Music Education Policy Roundup – May 8, 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

Join NAfME for our final advocacy webinar of the school year – ESSA’s First Year in Action: What to know and what has changed?

Join us on May 24 at 7:00 PM (EDT) for our quarterly Advocacy Webinar! The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is just over a year old. Join your NAfME policy team to learn what has changed and what YOU need to know to make the opportunities for music education come to reality in your state, district, and school for the coming school year! Click here to register.


Federal Budget

On this past Thursday, President Trump signed the FY17 appropriations. This was an omnibus spending bill to for the October 1, 2016 – September 30, 2017 fiscal year. Here is a table of highlights for education-related areas:

 Federal Education Programs

FY17 Omnibus Appropriations

FY16 Enacted

 Title I, Part A**

$15.460 billion

 $14.910 billion

 Title II, Part A

$2.056 billion

$2.350 billion

 Title IV, Part A

$400 million

$1.65 billion (authorized)

 Arts in Education

$27 million

$27 million

 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

$12.830 billion

12.722 million

 21st Century Community Learning Centers

$1.192 billion

$1.667 billion

**It is important to note under ESSA, School Improvement Grants (SIG) were eliminated and states are now required to reserve 7 percent of Title I, Part A funds to support school improvement in the place of this elimination. This proposed funding level factors in the combined total of Title I, Part A, and the SIG program funding FY16, plus an additional $100 million in funding. 


NAfME position on ESSA’s Title IV, Part A Block Grant

NAfME issued a policy position stating our deep concern and disappointment in the FY17 budget’s underfunding of Title IV, Part A. As you will recall, this is the new federal block funding which can support, among other things, a well-rounded education. You can find our policy position here.


State plans for ESSA
NAfME released a blog last week on state ESSA plans and where (and if!) music and arts education are included in the plans. The blog includes a handy chart comparing state plans with specific areas of support for music and arts education.


NAfME analysis of the NAEP Arts Assessment
On Tuesday, April 25th, the National Center for Education Sciences released the results from the 2016 NAEP Arts Assessment. Read the NAfME analysis of the results here.


NAfME Agenda for the Reauthorization of the Carl T. Perkins Act
NAfME, in partnership with the Music Education Policy Roundtable, has created an ask of Congress to include a Well-Rounded Education in the reauthorization of the Carl T. Perkins Act, which supports Career and Technical Education. You can find the agenda here.


Federal Updates

Education groups: Obamacare Repeal Bill would cut Health Services in U.S. Schools
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 05/04/2017 01:16 PM EDT

Four billion dollars in annual Medicaid reimbursements to schools is threatened by the Obamacare repeal bill the House is expected to take up today, a coalition of nearly 60 advocacy groups say.

In a letter to congressional leaders, they say the bill would shift Medicaid away from its current open-ended federal matching payments to a per capita cap model — forcing schools to compete with hospitals, physicians and clinics that serve Medicaid-eligible children.

They say the change would affect schools’ ability to fund services such as vision and hearing screenings; to employ staff such as nurses, psychologists and occupational therapists; and to pay for supplies like wheelchairs. They argue it could also lead to reductions in general education services since fewer Medicaid funds means districts would need to divert funds from other programs to pay for mandated special education services.

“Schools are often the hub of the community, and converting Medicaid’s financing structure to per-capita caps threatens to significantly reduce access to comprehensive health and mental and behavioral health care for children with disabilities and those living in poverty,” said the letter, which was dated Tuesday.

The letter was signed by groups such as the AASA, The School Superintendents Association, American Foundation for the Blind, National Association of State Directors of Special Education and United Way Worldwide. They are all members of a group called the Save Medicaid in Schools Coalition.


Politico By Michael Stratford | 05/08/2017 05:41 AM EDT
With help from Caitlin Emma and Kimberly Hefling

President Donald Trump on Sunday night defended his “unwavering support” for historically black colleges, two days after his statement questioning the constitutionality of a federal financing program for them provoked a backlash of criticism.

— Trump’s signing statement for the government funding bill on Friday singled out a 25-year-old program that helps HBCUs finance construction projects on their campus, suggesting that it may run afoul of the Constitution. Such signing statements are often used to flag provisions of a law that an administration may disregard.

— The statement puzzled advocates of historically black colleges. Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, blasted Trump’s statement as “stunningly careless and divisive.”

— Two HBCU advocacy groups said over the weekend that administration officials told them they didn’t plan to interfere with the financing program. UNCF, previously known as the United Negro College Fund, said in a statement on Saturday that the group “received informal assurance from White House officials” that the Education Department “intends to implement the HBCU Capital Financing Program.” But the group urged the White House to issue an official clarification. Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, similarly said in a statement that his organization “was assured there was absolutely no plan to eliminate or challenge this program.”

— On Sunday night, in a second statement, Trump said the signing statement “sets forth my intention to spend the funds [that the omnibus bill] appropriates, including the funds for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), consistently with my responsibilities under the Constitution. It does not affect my unwavering support for HBCUs and their critical educational missions.”

— What to watch next: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is scheduled to deliver the commencement address on Wednesday at Bethune-Cookman University, an historically black institution in Florida. DeVos issued her own statement on Sunday night, saying she is “a strong supporter of historically black colleges and universities and the critical role they play in communities and in our higher education system.”

— Also still in the mix: Trump’s signing statement on Friday also raised the possibility of a challenge to programs listed under the “School Improvement Programs” section of the budget agreement, though it didn’t specify which ones. The category include a wide range of education-related programs, such as after-school initiatives and programs that support Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education.


Lawmakers grill Education Department, IRS over FAFSA data breaches
Politico By Michael Stratford 05/03/2017 12:46 PM EDT

Education Department and IRS officials Wednesday defended their decision to continue operating an online financial aid tool for several months last year — even after discovering it could be vulnerable to identity thieves.

Republicans and some Democrats on the House Oversight Committee also grilled the officials for failing to notify Congress about the data breach, which is required by federal law.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) accused the agencies of not addressing the cybersecurity issues more seriously. “We’re not identifying that we’ve had a breach and it’s making us more vulnerable,” he said.

Officials said they discovered a potential vulnerability in the fall of 2016 through which thieves could illegally obtain taxpayer information and then fraudulently file tax returns.

“There was no data loss at the time,” said IRS Chief Information Officer Gina Garza. “We had no evidence of fraud at the time.”

But lawmakers on the panel pressed the Education Department and IRS on why the tool wasn’t taken offline sooner. They also said that the agencies had failed to properly notify Congress under the Federal Information Security Modernization Act. An IRS official said the agency did notify Congress in early April.

The IRS has identified almost 8,000 fraudulent tax refunds associated with information from the tool amid a continuing criminal investigation. Approximately 100,000 people may have had their personal information exposed to identify thieves, officials say.

Garza said that officials kept the tool online until March 3 because they sought to “balance the protection of the taxpayer data with the use of the tool.”

Education Department Chief Information Officer Jason K. Gray said that his agency didn’t believe it needed to notify Congress because there was no compromise of department data — only IRS data access through the department’s tool. But under tense questioning from lawmakers on the panel, Gray said that in “hindsight, yes it was important enough to notify Congress.”


Trump praises D.C. voucher program with mixed record
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 05/03/2017 12:15 PM EDT

President Donald Trump on Wednesday celebrated Washington, D.C.’s voucher program despite findings that it had a negative impact on children’s reading and math scores — saying it makes an “extraordinary difference” to students in the nation’s capital.

Flanked by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Vice President Mike Pence and several D.C. student participants, Trump said that 98 percent of scholarship recipients get “their high school diplomas and they’re really very, very special, they go onto tremendous successes.”

“This is what winning for young children and kids from all over the country looks like,” Trump said. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program that we’re funding allows families in the inner city of our nation’s capital to leave the failing public schools and attend a private school, making an extraordinary difference in these incredible young lives.”

The president’s praise for D.C.’s voucher program comes just days after a study published by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance found the program had a negative impact on the reading and math test scores of elementary school students after just one year. However, the study said that parents who were offered or used the vouchers were more likely to see their child’s school as very safe.

Roughly 1,200 students use the program, which is the only federal voucher program in the country and helps low-income children attend private schools.

The massive spending bill Congress is expected take up this week to fund the government through Sept. 30 reauthorizes the program through 2019. The $45 million targeted for the program would keep it at the same level as the previous year.

Trump called on lawmakers to work with his administration “to help extend school choice to millions more children all across the United States of America, including millions of low-income, Hispanic and African American children that deserve the same chance as every other child in America, to live out their dreams and fill up their hearts and be educated at the top, top level.”

Trump initially was not scheduled to attend the event. He interrupted DeVos at the microphone to make his remarks.

The support from Trump for the D.C. voucher program is a departure from former President Barack Obama, who opposed it.


Study: D.C. vouchers have negative effect on test scores for elementary students
Politico By Caitlin Emma 04/27/2017 11:31 AM EDT

A new study of D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program — the nation’s only federally funded voucher program — finds that vouchers had a negative impact on the reading and math test scores of elementary school students.

While students in grades six through 12 did see increases in test scores, those weren’t considered statistically significant, researchers report. The study, published by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, considered the effects of being offered a voucher and using a voucher after just one year. Scores were based on results from low-stakes standardized tests, rather than from the Common Core-aligned PARCC test, used by D.C. for accountability purposes.

Students who didn’t receive the vouchers and attended average D.C. public schools received more reading and math instruction time in elementary school than students who used vouchers, which could have contributed to the negative effects, the study concludes.

The vouchers didn’t have a statistically significant impact on parent satisfaction or involvement with their child’s school, but parents who were offered or used the vouchers were more likely to see their child’s school as very safe.

Education policy advocates believe the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are poised to breathe new life into the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In March, a House committee advanced a bill to broaden the pool of students eligible for the vouchers.

Prior research has found that the program had a positive impact on high school graduation rates and reading scores, but a negligible impact on math scores.


DeVos discusses school choice with Hill Republicans

Politico By Michael Stratford 04/27/2017 02:20 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos strategized with nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers today about how best to advance “school choice” policies in Congress.

DeVos met on Capitol Hill with 21 members of the House Republican Policy Committee, including chairman Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.).

In an interview later, Messer said that the Trump administration provided an “unprecedented opportunity” to enact policies making it easier for families to choose alternatives to traditional public schools.

“The question we’re all trying to figure out is what school choice options are achievable,” he said. One idea getting attention is a tax credit that would reward corporations and individuals who donate to scholarship organizations that help low-income students pay for private or religious schools.

But such a proposal, Messer said, is likely to be pursued separately from President Donald Trump’s massive proposal to overhaul the tax code. “I think it’s unlikely it would be part of this near-term tax reform effort,” he said.

Messer called today’s meeting with DeVos an “introductory session” for lawmakers to get to know her better and vice versa. “It was certainly a meeting where the secretary did more listening than talking,” he said.

Lawmakers and DeVos also discussed how the Education Department could further scale back Obama administration guidance and regulations that Republicans view as federal overreach. Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order directing DeVos to study ways to scale back the federal government’s role in education.

“There’s a lot of work to do to see if we can right-size the Department of Education,” Messer said.


Trump to sign order seeking study on federal overreach in education
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 04/25/2017 06:23 PM EDT

President Donald Trump on Wednesday is slated to sign an executive order that directs Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to conduct a study to determine where the “federal government has unlawfully overstepped state and local control,” according to a White House official.

“This executive order is intended to return authority to where Congress intended — state and local entities,” the official said in an email to POLITICO. “Current law recognizes that, although the federal government has a Department of Education, state and local entities retain control over their schools.”

During Barack Obama’s administration, Republicans complained the federal government had overstepped its authority with efforts such as the Race to the Top grant program that offered incentives to states to make certain changes, such as adopting the Common Core standards in math and reading.

The Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015, and signed by Obama, includes provisions designed to limit federal control over U.S. schools. It is unclear what, if any, additional changes might be recommended through a study. The timetable for the review was not disclosed.


Civil Rights group criticizes move to lessen federal role in education
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 04/26/2017 05:20 PM EDT

A civil rights group panned today’s signing of an executive order by President Donald Trump designed to reduce federal influence on local schools.

“State and local primacy without federal oversight in America’s schools has never worked for all children and will not work now,” Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.

Henderson notes that the U.S. Education and Justice Departments took steps to desegregate many of the nation’s schools following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 1954 declaring state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.

Trump’s order directs Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to review over the course of 300 days ways in which the Obama administration may have overreached its authority regarding K-12 education.

The order was praised by Republican lawmakers including Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who chairs the House education committee and Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana, who chairs a K-12 education subcommittee.

Trump said at the signing that for too long the federal government has imposed its will on state and local governments — a common refrain by conservatives dating to the creation of the Education Department under Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.

“The result has been education that spent more and achieves far, far, far less,” Trump said. “My administration has been working to reverse this federal power grab” to give power back to families, cities and states.


DeVos affirms Education Department’s ‘important’ role in civil rights
Politico By Benjamin Wermund 04/25/2017 12:39 PM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said at a Manassas, Va. elementary school today that the role of the Education Department in regards to civil rights is “a very important one.”

That role, she said, “really is to help ensure that every child has a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn. It’s a very broad goal but a very important responsibility.”

Her comments in response to a reporter’s question come amid a flurry of questions about the agency’s commitment to civil rights in the wake of recent decisions to rescind Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students and to hire a conservative lawyer as the acting head of the agency’s civil rights office. DeVos’ confused answer about special education law during her confirmation hearing also raised concerns among some advocates.

Yesterday civil rights, legal and union groups wrote her, as well as Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, raising questions about “her commitment to federal civil rights law and marginalized students.”

DeVos did not address the letter, but said “the role of the Education Department vis-à-vis civil rights is a very important one.”

DeVos visited Ashland Elementary School to cap off activities related to the Month of the Military Child. The public school serves many military children whose families live off-base.

During a roundtable discussion with military families, one parent, Lt. Col. Rojan Robotham, told DeVos that her friends and colleagues “overwhelmingly” wanted her to support “before and after childcare.”

“I’m hoping that if not yourself, then Ivanka Trump — somebody takes it on,” Robotham said. DeVos said she hears that a lot and told Robotham, “I hear you.”

Later, DeVos was asked about the role of the Education Department in helping military families transition to public schools off base. She said it’s an important role, “though today technically it’s separated from the Department of Education.”

“We have some conversations begun about how we can better serve our military families,” DeVos said, but did not elaborate.

She said the common theme she’s heard from military families is that the most important thing for them is ensuring their children have a great place to go to school “in an environment that will meet their needs.”


Trump’s tax plan includes relief for child care expenses

Politico By Michael Stratford 04/26/2017 04:02 PM EDT

President Donald Trump’s plan to overhaul the nation’s tax code includes tax relief to help pay for child and dependent care expenses, the White House announced today.

The child care tax benefit was an idea Trump first proposed on the campaign trail and which has been championed by his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

The White House did not release details about the provision, but it appears to take the form of a tax credit since the administration proposes to nix all but two individual deductions. Trump’s plan would keep deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations but get rid of all others. Non-profit colleges and universities are strong proponents of the deduction for charitable giving.

Advocates for boosting federal support to help address the cost of child care praised Trump’s inclusion of the concept in his tax plan, though they noted that details of how it might work were scant.

“We are pleased that the administration is drawing attention to the importance of making early learning and care more affordable,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund. “A strong, bipartisan child care tax plan should make the tax code more inclusive of early learning, expand the size of existing credits, and make the credits refundable for low-income families.”

Save the Children Action Network President Mark Shriver said that “any tax reform designed to make child care and early learning more accessible must focus on the poorest children who lack an equal opportunity to succeed.”

“As we await the full details of this proposal, I’m encouraged by news reports that indicate President Trump’s initial plan includes refundable tax credits, which would help low-income families pay for child care,” he added.


GAO seeks better Education Department oversight of after-school program

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 04/26/2017 03:14 PM EDT

The Education Department isn’t doing enough to judge the merits of a federal program that helps fund after-school programming in U.S. schools, Congress’ investigative arm said today.

The release of the report by the GAO comes as the $1.2 billion program, called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, faces possible extinction after the Trump administration proposed zeroing it out in March.

At the time, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said “there’s no demonstrable evidence” that after-school programs help students.

But in evaluating the effectiveness of the program, the GAO said the Education Department is focused primarily on students’ reading and math scores, but lacks “useful data about whether the program is achieving its objectives to improve students’ behavioral outcomes, such as attendance and discipline — the areas where the program most frequently has a positive effect.”

The GAO said that relevant research that has compared program participants to nonparticipants suggests the program does improve students’ behavior.

The GAO also said the department should provide better technical assistance to states that want to evaluate their programs.

When presented with its findings, the GAO said the Education Department “neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendations.”

“Rather, it generally noted that it will keep our recommendations in mind as it continues to implement changes in the program” that stem from the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act.


Congress to Interior secretary: Improve Indian education or funding could be cut
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 05/02/2017 03:28 PM EDT

Congressional appropriators urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week to “personally” take charge to make improvements in the historically troubled Bureau of Indian Education system — warning that Congress’ future financial support hinges on it.

Zinke is “urged to reorganize” the department “so that control and accountability of the BlE system is consolidated within the BlE,” according to an explanatory document accompanying the deal to fund the government through Sept. 30, which was announced this week.

“The Secretary is urged to personally oversee immediate actions necessary to ensure the continued health and safety of students and employees at BlE schools and facilities,” the members wrote, citing previous Government Accountability Office findings of problems within the federally run school system including the schools’ health and safety and finances.

“The Secretary is reminded that future support from Congress will continue to be based in large part upon successful implementation of GAO report recommendations,” the report said.

Zinke, a former House member from Montana, was urged to include the reorganization proposal in the department’s 2018 budget request, along with a workforce plan.

An Interior Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The deal announced this week would fund BIE schools for this budget year at $892 million — about $39 million over 2016 levels. This year, it received $852 million.

The agreement funds construction for BIE schools at $133 million — a level consistent with how it was funded in 2016 after accounting for an extra one-time surge to help reduce a backlog in maintenance projects, according to the report. It includes $2 million to build up Native American language immersion programs.

More than 47,000 students attend more than 180 BIE schools in 23 states overseen by SmartRecruiters and the Interior Department. They are among the nation’s lowest performing, with problems ranging from hundreds of millions of dollars in backlogged maintenance needs to challenges recruiting teachers. Most are on reservations, often in isolated and impoverished communities.

The Obama administration worked to restructure and reorganize the BIE, but faced challenges turning the system around. Earlier this month, the Diné Bi’Olta School Board Association, which represents school boards on the Navajo reservation, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Interior Department that seeks records pertaining to the reorganization effort.


USDA to relax school meal rules
Politico By Helena Bottemiller Evich 04/28/2017 11:46 AM EDT

The USDA on Monday will unveil an interim final rule aimed at giving schools more flexibility for school meals, a move that could peel back part of a central piece of former first lady Michelle Obama’s legacy on nutrition.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will make the announcement while visiting a school in Leesburg, Va., on Monday, the USDA said. The department didn’t provide details about the changes other than to say the interim final rule will provide “regulatory flexibility for the National School Lunch Program.”


Trump tells DREAMers to “rest easy”
Politico By Madeline Conway 04/21/2017 02:51 PM EDT

President Donald Trump said today that DREAMers, a term used for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, should “rest easy” about his presidency because his administration is “not after the dreamers, we are after the criminals.”

“That is our policy,” Trump told The Associated Press in an interview.

Trump campaigned for the presidency as a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, pledging to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration policy program that grants some young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation. Trump’s rhetoric on the issue often drew criticism and alarmed immigration activists during his run for the presidency — starting from his campaign launch speech, when he referred to some Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists.”

Since the election, Trump has softened his rhetoric on DACA recipients a bit, but his administration is nonetheless facing a lawsuit from a 23-year-old DREAMer who was recently deported to Mexico despite having been granted protected status under the program through 2018.

The AP reports that Trump described that case as “a little different than the Dreamer case” but did not elaborate on his reasoning.

The Department of Homeland Security maintains that the deported man, Juan Manuel Montes, had lost his DACA status because he had left the U.S. without approval, violating terms of the program.


Politico By Michael Stratford | 04/18/2017 05:45 AM EDT
With help from Caitlin Emma and Benjamin Wermund

The Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to hear a case that could have huge implications for school voucher programs. At issue is an 1875 provision of Missouri’s Constitution banning public money from going “directly or indirectly” to religious groups, including schools. Similar provisions, called Blaine Amendments, exist in roughly three dozen states and have been a major barrier to school vouchers. They’ve also proved resilient, surviving numerous state ballot repeal efforts — including an unsuccessful Michigan initiative pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos nearly two decades ago.

Religious groups see this and a related Colorado case as their best shots at scrapping the amendments — and they believe Neil Gorsuch, who just took his seat on the high court, will take their side. They point to Gorsuch’s deference to religious rights in other cases. Most notably, while on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he backed a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act — joining the panel’s majority in the Hobby Lobby case to rule that the Obama administration could not require a closely-held business to offer contraceptive coverage if that interfered with the owners’ religious beliefs — a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court. In another case, he ruled that a Wyoming prison had to provide a sweat lodge to a Native American for his religious practices.

Court watchers believe Gorsuch might cast a tie-breaking vote since the court had apparently delayed arguments in the Missouri case until they had a ninth justice. “The justices have likely seen this as a case on which they would have been divided four to four,” said Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University. “They must expect that Gorsuch will be the deciding fifth vote.” Benjamin Wermund has more on that here.

There is a chance the case could get tossed out . The case hinges on the state’s denial of Trinity Lutheran Church’s request for a grant to reimburse the cost of resurfacing its preschool playground with recycled tires. State officials said the Blaine Amendment prevented it from aiding the church in any way. But late last week, Missouri’s newly elected Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, announced that he has directed the state agency to consider religious organizations for such grants. The parties on both sides must submit their views by noon today on whether the the announcement makes the legal dispute moot. Even if the justices dismiss this case, they could soon hear the same issues in a pending Colorado case in which the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State claim a school voucher program violates the state’s no-aid clause.


DeVos, Weingarten stick to scripts in first-ever meeting
Politico By Caitlin Emma 04/20/2017 06:51 PM EDT

VAN WERT, Ohio — They may have put away the heavy artillery for a few hours Thursday, but it appears unlikely that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will join forces anytime soon to solve the country’s education ills.

Their first-ever joint visit to the conservative, rural community of Van Wert in northwest Ohio on Thursday was pleasant enough — albeit awkward at times. Students and teachers proudly showed off their public schools as DeVos and Weingarten listened. But despite the polite smiles, the longtime adversaries retreated to familiar talking points and offered scant signs of openness to compromise — even penning dueling op-eds in area newspapers.

DeVos emphasized school choice because “every student should have an equal opportunity to get a great education,” as she wrote in an op-ed that appeared in a Cleveland newspaper. Weingarten, who represents 1.6 million public school teachers, offered a full-throated defense of public education, which she called “the foundation of our democracy” in another op-ed.

The two spent no private time together. At one point, DeVos offered Weingarten a ride to the next school on their schedule, but Weingarten declined because she said she had to make a phone call. The visit Thursday was the first time they had ever met in person.

“You’ve all written … that we are combatants,” Weingarten told reporters during a joint news conference following a packed day. “Van Wert proves that support for public schools transcends politics.”

She did not mention how she had helped mount a national campaign to sink DeVos’ nomination or, after the razor-thin confirmation vote, called it a “sad day for children.”

But she did say that when it comes to President Donald Trump’s proposals to slash the Education Department’s $68 billion budget and zero out funding for after-school programs, “It’s no secret that we’re fighting some of the cuts.”

While Van Wert voted overwhelmingly for Trump, some rural residents are fearful those policies will strip federal funding from their public schools. DeVos was greeted at her second stop by a handful of protesters holding placards saying, “Support public schools,” and “School choice is the real threat to rural schools, not grizzly bears.” There was also a display of support from Trump supporters, who lined up several pickup trucks sporting large American flags. One of the trucks carried a Trump/Pence campaign sign.

When asked by POLITICO about the rural community’s concerns, DeVos noted that about 20 percent of Van Wert’s students elect “to go to schools other than the Van Wert public school system.” That’s because Van Wert schools participate in open enrollment, allowing students to cross district lines to attend public schools in other districts.

“That’s a wonderful thing that they have that opportunity and that’s an opportunity we should continue to offer,” DeVos said. “I acknowledge and have acknowledged before that rural areas face unique challenges and unique opportunities. I think there are examples of rural areas taking the opportunity to offer a wider range of courses in a virtual learning environment.”

But she said that schools that are meeting students’ needs, like Van Wert’s, shouldn’t worry about school choice.

“Might there be a handful of students who might elect to do something different if they had that opportunity? Perhaps that would be the case,” DeVos said. “But it would be a choice made my parents, not dictated or mandated.”

School choice isn’t about elevating one type of school over another, she said in her op-ed. “It’s about trusting parents to choose the best fit for their child,” she wrote in her op-ed.

The two leaders spent the day hearing from preschool and kindergarten teachers at an early childhood center, visiting an engineering and robotics class at Van Wert High School and a fifth-grade class at Van Wert Elementary School. They also participated in a social services and special education roundtable.

But neither offered any signals they might be rethinking their positions.

Even ahead of the trip on Wednesday, DeVos stuck to a common refrain — that she supports all good schools, whether public, private or charter. DeVos told The Blade in Toledo that “every parent should be able to send their children to a school that meets their unique needs, and for many parents, that is a public school. I support and celebrate all great schools.”

DeVos’ failure to voice a still-stronger commitment to public schools has proven disappointing to traditional public school advocates, who note the vast majority of the country’s students attend public schools.

And Weingarten — who had extended the invitation to Van Wert — also stuck to her guns before the visit and made it clear she wasn’t there to make friends. In her op-ed Wednesday for the Times Bulletin of Van Wert she slammed not only the president’s budget proposal but DeVos’ “efforts over the past two decades to undermine public schools.”

“As a lobbyist in Michigan, she used her wealth to push legislators to defund public education in favor of for-profit charter schools that had no accountability to parents or the public,” Weingarten wrote. “She has called public education a ‘dead end,’ and as secretary she continues to push the same failed privatization strategies she pushed in Michigan.”

Weingarten said her op-ed wasn’t meant to be critical of DeVos, but of Trump’s proposed budget cuts.


State Updates

Politico By Caitlin Emma | 05/05/2017 05:42 AM EDT
With help from Kimberly Hefling and Benjamin Wermund

The Trump administration has quietly reversed an Obama-era policy of denying vouchers to low-income D.C. students who already attend private schools, Morning Education has learned. “We can now provide awards to those students, going into effect next school year,” said Rachel Sotsky, executive director of the nonprofit Serving Our Children, which administers D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program — the nation’s only federally funded voucher program. Private school students have already been applying, although in “pretty small” numbers, Sotsky said. The change is cemented by the fiscal 2017 spending deal just passed by Congress, which flat funds the program at $45 million — and specifically includes language barring the secretary from preventing students from participating based on the type of school they used to attend. That same language was included in previous attempts to reauthorize the program.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos OK’d the change, allowing the funds to flow to private school students because it’s allowed by statute, an Education Department spokeswoman said.

The Obama administration thought awarding vouchers to private school students amounted to “replacing existing private resources with public ones,” the Office of Management and Budget said last year in response to a House bill to reauthorize the program. “Instead of using federal resources to support a handful of students in private schools, the federal government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students.” The Trump administration’s reversal is emblematic of its commitment to expand school choice whenever possible.

Families of private school students still have to meet other eligibility criteria, like being a D.C. resident and meeting certain income thresholds. Proponents believe few students from private schools will ultimately apply, but the change could help the siblings of voucher students. It’s extremely difficult for low-income families to pull together funds for a child who isn’t receiving a voucher so that he or she can attend the same school as their sibling who is receiving a voucher, Sotsky said. In some cases, parents have worked multiple jobs to keep their children at the same school, she said. Tommy Schultz, a spokesman for the advocacy group American Federation for Children, said, “We’re hopeful this results in more children from low-income D.C. families getting the opportunity to participate — including the hundreds who were eligible for [the 2016-17 school year] but weren’t allowed in.”


TX – House Gives Preliminary Approval to Major Revamp of A-F Grades for Schools
Lawmakers took their first step in overhauling the controversial A-F system to grade how well schools educate students, with the House giving preliminary approval to major changes. (Dallas News, May 3)


Michigan considers 401(k) option for new teachers

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering requiring new teachers to use a 401(k) retirement plan. Novice teachers have the option now of a 401(k) or a hybrid system, which includes aspects of a traditional pension and a tax-deferred investment account.

WZZM-TV (Grand Rapids, Mich.) (5/8) 


Politico, 05/08/17

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels says going forward, the land-grant institution intends to consult faculty as it takes next steps to acquire Kaplan University, a for-profit college. His comments to POLITICO come in response to the Senate Faculty’s passage of a resolution late last week that calls on the university to rescind any decisions associated with the deal made without faculty input. Faculty members have joined other critics in challenging the wisdom of the deal, as well as its transparency.

Daniels, in a far-reaching interview, said faculty members are asking a “lot of good” questions about the arrangement. “The gist of it was I think they’d like to be consulted and included in future decisions about how we approach this and that’s exactly what we intend to do,” he said. Fundamentally, however, Daniels said, the decision about whether to approve the deal was “purely” a matter for Purdue’s trustees since the university’s structure and what audiences to serve fall under their jurisdiction.

The deal has been praised in some quarters as an innovative way to serve nontraditional students and invigorate the land-grant university’s online presence — possibly even creating a new model to do so. Daniels said it’s too early to know if others will follow Purdue’s lead in choosing to ramp up online programming in this way. Purdue’s first step, he said, was determining it would be “foolish” to try to build it from ground zero. “First we had to come to that conclusion that we really couldn’t build it, so others would have to have their own analysis,” Daniels said. “Whether others would find a willing seller or not, I don’t know.”

When it came to partnering with a university within the for-profit education sectors, Daniels said, “Of course, we were extremely cautious.” Ultimately, he said, officials came to the conclusion that Kaplan was “very different than some of the more problematic institutions.”

On the college affordability front, Daniels said he’d like to see lawmakers move to hold colleges and universities at least partially responsible for the loan defaults of their graduates — an idea known as “skin in the game.” He’d also like to see a simpler loan program with one type of loan and one type of grant. Read more here from Kimberly Hefling’s Q&A with Daniels.


OR Plans Broader Rating System for Schools
Under the new approach, beginning with results from the current school year, Oregon schools’ performance will be judged on a wider array of factors than reading and math scores and graduation rates alone. (Herald and News, May 4)


CA High School Exit Exam Has One Foot in the Grave After Vote
Lawmakers in the California Assembly have voted to permanently eliminate the state’s high school exit exam, which has been suspended since 2015. (Associated Press via CBS Sacramento, May 4)


South Dakota Supreme Court affirms state’s participation in Smarter Balanced

Politico By Kimberly Hefling 05/04/2017 02:47 PM EDT

The South Dakota Supreme Court has upheld the state’s participation in the Smarter Balanced consortium of states that developed the Common Core-aligned test.

The plaintiffs — parents represented by the conservative Thomas More Law Center — filed suit in 2015 claiming that Smarter Balanced constituted an “interstate compact” that required congressional approval. Because Smarter Balanced is a computer adaptive test, they said the assessment is different each time a student takes it and therefore violates a law that says every public school district shall administer the same assessment.

In their ruling Wednesday, the justices wrote that the consortium of states was “not concerned with educational policies” and was instead “concerned with developing and providing assessments to measure student performance and developing relevant tools and services necessary to administer those assessments,” so congressional approval wasn’t needed.

Noting the test draws from a potential bank of questions and meets a test blueprint, they said there’s “little logic” behind the plaintiffs’ assertion that “academic progress can only be measured if all students answer the same questions so that individual results can be compared to that of other students.”

The court’s decision upheld a lower court ruling.

Smarter Balanced is a Common Core-aligned test used in 15 states. States joined forces to create it and PARCC using federal funds. But both have lost support in recent years amid the debate over the standards and tests aligned with them. Opponents have fought in state legislatures and in courthouses to thwart the use of them.


DPI to Integrate Native American Culture, History into ND Schools
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction plans to integrate Native American culture and history into classroom instruction as part of a project that compiled interviews of Native American elders in the state. (Bismarck Tribune, April 18)


WI Assembly OKs Education Plan Bill
The state Assembly has approved a bill that would inject the Legislature into the writing of a school accountability plan. (Associated Press via Charlotte Observer, May 2)


NC – Senate Commitee Passes Bills; Trying to Fix Teaching Pipeline
The N.C. Senate’s education committee passed this week a number of bills aimed at dealing with the state’s ongoing teacher shortage. (Winston-Salem Journal, April 15)


IN – Will State Require Voucher Schools to Report Finances?
Lawmakers are taking steps to increase financial transparency of private schools that accept public dollars for school choice. (IndyStar, April 17)


Politico 05/08/17

Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, said to be a template for a national program, is set to get a boost — state lawmakers have passed legislation with bipartisan support that would increase the amount of money low-income high school students can receive to pay for private school tuition. The bill would also allow military families to apply for the money year-round. And it would make changes to the state’s education savings accounts program for students with special needs, opening the funds up to children who are hearing- or visually-impaired and children with traumatic brain injuries. The blog redefinED has more.


New Jersey: Judge dismisses case by Newark parents to overturn teacher seniority rules
Politico By Linh Tat 05/03/2017 08:08 PM EDT

TRENTON, N.J. — A state Superior Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by six Newark parents seeking to overturn New Jersey’s teacher seniority law.

Plaintiffs challenging the “last in, first out” rule claimed the law enables ineffective teachers with seniority to remain in classrooms while newer, more effective teachers are let go whenever districts face layoffs for budgetary reasons.

But Judge Mary Jacobson, sitting in Trenton, said the plaintiffs failed to show that their children were hurt by any layoffs in Newark, since the state-controlled district has not had any layoffs nor any foreseeable plans to do so. Newark has, for years, kept ineffective teachers on the payroll but not assigned them to full-time teaching positions as a way to avoid firing effective teachers.

“The complaint is completely devoid of facts that any of these individual students have been harmed by a reduction in force,” Jacobson said in explaining her decision to dismiss the case.

The judge indicated the plaintiffs could re-plead their case if facts present themselves.

Kathleen Reilly, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told reporters after the roughly two-hour hearing that guidance counselors and librarian positions were reduced in Newark last year — a fact the plaintiffs would likely play up in future court actions.

“That’s just as detrimental to these children who are in classrooms as it would be if they were classroom teachers,” she said about the loss of counselors and librarians.

Reilly said the plaintiffs could re-plead the case with more documentation to support their claims or appeal the dismissal. But she did not believe dropping the matter entirely was an option.

“I don’t think these parents want us to move on,” she said. “I think that if you were to talk to them today, they’d say that they’re frustrated by the results. Clearly the Legislature is not addressing this. Clearly there’s a constitutional violation that’s occurring, and they’re not being heard.”

The complaint had named as defendants the state’s acting education commissioner, Kimberley Harrington (whose name was misspelled on the complaint); the state Board of Education; the Newark school district; and the district’s state-appointed superintendent, Christopher Cerf.

The New Jersey Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers weren’t named defendants, but sought to intervene in the matter and had filed a motion to have the case dismissed.

Steve Weissman, an attorney for AFT, argued in court Wednesday that the plaintiffs never alleged in their complaint that any of their children had had ineffective teachers, nor that there had been any teacher layoffs or planned layoffs — points the judge repeated while announcing her ruling.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that the lawsuit attempted to destabilize the state’s largest school district by “stripping” it of experienced teachers.

“The anti-public education ideologues that brought the suit tried an end-run against state law,” she stated. “The suit’s attempt to remove veteran teachers was about ideology, not facts, evidence or competency in the classroom. Educators get better the longer they are in the classroom, just like doctors in the operating room, lawyers in the courtroom and engineers on a job site. This ruling goes a long way to ensure that our public schools will remain staffed with qualified and experienced teachers.”

The case was pushed by the New York-based education reform group Partnership for Educational Justice.

PEJ is affiliated with two other similar cases. The group won its New York case, but the state is appealing that decision, a spokeswoman for PEJ said. The group lost its case in Minnesota but is appealing that decision, she said.


MO Senate Passes School Choice Proposal
The Missouri Senate has passed a school choice bill that would create education savings accounts for students with disabilities, foster children and children with parents in the military. (Associated Press via Fox 2 Now, April 27)


Florida: At teachers union urging, Senate Republicans help block bill targeting tenure-like policies
Politico By Jessica Bakeman 04/28/2017 04:18 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a rare win for labor unions, moderate Republicans in the state Senate helped block a bill that would have eliminated the only remaining form of tenure for new public school teachers in Florida.

The bill, S.B. 856 , that would have cracked down on agreements between school districts and local unions that secure automatic one-year contract renewals for high-performing teachers failed on an unusual tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee. Two powerful GOP senators — Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Anitere Flores of Miami — joined with four Democrats to stop the bill from advancing to the floor of the upper chamber.

A similar bill, H.B. 373, passed the more conservative House of Representatives on a vote of 79-37.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Doug Broxson, a Pensacola Republican, said the legislation was necessary to clarify a 2011 law that ended continuing contracts for new teachers in Florida.

Since Gov. Rick Scott approved that measure, S.B. 736, districts have negotiated with unions for the annual renewal policy, which some administrators argue is an important tool to provide job security and therefore help retain good teachers.

In more than half of the state’s counties, districts and unions have adopted the annual renewal policies, which ensure that teachers who are rated effective or highly effective under state-mandated performance evaluations are offered another year of employment. However, teachers remain at-will employees, so principals retain the right to fire them at any time.

Other districts that have resisted adopting annual renewal policies have reached an impasse with unions over the issue, so administrators in those counties have asked for the statutory change.

The legislation would prohibit a school board from “award[ing] an annual contract on the basis of any contingency or condition not expressly authorized” in law or “alter[ing] or limit[ing] its authority to award or not award an annual contract.”

The Senate bill would exempt Miami-Dade County schools, the state’s largest district, while the House bill contains no exemptions. Broxson said that difference would be dealt if the bill went to the Senate floor. But it appears now that it won’t.

Democratic senators said the bill would further exacerbate districts’ troubles in recruiting and retaining teachers, as an educator shortage looms.

A longtime lobbyist for the Florida Education Association who typically doesn’t provide public testimony during meetings felt compelled to argue against the bill on Friday.

“It amazes us that you will give highly performing charter schools a 15-year contract but you will not give a highly effective teacher even one more year of employment,” Jeff Wright said, asking senators to oppose the bill.

The following members voted for the bill: GOP Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, Bill Galvano, Tom Lee and Wilton Simpson. In addition to Republicans Latvala and Flores, the committee’s Democrats voted against it: Sens. Lauren Book, Oscar Braynon II, Bill Montford and Perry Thurston.


West Virginia passes bill to allow virtual school
Politico By Caitlin Emma 04/28/2017 11:16 AM EDT

West Virginia Democratic Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill this week that allows public school systems to offer full-time virtual education for students in kindergarten through high school starting in July.

Local school boards that choose to contract with virtual school providers to offer virtual education will receive full per-pupil funding allocated by the state funding formula for each student.

The new law spells out a requirement that virtual school students take the same state standardized tests required by traditional public school students in their district. Also, a virtual school student can only receive a diploma “upon completing the same coursework required of regular public school students in the district.”

The nation’s largest virtual charter school management company, the Virginia-based K12 Inc., urged state lawmakers to pass the bill, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. K12 couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

About two-thirds of states allow full-time virtual schooling. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has endorsed virtual schooling and online courses as options for rural students, who otherwise might have limited options, confined to their local traditional public school.


Former Chicago Public Schools CEO sentenced to 4.5 years in prison
Politico By Caitlin Emma 04/28/2017 04:21 PM EDT

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison today after pleading guilty to charges that she steered a no-bid contract worth more than $20 million to a former employer in exchange for hundreds of thousands in kickbacks.

Byrd-Bennett’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of 3.5 years behind bars, the Chicago Tribune reports. She pleaded guilty to the charges in 2015.

“This was a crime that erodes the public trust in Chicago’s government,” said U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang. “It’s a crime that chips away at the foundation of public service.”

The Chicago School Board last year sued Byrd-Bennett for $65 million in damages and penalties over the multi-million-dollar bribery scheme. The district has long-struggled financially.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Byrd-Bennett CEO of the country’s third-largest school system in 2012.


IL – Attracting More Teachers Goal of Proposed Legislation
According to Illinois State Board of Education, some 6,381 openings exist statewide, and candidates to fill them are few. (Pantagraph, April 24)


Ohio asks for reduction in federal charter schools grant
Politico By Caitlin Emma 04/24/2017 02:39 PM EDT

Ohio state officials are asking the federal government to pare down its $71 million federal charter schools grant.

Only a handful of organizations that oversee the state’s troubled charter schools are eligible for funds since the state cracked down on the sector. Steve Gratz, senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, asked federal officials in a letter dated April 14 to decrease the grant amount from $71 million to $49.4 million.

Only charter school authorizers rated “effective” or “exemplary” can receive the funds. And only five of more than 60 authorizers in the state earned that “effective” label in new ratings last fall, The Plain Dealer reports. No authorizer was labeled “exemplary.”

In a related development, former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio told POLITICO today that he’s planning a tour of the state to highlight its troubled charter schools sector. In a speech at the state capitol, the consultant said he plans to hold a series of meetings, consult with legal experts and compile a report that recommends legislative changes to how charters are set up, which he plans to deliver to the state legislature by January 2018.

The Obama administration received a lot of criticism for awarding millions of dollars to Ohio’s charter school sector amid reports of misspent funds and falsified data. Federal officials froze the grant and then released the funds in 2014 after a 10-month review. The Education Department labeled the grant “high-risk” and placed conditions on the flow of funding.


New York: De Blasio proposes a pre-K expansion, with a $700M catch
Politico By Eliza Shapiro 04/24/2017 04:46 PM EDT (abbreviated)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration announced its first new substantive education policy in over a year and a half on Monday: a pilot program city officials hope will eventually be available citywide for 3-year-olds to attend pre-Kindergarten programs, dubbed 3-K for All.

Three-year-olds in the South Bronx and Brownsville, two of New York City’s neediest neighborhoods, will be eligible to enroll in pre-K programs starting this fall. The mayor’s universal pre-K program, considered his signature achievement, is currently available for all 4-year-olds in the city. The pilot will be expanded each year until 2021, when the city plans to scale to universality for all 3-year-olds.

But there’s a major catch: creating a seat for every 3-year-old who wants one, about 62,000 students, will require about $700 million from the state and federal governments, de Blasio said during a roll out of the plan Monday in the Bronx.

The city will only be able to provide seats for students in eight of the city’s 32 school districts with the $177 million the city plans to spend on the program by 2021. Achieving full universality will require herculean lobbying efforts in Albany and Washington D.C. — both exceptionally unfriendly political environments for the de Blasio administration.


Lawmakers from 20 states back legislation on genocide education
Politico By Aubree Eliza Weaver 04/24/2017 10:26 AM EDT

Twenty-six lawmakers from across 20 states have committed to legislation that would require education in public schools on the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide and other genocides, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect announced today.

The bills mark the start of the Center’s large-scale effort to ultimately require this sort of curriculum across all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Currently, just eight states have any sort of requirement for educating on genocide awareness and prevention.

Florida, Illinois and New Jersey require genocide education from kindergarten to 12th grade, and have a state task force that monitors the programs to ensure they remain comprehensive and up-to-date.

California and Michigan also have task forces, but only require genocide education beginning in seventh or eighth grade, and continuing through 12th grade.

Indiana, New York and Rhode Island have education requirements from seventh or eighth grade through 12th grade as well, but don’t have a state commission or task force.

“Our goal is to teach that genocide is not just somebody else’s story,” said Massachusetts State Rep. Jeffrey Roy, who has proposed legislation on genocide education.

“Genocide is not simply about killing people, but also about destroying humanity,” he said. “By including genocide in the curriculum, we will give students a better understanding of the human condition and increase efforts worldwide for preventing further genocides.”


Research and other areas of interest

POLITICO-Harvard poll: Americans favor charter schools — but not at public schools’ expense
Politico By Kimberly Hefling 04/25/2017 05:01 AM EDT Updated 04/25/2017 06:02 AM EDT

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to have the backing of a small majority of Americans — and roughly two-thirds of Republicans — in her quest to expand school choice measures.

A little more than half of Americans back charter schools and approve of using public funds to enable students to attend private, nonprofit schools, including religious schools, according to a poll conducted for POLITICO by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

But their support for charter schools falls off dramatically if the funding is taken from traditional public schools. In that case, only 30 percent say they favor them and 64 percent say they oppose them.

“If people feel they are pulling the rug out of the public school system, they will feel differently,” said Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor who co-directed the poll.

Pollsters didn’t ask respondents if they’d still support the private tuition programs if they come at the expense of funding to public schools.

DeVos is a longtime school choice advocate. Her nomination by President Donald Trump underscored his support for expanding public funding for charter schools and voucher programs. The administration has proposed a 50 percent budget increase for a federal charter school expansion program and creating a new $250 million private school choice program.

DeVos has said the administration might also encourage a quasi-voucher program modeled after a Florida program that gives tax credits to corporations that donate to a scholarship organization, which in turns pays for low-income students to go to private schools. Florida is one of 17 states with such a program.

The poll, which will be released on Thursday, finds significant partisan differences in attitudes to school choice. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans back the idea of charter schools in their communities, compared to just 47 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents. Geography also plays a role: Sixty percent of urban residents support charter schools in their communities, compared to 45 percent of rural residents.

A majority of Americans (54 percent) also support public funding for voucher programs. Even if the vouchers go to private, nonprofit religious schools, 57 percent of Americans continue to support them..

“If communities want to go this way, there will be more support than many people might have recognized,” Blendon said.

That support wanes, however, when talking about channeling public funds to for-profit school tuition. Vouchers to for-profit K-12 schools are unpopular. Only 36 percent of Americans said they approve of them, suggesting a nervousness about expanding the for-profit education sector in K-12.

Charters are publicly funded schools that are run by independent entities that often don’t have to follow all the same rules as traditional schools. They’ve grown in popularity in past years, and all but six states now have laws on the books allowing charter schools.

Overall, 45 percent of Americans said they think charter school students receive a better education compared to about a third who said traditional public school students do. About a quarter said they don’t know or refused to answer the question.

And nearly three-quarters of respondents said such schools should have to meet the same state education standards as traditional public schools, which is the case in all states, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Even 71 percent of Republicans, who were the most supportive of charter schools, expressed that view.

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a longtime school choice proponent who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, said the poll results are consistent with what he hears in Indiana communities.

“Parents want the chance to send their child to the best school for their future, and the popularity of these programs is highest in the communities directly served by charter and other alternative schools,” Messer said.

Tommy Schultz, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group once led by DeVos, said these and similar findings suggest that “Lawmakers should … give families in all 50 states the chance to have access to a quality K-12 education.”

But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, noted the findings confirm the strong support for funding traditional public schools.

“While parents want good public school choices to meet the individual needs of their kids, including charters, magnets, career tech schools, early college and neighborhood schools, they do not want any choices to compete against each other — or used to drain money out of other public schools,” she said.

The survey proves that “when provided the full story, Americans overwhelmingly support keeping their tax dollars invested in public schools — not shifting them into charter schools or vouchers for religious and other private schools that are unaccountable to the public,” added Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association teachers union.


Quantifying the benefits of Arts Education
April 20, 2017 – the notebook, Dale Mezzacappa
We all hear the stories, or have experiences ourselves or with children: how learning to play an instrument, or appearing in a play, or creating something beautiful from scratch, keeps students on the path to graduation and improves their attitude and well-being. 

It has long been understood that the arts are among the “protective factors” that can shield young people from debilitating effects of trauma. Yet, while arts are taken for granted as a core part of the curriculum in well-funded schools, that’s not true in districts such as Philadelphia that are strapped for cash, even though generally they are the ones for which poverty and trauma wreak their havoc. In those districts, under pressure to raise test scores, nonmandated and nontested subjects often become expendable. 

That is true in Philadelphia, where art and music teacher positions were slashed in the depths of the budget crisis and have still not been restored to all schools.

The William Penn Foundation, which has missions to promote both great learning and creative communities, commissioned a study to move beyond the anecdotal and see if and how students benefited from being involved in some of its grantee arts programs.  It released the results at a conference on  Wednesday.

The research by WolfBrown, working with Johns Hopkins University, showed that participating in the arts help students develop traits that contribute to later success in life. Younger students especially showed measurable growth in characteristics like tolerance for other points of view, an understanding that hard work can develop their knowledge and abilities, and their motivation to achieve.

The researchers also found that students who started out highly engaged in school and more emotionally mature retained these scores if they received arts education. But students who scored as high in the beginning who did not participate in arts programming showed a significant decline in their engagement.

Another finding, not surprisingly, is that students became more interested in the arts once they were exposed to them.

“We should regard an education without the arts as incomplete,” said the report.  One of its authors, Steven Holochwost, went further. Citing his own and other studies that point at the arts’ ability to impact math and literacy achievement and school success, he said, “Who has access to the arts has a moral dimension. If it affects cognitive function, can we continue to accept distributing this access in an uneven fashion to children according to income?”  

Another study by Dr. Eleanor Brown, a professor of psychology at West Chester University,  showed how involvement in the arts can actually change brain chemistry

Several times a day, after various kinds of activities, Brown and her associates measured the levels of cortisol in more than 300 preschool students. Cortisol is a hormone that goes up and down with stress. The researchers found that the cortisol levels were at their lower for children after doing arts, musid and dance activities than after homeroom. 

“Arts have a key role to play to address challenges of poverty and racism, and to promote equity” in education, Brown said.

At the end, students from the afterschool program PlayOn, in which childdren learn musical instruments and perform in ensembles, serenaded the conference with a medley of John Williams film scores.

 “Art for the poor can’t be poor art,” said Stanford Thompson, founder of PlayOn. Thompson said he grew up the child of music educators who insisted on frequent practice and perseverence.

“Music didn’t make me smarter, but gave me a set of skills that were important.”


Three charter school networks picked as Broad Prize finalists
Politico By Caitlin Emma 05/01/2017 12:02 PM EDT

Three charter school networks were named finalists today for the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools: DSST Public Schools in Colorado, Harmony Public Schools in Texas and Success Academy Charter Schools in New York.

The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools is awarded to a large charter management organizations that demonstrates academic excellence — particularly when it comes to educating at-risk students. The $250,000 prize will be announced June 12 by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

DSST Public Schools operates a dozen middle and high schools that serve 5,000 students, the majority of whom are low-income or minority students. The average ACT score for DSST’s seniors was 23.3, which outpaces the state average of 20.4 and Denver Public Schools’ average of 18.6.

Success Academy Charter Schools was founded by Eva Moskowitz, who met with President Donald Trump last fall amid speculation that he would choose her for Education secretary. Last year, Success’ elementary and middle schools were considered among the top 10 percent of schools in New York state for advanced English, math and science performance.

Harmony Public Schools — the second largest charter school network in the country — serves 30,500 students, half of whom are Hispanic and nearly 60 percent of whom are low-income. The vast majority — or 98 percent — of Hispanic students graduated from high school, compared to the Texas state average of 87 percent.


Teach for America sees increase in applicants after years of decline

Politico By Caitlin Emma 05/03/2017 04:47 PM EDT

Teach for America is reporting a more than 30 percent spike in applicants — from 37,000 last year to 49,000 this year.

The increase comes after several years of steady declines in the number of applicants pursuing a spot in the organization, which places bright college grads in some of the nation’s most impoverished schools. Last year, TFA announced a major overhaul of its organizational structure that included a 15 percent reduction in employees in response to declining recruitment and revenue.

The number of applications for the 2017 class was still less than in 2013, when TFA had 57,000 applicants. But, the organization says an additional 4,000 students have already applied early for the 2018 class.

In a blog post, TFA’s CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard attributed the increase to a change in recruitment tactics and a more streamlined application process. The organization has been communicating with prospects differently, connecting them with TFA alumni and targeting them earlier in college.

“We’re seeing the impact of changes in our recruitment approach and application process and assessing the lessons from this year as we head into the 2018 recruiting season,” Villanueva Beard wrote.

She noted that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color, and nearly half identify as white. More than a third are the first in their families to attend college.”


Pearson shareholders reject $2M pay package for CEO
Politico By Caitlin Emma 05/05/2017 01:36 PM EDT

More than 60 percent of Pearson’s shareholders today voted against a pay package worth nearly $2 million for CEO John Fallon.

The vote comes after the London-based publishing giant announced today that it was exploring a sale of its K-12 curriculum business in the U.S., in addition to other cost-saving measures.

Fallon received a 20 percent pay increase last year, even as the company was restructuring and cutting 10 percent of its workforce amid harsh market conditions and historic losses, the Financial Times reports.

“We do not need millions of pounds paid for shoddy performance,” said shareholder John Farmer, according to Bloomberg.

Pearson isn’t bound by the vote on the executive pay package, which is only advisory in nature.

Fallon, facing calls to step down, has invested his bonus in Pearson shares in a bid to placate investors and give back to the company, the Guardian notes. Pearson Chairman Sidney Taurel and Chief Financial Officer Coram Williams also pledged to increase their shareholdings in the company today.