Charter Corruption Continues…

As much as it disgusts me to write about the constant stream of charter scandals, failures, and closures- it’s more important than ever to stay informed about what’s really happening.

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Goodyear, AZ  Daniel Hughes, the owner of the now shuttered Bradley Creemos Academy Charter School wrote to parents back in January to say there wasn’t enough funding to keep the school open. This after receiving $2 million from the state in taxpayer money.  Teachers and staff have accused Hughes of using state funds for his own personal gain.“There were things that were purchased on personal credit cards that school funds were used to pay off, the janitorial staff for the school was used to clean his personal residence, and the cooks from the school were used to cater and sponsor parties at his house, including his daughter’s first birthday party” (CBS).

In a 2014 IRS tax form, the school indicated Hughes’ salary as $60,736. In 2015 Hughes’ salary had increased to $100,000. Additionally, payments in 2015  of $949,000 were made to Hughes and to Creemos Association, which is a separate organization owned by Hughes.

The filing also showed hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements to Hughes for “Purchases on behalf of the school,” “Reimbursements of amount due,” and “Purchases and payments on revolving agreement” (CBS).

The closure leaves more than 100 students searching for new schools, and teachers, janitors, teaching assistants and administrators looking for new jobs (ABC15).

New York City, NY Families for Excellent Schools, a once well-funded charter school in New York City announced last week it too is shutting the doors and firing Executive Director Jeremiah Kittredge after allegations of inappropriate behavior with a non-school employee. Politico reported that a woman who attended a conference with Mr. Kittredge in November had accused him of sexual harassment. Kitteridge was fired from another pro-charter school group, Democracy Builders, in 2011, according to multiple sources. The reasons are unclear. Kittredge is best known in New York for helping to arrange enormous pro-charter rallies in Albany.

Atlanta, GA  Chris Clemons, former principal of Latin Academy was ordered by an Atlanta judge to pay $810,000 in restitution, serve 10 years in prison and 10 years on probation. Clemons spent more than $500,000 on strip clubs and made numerous unaccounted cash withdrawals from the school account. “As part of his sentencing, Clemons cannot work with children, cannot work for any nonprofit or school district or have any direct or indirect contact with Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Schools, school boards, students and parents of the three schools affected (Fox5).

Eureka Township, MI  James Mata, a teacher at Flat River Academy was back in the classroom despite having been placed on administrative leave. Mata was formally charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and third-degree child abuse. This stems from an incident first reported in May 2017 and involved a 13 year old boy. Mata was placed on unpaid administrative leave and, according to the school, would remain on unpaid leave until the case was resolved in court The Daily News.

However, The Daily News  learned Mata was teaching again at the school.  A phone call to Interim Principal Joel Hilgendorf was not returned, nor has he responded to questions as to why Mata was allowed back in the classroom.

New Orleans, LA  Gregory Phillips, CEO of the James M. Singleton Charter School in New Orleans is stepping down after the state voided dozens of standardized tests at the school for suspected cheating and other testing irregularities. According to The Advocate, “The testing investigation was launched after the state Department of Education received a tip last summer that students had gotten copies of LEAP tests beforehand, that test administrators were coaching students, and teachers and staff were taking the tests themselves”

State officials discovered many students had gotten help on LEAP tests, even though the assistance wasn’t authorized by their IEP’s. Officials found a suspicious number of answers had been changed to correct answers for 21 students (The Advocate).  The state voided tests for 155 students due to testing irregularities.

Moriarty, NM  Estancia Valley Classical Academy in Moriarty, New Mexico, hosts  fundraisers every year to raise money with hopes of a new school building. Since 2015 the school has been raffling off handguns and rifles.  Local residents didn’t want to comment on the fundraiser, but residents of Albuquerque don’t see the harm in doing so. One resident spoke on record, “I think it’s good for the kids to build familiarity with the firearms and know what they’re doing”(Daily Mail).

According to the Department of Education, it is up to individual districts or schools to decide how they wish to raise money and the state has no control.  The state is only able to enforce that the money be used for proper ventures (Daily Mail).

Napa, CA The El Centro Elementary School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to deny Imagine School Imperial Valley’s petition to renew its charter, citing the charter school’s failure to meet academic requirements. A 21-page report cited a number of deficiencies with Imagine’s governance, academic progress, corporate structure and teachers’ credentialing. According to the ECESD report,  in 2017 roughly 75% of ISIV students didn’t meet English Language Arts standards and 88% didn’t meet mathematics standards.  In comparison, 40% met or exceeded ELA standards and 31% met or exceeded mathematics standards in the El Centro Elementary School District.Board members remarked how often they reportedly hear from community members and educators that Imagine students who transfer to another district are a grade level or two behind. (Diane Ravitch).

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One final note today- the proposed education budget includes an allocation of $1 billion for vouchers (Washington Post).

These are my reflections for today.

2/16/18

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…Like Rats on a Sinking Ship

Common Core Standards were created in an effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life. It was a lofty goal from the beginning. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association and  generously funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

With more than $200 million, the Gates Foundation bankrolled the development of the standards, while building political support across the country (Washington Post).  “Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration (Washington Post).

States latched on to the standards thinking this would cure what ails them. Others latched on because it was required if a state was applying for Obama’s Race to the Top school funding initiative.

They have been tremendously costly, and did nothing to bridge the achievement gap, or prepare students for college, career, or life. Why didn’t they work? According to Diane Ravitch,

They were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.

Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol.

In 2010, 46 states and the District of Columbia agreed to adopt the National Common Core Standards, with 19 of those states also agreeing to the aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized assessment.

In 2016, the number of states still using Common Core dropped 62% to 20, with only 7 states giving the PARCC assessment. States abandoned Common Core like rats on a sinking ship.

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In New Jersey, former Governor Christie dropped Common Core in 2016, and replaced it with NJ Student Learning Standards, which look remarkably similar, just repackaged and renamed. In one of his first orders of business as the new Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy dropped PARCC, saying it will be replaced with a new test TBD. Murphy said, “The notion of assessing kids to make sure we understand how they’re doing, I’m all in for that. But these big, white-knuckle, once-a-year, with lots of weeks getting folks tuned up to take a particular test I’m not a fan of. Never have been” (NJ.com).

The rebranding and repackaging seems to be a way for states to claim they’re getting away from the failed Common Core, but they’re really not. Below is a sample of 4 Common Core standards (CCSS) and the same 4 New Jersey Student Learning standards (NJSLS): They’re verbatim.

CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.1
Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.

Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
RL.4.1. Refer to details and examples in a text and make relevant connections when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

RL.4.2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.

I guess it’s true, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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Education experts agreed  the PARCC assessments did not fare well because the tests’ implementation “became intertwined with new, controversial teacher evaluations and school accountability measures” (Heartland.org). In a nutshell, the assessment was to be aligned to some degree (as determined by each state) with teacher evaluation. Education experts have repeatedly said aligning student performance to teacher evaluations is highly problematic. Additionally, there was a significant amount of time teachers needed to prepare students for the exam which took away countless hours of instructional time. The tests were to be given electronically, and that was an issue, as well. Many schools were not equipped with enough computers to administer the tests.

The Bush administration, through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) began the testing and accountability movement with a bit of school choice-thrown in- meaning parents could choose to send their kids to a school with a higher performance rating than their home school (to which most parents opted to keep their children in the neighborhood). NCLB was a precursor to Common Core.

The Obama administration, through the Race to the Top initiative pushed for more testing, and teacher evaluations connected to student performance. “With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the ‘largest-ever federal investment in school reform.’ Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies-aligning teacher evaluation with student performance, and fully adopting Common Core Standards(Berry, 2018). Race to the Top didn’t work either.

That leaves the current administration. Last year Betsy DeVos said the Every Student Succeeds Act  (ESSA) effectively does away “with the notion of the Common Core,” (EdWeek).  The ESSA left it to states to decide on their standards. However, this decision was always up to the states. Alex Newman of the Freedom Project  wrote, “Despite blasting federal overreach in education… U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to mislead Americans on Common Core last week.”

The Trump administration seems unsure which side of the fence to be on with regard to Common Core. Either that, or they don’t understand the legislation. Though Trump has said repeatedly he wants to end Common Core, that would require a change in federal law. And if DeVos truly believes Common Core is dead, it’s only dead in the states that stopped using it, with no federal role in the decision.

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States truly wanting to move away from Common Core and PARCC need to create well-written, piloted, modified, and adopted curricula and get away from what didn’t work. The next step would be to create assessments which are aligned to curricula, can be used to inform instruction, don’t undermine creativity,  can be more beneficial to teachers and students, and not such a financial burden to school districts.

If you ask children growing up in low income areas what they want for their schools, I’d bet the farm not one of them would say curriculum standards that align with standardized tests.

These are my reflections for today.

2/2/18

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The secretary, the first lady and the queen

Perry Stein of the Washington Post reported recently that more than 700 students at the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Southeast Washington will soon be looking for another school. On January 11, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously (6-0) to close Excel due to very little evidence of academic improvement. Not a big deal? Tell that to the more than 600 students in grades Pre-K through eight. Excel is the district’s only all-girls public charter school.

Saba Bireda, a member of the DC Public Charter School Board said, “The longer girls are at Excel, the further they fall behind their peers in the city” (Washington Post).  Excel Academy is not alone. Since 2012, 24 charter schools have closed in DC due to poor performance.

In arguing against the closure, school leaders said the framework to assess schools is biased against those with a high percentages of at-risk students, and two-thirds of Excel students are considered at-risk. However, Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said that 22 of the city’s 120 charter schools have greater at-risk populations than Excel, and most of those schools perform better on their annual assessments (Washington Post).

Nationwide, there is a repeating pattern of charter closures.  Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, “Each year, about 400 charter schools open in the country, while 200 to 300 close because of low enrollment, poor performance and financial woes” (Washington Post).

In April Betsy DeVos visited Excel with Melania Trump and Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah. DeVos made a statement after the visit.

Excel Academy is a shining example of a school meeting the needs of its students, parents and community. As Washington’s first public charter school for girls, Excel Academy shows the transformation that can happen when parents are empowered to choose the education setting that best fits their child’s individual needs, and when kids are given a true chance to learn and thrive. The school’s focus on STEM education prepares its students for success in high-potential fields that need more female representation (Ed.gov).

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DeVos touted Excel as a “shining example”.  Nine months later, the school is preparing to close. Excel is not a shining example at all. It is an example of the failure of yet another charter school to turn students around academically, while siphoning money away from the public schools.

With regard to the closing of Excel Academy, what are the thoughts of the secretary, the first lady, and the queen now? I really wish someone would ask them.

#anotherdayanothercharterscandal 

These are my reflections for today.

1/26/18

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Taking the high road

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We are the sum of our thoughts and actions. In trying times it’s never easy to take the high road, but it is always the right choice to maintain your moral compass, your personal code of ethics, and your values in the most difficult times. Taking the high road is not about looking good to others, it’s about coming out of a situation feeling good about how you handled yourself.

This year I found myself in a difficult situation where I was faced with the decision to take the high road or not. Despite the level of adversity, to me there was only one choice. It wasn’t easy, but I could not handle myself any other way. First and foremost I wanted to feel good about myself. I also recognized others were watching me to see how I would handle the situation, including my children and I would not miss an opportunity to model for them.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I have devoted quite a bit of space to the Secretary of Education. I do not support the policies she is advocating, and I am opposed to her lack of credibility and experience to be in the position she holds in this administration.

This leads to my thinking for today. If I were to have an opportunity to speak with DeVos, what would I say to her. I would think about it like an elevator pitch, where I’d have a very brief period of time to say what I wanted to say. My first thought might be to purge myself of the anger and frustration over her continued push to privatize public education and marginalize so many children in this country. I might talk about the awareness she lacks in having any idea what children and families go through each day just to survive, let alone succeed in school. I could talk about the ridiculous number of charter scandals every day across this country, and the research demonstrating how her agenda of vouchers and charters is a failing proposition.

But I wouldn’t do that. I would take the high road. I would want her to remember what I said – not because I was negative and nasty, but because my message to her was delivered with integrity and professionalism.

It might go something like this:

“I am a teacher educator, life-long supporter of public education, and an advocate for training pre-service teachers to teach effectively in urban environments. My research and publication agenda supports my advocacy and my teaching. You and I view public education from very different lenses. I am a product of public schools, and I have spend most of my teaching career in public institutions. I believe the very best teachers should be recruited and trained to teach in urban areas, and full funding for schools should be given to provide the tools and services schools need to be successful. I believe the investment in public education is ethically and morally the right thing to do, and will save lives, reduce or eliminate prison overcrowding, increase productivity, support economic growth, reduce crime and healthcare costs – to name a few benefits.

You have a tremendous opportunity in your position to advocate for children who have no voice. Your choice is to hear them and help them. But first you must get to know them and understand them, rather than just decide for them. Your legacy can be that you gave voice to the voiceless, and advocated on their behalf. Your legacy can be that you leveled the playing field when it came to ensuring every child-regardless of their zip code-has an equal opportunity for a ‘free and appropriate public education’.

This country has some of the most brilliant educational researchers and public education advocates. Have a conversation with them, and use their experience, research and expertise to learn more. What will your legacy be to the underrepresented children of this country?”

Taking the high road is never easy, but there’s less traffic, and the view is magnificent.

Happy New Year.

These are my reflections for today.

12/29/17

The devil you know

Last January the education world was rocked by the announcement of Betsy DeVos as the nominee for Secretary of Education. Those of us in the field were riddled with anxiety over her nomination. DeVos is the wife of a billionaire with no experience in public education. She did not attend or send her own children to public schools, and has never worked in a public school. She is, however, a strong advocate for school choice.

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Her tenure as Secretary has been tainted from the start, going back as far as her nomination hearing when she said one reason teachers should have guns is due to the threat of grizzly bears. She is the only cabinet nominee who was given the job by the vice-president’s vote to break the tie.

She visited schools where she was met with protestors. She did not have a clear understanding of the federal role in helping students with disabilities, and no clear understanding of the questionable use of test scores in public schools to measure proficiency. According to the NY Times, “Two weeks after DeVos’s hearing, more than 300 (overwhelmingly Democratic) lawmakers in all 50 states submitted a letter to Congress opposing DeVos. Two powerful national teachers unions helped mobilize thousands of calls to senators’ offices to decry DeVos.”

In July, 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations. Additionally, many senior positions in the department remain unfilled.

Many people in her inner circles have touted her as resilient, focused on her agenda, and unwilling to waiver on her beliefs, despite the constant resistance she has faced from day one. A big blow came when the majority Republican Congress rejected her budget proposal to fund a school choice initiative.

This week the rumor mill has been churning stories of her imminent resignation. Sources close to the Secretary say she has consistently blamed the bureaucracy in Washington as the main reason she has not been able to move her agenda. In a recent interview with Politico magazine, DeVos said the bureaucracy is, “smothering creativity and blocking innovation.”

“Morale is terrible at the department,” said Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job” (Metro).

DeVos’ biggest downfall might be attributed to her lack of experience in government as well as public education. So aside from her agenda of turning over any policies supported by the Obama Administration, and providing more school choice-she brought nothing to Washington.

Politico notes, “When it comes to the most contentious debates surrounding America’s K-12 system — vouchers, standards, incentives, tests — DeVos had more tangible influence as a private citizen in Michigan than she does now in Washington.”

Before you get too excited about her resignation.. turns out there isn’t much to the rumor. It started on social media and came from sources lacking credibility. The source hinting at DeVos’ resignation was updated by the end of the week. “The original article stated that officials were planning for DeVos to exit the Trump administration, it has been updated to state that an insider assumes DeVos “won’t stay long” at her post as education secretary (Salon.com).

I have have been very critical of her since day one and I admit I initially felt a sense of relief at the thought she may have finally recognized she’d met her match in Washington. My relief of her pending resignation was followed by concern. As the expression goes, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” If DeVos were to resign, who would take her place? I shudder at the thought.

These are my reflections for today.

11/10/17

 

 

 

For-profit universities

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For-profit universities are institutions operated by private, for-profit businesses that receive fees from each student they enroll. For-profit education is common in many parts of the world, making up more than 70% of the higher education sector in India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia (Shah & Nair, 2013).

Not so long ago, these institutions were touted as the future of higher education  in the US largely because they targeted non-tradition students – meaning they were drawing from a population of older people with jobs who can’t or don’t necessarily want to attend school full-time. Many schools marketed heavily in the business sector, looking to draw students from the corporate world. The selling point was at lower costs, students could attend classes online, and take as many or as few classes as they wanted. There was a boom in enrollment from 1990-2010.

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What has happened since 2010? Regulators started cracking down on the industry’s misdeeds. Here are a few examples.

For-profit colleges are far more expensive than community colleges, their closest peers, but, according to a 2013 study by three Harvard professors, their graduates have lower earnings and are actually more likely to end up unemployed. To make matters worse, these students are usually in a lot of debt. Ninety-six per cent of them take out loans, and they owe an average of more than forty thousand dollars (Surowiecki, 2015).

In an incident involving Corinthians Colleges (with over 24 campuses in the US and Canada) investigators  found  the school lied about job-placement rates nearly a thousand times. In a 2010 undercover government investigation of fifteen for-profit colleges found that all fifteen “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” (Surowiecki, 2015). Corinthians and 24 of its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

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President Barack Obama worked to stop many of the abuses of for-profit schools by cracking down on the industry-which was later blamed for pushing Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech into bankruptcy.

Enter Betsy DeVos. Her connection to for-profit institutions is deep. Recently she hired former DeVry Institute Dean Julian Schmoke who made headlines last year, as he was under fire from state prosecutors and the Federal Trade Commission. DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to students who complained that they had been misled by its recruitment pitch.

DeVos also hired Robert Eitel who now serves as a special assistant to the secretary. Eitel’s former job was as a corporate owner of for-profit colleges. He spent the last 18 months as a lawyer for a company facing government investigations-one that ended with a settlement of over $30 million over deceptive student lending (Halperin, 2017).

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Trump’s pick to be the Education Department’s general counsel, Carlos Muñiz, is a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education Corp. which is a for-profit education company under several investigations.

Betsy DeVos’ department is hell-bent on removing many of the Obama administration’s regulations governing the for-profit college sector. Here’s one example:

DeVos has stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 87,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration (Collins, 2017).

As a result, in July 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations, leaving students without degrees and with piles of debt.

Since the election last November, stocks of for-profit institutions have soared as Trump made clear he supports any plan which will slash government regulations (Cohen, 2017).

Sarah Dieffenbacher borrowed $50,000 in federal student loans to attend Corinthian’s Everest College from 2007 to 2012. While waiting for a reply to her claim to have her loans discharged, she had her wages garnished. Though a federal judge ordered the Education Department in June to rule on her application, they have not rendered a decision (Cohen, 2017).

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said in September, “It’s telling that Secretary DeVos is once again quick to blame students who were victims of fraud, including many of our nation’s veterans, rather than the predatory for-profit colleges who defrauded them” (Douglas-Gabriel, 2017).

Hard to say what DeVos loves more – unregulated charter schools or unaccountable for-profit universities.

These are my reflections for today.

11/3/17

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Education Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Betsy DeVos once said, “School choice increases equity for our nation’s students and families by placing power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” (Washington Post).   Apparently the Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree as it overwhelmingly rejected the Secretary’s budget (29-2) last week. Not only did the committee reject the 14% cut in the budget, but members voted to increase spending  by $29 million (Washington Post).

The budget included $2 billion for Title II, a federal teacher training program, which Trump  proposed scrapping. The budget did not include a $1 billion increase Trump  wanted in funding school choice programs There was a $25 million dollar increase in funding for charter schools, but that fell far short of the $167 million proposed (Washington Examiner).

The Trump administration wanted to cut $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which helps school districts cover the cost of after-school and summer-learning programs. That, too was rejected (EDWeek).

The administration had sought a $1 billion boost for the nearly $15 billion Title I program, the largest federal K-12 program, which is aimed at covering the cost of educating disadvantaged students. The Trump administration had wanted to use that increase to help districts create or expand public school choice programs. And it had hoped to use the Education Innovation and Research program to nurture private school choice.

The Senate bill essentially rejects both of those pitches. It instead would provide a $25 million boost for Title I, and $95 million for the research program, a slight cut from the current level of $100 million.

But importantly, the legislation wouldn’t give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team the authority to use that money for school choice. In fact, the committee said in language accompanying the bill that the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must get permission from Congress to create a school choice initiative with the funds (EDWeek).

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Republicans and Democrats on the committee acknowledged that the bipartisan agreement isn’t the bill either side would have written on its own. Patty Murray (D-WA) said,  “While this budget is not what I would have proposed on my own, I am pleased we are continuing to invest in our students and educators and I will continue to hold Secretary DeVos accountable if she tries to undermine our public schools”  (EDWeek).

This budged was lauded by teachers unions, state governors, and other educators across the country. There is still work to be done – especially when it comes to cutting funding for Pell Grants for college students,  but this is a bipartisan step in the right direction.

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Agreement on this budget is not expected until the end of year, but there is reason to hope Congress, perhaps, is doing their homework on such important issues in education.

These are my reflections for today.

9/15/17

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