Hey, We’re Serious!

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sent another letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last month, urging caution as President Trump’s budget moves forward.

McQueen had written previously to alert DeVos to the negative impacts of the budget on Tennessee.

The latest letter warned of deep impacts in rural communities. The Tennessean reports:

In her letter, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the elimination of Title II, part A funds in the upcoming federal budget would severely hinder the state’s ability to train teachers. McQueen estimated in the letter that the cuts would hit public school students across the state as well as more than 42,000 students in private schools.

Cuts in the overall federal budget could mean Tennessee could see larger class sizes, slashes to grant funding for pre-kindergarten and teacher training and, eventually, the elimination of athletics and band programs, according to superintendents and child advocacy groups.

I’ve noted previously that districts like Dickson County and Williamson County have County Commissions reluctant to fund school budgets.  Many of the state’s rural counties simply don’t have the funds to spend significantly on schools.

It will be interesting to see if County Commissions in the districts most impacted by the DeVos cuts are willing to spend the money to make up for  lost federal funds. Additionally, I’m curious as to whether County Commissions and School Boards are actively lobbying DeVos and their Members of Congress over the proposed Trump education budget.

As McQueen notes, should this budget pass, it will mean stark choices for many districts — and even impact a number of our state’s private schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Where’s Herb?

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is no stranger to signing letters or joining lawsuits to make political points or weigh-in on policy. He did so recently in opposing DACA in spite of the benefits the program carries for Tennessee families and communities.

This week, Attorneys General in 18 states filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos asking her to keep a rule designed to protect student loan borrowers.

NPR reports:

Attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York and 16 other states filed suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department Thursday, accusing DeVos of breaking federal law and giving free rein to for-profit colleges by rescinding the Borrower Defense Rule.

The filing by 18 states and Washington, D.C., asks a U.S. District Court to declare the Education Department’s delay of the rule unlawful and to order the agency to implement it. The states say they have pursued “numerous costly and time-intensive investigations and enforcement actions against proprietary and for-profit schools” that violated consumer protection laws.

Slatery wasn’t among the Attorneys General signing-on to the suit.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey framed the issue this way:

“Since Day 1, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a news release about Thursday’s court filing. “Her decision to cancel vital protections for students and taxpayers is a betrayal of her office’s responsibility and a violation of federal law. We call on Secretary DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education to restore these rules immediately.”

Here’s Slatery’s record: For using state resources to separate families and weaken our economy by suing to end DACA, against using state resources to protect Tennessee students who take out loans to attend for-profit colleges.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

McQueen vs. DeVos

President Trump’s education budget is bad news for Tennessee’s schools. So much so that Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Candice McQueen, penned a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking that the proposed cuts be reconsidered.

Jason Gonzalez of the Tennessean reports:

Tennessee officials say heavy cuts to children’s programs in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal could hinder the long-term progress the state has made helping poor and disadvantaged kids.

The $4.1 trillion White House budget proposal calls for cuts to school and health care funding that helps the state’s neediest children.

The cuts could mean larger class sizes, slashes to grant funding for pre-kindergarten and teacher training and, eventually, the elimination of athletics and band programs.

McQueen warned:

“Tennessee’s rural areas and poorer districts are especially dependent upon these funds, as their local budgets are unable to provide additional support for professional learning,” McQueen wrote.

According to the State Report Card, federal funding accounts for 11.72% of all education funding in the state. While all of those funds wouldn’t be eliminated in the Trump-DeVos budget, the proposal does make significant cuts. Rural communities are often more dependent on federal funds and so would be hit hardest, as McQueen notes.

While Tennessee has made some progress in recent years on school funding, the state is still behind where it should be in terms of full funding of the BEP — the funding formula for schools. Losing a significant amount of federal dollars would deal a blow to a state finally inching forward in terms of education progress.

The McQueen letter may be the first public evidence that the Haslam administration is at odds with the leadership from Washington. It’s encouraging to see McQueen take this stand and publicly fight for the needs of Tennessee’s poorest districts.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Lobbyists Quit Amid Voucher Failure

Apparently, the fallout from this year’s defeat of voucher legislation has caused six lobbyists associated with Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children to quit.

Sheila Burke and Erik Schelzig of AP report:

Legislators couldn’t even enact a voucher pilot program limited to Shelby County, which includes Memphis.

The decision to put off the pilot program until at least next year incurred the wrath of the American Federation for Children, a school choice group DeVos once chaired. The group’s Tennessee political action committee has spent more than $1.5 million on direct mail, advertising and candidate contributions since 2012.

 

After the measure’s defeat, the group’s national spokesman, Tommy Schultz, placed the blame for what he called the “dysfunctional House process” on Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who is expected to run for governor next year.

 

“By allowing her hand-picked committee to not even bring the bill to a vote, she demonstrated to Tennessee’s Republican voters exactly how highly she regards them and the Republican Party platform,” Schultz said in a press release.

 

Since that release was sent, six lobbyists hired by the American Federation for Children have quit.

This marks the fifth consecutive year voucher legislation has been defeated, despite millions in spending from groups outside of Tennessee.

It’s telling that after AFC attacked Speaker Harwell, lobbyists decided to move on from an association with them. Of course, losing on your signature issue five years in a row doesn’t exactly help you attract and retain top talent.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

DeBerry’s Dollars

Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis is one of the most ardent supporters of school vouchers in the General Assembly. Voucher proponents (mostly Republicans) like to use DeBerry to show “bipartisan” support for their plan.

Here’s the deal: DeBerry may well be a “true believer” in vouchers. He often bashes public schools and their teachers in speeches in legislative committees. But, he’s also a top recipient of dollars from pro-voucher groups.

Here’s some information on the funds spent in support of DeBerry by various groups backing vouchers:

DeBerry Vouchers PIC

 

Students First (now Tennessee CAN) has spent over $100,000 keeping DeBerry in office. Betsy Devos‘s American Federation for Children has spent nearly $100,000.

It’s expensive to keep John DeBerry on your side.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Corker Statement on DeVos

Despite an outpouring of opposition from parents, teachers, and others across the state, Senator Bob Corker has indicated he will support Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Here’s his statement:

“For decades, Betsy DeVos has passionately and effectively advocated for all children – regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status – to have access to a quality education,” Corker said in a statement released by his office.

“She believes in empowering parents and has committed to working with states and local school districts. I have known Betsy for many years and am confident that she will do a great job as secretary of education.”

Corker’s statement comes as DeVos’s nomination appears to be in peril, with 50 Senators indicating that will vote against her.

More on DeVos

Tennessee PTA Opposes DeVos

Knox County parents, teachers speak out on DeVos

A Letter of Reservation

A Voucher Vulture at the DOE

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Tennessee PTA Opposes DeVos

The Tennessee PTA released a statement today expressing opposition to Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The statement comes ahead of a scheduled Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) vote on DeVos’s confirmation.

Here is the statement:

Tennessee PTA is the oldest all-volunteer child advocacy association in Tennessee. As an association, Tennessee PTA annually presents legislative priorities, position statements, and resolutions identifying advocacy positions. Here are a few of our positions that are threatened by the nomination of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education:

·         Tennessee PTA supports public education – The foundation of our American society is to provide free public education so that every child may achieve their dreams. We need a strong leader in the U.S. Department of Education that has experience in the public school system and is aware of the concerns of parents, teachers, and students within the system.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers does not feel Ms. DeVos has the needed awareness for public education. We support the availability of education for all children.

·         Tennessee PTA supports higher education as priority in the State – The ‘Drive for 55’ highlights the gap between high school and post-secondary education within the state. It was the use of federal funding that started the reforming of public education in Tennessee and the improvements in student access to information. Obtaining a higher education often requires an awareness of grants, scholarships, loans.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers stresses the importance of post-secondary education to our students.  We do not feel Ms. DeVos has the needed preparation to take over higher education opportunities.

·         Tennessee PTA has long supported our exceptional children –  The Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and 504 plans are well established federal laws that have assisted parents and schools to partner on educating exceptional children. Ms. DeVos’s response about IDEA and the lack of understanding of a federal law within disability education runs counter to Tennessee PTA’s long standing commitment in this area.

·         Tennessee PTA each year stands against vouchers – Parents should be empowered with real choices, if the integrity of public schools remains intact. We acknowledge charter schools as one avenue to school reform and support them when designed in accordance with the National PTA’s resolutions and position statements. We oppose diverting public funds to private and parochial schools through vouchers or similar efforts such as school choice.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers believes that all schools receiving public funds should be held accountable to the same standards and requirements. We do not feel that Ms. DeVos shares these same beliefs.

Tennessee PTA Board of Managers opposes the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Please take our concerns into consideration and make the best choice for the children of the United States and for their education.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Edu Profs Speak Out Against DeVos

While Senator Lamar Alexander is focused on presenting alternative facts about why opposition to Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos is growing, a group of education professors is actually outlining reasons DeVos’s nomination should be rejected.

The group, called the Teacher Education Collective, published an article explaining why they oppose DeVos. The members of the group include Ilana Horn and Elizabeth Self of Vanderbilt.

Here’s some of what they said:

During the three-hour hearing, she refused to pledge to maintain public funding for public schools; evaded commitments to the educational rights of students with disabilities in schools receiving public funds; muddled the distinction between measures of student learning (which are commonly understood and very consequential in the lives of teachers and students); and casually overestimated by 800 percent the increase in student debt over the last eight years.

Because they believe she is unqualified, the professors felt a need to express clearly and directly their opposition:

We believe unequivocally that DeVos’s confirmation would further threaten the democratic ideals of public education, the future of the teaching profession, and the fundamental right of U.S. children to a free and fair education.

In light of this, we recognize the collective responsibility to register our dissent publicly, to call upon elected officials and demand that they oppose her appointment, and to encourage others to do so as well.

These individuals are educators who educate future educators. They train the teachers who take jobs in our nation’s schools. They are strong and certain in their view the Betsy DeVos is not the right choice to lead the US Department of Education.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Knox Parents, Teachers Speak Out Against DeVos

Despite a factually inaccurate defense of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos from Senator Lamar Alexander, parents and teachers from Knox County spoke out in opposition to DeVos yesterday.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

Knox County teachers, parents and community members railed against President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, at a Tuesday evening meeting, lambasting her as “categorically unqualified” and attacking her policy positions.

Attendees took issue with DeVos’s lackluster defense of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

Attendees also excoriated DeVos for asserting at her confirmation hearing that states should have the right to choose whether to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a piece of legislation that allows students with disabilities to receive an education tailored to their needs.

DeVos is scheduled for a committee vote before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday, January 31st. That committee is chaired by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Lamar’s Alternative Facts

Senator Lamar Alexander is an avid supporter of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. He released a statement today blaming Democrats for attempting to derail the DeVos nomination. I’ll post the statement below and then address the glaring use of “alternative facts.”

Here’s the statement:

Democrats desperately are searching for a valid reason to oppose Betsy DeVos for U.S. Education Secretary because they don’t want Americans to know the real reason for their opposition.

That real reason? She has spent more than three decades helping children from low-income families choose a better school. Specifically, Democrats resent her support for allowing tax dollars to follow children to schools their low-income parents’ choose — although wealthy families choose their children’s schools every day.

Tax dollars supporting school choice is hardly subversive or new. In 2016, $121 billion in federal Pell Grants and new student loans followed 11 million college students to accredited public, private or religious schools of their choice, whether Notre Dame, Yeshiva, the University of Tennessee or Nashville’s auto diesel college. These aid payments are, according to Webster’s — “vouchers”-exactly the same form of payments that Mrs. DeVos supports for schools.
America’s experience with education vouchers began in 1944 with the GI Bill. As veterans returned from World War II, federal tax dollars followed them to the college of their choice.
Why, then, is an idea that helped produce the Greatest Generation and the world’s best colleges such a dangerous idea for our children?

Mrs. DeVos testified that she opposes Washington, D.C., requiring states to adopt vouchers, unlike her critics who delight in a National School Board imposing their mandates on states, for example, Common Core academic standards.
So, who is in the mainstream here? The GI Bill, Pell Grants, student loans, both Presidents Bush, President Trump, the 25 states that allow parents to choose among public and private schools, Congress with its passage of the Washington, D.C. voucher program, 45 U.S. senators who voted in 2015 to allow states to use existing federal dollars for vouchers, Betsy DeVos — or her senate critics?

The second reason Democrats oppose Mrs. DeVos is that she supports charter schools — public schools with fewer government and union rules so that teachers have more freedom to teach and parents have more freedom to choose the schools. In 1992, Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party created a dozen charter schools. Today there are 6,800 in 43 states and the District of Columbia. President Obama’s last Education Secretary was a charter school founder. Again, who is in the mainstream? Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama; the last six U.S. Education Secretaries, the U.S. Congress, 43 states and the District of Columbia, Betsy DeVos — or her senate critics?

Her critics dislike that she is wealthy. Would they be happier if she had spent her money denying children from low-income families choices of schools?

Mrs. DeVos’ senate opponents are grasping for straws. We didn’t have time to question her, they say, even though she met with each one of them in their offices, and her hearing lasted nearly an hour and a half longer than either of President Obama’s education secretaries.

Now she is answering 837 written follow up questions from Democratic committee members — 1,397 if you include all the questions within a question. By comparison, Republicans asked President Obama’s first education secretary 53 written follow-up questions and his second education secretary 56 written follow-up questions, including questions within a question. In other words, Democrats have asked Mrs. DeVos 25 times as many follow-up questions as Republicans asked of either of President Obama’s education secretaries.

Finally, Democrats are throwing around conflict of interest accusations. But Betsy DeVos has signed an agreement with the independent Office of Government Ethics to divest, within 90 days of her confirmation, possible conflicts of interest identified by the ethics office, as every cabinet secretary is required to do. That agreement is on the internet.

Tax returns? Federal law does not require disclosure of tax returns for cabinet members, or for U.S. Senators. Both cabinet members and senators are already required to publish extensive disclosures of their holdings, income and debts. Cabinet members must also sign an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

One year ago, because I believe presidents should have their cabinet in place in order to govern, I worked to confirm promptly President Obama’s nomination of John King to be Education Secretary, even though I disagreed with him.

Even though they disagree with her, Democrats should also promptly confirm Betsy DeVos. Few Americans have done as much to help low-income students have a choice of better schools. She is on the side of our children. Her critics may resent that, but this says more about them than it does about her.

Analysis:

Alexander claims that Democrats are opposing DeVos because she supports choices and options for parents of schoolchildren. That’s demonstrably false. As one example, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has said he opposes DeVos. Booker was a champion of charter-based education reform as Mayor of Newark and is seen as a Democrat who is friendly with the education reform crowd. His concerns, he says, are about her qualifications for the job.

Likewise, Democrats for Education Reform, a national group of education advocates that support a range of education options including charter schools and who have often opposed teachers’ unions, has expressed concerns about DeVos. Specifically, DFER notes:

In particular, Mrs. DeVos’ testimony was non-committal on whether public schools should be de-funded or privatized. She left confusion as to whether the decades-long federal commitment to serving children with disabilities—the Individuals with Disabilities Enforcement Act (IDEA)—should be a matter left to the states. She said that she would re-assess implementation programs under the Every Student Succeeds Act that require states to set uniform accountability standards consistent with federal guardrails. Her expressed lack of commitment to strong federal accountability, unfortunately, also extended to higher education, as she called for a reassessment of federal mandates requiring post-secondary career and technical schools to show effectiveness in preparing graduates for the workforce.

And it’s not just Democrats expressing concerns. JC Bowman, of Professional Educators of Tennessee also penned a letter indicating some reservations about DeVos. Bowman formerly worked on education policy for Florida Governor Jeb Bush — hardly a foe of school choice. Bush initiated a voucher program in Florida and was a proponent of charters.

Here’s what Bowman had to say:

Ms. DeVos has no direct experience with public education as a student, employee, parent, or school board member, of which we are aware. In your case, when you served as Secretary of Education, you had the prerequisite background, having grown up as a child of public school educators and an advocate of public schools as Governor of Tennessee. Ms. DeVos lacks that background and may not fully understand the historical and philosophical basis for public education. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%.

Alexander’s claims simply don’t hold up to close scrutiny. Those opposing DeVos are not just Democrats and they are not all opponents of school choice efforts.

Listening to her confirmation hearing, one heard DeVos advocate for an end to “gun-free school zones” because schools may face threats from Grizzly bears. DeVos also refused to say she would defend or support the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Her lack of support for basic school safety and for children with disabilities are the two most disqualifying elements of her candidacy.

It’s also worth noting that President Obama’s Education Secretaries both supported school choice in the form of charter schools and expressed support for some of today’s most popular education reforms — that is to say, Democrats don’t unilaterally oppose school choice or the education reform agenda. But Democrats AND Republicans want a Secretary of Education who will stand and fight for all children.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport