Did you hear the one about _____?

While many of us are busy enjoying the waning days of summer – here's a few stories you may have missed. Maybe they were buried under so much other news dominating the front pages.

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So what if it doesn't work?  The Brookings Institute compiled data for two years on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Four studies with four different research designs came to the same conclusion: “On average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools” (Newsday).  What the study found was that students who remained in voucher programs for three to four years began to make up for what they lost academically in the first two years. What this means is after three or four years of a voucher education supported by taxpayers, students gain some ground but only end up where they would have been without them.

Florida charter dodges a bullet.  A charter school which had received a failing grade (F) for two consecutive years (and D's before that) has closed  but… wait for it…. will reopen as a private school, thus still able to siphon $170 million from the public schools to open as The Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. Administrators have already assured students and parents that they are all eligible to receive scholarships from the state of Florida (Clay Today Online).

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How much for that Governor?  Carol Burris reported this week just exactly how much money has been contributed to Governor Andrew Cuomo (The Answer Sheet)The corporation with the largest number of charter schools under the control of the SUNY Charter School Institute is the Success Academy charter chain, run by Eva Moskowitz.  Her political action committee, the Great Public Schools PAC, contributed $65,000 to Cuomo in 2011-2012 and another $50,000 to date in 2017. Success Academy Chairman Daniel Loeb, founder and chief executive of Third Rock Capital, and his wife, have directly contributed over $133,000 to Cuomo. Since 2015, Loeb has added $300,000 to Moskowitz’s PAC, and another $270,000 to other PACs that support Cuomo. That’s more than $700,000.

Sorry, kids it's just not working out.  Two homeless students in a New Orleans charter school were suspended for not having the right uniforms (Alternet.org). The two boys, ages 7 and 10 showed up wearing new sneakers their mother borrowed money to buy. The school requires solid black shoes, and when the boys showed up wearing sneakers with check marks on them, they were sent home. "Their mother covered up the checks using a black marker, which she thought took care of the problem, but the school said that wasn’t good enough and unless they were in compliance, they couldn’t come back to school" (Alternet.org).

Show me the money. In the City of Brotherly Love is a charter school call Khepera in North Philly has a pretty bad track record. According to Philly.com Khepera has had some problems:

  • Closed early last year because of financial problems.
  • Teachers are still owed back pay.
  • The landlord has gone to court to kick the school out of its building because of unpaid rent.
  • The company that provides special-education teachers, substitutes, and counselors has filed suit, alleging it is owed $90,000 for its staffing services.
  • Khepera failed to make $1 million in payments to the state teachers’ pension fund.
  • The school failed to submit annual financial reports for 2015 and 2016, as required by state law.

The School Reform Commission (SRC) voted in June to begin the process of revoking Khepera's charter. While the SRC considers the fate of the charter, the school will still receive a $400,000 payment from the School District for the academic school year.

It costs how much?  Politico reports this week that the U.S. Marshals Service will charge the government almost $8 million to protect Secretary DeVos for the next six months.  How does that compare? The past four Education secretaries have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security force.

And finally…

Wait, what???  According to Matt Barnum, in 2015-16 something like half of New York City teachers were evaluated in part, by tests in subjects or of students they didn’t teach. While it may only be 53% of the teachers, that number is actually lower than in previous years (City and State).

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These are my reflections for today.

8/11/2017

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Hide and Seek

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It has been a few weeks since I’ve written about the Secretary of Education. She hasn’t been seen or heard from much since she dropped a few bombs in DC. If you want to ask Mrs. DeVos what she’s been up to, you’ll have to find her first. She might be hiding and this might be why:

First, the attorneys general of 18 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia are suing the Department of Education over a rule to protect student loan borrowers that was supposed to go into effect July 1. According to the New York Times, “An existing federal law allows borrowers to apply for loan forgiveness if they attended a school that misled them or broke state consumer protection laws. Once rarely used, the system was overwhelmed by applicants after the wave of for-profit school failures. Corinthian, a for profit school collapsed and led to more than 15,000 loan discharges, with a balance of $247 million. ITT Tech, another for-profit with nearly 40,000 students, shut down in 2016.”

Ms. DeVos froze Obama Administration rules that would have shifted some risk back to the institutions by requiring schools at risk of closing to put up financial collateral. They would also ban mandatory arbitration agreements, which waived students’ rights to a class action lawsuit in cases of misconduct. According to the Los Angeles Times, “No one should be surprised that the Trump administration is going after federal safeguards that protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.”

Second, Superintendents across the country are speaking out against the deep cuts in Medicaid as it will deeply impact low-income students in a loss of healthcare and special education services.

Third, according to NPR, On July 1, interest rates on federal student loans will cost 4.45%, up from 3.76 %. Graduate Stafford loans will  cost 5.31 % to 6 %, while PLUS loans are up to 7% from 6.31 %.

Fourth,  the budget proposes to cut $143 billion from federal student loans.

And a few more

  • DeVos announced an intention to appoint A. Wayne Johnson, who runs a private loan refinancing company, as the new head of the Office of Federal Student Aid. (Isn’t that like asking the fox to watch the hen house?)
  • She has loosened the rights on civil rights investigations, including issues around transgender students as well as sexual assault at institutions of higher education.
  • She revoked guidance that protected transgender students.
  • And finally, she cut $76 billion by creating one plan for new borrowers to pay their loans based on their income. This would require borrowers to pay a larger share of their income each month than most plans available today.

The Chronicles of Higher Education reported on DeVos’ silence since these devastating  proposed changes were announced.

“There has been a public silence from Ms. DeVos. It has been several weeks since her last open news event. There were two events listed as open on Ms. DeVos’s schedule in the middle of June, but when a reporter inquired about them, he was told they had been incorrectly posted by the department’s web team. The schedule was updated to reflect that the events were closed. There are no public events listed on the secretary’s schedule this week.”

Recently, she said, “My first priority is to protect students”. What students? These proposed cuts impact those who need government assistance the most in order to earn a college degree. I don’t see how students are protected in any of these cuts. Back in the day, those who attended college were wealthy white landowners. Is this the direction we’re heading? Those who are privileged can go to college and those who own loan companies, and open for profit schools are protected from cheating anyone who attends their school and borrows money to do so? That protects investors-not students.

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DeVos finally turned up this week in Denver to speak to one of her favorite conservative groups – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).  ALEC is a business-backed group that writes conservative legislation at the state level and advocates for limited government. Her connection to ALEC is deep but not surprising. Her family’s organization, the American Federation for Children, is a financial contributor to ALEC. Her father in-law received ALEC’s “Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award” in 1993, for his promotion of market-based school reform.

DeVos was met by hundreds of Denver teachers, students and administrators who walked in protest from the capitol to the Hyatt where ALEC was meeting. The protesters argued the expansion of vouchers and charters, as they will ultimately destroy public education.

Two recent studies from credible universities came to similar conclusions regarding the success of voucher programs:

The first study, a joint project from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance and the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project, found that voucher programs did not produce improvement on students’ test scores.

A second study examined the statewide school voucher program in Indiana, one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the U.S. The unpublished study from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky, which is pending peer review, found that Indiana’s 34,000-student program had a negligible effect on educational performance for children in third grade through eighth grade from 2011 to 2015.

According to NPR, “Her rhetoric was more fiery than it’s been since she assumed her post, as she talked about a “fight”, a “struggle,” and being on the “front lines”. She invoked Margaret Thatcher’s famous line that “there is no such thing” as “society” (NPR).

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She argued this tweet from the AFT. “They have made clear that they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than about individual students. They are saying education is not an investment in individual students. And they are totally wrong. What, exactly, is education if not an investment in students?”

Back in March, DeVos criticized Denver Public Schools for a weak agenda when it comes to school choice. She said Denver does not provide parents with a voucher program, which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. The irony here is that her speech  in March was to the Brookings Institute in Washington, which ranked the DPS school choice system as top in the nation for the second straight year this year. She doesn’t know who she’s talking to or what she’s talking about.

ALEC creates a yearly report card on the success of states’ public schools. Criteria for grading includes the level of access to charters and vouchers. Massachusetts and Connecticut are at the top of the list for student performance, but earned a C or C- because of voucher and charter accessibility. The top two states receiving A’s for this are Florida and Arizona, two states with many failing public schools, and a growing number of questionable charters. A successful model employed in these two states (and so many others) which increases student performance gets a C, and states failing miserably but encourage charters and vouchers get A’s.

She argues that her ideals and those shared by her family and other billionaire philanthropists support public education, when their actions support their lack of understanding of public education, and the consistent lack of a model of success for the very ideas they’re supporting. Look at what she’s done in the last month. These decisions do not support public education, nor do they support students.

Meanwhile, back in Washington…

At an event on Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said school voucher programs were the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation” (USA Today).

These are my reflections for today.

7/22/17

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Philanthropy and Politics in Education

According to the Center for Public Education, there are several roles of every board of education.

  • School boards look out for students. Education is not a line item on the school board’s agenda—it is the only item.
  • When making decisions about school programs, school boards incorporate their community’s view of what students should know and be able to do.
  • School boards are accessible to the public and accountable for the performance of their schools.
  • School boards are the education watchdog for their communities, ensuring that students get the best education for the tax dollars spent.

The makeup of a school board can heavily influence student achievement. Boards that govern districts with high student achievement scores behave quite differently from boards that govern districts with low student achievement score. “The practices of effective boardsmanship, as detailed by the assessment, have a strong correlation with high student achievement(NSBA).

Much like Congress, if there is a balance, then there is some level of democracy, and decisions can be made fairly and with the best interest of the community – especially the students. In a perfect world, this would be the case, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

Last month in Los Angeles, charter supporters took control of the school board by voting in hand-selected and financially supported candidates. This action will lave long term implications to the nation’s second largest school district, as charter advocates can now advance their agenda of opening more unregulated (and for profit) charter schools, draining the public schools of millions of dollars.

According to the LA Times, this was the most expensive school board election in US history, with the charter advocates far outspending their rivals. Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO of Netflix donated $5 million to the campaign in support of charter advocates. Hastings is a strong proponent of charter schools.  He once serve as the California State Board of Education President- he served from 2001-2005. In a speech this week, Hastings said he “hopes to see the majority of children in the nation’s public schools enrolled in charter schools, something he said he is committed to supporting even if it takes decades to accomplish” (Ed Source).

Along with Hastings, other billionaire philanthropists gave a total of $17 million to the campaign. Eli Broad, another philanthropist and charter supporter donated heavily.

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This week one of the newly elected board members, Nick Melvoin, 31, former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school teacher said he is not about promoting more charters. Rather he wants to see what is working in public schools and promote those ideas, thus strengthening the public sector (EdSource). Melvoin said the election was more about best practices, not advancing charters. I wonder if Hastings and Broad would agree?

In New York City, the largest public school district in the country, Mayor de Blasio pleaded his case this month to keep control of the public schools with his office. Control of the schools has been with the mayor since 2002 when NY voted to remove the school board, and place responsibility for the schools with the mayor-then Michael Bloomberg. At the time of the decision, there was bipartisan agreement that the old system of the school board was rife with corruption.

The negotiating point for legislators last week was charter schools. Senate Majority Leader John Flannagan wanted approval of mayor control in exchange for more charters. According to WYNC,  Flannagan noted in a statement: “Denying charters the ability to grow and preventing parents’ ability to choose would shut the door on 20 years of proven gains in academic achievement.”  I sure would like to see data to support this claim.

Flannagan said 50,000 more kids are waiting to get in to charter schools and extending mayoral control should be linked to increasing the number of charter schools (WYNC). What he doesn’t say is that reverting to the old school board system will cost the city in excess of $1.5 billion over 10 years (WYNC).

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Late this week, the NY State Assembly passed an omnibus bill with a two-year deal for mayoral control ending the arm wrestle over control of the nation’s largest school system and its 1.1 million students. Assemblyman Charles Barron said, “That was a real victory for the Assembly” (NY Times).

Clearly the motivation in Los Angeles to replace board members with pro-charter advocates is to grow charters. The LA school board was bought by wealthy people who want to push their agenda. In New York there was a clear plan to increase the number of charters, but the Mayor was not on board. So, I guess if you don’t like the rules, change them. Or if you don’t like the school board, buy another one.

Set aside the philanthropy and politics for a moment. For the players in this game, charters are an investment. Is it for financial gain? Control? Is it to prove a point- maybe that unions really are the enemy? Is anyone really thinking about the children?

Diane Ravitch wrote about how corporate privatizers claim that turning public money over to operators of privately-managed contract schools is the “civil rights issue of our time.” I would agree this is a civil rights issue, but not in the way they do.

The NAACP also sees this as a civil rights issue. Last summer the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools until important issues of accountability were addressed and corrected.

While we might agree on the need for better schools in urban areas, the answer is not unregulated schools with unlicensed teachers who support unethical admissions and discipline practices.  Charters are opening in low-income urban areas, not high-income suburban areas. When the players (philanthropists, politicians) start talking about turning wealthy white suburban schools into charters-staff them with inexperienced and unlicensed teachers, then this will be a very different conversation.

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There is so much transparency in these decisions. I only wrote about LA and NYC. This is happening to school boards all over the country. The privatization movement is gaining momentum, and with support in the White House and the Department of Education, the push is starting to snowball.

We need fair and balanced school board elections which yield fair and balanced decisions. We need billionaire philanthropists to stop monopolizing school boards, schools, teachers, students and parents. They have an agenda – and it is transparent.

These are my reflections for today.

7/1/17

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Trinity Lutheran decision

This is an addendum to I story I’ve been following. Back in April I wrote The floodgates about a case in the Supreme Court. The case was Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.  Trinity asked for state funding to resurface a preschool playground. The state of Missouri said no because there is a provision in the state constitution prohibiting public money from being given to religious organizations and houses of worship.

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The Supreme Court had to decide whether this conflicts with the First Amendment, “specifically whether Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program” (The Atlantic).

Yesterday, the court voted 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran. In his decision, Justice John Roberts said the state of Missouri “cannot deny public funds to a church simply because it is a religious organization” (The Atlantic). The precedent for the decision falls under the Blaine Amendment (1875)-so named after Representative James Blaine. The Blaine Amendment, which did not pass in the Senate and was so adopted in 38/50 states says, “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools . . . shall ever be under the control of any religious sect” (Huffington Post).

While the Trinity case may seem mundane enough, it certainly has caught the attention of many people as may set a precedent, and so narrows the separation of church and state. This decision also changes the landscape for vouchers being used public schools – an idea DeVos is already selling.

Meanwhile back at Trinity Lutheran, the state had already reversed its decision and the playground was resurfaced using state funding. So much for that.

These are my reflections for today.

6/27/17

 

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The PBS Controversy

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PBS was in the headlines this week. Some affiliate stations are airing a controversial documentary called, “School Inc.” The film is narrated by Andrew Coulson, former director of the Cato Institute which stands in strong support of privatizing public education. Coulson, who worked hard to get this film out, died suddenly in 2016. He once said public schools were government run, and believed there had been no innovation in public education in 100 years. Coulson often spoke of how competition drives innovation, and how a free market can improve public education in America.

Coulson was a brilliant man who devoted his life to studying and advancing freedom through school choice.
Governor Jeb Bush

In the film, Coulson supports unregulated, for-profit schools, where teachers can sell their lessons to students on the Internet. He portrays miraculous charter schools that show innovation. He uses New Orleans as an example of the success of this approach. New Orleans is far from exemplar on anything related to public education. After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 5,000 teachers were fired, and charters replaced public schools. The results have been mixed-mostly unsuccessful, costly, and discriminatory.

Here’s a synopsis of the film:

This three-part documentary, produced by Free To Choose Media, reveals many unfamiliar and often startling realities: the sad fate of Jaime Escalante after the release of the feature film Stand and Deliver; Korean teachers who earn millions of dollars every year; for-profit schools in India that produce excellent results but charge only $5 a month; current U.S. efforts to provide choices and replicate educational excellence; and schools in Chile and Sweden in which top K-12 teachers and schools are reaching large and ever-growing numbers of students. With its beautiful visuals, surprising twists, and energy, School Inc. takes you on a personal, highly insightful journey.

Looking at who supported funding for this film explains a lot. According to Diane Ravitch, The Anderson Foundation is allied with Donors Trust, where donors can make contributions that can’t be traced to them.  Other contributors to Donors Trust include the Koch brothers’ and the Richard and Helen DeVos foundation (yup). Another sponsor of the film is the Gleason Family Foundation aka Center for Educational Reform which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and pro-education privatization group.

Is the controversy over this documentary because it is a one-sided film supporting charters and vouchers?  Is it that no evidence was provided to support any of the claims in the movie? Maybe it’s because there was no mention of how public school teachers are bound by high stakes testing and accountability, which limits innovation. Or that charters are selective in their admissions process so much that their classrooms do not mirror their public school counterparts?

Coulson mentions  schools in South Korea as exemplar, though there is a high rate of competition which comes at a cost for students, and high stakes testing is the main focus of their drive to success. There is also mention of merit pay for teachers who raise students’ test scores. Study after study has shown merit pay does not yield higher test scores.

In response to an email query on the airing of the film, PBS said the network tries to, “offer programs that reflect diverse viewpoints and promote civic dialogue” and that School Inc. is “an independent production that reflects the personal viewpoint of series creator Andrew Coulson” (Strauss).

PBS has “high editorial standards that ensure that the creative and editorial processes behind the programs offered on PBS are shielded from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources.” Yet, the organization offered no explanation when asked why the major supporters of the film are pro-charter.

The controversy is that PBS prides itself on balanced views to informing the American public, and this is not balanced; it is one-sided. Heavily funded by pro-charter and voucher foundations only gives the public a one-sided view. This is the clear message pro-charter and voucher proponents want to sell. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know where I stand on charter schools. I try to provide evidence to support my claims, as it is about presenting factual information-even if opinion is in there.

When I teach my students to write a good research paper, I tell them to find the counter-point to their paper, and address it. What would critics argue about the points in the paper? I tell them to address them clearly, which eliminates any bias and makes for a stronger paper. Often I have students present both sides to a controversial issue- and to do so in such a way the audience cannot tell which side they favor. This would have been a good idea for this film.

These are my reflections for today.                                                                                            6/24/17

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More Charter News

Here’s a compilation of recent headlines about charter schools across the country. As you read, keep in mind this is the direction the current administration is going with regards to charters and vouchers.

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The Ohio State Auditor reported a charter school that was closed due to mismanagement in 2015 owes the state $340,000. “The shutdown, for mismanagement, came after the school had received its per-pupil aid from the Ohio Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year” (Columbus Dispatch).

Gene V. Glass, one of the nation’s most distinguished education researchers, wrote of parents applying to a charter school in Arizona. Parents who registered their child early for kindergarten received a letter of acceptance but in March were asked to fill out another form where they noted  their daughter required speech therapy, which they did not indicate on the first application. They were then told the child was unaccepted and would need to reapply through an open lottery.

The principal of the Crescent Leadership Academy, a charter school in New Orleans, was fired after he was filmed wearing Nazi rings and participating in a “white genocide” tape. The students in the school are almost all African-American (The Root).

A judge in New Orleans found that Delta Charter violated the terms of the desegregation  plan. The local school board in Concordia is seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars, and wants the judge to require the charter school to cancel its enrollment and create a plan of a more inclusive and diverse student body. The plan would include offering transportation to the school which would make it possible for more black students to attend (NOLA.com).

This story from South Carolina explains how foreign investors are buying green cards by investing in charter school construction, and the middlemen are raking in money at  high interest rates. Specifically, Jared Kushner’s sister secured investments in Kushner real estate deals in Beijing, where she promised green cards to investors of at least $500,000.

Three Detroit-area charter schools are closing in June after years of low test scores. This will leave hundreds of families to find new schools before fall. Many of these families have not yet been notified (chalkbeat.org).

In California, the East Bay Times reports an audit released this week suggests Livermore’s two charter schools misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million, and mainly pointed the finger at former CEO Bill Batchelor. According to the Times, the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships; diverted, commingled and/or misappropriated public funds, including tax-exempt public bonds totaling over $67 million with various private entities; and contributed to an environment of significantly deficient internal controls” (East Bay Times).

In Indiana, four private schools with a consistent record of academic failure were approved by the State Board of Education to begin accepting publicly funded vouchers for incoming students (WFYI). “The schools  had been rated a D or F on the state’s accountability system for at least two consecutive years” (WFYI). Indiana Governor Holcomb recently signed a law allowing private schools to seek a one-year waiver from the requirement of  reporting years of academic improvement to become eligible for the vouchers. The school is being rewarded for failure.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial and contested bill awarding $419 million to grow charter schools in the state. According to the Miami Herald, “The bill will make it easier for privately managed charter schools to further expand in Florida and to receive additional taxpayer funding to boost their operations. It also includes a wide range of other provisions including daily school recess for most elementary school students and $30 million in extra funding to expand a voucher program that helps kids with disabilities.”

The Florida bill was in heavy opposition from public school advocates across the state and across the country.  Superintendents, elected school board members, parents, teachers are concerned about provision in the bill forcing districts to share millions of local tax dollars earmarked for school construction. Before signing the bill, Scott said, “When I was growing up, I had access to a good quality education, and every Florida child should have the same opportunity” (Miami Herald). Define ‘good quality education’, Mr. Scott?

Diane Ravitch reported today that the New York State Senate is holding a deal to renew mayoral control unless NYC Mayor De Blasio agrees to allow more charter schools.

The Trump administration is pushing a plan to increase funding, fully support charters and vouchers – expand privatization to include vouchers, virtual schools, homeschooling, and other alternatives to public education all unregulated, and many for profit. All of this with very  little research or evidence to support their success.

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What’s happening in Washington, and across the country is disturbing. Politicians are promoting failed and discriminatory practices, and the implications of these failed practices will be felt far and wide, and for a very long time.  What’s reported in the news consistently is a pattern of fraud, misappropriation of funds, discriminatory acceptance practices, and rewards for failure.

What’s happening in your state? Where do your elected officials stand on these policies? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

These are my reflections for today.

6/17/17

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren on DeVos Watch

For many of us (myself included), student loans were the only way to get through college-along with menial jobs on campus and seasonal summer employment. We borrowed what we could with the promise to pay it back-one payment at a time. Many of us also remember the payment books that arrived in the mail the day after graduation. Every time you made a payment, you ripped out a stub and sent it with the check. Finishing a payment book felt really good – until the next book arrived in the mail.

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The cost of attending a four year college has skyrocketed, while loans available to students are shrinking. The proposed budget from the Department of Education (ED) will cut loan subsidies for low-income students essentially making it more expensive for students borrow money for college.  According to CNN Money, if approved, this budget would also slash the number of Work Study jobs for college students in half. And 2.9 million fewer low-income students would receive subsidized loans. More than 6.9 million borrowers received a subsidized loan this year, for a total of $22.6 billion.

Next year, the Trump budget proposes shifting some money toward unsubsidized loans, which will accrue interest while students are still in school (the one thing we had going for us is the interest didn’t begin to accrue until after graduation). DeVos also reversed a policy preventing student loan debt collectors from charging sky-high fees to students desperately trying to catch up on their student loans” (CNN).

There is some history (and contentiousness) behind federal student loan programs in the department.  During the Obama administration, Congress gave ED control of the federal student loan program, with the intent to remove the middlemen from the program and eliminate profits that private banks skimmed off the system. But now, years after the transition, the department seems to want to ignore the original intent of the change and instead administer a trillion-dollar loan program for the financial benefit of everyone except the students (CNN). “By one estimate, the federal student loan program turned a profit of $1.6 billion in 2016”, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CNN Money).

In April, DeVos rolled back the Obama administration’s attempt to reform how student loan servicers collect debt. Navient is one of the largest corporations that services and collects on student loans. The withdrawal of the Obama administration guidelines could make Navient a likely contender for a government contract, which will renew in 2019. Navient shares moved higher after the government released DeVos’s decision (Bloomberg). This corporation is also not without its own controversy.

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently cited a story of Navient, “When the Department failed to hold giant student loan servicer Navient accountable after the company was fined nearly $100 million by other federal law enforcement agencies for allegedly overcharging thousands of active-duty military personnel, I called them out and helped trigger an independent investigation. Those efforts ultimately helped push the Secretary of Education to begin refunding money to over 80,000 military borrowers and to commit to a complete overhaul of the federal contracts with student loan servicers” (CNN).

Navient is still in the news. According to Bloomberg, “in January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.”

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The level of activism and accountability in government has increased since this administration took office in January. It’s so important to be informed. This week, Elizabeth Warren launched a new website called DeVos Watch. The site includes a video explaining why she launched the site, as well as what she hopes the outcome will be.

That’s why today I am announcing a new project to hold Secretary DeVos’ Department of Education accountable. DeVos Watch will seek information about the Department’s actions and inactions around federal student loans and grants and highlight the findings. People can also participate directly by tracking the Department’s actions, submitting oversight suggestions or filing whistleblower tips.

Accountability is about making government work for everyone. Regardless of political party, I’m hopeful that other policymakers will join me in efforts to hold the Department of Education accountable for serving our students — not the industries that make money off them. We all have an interest in a well-run, fiscally responsible, corruption-free student aid program that puts students first. That is Secretary DeVos’ job — and it is Congress’ job to make sure she does it.

There should be transparency in government, and I applaud Warren’s efforts to hold the ED publicly accountable for their decisions. I applaud her nonpartisan efforts to do what’s right for students seeking financial assistance to attend college. We should encourage a highly educated workforce. That so many bright smart, driven people cannot afford to go to college, and that so many more leave school with a mountain of debt is counterproductive.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

For the 2014–15 academic year, the average annual price for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board was $16,188 at public institutions, $41,970 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,372 at private for-profit institutions (NCES).

What do other countries do? Germany eliminated tuition because they believed that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Chile is doing the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world  offer free college (source). Maybe this isn’t such a radical idea. But for now, we keep an eye on DeVos and the ED.

These are my reflections for today.

6/3/17