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How the coronavirus pandemic is impacting America’s youngest students — and their families

Elementary school teachers are facing a doubly difficult challenge — they must prepare to hold school online while making sure their students understand the situation at hand.

DeVos explains proposal for fiscal year 2021 budget at Senate subcommittee hearing

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the federal government cannot continue to increase spending for primary and secondary education while shifting power and control back to teachers.

Across South Carolina, college campuses find ways to get out the vote for Democrats

Politically active students at all three schools underscored the importance of voting — and of educating their peers on how to vote.

Flexibility or rollback? Experts clash on impact of USDA’s proposed changes to school meal regulations

Under the Jan. 17 changes proposed by the USDA, schools would have more flexibility in the types of foods that fall under the umbrella of vegetables. The regulations would also give states more time to review school districts’ meal programs, from the current requirement of once every three years to five years.

Experts advocate for national childcare reform, subsidies

At a House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, policies testified on need for child care subsidies.



WASHINGTON — Students across the country designed cities that will meet the rising threat of natural disasters while maintaining innovative solutions in transportation, waste management and electrical power. The designs were developed for the annual Future City Competition, which encourages middle school students to create innovative solutions for emerging urban challenges.

The winning team designed a futuristic city capable of handling environmental disasters such as flooding with its protected hydroelectric power grids.

The team from Warwick Middle School in Pennsylvania presented their model city, called Toyama, to a panel of judges on Feb. 19 at the 27th Future City Competition finals. They were among forty-three teams that travelled to Washington, D.C. for the two-day final after winning regional competitions in January.

A student from the Alabama team was dressed as a tornado for the final presentation of her city, called Emerald City. (HENRY ERLANDSON/MNS)

Other finalists included teams from regions in Idaho, Alabama, New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic. The Alabama team grabbed second place with its Emerald City in Kansas, which featured an underground power grid to address the threat of tornadoes.

As a result of placing first, Central Pennsylvania won a $7,500 grant for their school’s STEM program and a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

This year’s theme was “Powering Our Future” and more than 40,000 students were tasked with creating the city best equipped to deal with natural disasters.

Teams of students, including several from China and Canada, spent months creating cities for the competition, which included five deliverables: a project plan, virtual city design, model, presentation and essay.

The Future City Competition, sponsored by Shell Oil Company, Bentley Systems and the Bechtel Corporation, hopes to inspire young students to start thinking about challenges in fields of engineering and science by constructing futuristic cities.

David Wilson, chief innovation officer at the Bechtel Corporation, told the students how impressed he was by the different cities.

“I’m so inspired by looking at the sparks of ideas from the teams. They will manifest themselves in new ways as you go up through your career and education,” Wilson said.

A team from China enters the ballroom with their city poster during the final day. (HENRY ERLANDSON/MNS)

Thea Sahr, the director of programs at DiscoverE, which hosts the Future City event each year, said the competition showcases the students’ prodigious talent and consistently astonishes the adults who help run the competition.

“They’re always blown away by the caliber of the students’ solutions and everyone kind of leaves here feeling really buoyed and very upbeat about what the future holds because these kids really are remarkable,” Sahr said.


WASHINGTON — House Democrats Tuesday called on Republicans to join them in supporting child nutrition programs from President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal that would cut $1.7 billion in funding.

Trump’s budget plan, announced Monday, would leave 1.3 million children without free school meals, said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services.

“We know that many communities do face challenges in feeding their children, and as a Congress, we should do more, not less, to address these issues,” said Bonamici. “Unfortunately, yesterday the president made clear he does not share these goals.”

Child nutrition programs – the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program and the Summer Food Service Program – provide meals for more than 30 million children.

According to Kentucky Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the subcommittee, participation in child nutrition programs has decreased at least in part because of an increase in cafeteria operations costs, administrative paperwork, compliance rules and food waste have increased.

“However well-intentioned these requirements may be, they are limiting program effectiveness and causing students to forgo the meals they need,” said Comer. “Kids deserve healthy and nutritious meals at school, but if the federal government mandates meals that students won’t eat, then Washington is categorically failing to combat hunger.”

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., said that the guidelines included by the Obama administration in the 2010 child nutrition law renewal are inefficient and overfunded. The act provides federal funding and oversight for the major child nutrition programs.

“Review of that act is long overdue,” said Thompson.

In the past, House Republicans have pushed for block grants in place of child nutrition programs to give states more flexibility in how they distribute funding to districts with students facing food insecurity.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior and School Nutrition Association – national advocacy groups for childhood nutrition programs – released a report last spring that recommended strategies to maximize the current child nutrition programs. The report opposed  block grant funding for school meals.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, said in a telephone interview block grants are a “dangerous policy” that would shift funds away from the students in school meal programs and are especially harmful to communities hit by natural disasters.

“We are strongly opposed to any plan that block grant school meals. There are real dangers and you don’t need to look any further than the communities that have been ravaged by disasters. These communities would not receive additional funds to pay for students in need,” said Pratt-Heavner. “That could be devastating.”

Donna Martin, director of the school nutrition program for Burke County Public Schools in Georgia, told the subcommittee that her rural schools provide free and reduced lunches to 89 percent of their students.

Martin said more federal funding is needed to allow greater flexibility for schools and healthier meals for students in need.

“This makes it even more critical that we keep participation high by providing healthy, balanced and appealing meals to the students,” said Martin. “I am not here today to tell you that it is easy, but I am here to tell you that it is possible to meet nutrition standards and be financially solvent.”

Bonamici, along with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., plans to reintroduce a bill from two years ago that would expand access to nutritious meals for young children by improving the existing Child and Adult Care Food Program through greater support of families who rely on full-day child care, a reduction in paperwork and streamlined guidelines.

“By expanding access to nutritious food, our nation’s children can lead healthier lives,” said Bonamici.

For Martin, the federal government and states should work together to provide every student with a healthy breakfast and lunch. “Why is it the case that there are free books, free transportation, free computers but not free meals?”

Senators seek to find best ways to make college more affordable

WASHINGTON — Senators continued to clash over how much reform is needed to “make college worth students’ time and money” Tuesday, with Republicans supporting $15 billion in
cuts and Democrats pushing for debt-free college degrees.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was once again trying to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which expired in 2013 and controls 75 percent of federal student aid. Although not reauthorized for the usual four to six years, the measure was extended to allow Congress to work on changes.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the bill should simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, an idea that many Democrats support. Alexander wants the Senate to pass a reauthorization that does not increase spending by the end of 2019.

“There are not many things U.S. senators can do to cause 20 million American families to say, ‘Thank you,’” Alexander said. “After five years of bipartisan work, we are ready to do just that…Congress is now ready to take the final step to make it easier for those families to apply for federal financial aid.”

Last year, lawmakers failed to find a compromise between the House Democrats’ Aim Higher Act — which would have reauthorized the Higher Education Act while requiring states to invest more in public universities to get more federal money — and a Republican reauthorization proposal that would have cut billions from higher education spending.

Alexander laid out his three-part plan to help students afford college in February, saying the reauthorization should cut FAFSA from 108 questions to about 20, create a new way to repay student loans and institute an accountability system that would hold colleges responsible for the loan repayment rates of their graduates.

Both parties said this year they are committed to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act but their plans remain far apart. The Democrats’ proposal would create a path for students to graduate without debt from a combination of state and federal funds, while the Republicans’ proposal would cut $15 billion from student aid, keeping only Pell Grants.

An aide from a top Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee said Democrats will oppose cutting funds.

Clare McCann, deputy director of federal policy at the progressive think tank New America, praised the bipartisan agreement on the need to simplify both FAFSA and the overall system. She added that it is important to find ways to streamline the process without making significant funding cuts.

“Simplification can’t mean cutting,” McCann said. “We already have too little money in the higher education system.”

Senate Democrats said the bill should expand and strengthen federal financial aid programs such as investing more in Pell Grants. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said simplifying FAFSA is only one step in the process.

“While I agree we must do more to remove barriers that discourage students from seeking and receiving financial support from which they qualify under current law, we must also… help students in need afford the true costs of college and earn a higher education without taking on suffocating debt,” Baldwin said.

The fight over how to make college more affordable will continue as Congress considers President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, which he released Monday. The plan would reduce the number of repayment plans, cut federal work study program spending and eliminate the public service loan forgiveness program, which allows government and not-for profit employees to have their student loans canceled after 10 years of on-time payments.


WASHINGTON –Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday that arts education is important for childhood development and deserves greater attention while praising students with disabilities who were selected to have their art on display at The Kennedy Center.

The 17 children from the U.S. and other countries including Pakistan, South Korea, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia had submitted their work for the exhibit “Yo Soy…Je Suis…I am…Motivated to Create”, sponsored by the Department of Education’s Student Art Exhibit Program in partnership with The Kennedy Center’s VSA International Art Program for Children with Disabilities.

“Arts education is essential to every student because it builds critical thinking, helps them connect ideas, problem solve, express themselves and really ties their learning together across subjects,” said Mario Rossero, senior vice president of education at The Kennedy Center. “It really is a critical part of everyday learning for their own growth and development.”

Dominic Borrayo, a student at School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens in Washington who was awarded the 2019 Yo Soy Artist award, said art is crucial for kids like him to express themselves and connect with peers about activities they share in common.

“I think art is important to me because it shows how you feel about one thing and you want to show it to others,” said Borrayo.

Along with the exhibit, students performed stand-up poetry, rapped songs and discussed how art was important to their lives.

Malik Claiborne, a local student who rapped at the exhibit as a featured performance, said that he uses music to keep the love for art alive in his family.

“I like music. I grew up around music,” said Claiborne. “I can keep the generation going. People can say your ‘grandmother was a great singer’, and she was a singer. It connects me to her and my family.”

Children like Malik have benefited from the support for arts education across the country that is featured in DeVos’ agenda both as a leader of the Department of Education and private citizen.

DeVos stands with Rossero, Borrayo, and other students at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MNS)Local DC students discuss why musical and visual art is important to their lives and future goals. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MNS)Mya C. is one of 17 children selected across the United States and abroad to display their art at the 2019 VSA International Children's Art Exhibit. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MNS)Malik Claiborne, 11, is a local DC student who rapped at the opening of the exhibit as a featured performer and talked about his love for art. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MNS)Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Mario Rossero, senior vice president of education at The Kennedy Center, talk during the opening the of the exhibit. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MNS)

DeVos and her husband Dick privately donated $22.5 million to The Kennedy Center to create a management training program for arts leaders in 2010.

In February 2018, DeVos and the Department of Education awarded an $8 million grant to The Kennedy Center to support national arts education projects and services for children, with special emphasis on serving students from low-income families and students with disabilities.

The previous Art in Education grant, which was also awarded to The Kennedy Center in 2015 during the Obama administration, totaled $6.5 million.

“Children deserve the opportunity to express themselves. Art functions as a creative outlet for kids across the country and supports their personal development,” said Rossero.

In Oregon, a Lawsuit Aimed at Supporting Disabled Students

WASHINGTON — A first-of-its-kind lawsuit charging that the state of Oregon has failed to provide full school days to students with mental, emotional and behavioral disabilities could create a model for other states to stop the practice of shortening school days.


The class action lawsuit – filed Jan. 22 in U.S. district court by Disability Rights Oregon and other groups – says Oregon violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by the “unnecessary segregation” of children with disabilities. The lawsuit alleges that schools in Oregon, mainly in rural areas, send students home on a regular, sometimes daily basis, for all or parts of the school day, citing behavior issues or safety concerns stemming from behavioral, mental and emotional disorders such as autism.


Joel Greenberg, a Disability Rights Oregon attorney, says the practice often makes disabled students feel “that they don’t belong in school.”


The problem usually occurs in rural districts that often do not have the resources to hire behavioral specialists or specially trained staff members to help students diagnosed with mild or severe autism or other disabilities. Instead, Greenberg says, the districts send the students home early. (Students who are sent home sometimes receive tutoring instead.)


A spokesman says the Oregon Department of Education cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but “is committed to equity and excellence for every learner.”


In Hillsboro School District, just outside of Portland, Beth Graser, the district’s chief communications officer, says the district creates an individualized education program, or IEP, with specialized staff for students who are placed on a shortened school day.


An IEP team would create such a plan if a student has health issues that prevent her or him from full-day attendance or is not able to “regulate their behavior in a way that is safe” during a regular school day, she says, and it would include a process to reintegrate the student into a full day.


Graser emphasized that shortened days are temporary, used only in “extreme circumstances” and agreed to by parents and the IEP team.


“Students never need to ‘earn’ their way into a full day of school,” Graser wrote in an email.


Still, Greenberg says, “What the children learned from this experience is that they don’t belong in school. And they take that hard.”

The Oregon lawsuit is the first to target the state itself for the systemic practice of shortening school days instead of going after individual school districts. Greenberg says that it could lead to a shift in responsibility from individual school districts to states for ensuring that students receive a full day of education.


The problem is not limited to Oregon. Advocates and attorneys in other states, including North and South DakotaMontanaMaineNew HampshireTexasOhioMichiganMinnesotaWashington state and California, say they have received complaints from parents whose children’s schools days have been shortened without following proper procedures.


Oregon and Maine have passed laws that regulate shortened school days, but they’re too weak, Greenberg says. The Oregon law, which went into effect for the 2017-2018 school year, requires that school districts provide parents or guardians with a notice if their child is placed on a formal shortened school day program, but provides no punishment for noncompliance nor any requirement or money for schools to have specialized staff.


The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has investigated school districts across the country for these practices, but declined to comment on its efforts. According to the department’s documents, the investigations are usually resolved by the school district saying it will stop the practice and provide tutoring for the student affected.


Diane Smith Howard, an attorney with the National Disability Rights Network, says the Department of Education does not require states to report the number of students given shortened days, unlike suspensions and expulsions, so it is hard to prove a systemic problem in many states.


“This is a practice that has swelled in darkness,” Howard says.


Sivan Tuchman, a research analyst at the nonpartisan Center on Reinventing Public Education, says placing a student on a shortened day should be rare, but – when used correctly – may enable some students, such as those with depression or who undergo chemotherapy, to continue their education.


Tuchman says when she was in school more than 20 years ago in California, she went on a shortened day schedule to help meet her academic goals while she battled depression.


Jolene Sanders – an advocacy manager at Easterseals Texas, an organization that aims to create opportunities for individuals with disabilities – says when her son entered a preschool program in San Marcos, Texas, for children with disabilities nearly a decade ago, she began getting called to pick him up for behaviors ranging from disrupting other students to getting tired, which could trigger “challenging behaviors.”


Sanders says the shortened school days were never officially a part of her son’s IEP and the proper review was never conducted. She does not dispute that he had behavioral challenges while he was there.


“We just got into this cycle of wondering what time I was going to get called to pick up,” Sanders says. “Sometimes it was really like literally he just got off the bus (at school).”


Tal Goldin, an attorney at Disability Rights Montana, says the case could have a particular effect in Montana because, like Oregon, it is in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction, but also noted that rulings from that appeals court often set trends nationwide.


Special education attorney Steve Aleman says the Oregon case has created a “buzz” around the issue, which has empowered parents in other states, such as Texas, to start advocating.


According to a survey conducted by Easterseals Texas, Disability Rights Texas and Texas Appleseed, early pickup was one of the informal discipline techniques used in K-12 schools throughout the state. Ninety-five percent of the 211 parents surveyed who said their child was experiencing early pickups also said their child had a disability. Sanders says the students ranged from those with “severe disabilities” to those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or mild anxiety.


“Folks are just kind of coming out of the woodwork and realizing, ‘This wasn’t just happening to my kid,'” Sanders says.

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WASHINGTON — Educators from the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Africa pushed Tuesday for schools across the globe to become better equipped to help children who have experienced trauma through different approaches to their education.

“There is a need in schools for educators to understand how trauma impacts children’s early development. Trauma is a worldwide crisis,” said Julie Bheem, executive director of the Attachment & Trauma Network Inc. at the second annual 2019 Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Conference.

Trauma-informed instruction recognizes that many children across the country have experienced trauma that impacts their behavior and learning while taking a new approach to shaping education culture and policies sensitive to students with different cultural backgrounds, Bheem said.

Studies show that thousands of children have experienced abuse, neglect, discrimination, violence, and other adverse experiences in their early childhood development, experts said. And the increase in school shootings is a trauma trend that requires new training for educators who work with students involved in a shooting incident.

According to a 2015 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. Furthermore, the national average of child abuse and neglect victims in 2013 was 679,000, or 9.1 victims per 1,000 children.

Among the changes recommended by educators: more psychological and mental health services, training teachers to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in individual children and families, and providing resources on how to prevent retraumatization or inadvertently reminding students of their traumatic experiences.

Dr. Melissa Sadin, who serves as director of special education in Morris County, New Jersey and provides professional training to districts across the country seeking trauma-informed education, said her son Theo’s story is similar to many children across the world who have been unintentionally retraumatized at their schools.

Sadin said change to how educators are trained is necessary to accommodate students impacted by trauma.

“My husband and I found Theo at a Bulgarian orphanage when he was two. It took us a year to get him out and he clearly experienced a lot of trauma,” said Sadin. “My son represents half the population of children who were hurt in schools emotionally, and in some cases physically, not with intention but with lack of knowledge. When we are harming children, that is urgent.”

The movement of trauma-informed education has received attention at a federal level.

In 2018, the Trauma-Informed Schools Act was introduced to the House of Representatives five days before the beginning of the government shutdown.

The bill was intended to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to provide the use of federal funds to support trauma-informed practices in schools.

However, the bill never made it to a vote.

The Department of Education and American Institutes for Research created a joint initiative known as the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environment, which provides online resources and a training package about trauma-informed education.

Teachers like Emily Hale, who works at a Virginia elementary school, insist that these resources and training are useful but must be supplemented by federal funding, greater congressional action, and national awareness.

“I think leaders need to know that mental health is a huge issue in our society and we as teachers see it everyday,” said Hale. “We can’t worry about teaching when our kids are going through so much that they can’t learn. It’s important we get that financial backing. We aren’t being greedy. We are thinking of the kids we teach.”

Democrats urge more school infrastructure spending after teachers walk out across the nation

WASHINGTON – As teachers from Los Angeles to West Virginia have gone on strike to demand more pay and funding for their schools, House Education and Labor Committee Democrats on Tuesday urged passage of their $100 billion plan to improve public school infrastructure.

Both Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., and ranking member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., expressed concerns about the recent strikes in California, Colorado, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona but Democrats proposed more federal funding while Republicans called for less federal control.

A 2016 State of our Schools report from the Center for Green Schools, 21st Century School Fund and the National Council on School Facilities found that, on average, public schools are underfunded by $46 billion compared to best-practice standards.

The underfunding of public school infrastructure has led to mold outbreaks, lack of heating or air conditioning, leaking ceilings and contaminated water, said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. She said that on average teachers pay around $500 out of pocket for classroom materials and may “forsake their own salaries” to provide for their students.

“We send our children to schools in these conditions, and we expect them to thrive,” Weingarten said. “Our children deserve better”

Scott called for fully funding Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which supports public schools with large numbers of students living in poverty, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which gives grants to offset costs of the supporting students with disabilities.

He added that his bill — the Rebuild America Schools Act, which he introduced on Jan. 30 — would provide $100 billion to improve the digital and physical infrastructure of schools in low-income communities.

“The combination of chronic federal and state underfunding in public education has left many
schools at a literal breaking point,” Scott said. “This should be a bipartisan effort.”

Foxx said the best solutions for these issues come from local communities and that the Democrats’ plans for “more money, more bureaucracy” have not properly addressed teacher pay and school infrastructure.

Foxx urged consideration of plans that would spur the private sector to invest in impoverished communities to generate more local funding.

“When it comes to these two issues — teacher pay and school construction — Democrats have not had a new idea in decades,” Foxx said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school spending per student increased by 37 percent between 1992 and 2016, though teacher salaries declined by around 1 percent.

Ben Scafidi, director of the education economics center at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said the spending increase went to an increase in staff and not teacher salaries. He said a better alternative is giving families the option to enroll their students in charter and private schools.

Democrats said the staff increases went to essential school personnel, such as nurses, librarians, guidance counselors and bus drivers, which Scafidi said are necessary in schools.

“Literally decades of history tells us that there will be significant increases in the employment of all other staff, stagnant teacher salaries and stagnant outcomes for American students,” Scafidi said.

Republicans said the committee must look at the quality of education that students are receiving due to the current spending levels.

“We are investing more and more and more but it’s not going to the teachers,” said Rep. Van Taylor, R-TX.

Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., said she agrees with Republicans that lawmakers must look to local communities and schools for solutions but said Congressional funding for public education is an important investment.

“We are thinking that it’s one or the other: pay teachers or improve facilities,” Hayes said. “I want both. It’s not a tradeoff.”


WASHINGTON –Democrats on Wednesday proposed spending $100 billion over 10 years to build new schools and improve existing schools nationwide, especially in low-income communities.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, called on the Trump administration to “address a truly national emergency” by supporting the legislation.

Reed, whose father was a school custodian, said his father worked hard to “keep schools safe and clean for the kids.”

“There is a whole generation of people doing that but it’s harder because these buildings are 45 years old,” he said. “They haven’t been maintained as well as they should have been.”

The bill, which has 153 co-sponsors, is one of the major items on the agenda of the House Education and Labor Committee, according to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the committee.

A 2016 State of Our Schools Report published by the 21st Century School Fund, National Council on School Facilities, and The Center for Green Schools found an annual state and local spending gap of $46 billion on school facilities.

“The average age of a school building is 50 years old,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the U.S. “Neglected buildings and infrastructure are making our students and educators sick. It takes money to fix a sick building.”

The proposal would specifically target low-income schools through a $70 billion grant program and a $30 billion tax credit bond program. According to a 2018 report from The Education Trust,
school districts that serve large populations of students of color and low-income families receive far less funding than their white, affluent counterparts.

“Some kids in low-income schools don’t have access to high speed internet,” said García. “It’s something we must address.”

Along with this infrastructure investment, federal, state, and local resources would be leveraged to expand access to high-speed broadband and develop a national database on the current condition of public schools. The legislation also requires that the Government Accountability Office to report within two years on projects that have been completed.

“We have to develop the intellectual capital to deal with these technologies that are coming along so rapidly. That begins in elementary schools with (science, technology, engineering and math) training,” said Reed. “If the schools are inadequate and laboratories don’t exist, we will never stay ahead. In fact, we will fall behind.”

In a December 2018 poll conducted by POLITICO and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, over 65 percent of Democrats and Republicans said increasing K-12 funding is an “extremely important priority” for the 116th Congress. Currently, the federal government only covers school repair costs in cases of disasters.

The House Democrats sponsored a similar bill in the last Congress that failed to pass in the GOP-controlled House. This year, opposition remains from House Republicans.

“This proposed legislation distracts from the limited and important role the federal government does have in supporting disadvantaged students’ education in the classroom,” said a spokesman for the Republicans on the House Committee on Education and Labor. “What’s more, it attaches federal mandates that would increase costs to taxpayers and make it harder for schools to meet their communities’ needs.”

However, Reed and Scott said they expect bipartisan support both in the House and Senate.

“There is common recognition of the problem and I’m confident we will get the support,” said Reed.

If there is a broader infrastructure spending bill introduced in the House, the legislation could “easily be part of it,” according to Scott.

James Boland, president of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, said the funding would help schools while also providing jobs.

For teachers, the funding would come as a welcome sign of support at a time when teacher protests are springing up across the country.

“We are seeing what is happening in California and West Virginia,” said Grichelle Toledo Correa, an elementary school teacher in Puerto Rico who advocates for public schools. “What are we saying to kids if we send them to these schools in poor conditions? Our country is better than that.”

FCPS continues course on safety, discipline after December federal report

A recent U.S. Department of Education report rescinds guidelines on proportionate discipline to avoid discrimination against minorities and recommends arming school personnel, but Frederick County Public Schools says it will not change its approaches.

“We always appreciate receiving guidance from our federal partners and we certainly review all the guidance we receive,” FCPS spokesman Michael Doerrer said. “But ultimately our [Board of Education] and our administrators and central office work hard to develop successful policies over time.”

The report, which the Federal Commission on School Safety released in December, provides advice on ways school districts can enhance safety. It recommends that schools require safety training for all personnel and arming more staff than just school resource and security officers, who are either commissioned law enforcement officers or district security employees.

It also revokes a 2014 guidance that suggested schools could run into civil rights violations if they disciplined students of color more than others. The Obama-era guidance said districts should employ a restorative justice approach to discipline rather than suspensions, expulsions and reporting students to police except in extreme cases. A 2018 Government Accountability Office report said black students are overrepresented in school suspension data, accounting for 39 percent of students suspended while constituting only 15.5 percent of public school students.

President Donald Trump formed the commission, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, after 17 people died in the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In a letter to Trump, the commission said that the report is not a “universal school safety plan” and a federal attempt to provide a comprehensive approach would be “inappropriate, imprudent and ineffective.”

The report gives suggestions for states and school districts to review along with information about how mental health, press coverage of mass shootings, violent entertainment and building security affect school safety.

Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the report reflected the Trump administration and conservatives’ broader mentality of the role of federal government in education: Defer to the states and the schools.

“If you look at everything they’ve done, they have not been very aggressive in putting together policy at the federal level that covers K-12 education,” Valant said. “They’ve been pulling back, actually.”

Scott Blundell, FCPS supervisor of security and emergency management, said the district has not considered arming teachers and administrators. He added that all staff at each school are trained in a proactive security approach.

“We have not changed positions or our approach,” Blundell said. “We are a proven leader within the state of Maryland, and we utilize training and security resources to do our best to keep everybody safe.”

Doerrer said the district’s only armed personnel are school resource officers — provided by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

In rescinding the Obama-era guideline on school discipline, DeVos said in a statement that the decision clarifies the need for schools to have autonomy over their discipline policies and practices.

“I’ve heard from teachers and advocates that the previous administration’s discipline guidance often led to school environments where discipline decisions were based on a student’s race and where statistics became more important than the safety of students and teachers,” DeVos said in the statement.

Doerrer said the issue of discipline and disproportionality is an issue the district has been looking at for years and will continue to do so.

“While we appreciate guidance, it’s not what drives our desire to improve our approach to discipline,” he said.

Frederick County has struggled with disproportionate discipline. From 2006 to 2018, minority groups were suspended at higher rates than white students. FCPS data from 2018 shows that black students and Hispanic students were suspended about three and two times more than white students.

Suspensions dropped a tenth of a percentage point for white students from 2017 to 2018. All other student groups either saw increases or no changes in suspensions.

The district is aiming for the percentage of students suspended from each group to not exceed 5 percent by 2020. In 2018, only black students failed to meet that goal, with a 6 percent suspension rate at all school levels. At the middle and high school level, the percentage rate for black students was around 10 percent and around 6 percent for Hispanic/Latinx students.

Doerrer said the district has relatively low suspension numbers, so some percentages create a “false picture.” He added that the district has had success in addressing the issue through initiatives such as its cultural proficiency training.

“We work with some of our administrators and our staff to develop successful policies that are proven to be successful overtime,” he said.

Valant, of the Brookings Institution, said some districts, like Frederick, are not rushing to act after the December report because they are not sure what to do about it yet.

“In some ways it’s not necessary for a district to respond to the [Obama administration] guidelines being thrown away,” Valant said. “It would be nice to see more districts affirm their commitment to addressing discipline disparities and making sure their schools aren’t too punitive, particularly when it comes to how students of color are disciplined.”


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WASHINGTON – In honor of National School Choice Week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Wednesday that school choice programs allowing parents to choose which school their children will attend are the future of education.

At an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation, DeVos praised the success of the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in Washington, which has operated for 15 years and currently allows more than 1,650 children from low-incomes families to attend private schools using government-provided vouchers to offset the cost.

“The importance of school choice programs cannot be overstated,” said DeVos.

Over the past decade, school choice programs have increased across the country, said DeVos.

“Education is not a partisan issue,” she said. “If students today are not prepared, we are not prepared as a nation.”

Both DeVos and Heritage Foundation President Kay Cole James have been a major supporters of school choice and President Donald Trump’s approach to education.

DeVos called for improvements in education using a “three-sector approach:” improving public schools, expanding charter schools and strengthening the school voucher program.

The long-term outcomes of students who participate in school choice include greater educational attainment, fewer experiences of bullying and increased feelings of school safety, said Patrick Wolf, a professor at the Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions who has conducted research on school choice.

The school choice movement has grown in popularity since 2000, with 53 more private school choice programs starting across 29 states, James said.

Despite this growth, DeVos and James called for more funding and support from Democrats to expand school choice programs.

“In the past administration, this program was a political football. It is imperative Congress reauthorizes this program,” she said.

School choice programs also face challenges from teachers’ unions across the country, DeVos said.

“The statistics show that parents want choices when it comes to their children’s education. Teacher unions remain an obstacle. Old narratives continue to shape how we act,” said DeVos.

DeVos and James praised the Washington program for supporting parents like Virginia Walden Ford. Ford said that 15 years ago she was “hopeless” as a single, low-income mom trying to help her youngest son receive a better education.

After the boy received a scholarship from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that allowed him to move to a different school, his academics and behavior improved dramatically, Ford said.

“School choice was so important for him and so many other kids,” she said. “The opportunity to choose is something parents deserve to have.”

FCC explores how to close the ‘Homework Gap’

WASHINGTON – Last fall when Debbie Goldman was outside the Chevy Chase Community Center in Northwest Washington distributing literature on Election Day, she saw a family run to the library across the street. It was 5:15 p.m. The library was closed.

The mother told Goldman that earlier that day people on her commute had told her it closed at 7 p.m., but they were talking about the polls, not the library. Her daughter’s school operates over the Cloud and she needed to download her homework assignment, finish it using the library’s internet access and upload it that night.

“She was bereft,” Goldman said. “I stopped passing out literature and said, ‘Come to my house,’ and she finished her homework at my house. Nobody should have to have that choice.”

A 2017 congressional economic report found that 34 million Americans do not have a broadband provider in their community. In 15 states, the majority of rural residents do not access to broadband and 12 million children, like the one Goldman described, do not live in homes with a connection, the report said. Broadband is the high-speed transmission that allows for 5G technology, sending audio and video digitally and for students to complete assignments and access other educational resources.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and former Rep. Rich Boucher, a Democrat who now is honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance – a mix of businesses and nonprofits, said Tuesday that the FCC should buy back unused educational broadband licenses and sell them to commercial mobile carriers to create a fund for wireless access in rural areas so their students would have access to high-speed internet, speaking at an Internet Innovation Alliance event where Goldman was a panelist.

They proposed auctioning Education Broadband Spectrum licenses, which are only given to education institutions such as universities and educational nonprofits that teach students. The proceeds would help the federal government create programs that would provide high-speed internet access to students in rural communities.

“The majority of today’s teachers routinely make homework assignments with the expectation that students will go online to complete the work,” Boucher said. “But students don’t have equal access to high-speed broadband, and it’s frankly inequitable for some students to stay up late doing homework simply because of a slow or no connection.”

The Kennedy administration started licensing the Educational Broadband Spectrum — formerly the Instructional Television Fixed Service – to universities, colleges and nonprofits to deliver live or pre-recorded television to sites within school districts and university campuses.

Rosenworcel said the idea never really took off at schools because at that time television programming “was not in their DNA.” So, in the mid-2000s, the FCC began allowing institutions that held licenses to lease up to 95 percent of their capacity to commercial providers and renamed it the Educational Broadband Service. The FCC estimates that over 90 percent of licenses are leased to commercial providers.

Rosenworcel said the auction would give the educational institutions that hold licenses the option of either keeping their license or selling it back to the government, which would then sell it to commercial providers. The FCC could then create a fund that would go to solutions for the what she called the homework gap, like providing wi-fi on buses and loaning out hotspots, she said.

But Katherine Messier, director of development at the North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation, said it is better for current license holders, like her own organization, to partner with private commercial providers to expand access to rural areas. Her organization is a nonprofit that provides high-speed broadband and educational resources by leasing out its EBS license to commercial networks.

Messier said a survey commissioned by her organization last year showed that 73 percent of low-income families using that service had never had home broadband access before. Their service supports 920 public libraries, 850 schools and over 4,600 nonprofits across the country, including some rural areas. She added that there should be multiple approaches to solving the digital divide, including giving rural operators priority windows to partner with EBS licensees and using funds from FCC auctions that have already started to avoid a possible lengthy process of an EBS-specific auction.

Zach Leverenz, CEO and founder of a nonprofit that represents low-income Americans without internet access called EveryoneOn, said there is not enough transparency about the value of either the current licenses or funds from a potential auction since EBS leasing contracts are private.

He added that before moving forward with starting an auction, the public should know if legislation is needed to ensure that the revenue goes specifically to fixing the homework gap.

“We need the information,” Leverenz said. “Leaping to an incentive auction or allowing for the existing model to continue the way it looks today are both failing the public this is intending to serve.”

Rosenworcel said in an interview that she wants the FCC to explore how to have more transparency in the EBS leasing process, give EBS licensees more options for their licenses and come up with funds to fix the homework gap.

She said she is interested in “every alternative” that includes providing more broadband access to students in rural areas and low-income students who cannot afford high-speed home broadband.
Rosenworcel added that while legislation is one avenue the FCC can explore for forming a fund, she believes there are ways for the agency to create the fund on its own.

“The agency can move fast when it wants to,” Rosenworcel said. “We have 12 million students that are affected by the homework gap. We are leaving children offline when they need to be online to succeed in school.”

Education Department considers changes to college accrediting rules

WASHINGTON — The Department of Education on Tuesday outlined proposed changes to Obama-era regulations on the college accreditation process, which controls billions of dollars in federal student aid.

Accrediting agencies monitor nonprofit and for-profit institutions and allow their member institutions to participate in federal student aid programs. The Education Department’s accreditation process drew criticism from some lawmakers in November after it reinstated federal recognition for the controversial Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which soon after closed its largest chain of programs, affecting almost 20,000 students.

The proposed changes include eliminating an experience requirement for applying for recognition, setting limits on the information the Education Department can consider when assessing an accreditor and changing when accreditors can waive certain standards for their institutions.

According to department documents, the new regulations would give accreditors and the colleges they govern more room for innovation, more independence and less “regulatory burden and oversight redundancies.”

Diane Jones, principal deputy undersecretary at the Department of Education, said the administration aims to “right-size” regulations.

“We are not coming to the table saying all regulations should go away,” Jones said. “We know that regulations are important.”

Barbara Gellman-Danley, the chair of the Council of Regional Accrediting Committees, said in a statement last week that the proposals could “strengthen accreditation” and the higher education system.

“The Council is cautiously optimistic that the upcoming negotiated rulemaking will generate meaningful policies that support institutional improvement and encourage the innovation necessary to keep our higher education system competitive,” the statement said.

At negotiations Tuesday, Gellman-Danley said she did not want to make any further statements.

Jeanne Allen — CEO and founder of Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter school group — said the proposed changes will give accreditors and nontraditional higher education institutions “greater freedom to innovate” and assess student accomplishment outside of “arbitrary federal standards.”

If the negotiators adopt the rule changes, accrediting agencies will no longer have to show they have been accrediting institutions for two years before the schools apply for federal recognition and can create “alternative standards” without the current assurance that the institution or program has “commonly accepted” degree and certificate requirements.

Higher education reform advocates at the negotiation expressed concern over both the number of issues the Education Department has set for discussion and that the department has pushed for innovation without safeguards for students such as credit hour limits and the definition of “regular and substantive” interaction with an instructor.

Stephanie Hall, a fellow at the progressive think tank Century Foundation, said the ability of universities to outsource entire academic programs — up from the 50 percent cap under the Obama-era rules — is “particularly worrisome.”

She added that innovation and experiments are happening in higher education, despite the department’s notion that current regulations place barriers on institutions.

“As the proposed regulations stand now, the department is clear to put students in harm’s way to pay for an anything goes innovative education,” Hall said.

Robyn Smith, a negotiator from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said during the discussion that as the department considers lessening the standards that accreditation agencies impose and loosening restrictions on distance education, negotiators must keep in mind the possible effects of the cutting the regulations.

“This will have an impact on both taxpayers and students (that) could lead to fraud if it’s not done in the correct way,” Smith said.

Annmarie Weisman, the Education Department’s representative on the committee, said the department hopes the committee will come to a consensus on all the issues presented during the upcoming sessions.

The committee, as well as two subcommittees, plans to further discuss and ultimately come to a consensus on issues of accreditation and the institutions that receive accreditation for two more days this week and again in February and March.



Medill Today // March 19, 2020