Music Education Policy Roundup – Mar 12, 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 Updates

NAfME and 50 of its Federated Music Education Associations are asking Congress to finish the appropriations process and provide full funding for Title IV-A of ESSA.


NAfME post on the end to the HEA Teacher Preparation Accountability rule (bill now sitting on President Trump’s desk for signature):  (Thanks to the leadership of SRME and SMTE for helping us take a strong position on this accountability rule!)


Federal Updates

Senate dumps Obama rule for holding schools accountable
Politico By Caitlin Emma and Michael Stratford 03/09/2017 12:55 PM EDT

The Senate voted 50-49 today to scrap the Obama administration’s rule for holding schools accountable for student performance despite strong opposition from business, labor and civil rights groups, as well as Democrats.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was the only Republican who opposed the Congressional Review Act resolution, which has already cleared the House. It now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Critics of the repeal argued the rule developed under the 2015 law that governs K-12 education is key to efforts to close the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their white, more affluent peers. They want to maintain some federal oversight to ensure that state and local school officials are held accountable for disadvantaged students. And they say a repeal could throw states into chaos and confusion while they’re in the thick of designing new plans under the 2015 law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Democrats also tried to make today’s vote a referendum on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose poor confirmation performance and views on public schools have galvanized the left. ESSA sharply limited the Education secretary’s authority but some Democrats argue that allowing DeVos to approve state plans without any accountability rule would actually enhance her power over states.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, said Wednesday that DeVos could “take advantage of the chaos that will follow” if the accountability rule is repealed.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among other proponents of the measure, called the accountability rule a “prime example of the executive overreach” by the Obama administration and said it was “written in direct contradiction” to the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander, a chief architect of ESSA, led the charge to kill the rule, arguing it would hamstring local decision-making and went beyond the scope of what Congress had intended when it passed ESSA in 2015.

“We said to the [Education] department, ‘You can’t tell states exactly what to do about fixing low-performing schools,” Alexander said. “That’s their decision. This rule does that. And we said to the department, ‘You can’t tell states exactly how to rate the public schools in your state,’ but this rule does that.”

But the effort to kill it — in addition to DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary — may have eroded the last vestiges of bipartisan good will left over from the passage of ESSA, when Republicans and teachers unions, among other unusual allies, celebrated the return of more decision-making power to states.

While many groups disagreed when it came to drafting the regulation last year, civil rights groups, teachers unions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a number of Republicans wanted to leave the final package in place.

Getting rid of the regulation creates confusion for states while they’re drafting plans and even robs them of certain flexibility, advocates argue. They say it’s a political move for Republicans who want to show the base that they rolled back Obama executive overreach.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten acknowledged in a letter to lawmakers last week that the accountability rule wasn’t perfect.

But she wrote, “These regulations took a full year to create and were crafted with much stakeholder engagement, including input (both positive and negative) from thousands of educators and parents. Repealing these regulations now would not just be counterproductive and disruptive, but would demonstrate a disregard by Congress of school districts’ operations and timelines.”

“Districts are planning for their next school year right now,” Weingarten added. “Delay reinforces that this law is being implemented in a top-down manner and that Washington is not listening to the needs of stakeholders — ironically, the opposite of what the large bipartisan majority intended in enacting ESSA.”

Portman, considered a moderate Republican, said earlier this week that the accountability regulation balances “state flexibility while reinforcing protections for students of color, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.”

Former Obama education official Anne Hyslop recently teamed up with Michael Petrilli, a Republican and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, to note that the rule actually gives states more flexibility in some cases.

For example, “states can tailor their English language proficiency goals for different groups of English learners, rather than setting a single timeline for achieving [English language proficiency] that all students must meet,” Petrilli wrote in a recent post.

DeVos can make such flexibility clear to states in letters or non-binding “guidance,” Petrilli wrote. But “only regulations have the weight of law; guidance is just that — a suggestion.”

And some advocates worry states will only do the bare minimum for students without the regulation.

“Compliance-oriented bureaucrats have learned to be careful about adopting policies or practices that aren’t explicitly codified in law or regulation,” Petrilli wrote.

Senate votes to kill Obama teacher prep rule

Politico By Caitlin Emma and Michael Stratford 03/08/2017 03:24 PM EDT

The Senate voted 59-40 today to undo an Obama-era regulation aimed at strengthening teacher preparation programs.

Seven Democrats and one Independent joined Republicans in voting to kill the rule. The measure cleared the House last month and it now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who sponsored the measure, said on the Senate floor that the rule would allow the Education Department to ”micromanage” teacher preparation programs across the country.

Sasse, the former president of Nebraska’s Midland University, echoed the complaints of Republicans and a number of advocates who’ve long-decried the rule as federal overreach, saying it would force states to develop complicated new data systems and cost tens of millions of dollars.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray defended the rule, saying it helps prospective teachers make informed decisions about the quality of programs “before they take out massive amounts of student debt.”

But seven Democrats and one Independent senator broke ranks and voted to overturn the rule: Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The rule would have eventually punished low-performing teacher preparation programs by cutting their access to federal grants that help students pay for teacher training.

Republicans are using the Congressional Review Act, passed in the mid-1990s and until now, rarely used, to get rid of the teacher preparation and Obama accountability regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Rescinding a regulation under CRA prohibits federal agencies from writing “substantially similar” rules to replace the overturned ones.


Murray, Scott ask DeVos for details on updated ESSA guide

Politico By Caitlin Emma 03/10/2017 05:23 PM EDT

Two key Democrats today asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for details about an updated guide for states drafting K-12 education plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The Education Department is expected to release the updated guide by Monday after the Senate voted this week to kill an Obama-era regulation for holding schools accountable under the law. It will tell states what’s “absolutely necessary” to consider in developing their plans, DeVos said last month.

The state plans focus on areas such as improving low-performing schools and testing.

Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott — the ranking Democrats for their respective chamber’s education committee — said they want to know just how DeVos is determining what’s “absolutely necessary,” and who the department consulted with. They also want to know if states will be able to use an older guide issued by the Obama administration.

“We are concerned about the potential chaos that will result in ESSA implementation as a result of the repeal of the ESSA regulation and the introduction of multiple state plan templates,” they write.

Meanwhile, many state education chiefs and governors have said that the repeal rule won’t really affect them, anyway.

“Despite the rollback of regulations related to ESSA, the message from Secretary DeVos is clear,” said Wyoming Superintendent Jillian Balow.

Balow said her state will “continue to carefully and swiftly plan for full implementation of ESSA. … The congressional intent that ESSA return the bulk of education governance to the states and state education agency is unobjectionable with or without regulations.”


What Happens to Education Spending if the Budget Stays in a Holding Pattern

EdWeek Blog, By Andrew Ujifusa March 6, 2017

Right now, the federal budget is flying in circles. It’s operating on a “continuing resolution” through April 28 that essentially holds fiscal year 2017 spending levels at their fiscal 2016 amounts. Trump recently released a very broad outline of his spending priorities for fiscal 2018 that includes a $54 billion cut from domestic agencies—fiscal 2018 starts in October—although we still don’t know how that 10 percent cut in non-defense discretionary spending would specifically impact the U.S. Department of Education.

But where does that leave fiscal 2017 in terms of education spending? And what happens if Congress decides to apply that continuing resolution to the rest of fiscal 2017 through September? With each passing day, that looks increasingly likely.

Below, we examine how a few programs in the Every Students Succeeds Act would be affected if Congress approves a continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal 2017.

Here’s one important thing to keep in mind: Although a continuing resolution would keep funding at current levels, Congress can adjust what’s in such a resolution, through what are called “anomalies” in federal budget lingo. In general, it’s very likely that lawmakers will attempt to square what’s in the continuing resolution with what’s in ESSA. But what that process looks like, and how closely any such resolution ultimately matches ESSA in terms of funding levels, remains to be seen.

“The most difficult part is then deciding the numbers,” said Joel Packer, the former executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, who added that overall funding levels for the U.S. Department of Education could also be in play during any continuing resolution. There are a lot of moving parts in the process, Packer stressed.

Title I

Let’s first look at Title I and the Obama-era School Improvement Grants. SIG is no longer authorized under ESSA. However, the law does require states to set aside 7 percent of their Title I funding for school improvement activities. That’s an increase from the 4 percent optional state set-aside under the previous version of federal K-12 law. In budget terms, the money for SIG is effectively migrating over to that increased Title I set-aside at the state level.

But since the continuing resolution as it stands now would keep Title I funding flat, it could effectively amount to a cut in Title I funding that’s available for districts. Would Congress decide to make up this funding to districts? If so, by how much? We won’t have an answer until we know what’s in any continuing resolution.

It’s also important to note that the vast majority of that Title I set-aside money ultimately will end up going to districts anyway for school improvement purposes. States will have discretion over how that money goes out and set the priorities for how it gets spent. So it’s not as if the states will simply swim in that cash and keep it from districts. Still, that’s money that won’t be going into the typical Title I formulas districts count on.

The Big Block Grant

Title IV (or what we like to call “the big block grant”) won’t exist if the current continuing resolution is rolled over. That’s because even though it’s authorized in the Every Student Succeeds Act, there’s no funding for it in the current continuing resolution. Congress would have to create an adjustment in the resolution—the “anomaly” referred to above—in order to pay for what’s in Title IV.

There’s a diverse coalition of groups pushing for (and pushing for substantial funding for) the Title IV grants, which are designed to fund the well-rounded education of students, a priority in ESSA. However, in 2016 budget bills floated last summer, Congress fell far short of funding Title IV at the $1.6 billion authorized for it in ESSA—so did the Obama administration’s budget proposal, for that matter.

So if, through one of those anomalies, the continuing resolution does fund the Title IV block grant, how much will lawmakers give it? The $1 billion House lawmakers proposed? Or the $300 million the Senate wanted to provide? Something in between, or more, or less? Again, we won’t know until we see the continuing resolution, assuming there is one.

New LEARN Grant

Under the resolution, the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) program in Title II that covers teacher training and prepration also doesn’t get funded, DeSchryver said. LEARN was originally a bill from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that got folded into ESSA. Through competitive grants, LEARN would fund a state literacy plan, professional development for teachers in literacy skills, and programs to address specific populations of students in literacy instruction, such as English-language leraners.

ESSA authorized $160 million for LEARN, but unless lawmakers were to tweak the resolution to fund it, LEARN wouldn’t get a dime. “It doesn’t exist, absent some [change] in the CR,” said David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors.

Also, remember that the current continuing resolution lasts until April 28, so we might not know for several more weeks how the rest of fiscal 2017 will unfold.

And what’s a final catch in this whole process? Unlike in a traditional budget process that includes things like hearings, Packer said, putting “anomalies” into a continuing resolution isn’t transparent.

“It’s all done completely in the dark and in secret,” Packer said of what changes get made to continuing resolutions.


LGBT advocates raise concerns with DeVos

Politico By Caitlin Emma 03/08/2017 03:33 PM EDT

LGBT advocates met with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos today to share their concerns about the Trump administration’s recent withdrawal of an Obama directive aimed at protecting transgender students.

“We … discussed ways that she might be able to mitigate the pain, fear and confusion that decision has caused,” the group GLSEN, which advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender students, said in a statement. “We described the years of experience, research and careful policy-making behind the original Title IX guidance and all of the emerging best practices it helped to publicize.”

GLSEN also said they discussed the violence and discrimination that transgender students face, including when they’re “prevented from using their correct name and pronouns and appropriate school facilities.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality and Equality Michigan also joined the meeting. The advocates told DeVos they won’t “budge or compromise when it comes to the full support and protection that all of our children, including LGBTQ youth, deserve from this administration, from the Department of Education and from its Office for Civil Rights.”

The groups declined to characterize DeVos’ response. The Education Department could not immediately be reached for comment on the meeting.


Justice nominees say they don’t know if Title IX protects transgender students
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 03/07/2017 02:38 PM EDT

Two of President Donald Trump’s top Justice Department nominees pleaded ignorance today about whether Title IX protections apply to transgender students.

Rod Rosenstein said during his Senate confirmation hearing to be deputy attorney general that he’s just “not familiar with the analysis one way or the other.”

“I know that if that issue were to come up to my desk, I know we have a lot of experienced career professionals in that department that would help us discern what Congress had in mind,” Rosenstein, now U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Once I reached my independent decision about that, that would be my advice to the attorney general.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Rachel Brand, the associate attorney general nominee. Brand said it’s “not a statutory construction question I have studied.”

The comments came in response to questions by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Horono asked how it was unclear that Title IX protects transgender people if “Title IX says basically that there can be no discrimination on the basis of sex.”

Whether transgender students can use the bathroom of their choosing has been a flash point on the civil rights front since the Obama administration issued guidance last year saying that Title IX protects these students.

Last month, the Trump administration scrapped the directive. The Justice and Education departments told schools that the Obama administration directive didn’t “undergo any formal public process” prior to its release last year and “has given rise to significant litigation.”


High court sidesteps ruling on transgender rights
Politico By Caitlin Emma 03/06/2017 10:35 AM EDT

The Supreme Court said Monday that it would not hear a high-profile case over transgender student rights, sending the case of a Virginia high school student back to a lower court and deflating activists’ hopes.

The one-sentence order to vacate an appeal’s court decision in favor of a transgender teen, Gavin Grimm , comes after the Trump administration scrapped an Obama directive aimed at protecting transgender student rights. The Obama directive argues that Title IX — the federal law that protects against sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities — also protects against gender identity discrimination. It prompted nearly half of states to sue over the issue.

Both parties in the case — 17-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm and the Gloucester County School Board — had urged the court to hear the case even after the Trump administration rescinded Obama’s directive. The question in the case was whether Grimm, who was born as a girl but identifies as a boy, could use the boys’ bathroom in his high school. The Supreme Court was set to hear arguments on March 28.

But the high court sent the case back down to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in light of the Trump administration’s action to rescind the Obama directive. That court will have to decide whether Title IX protects against gender identity discrimination. A federal appeals court has yet to do that and the issue is currently being litigated in other courts across the country. The Supreme Court is more likely to take up a case when a number of courts disagree on an issue.

In getting rid of Obama’s directive, the Trump administration didn’t actually stake out a position on Title IX. Rather, the Education and Justice departments made an 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.”

Another federal case over transgender student rights was recently settled. Thirteen states led by Texas sued the Obama administration’s Justice Department last year over the Title IX guidance.

Briefs supporting Grimm were due last week, leading to an outpouring of support from nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress, former Obama administration officials and a host of advocacy groups.

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & HIV Project, tweeted that the court’s decision was disappointing, “but it is a detour, not the end of the road.”

Block said they’ll make their case before the 4th Circuit “and then back in SCOTUS again if necessary.”

“Unfortunately this means that far too many trans kids across the country will be held in limbo for another 1-2 years,” he tweeted.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Grimm, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The Justice Department and Gloucester County School Board also couldn’t be reached for comment.


Education Department seeks the public’s advice as it revamps special education site

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 03/08/2017 02:03 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is requesting the public’s help as the Education Department revamps its special education website.

In a posted notice, the department asks people what they find helpful on the site and what information they would like to see be made available to those with questions related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

The input is “part of our effort to provide updated, easy-to-navigate IDEA resources to children with disabilities and their families, teachers, administrators, advocates, and other stakeholders,” the department said.

The site,, has been a source of frustration for DeVos because it was down for about a week as she began her tenure. Th downed site heightened concerns among advocates, parents and lawmakers already dismayed by comments DeVos made at her confirmation hearing in which she seemed confused by the requirements of federal special education law.

Last month, DeVos said she had instructed her staff to start working on a new site because the site and its server “were neglected for nearly four years” — a period during which it was maintained by the Obama administration.

White House adviser calls for “more robust” school options

Politico By Caitlin Emma 03/08/2017 01:33 PM EDT

Jason Botel, the new senior White House adviser for education, said today the Trump administration is “committed to empowering every parent and every child with high-quality educational options.”

Botel, speaking for about 15 minutes at the National PTA’s legislative conference, said that includes strengthening public schools and magnet schools, increasing the number of high-quality charter schools and providing increased access to high-quality private schools.

“We need to build a more robust portfolio of school options,” he said.

Botel, formerly a Maryland education reform advocate, also said the Trump administration is focused on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. He said the administration is “excited” about the law’s weighted student funding pilot, in which up to 50 school districts will be able to consolidate federal, state and local funding into one pot that would be allocated based on students’ needs.


DeVos ally resigns after controversial comments
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 03/07/2017 11:24 AM EDT

A Michigan education activist with close ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned today after making comments during recent legislative testimony about shaking his wife.

During a Michigan legislative committee last week, Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, or GLEP, expressed frustration with a state school reform officer charged with closing failing schools. He said, “I wanted to shake her, like I like to shake my wife,” Chalkbeat reported.

Naeyaert’s departure was announced by Jim Barrett, the group’s board chairman, in a statement released to POLITICO. DeVos and her husband, Dick, were early funders of GLEP, which has aggressively pushed to expand school choice options, such as charter schools, home schooling and tuition vouchers.

Naeyaert apologized in a Facebook posting on Sunday for his “poorly-worded ad-lib and bad analogy during the Q&A portion of legislative testimony.”

“While often provocative in the battle to help kids achieve more via education, passionate advocacy is no excuse for poor behavior,” Naeyaert said.

Barrett expressed appreciation in his statement for Naeyaert’s four years of leadership and passionate advocacy for school choice.

“GLEP is taking some time to reorganize to best continue the advocacy of quality school choice options for all Michigan K-12 students,” Barrett said.

Naeyaert could not be reached for comment.


State Updates

Politico March 10, 2017

State education chiefs Thursday vowed to push ahead with quality plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act — with or without federal regulations. The Senate voted to get rid of Obama’s rule for holding schools accountable under the law, and President Donald Trump has said he’ll sign it. The Council of Chief State School Officers, the group that represents state education leaders nationwide, released a statement in which several state chiefs essentially said repeal of the rule won’t affect their progress or plans.

Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said her state’s plan will hold schools accountable for all student groups and focus on closing achievement gaps and bettering outcomes for groups of students that continue to fare the worst. “We will publicly report all of these data points so that our state stays focused on improving achievement among all students,” Wright said.

Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s secretary of education, said her state will continue using a requirement of Obama’s accountability rule — that states come up with a concrete score or evaluation for schools. She noted that New Mexico has assigned ratings to schools for six years.

But Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith seemed pleased to be rid of that requirement. Obama’s rule required a “constraining and punitive approach,” he said. “The ranking and sorting of our schools does not serve the best interest of students, educators, schools, or communities. … This approach assumes that schools and those who work in them cannot be trusted and twists the concept of meaningful differentiation for all public schools away from the intent of [the Illinois State Board of Education], our stakeholders and the ESSA statute.”

The National Governors Association is out with a “frequently asked questions” guide now that the regulation is a presidential signature away from being repealed. The document assures equity “guardrails” won’t go away. Read it here.


NY Education Dept. Seeks Input on Testing, Accountability
New York education officials continue to prepare for the new federal education law by seeking input on a variety of issues, including whether to pilot new testing procedures. The state Education Department has scheduled dozens of public meetings around the state. (Associated Press, March 3)


Charter School Enrollment Is Surging in MN
The growth at those schools echoes the statewide boom in charter school enrollment, according to enrollment numbers for this school year from the Minnesota Department of Education. (Star Tribune, March 2)


House panel OKs bill that would expand D.C. voucher program
By Benjamin Wermund and Michael Stratford 03/10/2017 10:19 AM EST Updated 03/10/2017 12:01 PM EST

A House committee advanced a bill Friday to give new life to a private-school voucher program for D.C. school children — while broadening the pool of eligible students — an early signal that Republicans will back President Donald Trump’s “school choice” priorities.

The so-called D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is the only federal voucher program in the country and has long been championed by Republican leaders, such as former House Speaker John Boehner. It was staunchly opposed by the Obama White House and hasn’t been fully reauthorized in six years.

The House Oversight Committee approved the measure on a voice vote.

Trump has called on Congress to pass a sweeping “school choice” bill. This isn’t it — the D.C. program has existed for more than a decade — but it is low-hanging fruit that suggest Republicans want to make good on his promise to expand those policies.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a fan of the vouchers. When a previous effort to reauthorize the program failed, DeVos, who was leading a school choice advocacy group at the time, said it was “a serious blow to low-income families in the District of Columbia.”

The five-year reauthorization, which was approved by the House Oversight Committee on Thursday, also adds a clause that the Education Secretary cannot “limit the number of eligible students receiving scholarships” based on the type of school he or she previously attended, prior scholarships, or status as a member of the control group used in program evaluations.

Efforts are also being mounted in the Senate to expand the pool of eligible students, including a bill by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — a DeVos ally and a member of the education committee — that would make all low-income private school students in D.C. eligible for vouchers.

The group that administers the roughly $20 million a year in D.C. school vouchers, Serving Our Children, has also said it expects “hundreds of new students” to receive vouchers in the next school year — an estimate echoed by the American Federation for Children, the “school choice” advocacy group DeVos ran before she was tapped to run the Education Department. During the 2015 school year, 1,244 students used the vouchers to attend private schools, according to latest figures from the group.

Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who authored the reauthorization bill, said 89 percent of high school seniors who participated in the program in 2014 graduated.

“We want all children to get a great education and I cannot understand why anyone would be opposed to a program that has so well proven itself,” said Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who also chairs the education committee. “This reauthorization will strengthen the program further and ensure it continues to achieve success for students.”

Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it would drain money from public schools and doesn’t provide protection from discrimination for students who attend private schools. They also argue that studies have shown the vouchers don’t really improve student outcomes and pointed out that the majority of the D.C. city council opposes the program, though D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser supports it.

The reauthorization is also opposed by teachers unions, including the National Education Association, which sent a letter to Congress saying that each of the four congressionally mandated reports on the voucher program found it failed to boost reading or math scores, or boost students’ satisfaction, motivation, engagement, or perceptions of school safety.

“The D.C. private school voucher program is diverting funds from public to private schools at a time when sequester-level budget cuts are hurting students by leaving essential federal programs like Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act severely underfunded,” the letter says.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) questioned whether there is really appetite in Congress to pass a broader voucher bill.

The Trump administration is considering a first-of-its-kind federal tax credit scholarship program — rather than a nationwide version of the D.C. vouchers — that could be capped as high as $20 billion, POLITICO has reported.

“Why is the education committee not marking up a voucher bill for the country as I speak today?” Norton said. “The answer, of course, is that there is very limited support for private school vouchers in this Congress and in the nation.”

Florida: House education committee approves expanded ‘best and brightest’ bonuses for teachers, principals
Politico03/10/2017 11:37 AM EDT

House education leaders on Friday unveiled a new, expanded version of the controversial “best and brightest” merit pay program that would be available to both teachers and principals.

The House education committee on Friday approved a proposed committee bill with a broader set of eligibility requirements for the bonuses, which are now awards of up to $10,000 available for teachers who scored in the 80th percentile and above on their own SATs and ACTs. The new plan would lower the threshold to the 75th percentile, and for teachers who earned Latin honors in college, such as cum laude, the threshold would be the 70th percentile.

Teachers could use other tests to qualify as well, such as the GRE, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT, which are entrance exams for graduate school, law school and medical school.

The teachers must also be rated highly effective under the state’s performance evaluation system, as under the current program. But the bill would allow teachers to qualify if they were rated highly effective on the value-added model component of their evaluations, which is based on student test scores, but not rated highly effective overall.

The proposal would also include principals for the first time. Principals are eligible if they have been in their current positions for two years and their staff includes a ratio of “best and brightest” teachers to other teachers that’s in the 80th percentile compared to schools serving the same grade levels.

“Best and brightest” principals would also be given more power over budgeting and staffing, like those who participate in the so-called principal autonomy pilot program the Legislature passed last year.

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., a Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, said lawmakers would have to spend more on the expanded program since more educators would be eligible. There’s $49 million in the current budget for “best and brightest,” which has allowed 7,188 teachers to earn bonuses of $6,816.

Diaz suggested the House might propose spending from $100 million to $125 million on the program this year but stressed budget decisions would be made by the appropriations committee later during session.

That’s about half what Senate leaders have said they would like to spend on their own version of “best and brightest.”

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed his own series of teacher bonus programs.


KY Legislature Oks Later Start to School Year
The first day of school for students across Kentucky may start happening later than usual if Gov. Matt Bevin signs a bill the state House of Representatives approved Wednesday into law. (Courier-Journal, March 8)


California education chief questions whether ICE is still avoiding schools

Politico By Benjamin Wermund 03/09/2017 04:07 PM EDT

California’s top education official wants to know whether federal agents are still avoiding taking immigration actions near schools — a longstanding policy — after a man was arrested after dropping his daughter off at a charter school.

The arrest raised questions about whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was breaking from longstanding policy, which directs federal agents to generally avoid enforcement activities at schools, bus stops, colleges and universities. California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asking whether that policy has been changed.

“I have consistently told students and their families that they must feel safe and protected at our schools, especially families who are refugees, Muslims, or undocumented immigrants,” Torlakson said in a statement. “Recent actions by federal law enforcement agents around schools have raised serious concerns.”

Last month, ICE agents arrested 48-year-old Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez after he dropped off one of his daughters at Academia Avance public charter school in Los Angeles. His 13-year-old daughter recorded the arrest on her cell phone.

Avelica-Gonzalez, a citizen of Mexico, has lived in the U.S. for 25 years, the Los Angeles Times reported. His four daughters — the other two, ages 24 and 19 — were all born in the U.S.

Avelica-Gonzalez has two prior criminal convictions of misdemeanor DUI and misdemeanor driving without a license, according to the LA Times.


Texas House leaders unveil a bipartisan bill to pump $1.6 billion extra into the state’s classrooms:
The Associated Press.


New York: A history lesson for Cuomo’s scholarship proposal
Politico By Keshia Clukey 03/08/2017 05:39 AM EDT

ALBANY, N.Y — With his national stature growing and his name mentioned as a serious contender for president, Gov. Cuomo unveiled a new college scholarship proposal, the first of its kind in the nation, saying that it would ”provide access to college for students who never dared dream such a dream.”

The program, he said, would guarantee public financing for education beyond high school.

“The state is telling these students that if they work hard and stay in school, they can attend college without fear that they will not be able to afford the cost,” the governor said.

The year was 1988, and the governor was Mario Cuomo. Now, nearly 30 years later, Mario’s son Andrew, the current governor, is proposing a scholarship program of his own as he puts down markers for a possible presidential campaign in 2020.

The current proposal is more sweeping than his father’s was, but it may provide some lessons for Andrew Cuomo and legislators as they debate and negotiate the new scholarship program during this month’s budget talks.

The state’s private and independent colleges criticized Mario Cuomo’s proposal, which he dubbed “Liberty Scholarships,” for upsetting the delicate balance among for-profit, nonprofit and public institutions of higher education. That very same criticism has been directed at his son’s proposal, called “Excelsior Scholarships,” which private colleges fear could lead to significant declines in enrollment.

“What’s made New York special in higher education is that it’s had a robust mix of private sector institutions,” said Bruce Gyory, a senior policy adviser for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ government and regulatory policy practice. “Whenever anybody has tried to undue that mix … it’s usually crashed and burned politically.”

Mario Cuomo won support for his program, which was designed to encourage poor students to remain in school all the way through college, by agreeing to a substantial increase in the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, which covered many middle-class students. TAP funding may again prove to be a dealmaker for Andrew Cuomo.

The late governor’s scholarship program, part of his highly touted “Decade of the Child” initiative, was designed to cover the difference between the cost of a year at a state college or university and federal aid and state tuition assistance. The plan targeted students living in households earning 1.3 times the poverty level or less. If they attended school in New York from seventh grade to the end of high school and received a high school diploma, they would be guaranteed money for four years in a state college or university.

Mario Cuomo’s proposal was lauded nationally as visionary, although it was met with some initial concern from lawmakers who questioned the cost. Similarly, lawmakers have said Andrew Cuomo’s proposal is admirable, but questioned the cost, an estimated $163 million once fully rolled out.

Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship program would, when fully implemented in 2019, cover tuition costs at SUNY and CUNY schools for students from families earning $125,000 a year or less. A last dollar program, the scholarship would cover costs after the application of federal Pell and state TAP grants.

“College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success,” Andrew Cuomo said when he introduced his proposal. “And the way this society said, ‘We’re going to pay for high school because you need high school,’ this society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful.’”

Hank Dullea, Mario Cuomo’s chief of operations, told POLITICO New York that while his boss focused on public colleges and universities, he realized that the program could have an impact on private college enrollment. “I think that we probably had a sense that the Legislature would come back with proposals that would impact the independent sectors as well, and that was fine,” Dullea said.

The Liberty Scholarships proposal became a point of contention during the 1988 session, holding up budget talks. Warren Anderson, the Senate’s majority leader at the time, called the plan “ill conceived” and proposed raising the state’s TAP awards in exchange for the passage of some sort of scholarship program.

After a four-month impasse, the Legislature passed a version of the proposal, calling for $90 million in grants when fully funded in the 1991-92 school year. The funds would designed to cover non-tuition costs such as room and board for students whose family adjusted gross income was $18,000 or less. A “last-dollar” program, the scholarship was designed to supplement state and federal assistance and could be used at private institutions.

It was accompanied by major increases in the TAP awards and an expansion of TAP eligibility. That was the key tradeoff, said former Assemblyman Jerry Kremer, who was in the Legislature when the bill passed. The TAP increases were included to assuage the concerns of private and independent schools

Despite the governor’s soaring rhetoric about the program’s possibilities, implementation was almost immediately delayed because of fiscal problems in the aftermath of the Wall Street crash of late 1987. The program was eventually discontinued, according to the Higher Education Services Corporation website, though no state or education entities contacted by POLITICO New York had further details on its fate.

Andrew Cuomo already is facing many of the same issues, including a tight budget year and opposition from the private sector. The question is whether he will avoid the pitfalls that led to the demise of his father’s program while countering the fears and outright opposition of the state’s private and independent colleges and universities.

Cuomo has made it clear that the scholarship program will apply only to students who enroll in a public college or university. He dismissed the idea that the state should pay the cost of a private college education. “This whole thing of, well, if there’s a public school we should also pay the private school? We have public high schools,” he said last week. “We don’t pay the private high schools. If you want to go to a private high school, that’s your business.”

And that’s where TAP could come into play again.

The state allocates approximately $1 billion in TAP annually, a portion of which follows students who attend private and nonprofit colleges.

Assembly Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate have both put out proposals that would increase TAP eligibility, increasing minimum and maximum TAP allowances and bringing back TAP for graduate students.

The Senate and Assembly’s one-house budgets are expected to be released by Monday, kicking off budget discussions next week.

New York is one of few states that provide substantial support to private higher education institutions, many of which were founded long before the SUNY and CUNY systems were established, Gyory said. “That’s what made New York work both in terms of the politics of funding higher education,” he said. New York ranks second in the nation for the amount of aid given to private school students, as was reported by PolitiFact New York.

Enhancing TAP would give the Legislature a way to “nurture” the nonprofit, for-profit and public schools, Gyory said.

“These things have a way of working out,” he said. “Gov. Mario Cuomo had to eventually compromise with the Senate to enhance TAP … I have a feeling we may see that come to pass this time.”


Bill to Cut Back FL Testing Gains Bipartisan Support
Nearly a month ago, three key Florida lawmakers set forth their “Fewer Better Tests” legislation with backing from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. This week, a bipartisan coalition of state senators and House members will be boosting a separate, more far reaching measure (SB 964 / HB 1249). (Tampa Bay Times, March 6)


Flip the Script: Cursive Sees Revival in School Instruction
Alabama and Louisiana passed laws in 2016 mandating cursive proficiency in public schools, the latest of 14 states that require cursive. And last fall, the 1.1 million-student New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system, encouraged the teaching of cursive to students, generally in the third grade. (Associated Press, March 5)


Politico By Benjamin Wermund | 03/07/2017 06:00 AM EDT
With help from Kimberly Hefling, Caitlin Emma, Josh Gerstein, Nolan D. McCaskill, Natasha Korecki, Maggie Severns and Victoria Guida

Lawmakers in a handful of states are pushing measures to eliminate so-called “free speech zones” and other university policies that limit what students can say and where they can say it. The effort comes as controversial speakers have sparked sometimes violent campus protests. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has made free speech on campus one of its few state higher education priorities. Virginia, Missouri and Arizona have already passed laws protecting speech on campuses. Now lawmakers in New Hampshire, Washington, Texas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Colorado and Utah are proposing such bills — and many are gaining steam. The Colorado bill cleared the Senate and is supposed to get a hearing in a House committee this week. An effort in Utah cleared the House and could head to the Senate this week, after which the legislative session ends.

Tensions have risen on campuses across the country in the wake of the election. Controversial speakers have drawn massive protests that sometimes turn violent. Last week, a Middlebury College professor was injured by protesters as she escorted conservative social theorist Charles Murray across campus. Meanwhile, there’s pressure on colleges to preserve safety without silencing speech. President Donald Trump threatened to withhold funding from the University of California Berkeley after officials there canceled a speech by alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stressed protecting free speech among a list of priorities during her first meeting with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

White supremacists, meanwhile, are making an “unprecedented” effort to recruit college students, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League. The report cataloged 104 incidents of white supremacist fliers appearing on college campuses since the school year began in September, with a surge of activity since January, when 63 of the incidents occurred. The fliers have appeared on 25 campuses and include statements like “Imagine a Muslim-free America” and “Make America White Again.” In one case, a white supremacist hacker sent anti-Semitic and racist fliers via many thousands of campus printers across the country. More on that here.

Still some colleges have overcorrected, say free speech advocates. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that brings lawsuits on behalf of students who feel their First Amendment rights have been violated, creates an annual list of the “worst colleges for free speech.” This year’s list included California State University in Los Angeles, where university leaders briefly canceled a speech by conservative author and political commentator Ben Shapiro. Also on the list: Georgetown University, which discouraged Bernie Sanders supporters from campaigning for their preferred candidate on campus. Georgetown’s President John DeGoia is set to talk about how university administrators can protect voices on all sides of debate, even as disagreements turn ugly, during an Atlantic event at 11 a.m. today.

“People across the political spectrum are getting to the point of being frustrated with those policies,” said Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Cohn works with lawmakers to craft bills protecting speech on campus. “It’s hard to ignore, if you’re watching these things, to say, ‘Hmm, there’s an adjustment to be made when we’re seeing demands for censorship across the country.'”

Research and other points of interest

Principals Action Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The National Association of Elementary School Principals recently released an interactive guide to providing all students with a well-rounded and complete education through ESSA state plans. A well-rounded and complete education is included in actionable policy points to enable principals and district leaders to better implement ESSA plans. More


SNAAP Special Report on Career Skills

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) at Indiana University recently released a special report titled Career Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for Artists. The SNAAP received more than 26,000 responses to populate this report on the access and quality of workforce training and support offered to collegiate arts majors while in school and after graduation. In particular, the report compares the experiences and career outcomes of arts alumni across cohort and demographic groups. More


The Agenda: The Trump Hotel: An unlikely model for modernizing schools
Politico By George Allen, Paul Goldman and Mark J. Rozell 03/07/2017 11:01 AM EDT

When the Trump Organization won the right to modernize the government-owned Old Post Office building in Washington into a hotel, beating other top developers, it promised to use only private capital — likely around $200 million — to fund the effort. In return, the Trump Organization got a long-term lease on the coveted property.

The Old Post Office was originally built with public funds in 1899. Since it is a historic building under federal law, the Trump Organization could earn valuable “federal rehabilitation tax credits” for funding a modernization project that maintained the building’s historic qualities. This so-called “historic tax credit” financing, created in 1986 thanks to efforts by Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, has helped spawn over 40,000 historic preservation projects.

For all its benefits, though, the law contains an unintended glitch that prevents communities across the country from reaping the big local savings when they need to modernize the most quintessential of public buildings: schools. The glitch is called the “prior use” rule, and it prevents tax credits from being awarded unless the post-modernization use is new. In converting the Old Post Office building into a new hotel, the Trump project qualified for tax credits. But in modernizing an aged local K-12 school building into a modern 21st-century facility, the use stays the same. Therefore, the localities can’t access the financing used for the D.C. Trump Hotel.

Until recently, this arcane legal glitch has remained buried in the IRS legal code, unintentionally saddling communities with many tens of billions in extra construction costs — up to a staggering 20 percent to 40 percent increase. It strikes at the heart of Trump’s campaign message: Washington is rigged for the well-connected while ordinary Americans are left behind. A 1995 federal study revealed the average K-12 school facility had aged into functional obsolescence by national standards. Recent state studies, such as one in Virginia, suggest a worsening situation; indeed, 40 percent of K-12 facilities may now be sufficiently aged and decaying to qualify as historic structures under the 1986 law. Our children and grandchildren, from small rural towns to our biggest urban centers, are being forced to attend school in dilapidated, often unhealthy buildings unable to provide a 21st-century education. This is demoralizing not only to them but to our teachers.

Rebuilding America’s public schools is a rare area of bipartisan agreement. The 2016 Republican platform pledged to “remove legal roadblocks to public-private partnership agreements that … bring outside investment to meet a community’s needs.” The Democratic platform also called for investments in rebuilding local schools. Likewise, Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both specifically promised to include schools in their infrastructure proposals.

This bipartisan pledge — which includes the rehabilitation of aging K-12 buildings, not merely transportation or utility grid projects — is unprecedented and signals that across the political spectrum, ensuring a modern K-12 education infrastructure is a key priority among Americans.

K-12 facility modernization is ultimately a local responsibility, and school construction has generally been funded by government bonds. Since a government entity is responsible for paying the principal and interest, these bonds are considered low-risk, stable investments. “Historic tax credit financing” is attractive to investors but likewise not risky. Using the Trump Hotel model, a locality would enter into a long-term lease agreement. The developer would agree to use private funds to modernize the school and in return, the locality would pay annual rent for the right to use the school. While private tenants can go bankrupt, or decide not to renew, local governments need their modernized schools. Therefore, the investment is equally safe, albeit in the form of a rent check, not a bond coupon.

The obsolete state of our education infrastructure highlights the struggle more and more communities are experiencing in funding ever-increasing school modernization costs. This is where historic tax credit financing presents a much-needed option. Eliminating the prior use roadblock gives private investors the incentive to bid for these historic preservation school projects while at the same time allowing localities to reap big savings. School modernization projects currently deemed unaffordable in rural towns, urban communities and suburban counties will now be affordable using private capital. We estimate that 15,000 to 20,000 dilapidated school facilities across the country may qualify for the historic tax credit financing used by the Trump Hotel.

Admittedly this isn’t a cure-all for education infrastructure needs. Some localities will benefit more than others. But the perfect must not become the enemy of the good. It serves no useful public purpose to prevent schools from benefiting from this tax credit while commercial enterprises such as the Trump Hotel can qualify. Every dollar saved locally on construction costs is a dollar available for investment in a needed local K-12 instruction initiative.

As both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms acknowledged, America needs significant infrastructure investments. Along with family involvement, education remains the great equalizer of opportunity for our children. Furthermore, putting historic school modernization projects on a level playing field can create hundreds of thousands of good jobs and help ensure America keeps its competitive edge.

Trump’s advisers have discussed creating a new infrastructure tax credit to fund a wide range of projects. We claim no broad expertise. However, for K-12 education infrastructure, a new tax credit is not needed. Instead, a few sensible legislative tweaks to the existing law would unleash the certain progress now shackled inside an existing proven tax credit initiative.