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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.

SOTU: Family Leave and Education

Congress members from both parties said they agree with Trump’s sentiments regarding paid family leave and lowering barriers to education, but differ in their policy interpretations.

House Education and Labor committee approves bill to protect pregnant workers from discrimination

Despite concern from Republicans that a bill would force religious organizations to make employment decisions that conflict with their faith, the House Education and Labor Committee on Tuesday approved the measure prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers.


BALTIMORE, Md. — Public school principal Rachel Brunson has seen every infrastructure problem that a large urban school can...


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.


WASHINGTON – Speaking at the National Press Club, Bibb County School Superintendent Curtis Jones Jr. said Thursday that the nearly three-week partial federal government shutdown is affecting local communities and makes it harder to teach children in those communities.

Jones Jr. is one of four finalists to become 2019 National Superintendent of the Year. The winner will be selected in February by AASA – the School Superintendents Association.

During a discussion at the National Press Club, he and the other three finalists, Brian Woods of Northside Independent School District in Texas, Mary Ann Ranells of West Ada Joint School District 2 in Idaho and Jeff Butts of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana were questioned by Education Week’s Denisa Superville about the shutdown, school shootings, teacher protests and accessibility to higher education.

“The stresses that the government shutdown places on our communities has a particular impact on our children. It makes it that much harder to educate our children and the sooner it’s over, the better,” said Jones Jr.

All four finalists addressed school shootings by challenging the notion that teachers should carry guns.

“Safety and security are two different things. I wish the education community could come together so that children don’t have to worry about who is coming through the door,” said Jones.

The Indiana finalist, Butts, agreed.

“The greatest thing to do for school safety is to create a space in which kids feel comfortable enough to tell a staff member if they see something. Schools have a ton of access points so complete security is extremely difficult,” he said.

AASA praised the finalists for their leadership as educators tackling the difficult issues in education today.

“Our motto this year is that leaders matter. I don’t think we could have a better representation that leaders matter than our four finalists this year,” said Daniel Domenech, executive director of The School Superintendents Association.

Jones also received praise from Georgia’s top educator.

“Dr. Jones and the other superintendents represent the best of the best. I’ve known Dr. Jones for the past four years. He’s a man of integrity,” said Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods in a telephone interview. ”He’s a proven leader, innovative, and not afraid to take on a challenge.”

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Betsy DeVos sidesteps questions on arming schoolteachers

WASHINGTON ––  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sidstepped questions on whether she would fund President Donald Trump’s proposal to train and arm teachers as a way to stop school shottings, saying it’s up to Congress to decide. She also didn’t address whether arming teachers would put minority students more at risk than others.

During a House Appropriations Committee hearing to review the Education Department’s proposed $59.9 billion budget for 2019, committee members mainly focused on Trump proposals to reduce school shootings, mainly by training some teachers on how to use gums and then arming them.

Rep. Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., said students of color are more likely to be disciplined than white students. Black students are almost four times more likely to be suspended than white students, according to a report from the Department of Education in 2016.

“I’m concerned about all students –– students of color and all students,” DeVos said. “We want to ensure students have the opportunity to learn in safe environments.”

In a telephone interview, Temple University Education Professor James Earl Davis said that students of color have been “historically more subjected to discrimination, oppression and violence.”

“We know that they’re subjected to more disciplinary actions, and they’re also punished more severely in schools by teachers and other staffs,” he said. “And by arming teachers and other staffs it only puts them at more risk for violence.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., criticized DeVos for cutting $1 million from the Education Departments Office for Civil Rights, which enforces laws that prohibit discrimination in education.

“Your head’s in the sand about racial bias and racial discrimination,” Lee said. “Madam secretary, you just don’t care much about civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., asked DeVos if she would reconsider supporting Trump’s plan to use federal funds to train teachers on gun safety and  then to arm them in schools if the majority of teachers and parents nationwide opposed it.

DeLauro cited a March 16 Gallup poll, which shows that 73 percent of teachers oppose teachers and staff carrying guns in schools.

“That is a matter for Congress to decide, not for the secretary of education to decide,” DeVos replied.

DeVos said she will investigate ways to protect students as head of a new school safety commission that Trump created. The commission consists of three other cabinet members: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. She said the number of members is limited so the commission isn’t “bogged down in a lot of bureaucracy. The commission will invite experts and students for advice, DeVos said.

The commission will hold hearings in the next few weeks, Devos said. She said she recognizes school safety as an urgent issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

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How Florida schools adopted Puerto Rican students after the hurricane

TAMPA, Fla. — Adriana Figueroa planned to move to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico for college, but Hurricane Maria moved up her plans. She’s now finishing high school in the Tampa area – one of at least 13,000 Puerto Rican students who relocated after the storm.

After Hurricane Maria ravaged her hometown of Dorado, Puerto Rico six months ago, Figueroa moved to live with her aunt in Hillsborough County, Fla., and pursue a diploma at Sickles High School. Her parents and two sisters remained in their concrete home, which withstood the hurricane, although they struggle with getting electricity and water.

“The decision was made on a Friday that I was leaving, and then on Tuesday, I was already on the plane to come here,” Figueroa said. “My parents decided, ‘Why not? This seems to be the opportunity. Let’s give her that.’”

Florida has taken in nearly 8,000 students since the hurricane. New York has enrolled nearly 2,200 students, and Connecticut has the third largest number of Puerto Rican students at about 2,000. Florida has a larger proportion of students living in Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded hotel rooms.

Florida is the only state that accepted Puerto Rico’s proposal to get into a host-state agreement and collaborate on transferring students’ records, said FEMA Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Justo Hernandez.

Florida is also the only state that requested FEMA reimbursement for the costs of taking in students.

Despite the challenges inherent in taking in new students, many of whom do not speak English, Florida schools worked hard to “make it happen” in the middle of the school year, said Hillsborough County Public Schools board member Susan Valdez, who represents Sickles High School’s district where Figueroa is a student. Valdez also said the school is focused on helping students first and knows it will take a long time to get federal reimbursement.

More than 1,000 Puerto Rican students moved to Hillsborough County after the storm to continue their education, according to school board member Susan Valdez. (Stavros Agorakis/MNS)

“[If] company comes and you’re in the middle of dinner, [you’d say,] ‘Hey, come on, sit down,’ and we’d share what we have,” Valdez said. “That’s what we’ve done here. It’s just been that spirit of collaboration all along.”

Figueroa is one of nearly 1,100 Puerto Rican students who moved to Hillsborough County after the storm to continue their education. The Hillsborough school system serves approximately 260,000 students and is the eighth largest school system in the United States.

Valdez said enrolling students from Puerto Rico was a straightforward process because of their U.S. citizenship. While students were required to obtain physicals and receive vaccinations to enroll in Hillsborough County schools, nurses and physicians on staff worked with them to make sure they met the enrollment requirements.

“We were expecting families to come, and immediately the district staff got together and we started to work in collaboration with the other agencies and start to prepare,” Valdez said.

Since October, Sickles High has had between 15 and 20 Puerto Rican students enrolled at any given time, said Principal Mary Freitas. The number fluctuates because students may return home or arrive in Florida depending on recovery conditions on the island.

While Figueroa will receive her diploma from Sickles High, graduating seniors may also receive diplomas issued by their high schools in Puerto Rico after completing credit requirements in the U.S.

“Despite all of the support, however, some Puerto Rican students said they still had a hard time adjusting to their new schools and new lives.

Figueroa said the chaos of moving homes and adjusting distracted her for the first three weeks, but her emotions caught up with her eventually.

“I didn’t think I was very close with my mom, but it turns out I am,” Figueroa said. “It was not easy. I cried a lot, because, you know, that’s part of it.”

Adriana Figueroa, a senior at Sickles High, is one of at least 13,000 Puerto Rican students who relocated to the U.S. mainland after Hurricane Maria. (Stavros Agorakis/MNS)

Figueroa is fluent in both English and Spanish, and was ahead on her credit requirements when she got to Florida. But other students who aren’t as fluent in English struggle with the language barrier.

Carlos Velazquez, 14, who attends Howard W. Blake High School in Hillsborough County, doesn’t read or write in English. But all of his courses, including physics, math, and literature, are taught by English-speaking teachers, while only one teacher is available to help Spanish-speaking students understand their coursework.

This is the second high school Velazquez has attended in Florida since fall. He didn’t like his first school, and was having trouble making friends. His mom was able to switch him to a new high school, where he said he is having a better learning experience.

But for Figueroa, school helps restore a sense of normalcy in her life.

“School gave me something else to think about. It kept me occupied because I had to get on with all the semester’s work,” Figueroa said.

Though she was shocked by students’ pink hair, piercings, and other sartorial flourishes — “In private schools [in Puerto Rico], they don’t even let you paint your nails!” — she learned to embrace the diversity.

While she now feels more at home in Sickles High, Figueroa said she hasn’t forgotten the devastation that Hurricane Maria caused in Puerto Rico and what she feels has been an inadequate response by the American government.

“My mom has been without light since Hurricane Irma,” she said. “She spent 141 days without light. If that happened in the U.S., I think the most amount of days you could’ve been out is, like, a day.”

As she fills out college applications, like the other seniors at Sickles, Puerto Rico’s plight has changed her college plans. She had planned to major in psychology, but now wants to pursue a career in advocacy for minority rights.

She remembers the video of President Donald Trump throwing paper towels to hurricane victims during his visit to the island as an example of what she wants to fight against.

“You don’t do that — we’re American citizens, too,” she said. “I just wanted to do something for Hispanics. Maybe that’s what I’m meant to do.”

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Medill Today // February 25, 2020