

“I love these kids,” Trump said at a news conference today, vowing to deal with Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “with heart.” The program grants temporary work permits to students who were brought to the country as children.

“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me. For me, it’s one of the most difficult I have,” Trump said. “Because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not all cases. In some cases they’re having DACA and they’re drug dealers and gang members, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly.”

“We are going to deal with DACA with a lot of heart,” Trump continued. “And I have a lot of politicians — don’t forget — and I have to convince them what I’m saying is right.”

Trump’s comments came after immigration officials this week arrested and detained a student protected by DACA. Advocates have said the student’s arrest shows the Trump administration is not honoring its previous public statements that it would prioritize criminals for deportation.

“If there’s any remaining doubt that the Trump administration has declared open season on all immigrants … look no further than this case,” Greisa Martinez, advocacy director at United We Dream and a DACA recipient, said this week.

 

Trump considers tax credit to channel public money to private schools
Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/21/2017 05:02 AM EDT

The Trump administration is considering a first-of-its-kind federal tax credit scholarship program that would channel billions of dollars to working class families to enable their children to attend private schools, including religious schools.

The federal tax credit proposal is one of several ideas under review by the White House to fulfill Donald Trump’s campaign promise to promote the expansion of charter schools and vouchers that would allow low-income families to use public money for private school tuition, sources tell POLITICO. During a recent meeting with parents and teachers at the White House, Trump said he wants “every single disadvantaged child in America, no matter what their background or where they live, to have a choice about where they go to school.”

But the federal tax credit proposal already has critics on the left and right. Public school advocates say such a tax credit is a voucher program in disguise and would divert tax dollars from struggling public schools.

“The end result is the same — federal tax dollars going to private schools,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy and advocacy at AASA, The School Superintendents Association, who called the program “a backdoor voucher.”

“It’s just done through a more complex and less direct mechanism,” she said.

While a tax credit may be more politically palatable than asking Congress to find or reallocate money to fulfill Trump’s $20 billion promise to expand charter and private school options, “just because it’s more palatable, doesn’t mean it tastes good,” said Noelle Ellerson, the group’s associate executive director.

Critics on the right, meanwhile, worry such a plan would increase the federal role in education and pressure states to standardize state tax credit programs, many of which now allow nonprofit groups to prioritize a particular type of school, such as those of particular religious denominations, for instance.

A federal tax credit scholarship program could be part of a larger tax reform bill and pass through the budget reconciliation process with only 51 votes in the Senate. Delays in repealing Obamacare, however, are complicating Republican plans to push tax reform through Congress.

The White House did not respond to questions on the tax credit proposal or its status by deadline. Details of how the Trump administration might structure the plan remain unknown. But sources close to the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly say the program might be capped at a level as high as $20 billion, and resemble legislation first introduced by Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana in 2013, called the Educational Opportunities Act.

That bill, which has never passed either chamber, would have created a federal tax credit of up to $4,500 for individuals and up to $100,000 for corporations who make donations to nonprofit “scholarship-granting organizations,” or SGOs. Those organizations would award the funds to low-income students, who could use the money to attend private schools, including those run by religious groups.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised the bill in 2015 when it was reintroduced and she was chair of the school choice advocacy group, American Federation for Children.

“There’s no single domestic issue more pressing than fixing our nation’s antiquated education system and the Educational Opportunities Act will empower parents throughout the country to have access to quality educational options that are otherwise out of reach,” she said.

Robert Goad, Trump’s education policy person on the White House Domestic Policy Council, is a former aide to Republican Rep. Luke Messer, who co-sponsored the bill and former executive director of advocacy group, School Choice Indiana.

Goad said earlier this month he’s “not able to discuss policy matters yet.”

Seventeen states have similar tax credit scholarship programs and a few others, like Kentucky and Texas, are considering bills this year.

It’s unclear whether a federal program would limit tax credits to residents and donors in states that already have their own tax credit programs with an infrastructure to support those. If that’s the case, it could incentivize states without such programs to create them.

DeVos has previously pointed to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program as one of her biggest successes. Before being named to Trump’s Cabinet, DeVos was on the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a reform group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Together, they pushed for the creation and expansion of tax credit scholarship programs across the country.

The nonprofit Step Up for Students, which helps administer Florida’s program, says it has served more than 97,000 students. The scholarships, for low and middle-income students, are worth nearly $6,000 each. Nearly 70 percent of students receiving them are black or Hispanic and more than 1,700 private schools participate in the program.

More than 80 percent of students use the scholarships to attend religious schools, with most of them coming from large, urban districts, a recent state report shows. About a quarter of the participating students are from Miami-Dade County public schools, the fourth largest school district in the country.

“A well-designed federal program could, for the first time, empower low-income parents in blue states — and red states who have been reluctant — to choose a better school for their children,” said John Kirtley, founder of Step Up For Students. Kirtley is also vice chairman of American Federation for Children. “In states with legislatures dominated by the teachers unions, it may be the only chance they ever have to be empowered.”

Florida’s program, however, has been beset by legal challenges. And groups representing the nation’s traditional public schools say they would fight any proposals to introduce such plans on the federal level.

The National Coalition for Public Education argues that private schools accepting tuition funded through tax credits aren’t held accountable like public schools. , the advocacy group notes. And states have had to take action to make up for lost revenue. Alabama once put aside $40 million in its budget to absorb the anticipated loss from the tax credits, Stateline reported.

Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education said Indiana’s tax credit scholarship program, which passed in 2009, was the “gateway drug to [a state legislation authorizing] vouchers,” which passed in 2011. Indiana has lost millions in tax revenues due to the state tax credit scholarship alone, the Chicago-based Center for Budget and Tax Accountability has reported. Teachers unions and public education advocacy groups in Texas are actively fighting a state tax credit proposal there.

“Vouchers in any form divert tax money to private schools or homeschoolers and take it from under-funded public schools, where the vast majority of school children will continue to be educated,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. “When I say under-funded public schools, I am talking specifically about Texas, which spends about $2,700 less per child on education each year than the national average.”

While promoting school choice has gained political momentum, not all conservatives think a federal tax credit is the right way to go – largely because they don’t want to see a larger federal hand in education.

“I have reservations,” said Lindsey Burke, who leads the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy. “School choice is already moving along swimmingly in the states … We don’t want to over-convolute the tax code and there’s concern that this could get over-regulated.”

Jason Bedrick, director of policy for the Indiana-based advocacy group EdChoice, worries that states and scholarship-granting organizations might feel pressure to conform to the provisions of a federal tax credit program.

For example, Bedrick said, the bill proposed by Rubio and Rokita would have given federal tax credits only for donations to scholarship-granting organizations that don’t “earmark or set aside contributions for scholarships on behalf of any particular student, or to any specific school or group of schools.” Essentially, donors would receive a federal tax credit only if they give to SGOs that award funds to all students looking to attend all types of schools.

A provision like that could “exclude a broad and diverse array of SGOs that currently participate in scholarship tax credit programs nationwide,” Bedrick said. That’s because most states allow these organizations to be “mission-based,” working with schools of a particular religious denomination or educational philosophy like Montessori schools, he said.

“It would be a mistake for conservatives to say, ‘now that we have control over the federal government, we’re going to push our ideas on a national scale,’” he added. “There’s going to be a lot more opposition than they think.”

 

DeVos gets beefed-up security
Politico By Michael Stratford 02/17/2017 04:48 PM EDT

The U.S. Marshals Service has taken the unusual step of providing a protective detail to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who emerged from a contentious nomination process as a lightening rod of controversy.

DeVos last week was briefly blocked by protesters from entering a Washington middle school. One of those protesters has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of assaulting a police officer stemming from the incident. Police said the man also physically tried to block DeVos’ vehicle.

Drew J. Wade, a spokesman for the Marshals Service, said in an email to POLITICO that the law enforcement agency “is not aware of providing a protective detail for the U.S. secretary of Education in the past.”

“The Attorney General authorized the U.S. Marshals to provide the protective detail for Secretary DeVos,” Wade said. The Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department, declined to provide additional details about the new security measures or who requested them.

While security for top government officials varies across agencies, the Marshals Service is not currently protecting any other Cabinet member. The Marshals Service previously protected the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy when it was a Cabinet post, Wade said.

The past four Education secretaries have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security unit, which is comprised of about a half dozen agents, according to a former department official. Two or three of those agents at a time have typically protected the secretary at events in the Washington area, the former official said.

It’s not clear how the U.S. Marshals are coordinating protection of DeVos with the Education Department’s security unit. The department did not respond to requests for additional information about DeVos’ security.

Following last Friday’s incident outside the D.C. school, DeVos has made several public appearances in the city — she spoke to an association of magnet schools, for example, and also to a conference of community college leaders. Both times, she appeared to be under tighter security than previous Education secretaries.

 

DeVos breaks from past Trump rhetoric on Common Core
Politico By Michael Stratford 02/15/2017 07:57 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Wednesday that the K-12 education law that Congress passed in 2015 “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core” — remarks that appear to run counter to the Trump playbook on the controversial education standards.

President Donald Trump and his advisers have repeatedly vowed that they would be the ones to “end” the Common Core, which conservatives have long held out as an example of federal overreach by Barack Obama. And DeVos herself echoed Trump’s campaign promise when she said during a Trump victory rally in December that she looked forward to “finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”

But now that DeVos has been installed as Education secretary after a rocky confirmation process, she seems to be pushing a message that undercuts Trump’s approach to the Common Core. The new education law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, “really does give the states and local districts a whole lot more flexibility and a lot more control over how they deliver education,” she said during an interview with talk radio host Frank Beckmann on Detroit station WJR. The law, DeVos added, “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core” and “encourages states to set forth their own levels of achievement expectation” for students.

It has never been clear how the Trump administration would make good on its promise to end the Common Core because the Education secretary doesn’t have the power to scrap the standards, which are in use in about 40 states. Nevertheless, Trump’s inner circle has not let up in its calls to ditch the Obama-era standards, with Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president and one of Trumpland’s regulars on the TV news circuit, saying on CNN as recently as last week that the president “wants to repeal the Common Core.”

The reality, education experts on both sides of the aisle say, is that states have always been charged with setting educational standards. But the Obama administration dangled incentives to states to adopt high standards like the Common Core, fueling accusations of federal overreach.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December 2015, explicitly prohibits the department from setting standards. DeVos’ comments Wednesday move closer toward an interpretation of ESSA and the Common Core that’s in keeping with the view of Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the authors of the new education law, who believes the measure put a stop to education dictates from Washington and restored power back to the states.

Some conservative groups, however, do not believe ESSA goes far enough in nixing the Common Core, and they’ve criticized DeVos for her ties to education groups — like one founded by Jeb Bush — that have been supportive of the standards. Her comments Wednesday are likely to produce more criticism on that front. An Education Department spokesperson did not immediately comment when contacted by POLITICO on Wednesday evening about DeVos’ statements.

Under ESSA, states are supposed to submit their plans for holding schools accountable to the Education Department for approval. DeVos on Wednesday described that function as “a good and important role for the federal government.” She said that ESSA offered an opportunity for the Education Department to “highlight the states that are doing particularly well” and “point out areas in states where they’re really, frankly, not living up to what they should be [doing] on behalf of kids.”

Civil rights groups and Democrats have said they’re concerned the Trump administration will merely rubber-stamp those plans, taking away key protections for students from historically underserved populations.

The Trump administration has delayed the Obama administration’s regulations governing the state plans and the school accountability provisions of the new education law, as Republicans seek to undo them. The House last week passed a Congressional Review Act resolution that would repeal the accountability regulations, and the White House has said Trump will sign the measure if it clears the Senate.

DeVos has previously said that states should continue to meet deadlines for submitting their plans in either April or September of this year.

 

DeVos embraces magnet schools — but won’t commit to more funding
Politico By Caitlin Emma 02/15/2017 06:29 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised the nation’s magnet schools in a speech Wednesday — but she wouldn’t commit to more funding for magnets, which are a “choice” option offered by traditional school districts.

DeVos said that magnet schools have played a “vital role” in improving the lives of urban students, combating segregation and providing “a quality option to parents and kids alike.”

Magnet schools, which can offer theme-based curricula like STEM education or liberal arts, are “often referred to as the original school choice option,” DeVos said in brief remarks at the Magnet Schools of America conference.

But the Education secretary, who is an outspoken champion of school choice, wouldn’t commit to a major priority for the magnet schools community: more federal funding. Funding for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program has hovered around $91 million for the past few years. Magnet Schools of America President Todd Mann said he’d like to see that amount more than triple.

“I’m awaiting the budget,” DeVos said. “Let me just say, I think that all great schools should be highlighted and should be supported.”

“That said, I don’t think we should be as focused necessarily on funding school buildings as much as we should be having conversation around funding students,” DeVos went on to say. “And if students are funded at the appropriate levels and equally and they’re making choices to go to schools like magnet schools — you all are doing a tremendous job. Again, the focus around funding students is I think the conversation that we need to be having more broadly.”

Although DeVos has influence when it comes to education funding, the Trump administration will be balancing other competing interests when putting together its budget proposal, which is expected in the coming months. And Congress has the final say in approving federal spending.

After the speech, Mann speculated that DeVos was referring to Title I portability in her remarks — the notion of allowing billions in federal dollars for poor students to follow individual students to the schools of their choice.

“I think our position would always be that when money is provided to a public school, then it should stay with the public school rather than follow the student,” Mann said. “But I don’t know what she exactly meant.”

Mann said he saw some nods throughout the room during DeVos’ remarks “in terms of the things she was acknowledging — that magnets are a valid form of choice, that they’ve worked and that they create diversity.”

“I think that resonated with our members,” he said.

Mann invited DeVos to visit some magnet schools and she accepted the invitation. When discussing magnet schools, DeVos told the crowd that the fact that “more than 2.6 million students” are benefiting “from attending 3,285 magnet schools” should be celebrated.

The Magnet Schools of America reports higher numbers in their research, with 4,340 magnet schools serving nearly 3.5 million students. An Education Department spokesperson said MSA shared their statistics with DeVos, but she cited the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, which is standard policy.

 

DeVos looking for places to cut at the Education Department

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 02/14/2017 12:26 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said today that “good, robust” conversations about what can be trimmed at the Education Department are ahead.

“I can guarantee that there are things that the department has been doing that are probably not necessary or important for a federal agency to do, and we’ll be looking at that,” DeVos told a Michigan radio host.

Given that she’s less than a week into the job, DeVos said it’s too soon to say which department functions are unnecessary.

But DeVos said the department will be “examining and auditing and reviewing all of the programs of the department.”

The focus will be on “really figuring out what is the core mission and how can the federal Department of Education really support and enhance the role of the departments in the states,” she said.

“Those sorts of things will be a part of our focus in the coming weeks, and I think we’ll have some good, robust conversations about that,” she said.

When it comes down to it, DeVos said, education “is really a state and local responsibility to a large extent.”

DeVos spoke on Michigan’s Big Show radio program hosted by Michael Patrick Shiels — a radio show that she once guest-hosted.

Dating back to creation of the Education Department during Jimmy Carter’s administration, many conservatives have pushed to close the agency, which they view as an example of federal overreach. During the presidential campaign, President Donald Trump promised to dramatically downsize the department, or even eliminate it entirely.

 

State Updates

14 States Have New(ish) Arts Standards
Edweek, Feb 21, 2017 – Jackie Zubrzycki

In 2014, arts education groups released the National Core Arts Standards, a set of K-12 standards for visual art, music, dance, theater, and media arts. 

Since then, 14 states and the DoDEA have adopted new arts standards, according to a short report from the National Coalition for the Core Arts Standards. An additional 19 are currently revising their arts standards, and New Hampshire has updated a set of “arts competencies” using the Core Arts Standards as a model.

The National Core Arts Standards replace the first-ever national model arts standards, which were released in 1994. Forty-nine states adopted those standards, which were touted as a way to make arts instruction more sequential and to ensure that students were studying various artistic disciplines. 

Each state approaches standards adoption differently and is on a different timeline, and the report doesn’t outline exactly how each state’s standards relate to the National Core Arts Standards. But Jeff Poulin, the program manager for arts education at Americans for the Arts, said that all the states so far used the National Core Arts Standards as a model. Two states, Delaware and Vermont, adopted the new standards in their entirety, while others, including Illinois, used the National Core Arts Standards to inform and organize their own standards. Poulin said the National Coalition for Arts Standards is planning on researching state standards’ alignment now that more states have updated their standards. 

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards center around creative processes like connecting, responding, producing, and performing. They’re grade-level-specific, while the previous set just included goals for 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. They also include media arts for the first time, and are available online. The arts groups have also been in the process of piloting model assessments tied to the standards. The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards’ website includes links to the standards for each discipline and sample student artworks—though some of the offerings still seems to be a work in progress: I clicked on the link to access music’s model assessment, for instance, and it shows up as still under revision.

Arts organizations have stressed that the standards are voluntary for states, in part due to the public angst associated with that other set of standards with core in their name. 

In 2012, the College Board reviewed how the National Core Arts Standards connect to the common core

 

TN – Memphis Charter Office Seeks to Double in Size to Keep Up with Growing Sector
With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ education landscape, the district has sought to step up its oversight of them. Last year, Shelby County Schools issued its first-ever report on the state of charter schools in Memphis. (Chalkbeat, Feb. 22)

 

FL Officials Propose Pushing State Testing to Final Three Weeks of the School Year
The legislation (SB 926 and HB 773) formally unveiled Wednesday does not eliminate any standardized test, but lawmakers and stakeholders said it could reduce the number of local tests that school districts impose because they don’t get state test results back fast enough to quickly assess student progress. (Tampa Bay Times, Feb. 15)

 

VA Governor Continues Push to Link Workforce Development and Education
A legislative package put forward by Gov. Terry McAuliffe this winter appears to signal the continuation of an increasing emphasis on workforce development in Virginia’s educational policy. McAuliffe’s “number one priority,” Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent told The Progress-Index in a phone call Feb. 8, “has been to build that new Virginia economy.” (Progress-Index, Feb. 13)

 

Proposed Bill That Has Governor’s Blessing Would Drop PARCC from CO High Schools
The state House Education Committee gave its unanimous approval Monday to legislation that would eliminate PARCC tests for freshmen, replacing them with tests that measure mastery of those subjects and line up with exams sophomores and juniors take now. (Chalkbeat, Feb. 13)

 

NEW YORK: Cuomo: Rights of transgender students are protected in New York
Politico 02/23/2017 04:28 PM EDT

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students are protected in New York State, regardless of the what happens at the federal level.

The Trump administration late Wednesday rolled back an Obama directive that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms in alignment with their gender identity. The administration cited the rise in litigation nationally as a result of its action.

“As the federal government seeks to roll back the progress we have achieved toward equality, we in New York will never stop fighting to ensure the LBGTQ community and all Americans are afforded the equal protections guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Cuomo, a Democrat, urged the State Education Department in a letter to issue a directive clarifying that the “rights and protections that had been extended to all students in New York remain unchanged under state law.”

In 2014, the U.S. Education Department, citing the Title IX law banning sex-based discrimination in education, provided guidance to school districts on their responsibilities to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students from discrimination. Those guidelines say students cannot be prohibited from using facilities and playing on sports teams that match their gender identities.

In New York, the State Education Department issued similar guidance, including how schools should handle questions about which bathrooms and changing facilities transgender students should use, and how their names should be recorded on academic and medical records.

The New York City Department of Education established its own guidelines in 2014. Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement Wednesday that those protections “remain in effect” for all 1,800 DOE public schools.

“We are dedicated to ensuring every student is provided with a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment in all school buildings, and that includes allowing students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity,” Fariña said.

Transgender and gender non-conforming students in New York also are protected under the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, which prohibits discrimination and harassment on school property or school functions on the basis of a student’s gender identity or expression.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia reiterated those protections on Thursday and, in a joint statement, said they “vehemently object” to the Trump administration’s decision.

“The Trump Administration’s decision to rescind this guidance sends a dangerous and divisive message and threatens some of our most vulnerable young people,” Schneiderman said in the statement. “But in New York State, the law remains the law — and school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school.”

Read Cuomo’s letter to the state Education Department here and guidance from the department here.

 

OR – Proposed Bill Could Merge Colleges and Universities
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, wants a stronger connection between community colleges and universities to improve student performance. Senate Bill 8 would allow community colleges and public universities to merge into one institution. (Statesman Journal, Feb. 17)

 

Iowa: GRASSLEY GREETED BY BACKLASH OVER DEVOS
Politico – February 22, 2017

In back-to-back town hall meetings in Iowa on Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) faced criticism from constituents who were angry over his support for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, reports Pro Health Care’s Jennifer Haberkorn, who was on hand. “I’m counting on you to be the independent, thoughtful man with the leadership that you used to be. I’m so disappointed in you,” a woman told Grassley about his support for DeVos during a packed meeting in Iowa Falls.

Later in the day, the veteran GOP senator faced similar backlash from citizens in Garner, Iowa, who demanded Grassley explain whether he would support school vouchers and questioned whether DeVos would threaten the state’s high test scores. Grassley defended his vote in favor of DeVos, arguing that “whatever she said she’s going to do — she has now taken an oath to uphold the law and the constitution.” Grassley added that he voted for her in part because presidents should get to choose their Cabinet — and that he supported much of Obama’s Cabinet for that reason.

 

OH – Voucher Money Could Be Saved for College, Future Tuition Under New Proposal
A new tuition voucher program that will be proposed soon for Ohio comes with an added twist – a way for parents to stash away some of those tax-funded tuition subsidies for books, tutoring or later tuition needs. (Cleveland.com, Feb. 20)

 

WA – King County Judge Rules State’s Charter-School Law Is Constitutional
A King County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Washington’s charter-school law didn’t demonstrate that charter schools are unconstitutional. Friday’s ruling is part of an ongoing legal battle over the constitutionality of Washington’s charter-school law. (Seattle Times, Feb 17)

 

Smarter and Less Testing Needed, Says NC Superintendent
In a visit to Charlotte Friday, the state’s new School Superintendent Mark Johnson says he looks forward to revamping student testing, which is one of his top priorities. He says a big flaw in testing is that results are not available in a timely manner where teachers can use them to improve student instruction. (WFAE-FM, Feb. 20)

 

Teachers at D.C. charter school move to unionize

Politico By Mel Leonor 02/22/2017 02:32 PM EDT

Teachers at a Washington, D.C., charter school formally petitioned to unionize today — a first for the charter school sector in the nation’s capital, which remains union-free.

Three-quarters of teachers and staff at Paul Public Charter School signed a petition asking the school’s governing board to recognize their union. They plan to organize under the newly formed District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff — an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

With charter schools poised for growth, AFT has an aggressive plan to organize charters in urban hotspots — the same areas where charter proliferation has diluted its ranks. In D.C., roughly half of all students attend one of the district’s charters.

“Charter school educators are raising their voices throughout the country to improve teaching and learning conditions,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “To educators, ‘union’ means voice. ‘Union’ means the freedom to speak up, based on a deep knowledge of student needs.”

POLITICO first reported on aggressive charter organizing efforts by AFT in Los Angeles, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago and New Orleans last month. The campaigns have given the American Federation of Teachers the strongest hold on the charter sector, with 227 unionized schools in 15 states.

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 – Schools with Lots of Transfer Students Say A-F Labels Don’t Fit
The proposal, backed by both Democrats and Republicans on the House Education Committee, would give schools a second A-F grade based just on the scores of students who have attended for at least a year. (Chalkbeat, Feb. 20)

 

New York: Success faculty question Moskowitz’s ties to Trump, support for DeVos
Politico By Eliza Shapiro 02/22/2017 05:19 PM EDT

Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, one of nation’s most influential charter school leaders who has been a vocal supporter of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and defender of President Donald Trump, recently told a group of faculty members concerned about her alliances to the new administration that she is limited in how much she can advocate politically.

A group of Success faculty members recently wrote Moskowitz a letter outlining their concerns about her ties to DeVos and Trump, and her silence on Trump policies that impact Success students, particularly the executive order on immigration and new deportation guidelines.

Moskowitz responded in a lengthy letter this week, writing, “I … need to consider whether it is appropriate for me to use my position as the leader of a collection of public schools paid for with government funds to advocate politically.”

A copy of the letter was obtained by POLITICO New York.

It’s an entirely new argument from Moskowitz, who has emerged as one of the most politically potent forces in national education reform over the last several years.

At home, she has been one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most vociferous critics, and has convened dozens of rallies and press conferences over the past three years to attack his stance on charters. Moskowitz has shut dozens of her schools for the rallies, busing thousands of children to Albany to rally for charter causes, and has asked parents to take the day off from work to attend the events. One rally, in March 2014, cost the network at least $734,000, according to a POLITICO New York analysis. She has deep ties to local lawmakers and helped influence the passage of a sweeping pro-charter bill through the New York State Legislature in 2013.

Moskowitz has testified in favor of charter schools during congressional hearings and is a regular attendee at Sun Valley, an annual private conference of the world’s top CEOs and financiers. A former city councilwoman, she has long considered running for mayor.

She was also on Trump’s short list of Education secretary candidates, and met with him in the days after the election.

Her considerable political clout and connections seem to have left her staff with the impression she would take a stand on Trump policies that directly impact Success’ 14,000 students, particularly the recent immigration ban. The vast majority of Success students are black or Latino, many are immigrants, and some are undocumented.

“We, as a school system, need you to stand up for all of us and decry these actions on our behalf,” the faculty letter reads.

Moskowitz replied that she found that request unreasonable. “What proportion of our community has to agree with a particular position for me to purport to ‘speak for us?'” she asked in the letter, “90%? 80%? 51%?”

Moskowitz has refused on several occasions to answer questions about protections for undocumented students in her schools. She ignored repeated questions about how Success would handle the threat of student deportations at a press conference in November when she announced she would not serve as Education secretary, and again declined to comment in a New Yorker article several days later. City schools chancellor Carmen Fariña has sent guidance home to families reiterating that the Department of Education will not release information about students’ immigration status to federal immigration officers.

“My position as a public figure and national education leader limits the expression of my personal views,” she said.

But Moskowitz has been one of the charter sector’s most prominent supporters of DeVos, a billionaire proponent of school choice now heading the Department of Education, despite considerable backlash to her nomination.

Moskowitz released several statements to the press defending DeVos and encouraging the Senate to confirm her nomination. She also appeared on CNN during the confirmation fight to accuse DeVos’ opponents of using “scare tactics” to block her nomination.

In the letter to her staff, Moskowitz again praised DeVos.

“I have known her for a decade, and I believe that she is smart and has the best interests of children at heart,” she wrote.

Moskowitz pointed out that “widely respected” Democrat Joe Lieberman has supported DeVos, and said, “sometimes it’s helpful to have an outsider come in and shake things up.” But, Moskowitz said, “that doesn’t mean I share all of Secretary DeVos’ views.”

On Wednesday, Moskowitz tweeted criticism of the Trump administration’s decision to roll back federal guidelines protecting the rights of transgender students. Moskowitz linked to a New York Times article reporting that DeVos sought to keep the protections in place, but was ultimately overruled by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Success Academy has received $300,000 from DeVos’ education foundation.

Success faculty also asked Moskowitz why she has publicly defended Trump, considering she has repeatedly said she voted for Hillary Clinton. In November, Moskowitz said she was “troubled by what I see as a sort of rooting for Trump’s failure.” In a television appearance that month, she highlighted one of Trump’s favorite talking points: His electoral college victory. “Trump [won] very big,” she said on NY1.

Prompted by her faculty to explain her stance about Trump, Moskowitz wrote, “I believe education is a bipartisan issue, and I intend to support those educational policies of President Trump with which I agree.”

Moskowitz’s support for DeVos and perspective on Trump sets her apart from many of her would-be allies in the national education reform world.

Shavar Jeffries, a member of Success’ board of directors and the director of Democrats for Education Reform, urged the Senate to vote against DeVos’ nomination. Prominent charter leaders, including KIPP founder Dave Levin, have denounced Trump’s immigration ban on Twitter.

Spokespeople for Success Academy did not reply to requests for additional comment on Moskowitz’s letter and tensions between Moskowitz and staff over Trump.

 

Legislators Join Chorus of Calls for New Graduation Options in NY State
The state is interested in piloting “project-based assessments,” which would evaluate students on a series of tasks, or tests that assess foreign language skills. But developing those alternatives requires money. (Chalkbeat, Feb. 15)

 

OH – Kasich: Teachers Should Job Shadow with Businesses to Renew Licenses
Teachers would have to complete “externships” – essentially, a high-level job shadow – with a local business to renew their licenses under a provision in Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal. (Times Recorder, Feb. 14)

 

Research and other points of interest

Public Higher Ed Admission Policies Report

From Education Commission of the States: 50-State Comparison: Statewide Admissions Policies provides a state-by-state look at how all states approach specific statewide admissions policies, including statewide and systemwide admissions, alternative opportunities for students and guaranteed or automatic admissions, among others.

 

ANTI-SEMITISM A GROWING CONCERN ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
Politico By Benjamin Wermund | 02/24/2017 05:46 AM EDT With help from Caitlin Emma, Kimberly Hefling, Michael Stratford and Ian Kullgren

A few years ago, Kenneth Marcus, the former head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, could tick off a few campuses that were “hot spots” for anti-Semitism. Now, he says: “It’s really all over.” Marcus, now president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, drafted the policy OCR uses to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism. He told Morning Education that anti-Semitism is “so pervasive that in any given semester it could be virtually anywhere.” And it’s been spiking over the last year, he said. Recent incidents have drawn attention to the University of Michigan, Stanford, Texas State University and elsewhere. Lawmakers in at least three states have filed bills to define and curb anti-Semitism — and the Trump administration is under pressure to take action.

Multiple studies have tracked the prevalence of anti-Semitism in recent years. A 2014 Trinity College poll found 54 percent of Jewish students had experienced anti-Semitism on campus. The next year, Brandeis University found that figure was closer to three-quarters of Jewish students. A study last year by the AMCHA Initiative, a group that aims to fight anti-Semitism, found a 45 percent increase in incidents during the first half of 2016 compared to the same period the year before. Jewish hate crime victims, meanwhile, outnumbered victims of all other religious groups combined in 2015, according to FBI statistics.

The rise of the “alt-right” white nationalist movement is partially to blame — but so are extremists on the far left, Marcus said. And the latter can be harder for universities to deal with. “University administrators know they need to respond to extremist right-wing neo-Nazi propaganda,” Marcus said. “It’s harder to deal with anti-Semitism that disguises itself as anti-Israel in some respect.”

The “single most important step” toward combating the trend is to take the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism abroad and apply it in the U.S. — at the Education and Justice departments, Marcus said. That definition includes descriptions of anti-Israel language, as well as more traditional forms of anti-Semitism. States including South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee have proposed adopting the definition locally.

The Trump administration has faced pressure to more strongly condemn anti-Semitism after a rash of incidents across the country, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and threats against Jewish community centers. Trump earlier this week said the threats are “horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” Vice President Mike Pence visited a vandalized cemetery near St. Louis. “There’s now a real awareness that anti-Semitism has reawakened as a major problem of the year 2017,” Marcus said. “There’s more pressure to do something about it.”