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Supreme Court Could Open the Door for Expansion of Vouchers

April 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Politico post led with an overview of Trinity Lutheran Church’s appeal to receive state funding for it’s sectarian schools, a case that could open the door to vouchers. Here are the the opening paragraphs:

SUPREME COURT COULD CLEAR ROADBLOCKS TO SCHOOL VOUCHERS: 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.

Prior to the GOP’s decision to “go nuclear” to get Mr. Gorsuch appointed, there was some speculation that the hearing scheduled for this case was the driving force behind that decision. With 35 states under GOP control and a President and Secretary of Education who are willing to promote vouchers for religious schools the time is ripe to get a case like this before the Supreme Court. There is, however, one possible fly in the ointment, as noted in the Politico piece:

– 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.

Should vouchers be allowed for religious schools a huge shift of funding will occur, draining money for public education that serves all children into the pockets of religious schools who currently serve generally affluent parents who can afford the tuition. Not only will such a decision have an economically unjust impact on our nation, but it will further erode the wall between church and state. Should the case be heard and decided, the battle for equity and separation of church and state will devolve to the states. Here’s hoping that voters will not support the repeal of Blaine amendments and the economic injustice that results.

Vacant Jobs in Science and Technology Have a Ripple Effect, and Public Education Will Be Affected

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

I cannot keep up with the adverse impact the Trump administration is having on public education. Today’s NYTimes reportoffers yet another example of how various “redundant” and “unnecessary” government agencies and jobs impact policies that have an impact on public schools. Cecilia Kang and Michael Shear that Mr. Trump has intentionally left scores of positions unfilled in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Why? Here’s one of his advisor’s response, and what Mr. Trump has stated publicly since then:

“Eliminating the O.S.T.P. (or at least electing not to staff it until Congress can act) would not block the president from access to science and technology advice,” James Jay Carafano, who advised Mr. Trump’s transition team, wrote in report issued last summer by the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Rather, it eliminates a formal office whose purpose is unclear and whose capabilities are largely redundant.”

Mr. Trump has echoed that sentiment, at least when it comes to government jobs over all.

Last month he responded to criticism about the high number of vacancies across his administration by telling Fox News that “a lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have.”

“You know, we have so many people in government, even me,” Mr. Trump said. “I look at some of the jobs and it’s people over people over people. I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.”

Ms. Kang and Mr. Shear describe what some of the people in O.S.T.P. have done in the past… and the list of tasks and accomplishments is impressive:

Mr. Obama turned to the science office during crises like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa; the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, Japan; and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The staff of the science office developed the White House’s recommendations for regulation of commercial drones and driverless cars at the Transportation Department. Last year, the staff produced an attention-grabbing report that raised concerns about the threat that robots posed to employment and that advocated retraining Americans for higher-skilled jobs. The staff also put on the annual White House science fair.

In 2011, when lawmakers proposed an online piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, internet architecture engineers on the team advised the president to veto the bill because of security and privacy issues it would create.

“The O.S.T.P. is the conduit for scientific perspective and scrutiny to the president and is a priority in White House decision making,” said Danny Weitzner, a former deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration and now the director of internet policy research at M.I.T.

Under Mr. Obama, the science and technology office included 19 policy advisers in the environment and energy division, 14 in the national security and international affairs division, nine in the science division and 20 in the technology and innovation division.

“We are all sitting on the edge of our seats hoping nothing catastrophic happens in the world,” said Phil Larson, a former senior science and technology adviser to Mr. Obama. “But if it does, who is going to be advising him?”

Current White House officials declined to say how many people remained in each division. But four former officials who recently left the office said that a wave of departures scheduled for Friday could potentially reduce the number of people left to a handful, not counting about eight administrative staff members.

Based on the hasty and ill-informed legislation on internet privacy making its way through Congress and Mr. Trump’s reported desire to end net neutrality it seems Mr. Trump would benefit from advice from scientists with technological know-how. When asked about the delay in filling the key positions, an unnamed spokesman for the President indicated Mr. Trump “… is still reviewing candidates to be his chief science adviser, (and he) considers the science and technology office important and will soon have a new staff for it.”

Actions speak louder than words, though…. and the evidence is overwhelming. Mr. Trump’s inaction on filling slots combined with a budget that recommends cuts of “…$5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health and $900 million, or about 20 percent, from the Energy Department’s Office of Science, which runs basic research at the national laboratories. The Environmental Protection Agency would be cut by 31 percent” show that he does not value science…. and that message will permeate into schools. As the President would say: “SAD!”

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President Trump’s Starving of USDOE Starts NOW!

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

In a post yesterday I shared a list of vacancies that exist in key positions in the USDOE and suggested that this was not a bug but a feature. Yesterday’s Politico feed reinforced that notion in it’s lead section on the $3,000,000,000 cut the President is proposing for THIS fiscal year, which has five months left:

After proposing a $9.2 billion cut to the Education Department’s budget for next year, the President Donald Trump is now calling on Congress to slash nearly $3 billion in education funding for the remaining five months of this fiscal year, according to a document obtained by POLITICO. The White House on Friday sent House and Senate appropriators detailed instructions on how they should craft spending legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, when the current stopgap spending bill expires.

– The Trump proposal seeks cuts across many federal agencies, but calls for the deepest reductions at the Education Department. The administration proposes $1.3 billion in cuts from the Pell grant program’s surplus this year – on top of the $3.9 billion proposed cut for next fiscal year. The CBO estimates the program will operate with a $10.6 billion surplus next year, but advocates for student aid and Congressional Democrats have blasted efforts to “raid” the Pell surplus and direct that money outside of financial aid programs.

– The White House is seeking to slash in half Title II, Part A funding for the current year. The program helps boost teacher and principal quality through professional development and also funds efforts to reduce class sizes. “Funding is poorly targeted and supports practices that are not evidence-based,” the administration wrote in the document. Trump’s “skinny budget” for next fiscal year called for eliminating the $2.4 billion program entirely.

– Also on the chopping blockfor elimination this year: A $47 million program that provides grants to school districts and other organizations to support physical education programs and a $49 million competitive grant program that provides money for elementary and secretary school counseling. The White House is also proposing to nix a $152 million program to boost math and science instruction and a $189 million program called Striving Readers that provides competitive grants to states to improve literacy instruction. All of those programs were eliminated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which created a new large state block grant for those types of support and enrichment activities. But that grant program isn’t currently funded under the continuing resolution.

– The Trump plan calls for reductions this year to other agencies that affect education: National Institutes of Health (3.8 percent cut); National Science Foundation (5 percent cut); NASA (nearly 1 percent cut); National Endowment for the Arts (10 percent cut); National Endowment for the Humanities (10 percent cut); and educational and cultural exchange programs at the State Department (23.7 percent cut).

– But the request for cuts – which would be absorbed by federal agencies between April 28 and Sept. 30 – could prove to be too little, too late from the White House, report POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller Evich and Sarah Ferris. Top Congressional appropriators have indicated that they’re prepared to reject Trump’s calls to gut programs they deem important – and some have said the White House weigh in too late in the appropriations process to affect the outcome for the current fiscal year.

The last section indicates that the first portions might be a purely political ploy… but the first sections DO reinforce the intentions of the Trump administration to diminish programs that help the less affluent children and to slash programs in the arts. The federal role in public education in the Trump/GOP administration will be to funnel block grants to states to use as they choose… and the choice in many states will be to diminish taxes and not enhance equity.

More on Frank Edelblut’s Appointment

March 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the weekend I was out of town and unable to offer an extended reaction to Rob Wolfe’s excellent Valley News article on Frank Edelblut. Let me begin with a recap of the facts to date:

  • Last year, after two full years of disputes over the issue of their tuition practices, the Croydon School Board was sued by the State Department of Education for violating state laws that prohibit the use of public funds to send children to private schools. As a result of their “heroic” efforts to institute school choice in the face of State Departments, Croydon became the darling of conservative publications and “reform” publications like The 74.
  • To fund the costs of their suit, Croydon Board members raised funds on line, and one of their donors was a wealthy but relatively unknown conservative State legislator, Frank Edelblut.
  • In response to this suit, the NH Legislature passed a bill enabling districts like Croydon, that do not have public schools that serve children at all grade levels, to tuition their children to private schools. Relatively unknown conservative State legislator Frank Edelblut was one the legislators who offered full support for the bill.
  • Then Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed the bill and it died.
  • Relatively unknown conservative State legislator Frank Edelblut ran for governor against the establishment candidate, Chris Sununu, and was narrowly defeated in the primary.
  • Once elected as Governor, Chris Sununu nominated Frank Edelblut to become Commissioner of Education, an appointment that required approval by the five-member Executive Council.
  • The five-member council approved of Mr. Edelblut’s appointment by a 3-2 vote along party lines.
  • During the course of the approval process, the Valley News in Lebanon, NH, sought information on the donors to the Croydon Board, who initially pushed back on the basis that the names of the donors to a public school was not public. When that assertion was contested, Mr. Edelblut confirmed to the Valley News and to one of the Democratic Party members protesting his appointment that he donated $1,000 to support Croydon’s suit against the State Department of Education.
  • Following the appointment of Mr. Edelblut last week, the Valley News received copies of email correspondence between Croydon School Board members and Mr. Edelblut.

Which brings us to the content to those emails, which was the focal point of Saturday’s Valley News article. Two sections of the article regarding the exchange of emails between Croydon School Board members and Mr. Edelblut were particularly noteworthy:

Emails obtained this week by the Valley News through records requests for contacts between Edelblut and members of the Croydon School Board indicate that he and Jody Underwood corresponded frequently in the past year or so, including when Edelblut was running for governor.

Jody Underwood in late 2016 emailed back and forth with Edelblut, discussing amendments to the proposed legislation, which eventually passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.

Sununu, who was elected in November and also supported the Croydon bill last year, said he looks forward to signing the latest iteration, which already has passed both chambers but requires reconciliation before reaching his desk.

Last March, Underwood invited Edelblut to a public forum in Croydon to discuss a judge’s decision to block the School Board from sending students to the private Newport Montessori School using public money.

Three of those children are related to the sitting chairwoman, Angi Beaulieu.

WAIT! The Chairman of a local school board has adopted a budget that effectively pays her children’s tuition to a private school and this is fully supported by the “choice” movement. In effect, the taxpayers in the small town of Croydon are paying roughly $21,000 (@ $7,000/year) for the children of the board chairman to attend a private school.

The other section of the article that I found problematic was this:

Early last month, when Edelblut had been nominated but not yet confirmed as commissioner, Underwood emailed him to ask whether she should respond to a Valley News request for comment for a story about him and Betsy DeVos.

At the time, the nomination of Edelblut, a business executive who had home-schooled his children, spurred comparisons to that of DeVos, a conservative megadonor chosen as secretary of education by President Donald Trump.

The correspondence continued after Edelblut was confirmed, with Underwood reaching out to schedule meetings, suggest regulatory changes and, in one instance, submit a proposal for an “accountability” policy that questions the value of tenure for teachers.

“In all of this, there need to be consequences for failure,” the six-page treatise written by Jody Underwood reads. “If there are not, then there is no accountability. As far as I can tell, tenure has no accountability.

“Perhaps after teachers have proven themselves consistently effective over a course of years they can have some level of job security (which they would, just by being effective). But to gain tenure after three years of teaching with no further requirements just seems too easy. Why does tenure exist in the first place? Is it a solution to a problem that no longer exists? Or does it still solve an existing problem? If so, are there other solutions that would give what we want (job security for good teachers) without also giving what we don’t want (job security for poor teachers)?”

This section was of particular interest to me since I sent a copy of the Open Letter to Mr. Edelblut, which was published in the Valley News, directly to his State Department e-mail and have heard nothing from him. It IS possible that my earlier correspondence to the Executive Council questioning his qualifications was a factor in his reluctance to correspond with me… but it may be that the advice I offered contradicted his views on public education.

School Choice in Iowa, a Preview of Other States, Hitting Some Bumps

March 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an extended article by Dana Goldstein profiling the problems the Iowa legislature is wrestling with as it tries to expand its system of vouchers, a system that is a preview of where other states are attempting to move and a precursor to the kind of system Betsy DeVos is advocating for all public schools. As Goldstein writes, the problems aren’t coming from just public school advocates:

Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state.

Fiscal conservatives have long been more concerned with taxes than with the well being of children and the disadvantaged students. But in Iowa, it is evident that fiscal conservatives and religious conservatives are in different camps and when the price tag for publicly funded private schools increased the fiscal conservatives aligned with the pro-public school groups. As a result, many of the bills that would increase choice and/or increase funding for “Education Savings Accounts” are stalled in both houses of the state legislature.

There is one ray of hope in Iowa, though. The head of the religious school profiled in the Times article expressed some misgivings about the impact Education Savings Accounts was having on the disadvantaged children in his state.

Mr. Te Grotenhuis (the head of the Christian school profiled in the article) hopes that more low-income families in Pella will choose his school if one of the education savings account proposals becomes law.

But opposition from his counterparts in the public system gave him pause. “If we start E.S.A.s and cause a negative impact on the public schools, I wouldn’t support that,” he said, referring to the education savings accounts. “It comes down to ‘love thy neighbor.’”

Maybe Mr. Te Grotenhuis can influence one of his legislators to think the same way. If that happens, we may see religious schools refusing to accept any state funds in the future.

Calling a For Profit Cyber School Receiving Public Money a “Public School” is Misleading and Disingenuous

March 18, 2017 Leave a comment

On Thursday afternoon, Common Dreams posted education reporter Jeff Bryant’s latest Education Opportunity Network article, “What Betsy DeVos Means When She Says “Public Schools” on their website today… and it is an understatement to say her definition of “public schools” is misleading. As Mr. Bryant notes, there is an effort underway across the country to rebrand “…for-profit virtual charters and private school recipients of taxpayer-backed vouchers as public schools.” Such re-branding is misleading and disingenuous. These schools play by different rules. They are deregulated, not subject to the same accountability standards as public schools, and not governed by publicly elected officials. They are no more a public institution than a bouncer at a bar or a security guard at a department store are “policemen.” While the bouncer and security guard perform some of the same functions as a police officer, they have far less training, a far narrower scope of responsibility, and are not answerable to the public. If police departments heard that bouncers and security guards were “re-branded” as public policeman they’d be annoyed. Yet people seem to think public school teachers should be unperturbed when for profit institutions or virtual instruction enterprises are called “public schools.”

But, as Mr. Bryant notes, the public is generally unaware of the differences between charter schools and bona fide public schools, and this lack of understanding has created an opening for opportunistic charter profiteers:

These important differences between charter schools and traditional public schools are not generally understood or appreciated by even the most knowledgeable people, which is why charter advocates put so much energy and resources in marketing their operations as “public” schools.

Jeff Bryant concludes his article with this:

School choice proponents like DeVos often argue that all that matters is whether students who attend charters, online schools, and private academies do well on standardized tests and that parents are generally satisfied with these choices.

But this argument ignores the tax-paying public that deserves to know whether those outcomes are being achieved without wasting our public dollars, which more often than not, they probably are.

If a school is governed by a board elected by the voters, adheres to regulations developed by a state agency in accordance with laws passed by elected officials, and is held to standards set by elected officials or their appointees, it is a “public” school. Anything else is anti-democratic and private and should not receive any public funds from taxpayers.

A Deeper Dive into the Trump-GOP Budget: $$$ for Wars, Cuts for Peace, Poverty Programs, and Children

March 17, 2017 Leave a comment

David IngoldChloe WhiteakerMichael Keller and Hannah Recht, three Bloomberg writers, posted an article Thursday that identified 19 agencies that would be completely eliminated and “at least 61 other programs” that would lose funding altogether in the Trump-GOP budget. They also identify those programs that stand to gain from the cuts. The verbiage in the article itself is as spare as the spending will be for social programs:

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal includes massive cuts across most of the federal government. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture face unprecedented discretionary funding cuts in excess of 25 percent, as Trump attempts to boost the military and national security.

Trump’s budget also proposes eliminating discretionary funding altogether for at least 19 agencies and 61 other programs. Plans for new NASA missions, climate change research, aid for low-income families and funding for commercial flights to rural airports would all be on the chopping block. Trump says many of these programs are inefficient or duplicative. All this could change; Trump will deliver a final budget in May and Congress would have to approve the cuts—something they have often resisted in the past.

The cuts to the EPA should be no surprise to anyone given the GOP platform. The GOP does not want anyone to sacrifice their truck or SUVs, their 72 degree homes, or the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity. The EPA, on the other hand, exists to defend the environment against degradation.

The cuts to agriculture seem surprising at first glance. But an examination of the programs listed in the Bloomberg article indicate three programs that will be eliminated as part those cuts:

Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program

◦ Provides funding for clean drinking water, sanitary sewage disposal and storm-water drainage programs in rural areas.

Rural Business and Cooperative Service’s discretionary programs

◦ Provides financial assistance for economic development programs in rural communities, including renewable energy and biofuel initiatives.

McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program

◦ Supports education, child development and food security initiatives in low-income, food-deficit countries around the world.

These cuts are consistent with the GOP’s desire to deregulate everything and oppose any federal efforts to move away from fossil fuels in favor of clean energy initiatives. They also show the GOPs desire to move away from any efforts toward international governance, towards sharing the largesse of our nation with other countries around the world in the same way the party opposes sharing the largesse of the wealthiest individuals with those who are most in need in our nation.

The cuts to education programs were described broadly in an earlier post. Here are some specific education programs that will be completely unfunded:

Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants

◦ Provides grants to non-profit organizations that recruit and provide professional enhancement for teachers and principals.

21st Century Community Learning Centers

◦ Supports community learning centers that provide before-and after-school programs for children, particularly those in high-poverty areas.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

◦ Provides need-based grants of up to $4,000 to low-income undergraduates for postsecondary education.

Striving Readers

◦ Helps states fund literacy programs for children, birth through grade 12, including those with disabilities and limited English.

Teacher Quality Partnership

◦ Funds initiatives aimed at improving the quality of new teachers through better development and recruiting methods.

Impact Aid Support Payments for Federal Property

◦ Provides funding to school districts that have a diminished tax base due to federal property ownership in the district.

As the underscored and italicized sections indicate, three of these programs are targeted for low income and/or disabled and immigrant students with the other two targeted for new teachers who often serve those same students. The cuts to Health and Human Services programs reinforce the GOPs intent to move away from international governance and providing a safety net for those living in poverty:

Fogarty International Center

◦ Supports global health research initiatives, including infectious disease research in developing countries.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

◦ Provides assistance to low income families to help pay for their home’s energy bills and some energy-related maintenance.

Community Services Block Grant

◦ Funds projects aimed at reducing poverty in communities, including projects focused on education, nutrition, employment and housing.

And the Housing and Urban Development cuts amplify the GOPs intent to shred the safety net for those in poverty:

Community Development Block Grant Program

◦ Funds programs that assist low-income people with housing issues, including the elimination of urban blight and other community programs.

HOME Investment Partnerships Program

◦ Provides block grants to state and local governments to create affordable housing solutions for low-income households.

Choice Neighborhoods

◦ Funds programs to replace distressed public housing and promotes investment for neighborhood improvement.

Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program

◦ Funds nonprofit organizations that build new housing for low-income families through sweat equity and volunteer labor.

Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing

◦ Works with nonprofit groups to fund community development and affordable housing initiatives aimed at low-income families.

And wait… there are even MORE cuts that impact education and children raised in poverty.

  • NASA’s Office of Education a program that “Supports education in public elementary and secondary schools and informal settings, coordinates and disseminates findings of NASA research projects” is cut completely;
  • The National Endowment for the Arts, an agency that supports programs in public schools across the country;
  • The National Endowment for Humanities, an agency that provides grants to public school teachers and schools themselves;
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services, an agency that “…supports libraries and museums through research, policy development and grant making”;
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service, an agency that funds “…thousands of volunteer organizations across the country and runs AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and the Social Innovation Fund”;
  • The Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation an agency that assists organizations who strive to revitalize rural, urban and suburban communities and help individuals secure access to affordable housing;
  • The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an agency that “…coordinates with federal agencies to prevent and end homelessness.

And on top of all of those programs and agencies the budget completely eliminates four regional commissions, the Appalachian, Delta Regional, Denali, and Northern Border Regional, that offer support to those in those geographic areas who need government help to develop businesses in 24 states where jobs are difficult to find.

And low income individuals seeking legal assistance will no longer have the Legal Services Corporation to turn to… and last, but not least, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will no longer receive any federal support if this budget is adopted.

One only needs to look at the GOP platform to see the source of the thinking behind this budget. If more money needs to be spent on war and the budget needs to be balanced, something needs to be cut because it is a given in the GOP platform that taxes cannot be increased. Since the GOP is opposed to “handouts” for those in poverty, is opposed to international organizations who strive for peace, and is opposed to regulations of any kind—especially those that support clean air and clean water, this is what the GOP has to offer. And make no mistake: this IS the GOP’s budget, not President Trump’s.