State of the Union
Pursuing Education Freedom
Better Serving Borrowers
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
State of the Union
On February 5, President Trump delivered his third State of the Union address (text and video). He urged Congress to approve federal tax credits for school choice. He also called for an expansion of career and technical education and touted his Administration's support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and religious liberty in schools.
"The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream," he stated (video excerpt). "Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 states have created school choice, in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The programs are so popular that tens of thousands of students remain on a waiting list…. [I] call on Congress to give one million American children [education freedom]…. Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act — because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school."
"My budget also contains an exciting vision for our nation's high schools," he continued. "[I] ask Congress to support our students and back my plan to offer vocational and technical education in every single high school in America."
In response, Secretary DeVos — who attended the speech as a member of the President's Cabinet — issued a statement. "Tonight, the President delivered a strong message in support of America's students and their futures. Every student, parent, and teacher should be excited by this bold agenda to free them from a government system that limits their success. We know all too well that too many students can't read or do basic math at the level they should; in fact, one in four eighth-graders is functionally illiterate. President Trump is ensuring these forgotten students are forgotten no more. This Administration wants every American, no matter their age, income, zip code, or stage in life, to have access to K-12 and higher education options that work for them, unlock their individual potential, and help them pursue successful careers in our booming economy. That's evidenced by the President's strong commitment to career and technical education and apprenticeship expansion, higher education reform, Second Chance Pell expansion, and Education Freedom Scholarships…."
Among the President's and First Lady's special guests for the address were Janiyah and Stephanie Davis from Philadelphia. Janiyah is a fourth-grade student who loves art and math, but she is assigned to a low-performing school. Her mom Stephanie, a hard-working single mother, applied for a tax credit scholarship to allow her daughter to attend a better school. Yet, Janiyah was among the 50,000 students on the state's waitlist. During his remarks, the President revealed "[A]n Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it's going to you [Janiyah], and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice" (Secretary's tweet).
Pursuing Education Freedom
In the weeks leading up to the State of the Union, Vice President Pence, Secretary DeVos, and other Department senior officers traveled across the country to promote the Administration's Education Freedom Scholarships proposal. During that time, additional Members of Congress signed onto the bill, with the total number of co-sponsors hitting 100. "#SchoolChoice is inevitable," the Secretary stated as part of a Twitter thread, "and our EFS proposal is the ultimate way to empower students to find the right fit."
Back on January 23 and 24, Deputy Secretary Mitchell Zais visited schools in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, respectively, as well as penned an op-ed on empowering Wyoming parents with school choice published in Wyoming Parent magazine (Secretary's tweet).
On January 27, Secretary DeVos was in Jefferson City, Missouri, to address the state chapter of the Federalist Society. "When I took this job, I committed myself and my team to three guiding principles," she said. "To reduce the role of government, respect the rule of law, and resurrect the rights of students and families" (Secretary's tweet).
Next, on January 28, the Secretary joined the Vice President in Madison, Wisconsin, for a rally celebrating National School Choice Week (text and audio, Vice President's tweet, and Secretary's tweet).
Then, on January 30, the Secretary joined U.S. Representative Ken Buck in Colorado to visit Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins and Aims Community College in Greeley and penned commentary on fighting for freedom published in the Denver Post (Secretary's tweet).
The Secretary was later in Schertz, Texas, where she visited Founders Classical Academy.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan was in Huntsville, Alabama, Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Richmond, Virginia; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Aimee Viana visited schools in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia; and Mark Schultz, delegated the duties of Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, visited a private school in Maryland.
One more highlight: Secretary DeVos was on Fox News reacting to the recent U.S. Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue on the issue of education freedom.
The Secretary announced last week new flexibility for four states that are rethinking education to better serve students and meet local needs. Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, and Vermont were approved to participate in the Education Flexibility (Ed-Flex) program. Created as a pilot in 1994, and extended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Ed-Flex encourages local innovation and returns power to the states from the Department by allowing states to waive certain federal statutory or regulatory requirements under the law.
In their successful applications, the states propose to use the new flexibility to release school districts from onerous federal requirements in favor of a locally driven approach:
- Massachusetts plans to enhance educator recruitment and licensure.
- North Carolina will address class size, school year schedule, and funding to schools in areas of need.
- Texas plans to reduce administrative burden around attendance requirements, teacher certification, and staff development requirements.
- Vermont will enhance districts' ability to implement long-term improvement initiatives, while keeping their focus on improving student outcomes.
All states are eligible to apply for Ed-Flex, and the agency continues to accept applications for the program.
Better Serving Borrowers
This week, the Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a new coordination agreement to better serve student loan borrowers. Under the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the agencies will share complaint information from borrowers and meet quarterly to discuss observations about the nature of complaints received, characteristics of borrowers, and available information about resolution of complaints. The MOU also provides for the sharing of compliant data analysis, recommendations, and analytical tools.
Secretary DeVos appointed a former governor, engineering curriculum specialist, and twelfth-grade U.S. government and politics teacher to four-year terms on the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). NAGB is a non-partisan body that works independently from the Department to set policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation's Report Card. This assessment provides objective information on student performance in various subjects and allows comparisons of student achievement among states, large urban districts, and key student groups.
"I am pleased to welcome these new members to the National Assessment Governing Board," explained the Secretary. "Their richly diverse backgrounds will help the board as it continues its critical work to inform students, parents, educators, and policymakers about the state of American education. The latest Nation's Report Card shows a student achievement crisis, especially in reading, and I'm eager to see how the board continues to tackle that critical challenge. I especially want to thank Governor [Haley] Barbour for his willingness to serve as board chair. His experience leading education reform in Mississippi — the fruit of which is seen in the latest report card — is one of many assets he will bring to the table."
The appointees are the final board members to be appointed for the 2019-2023 term, with terms starting on October 1, 2019, and ending on September 30, 2023.
Odds and Ends
- In celebration of National School Counseling Week, two new Department videos (1 and 2) feature award-winning school counselors sharing their joy at providing students with academic, college, and career advice and social-emotional support. Thank you, counselors, for helping students thrive!
- On January 29, the Department convened the full higher education regulatory triad (the Department, state regulators, and accreditors) to discuss solutions to shared concerns about institutions and students. The meeting was the first of its kind in more than a decade.
- In a Federal Register notice, the Department declared it will consolidate the two forms required to apply for the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness program into one, thereby streamlining the agency's forgiveness determination process.
- One more piece from this year's ED Games Expo: a Homeroom blog recapping the eventful week.
- This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first federally funded program to assist people with disabilities who had not acquired their disabilities as a result of serving in the military. In recognition, the Department's Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) developed an historical perspective video, which has been added to the resources on the Vocational Rehabilitation 100th anniversary page.
- February 14 is the deadline for state education authorities to submit school, school district, and postsecondary institution nominees for 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition.
- President Trump announced his intent to nominate four individuals as members of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.
- A National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Data Point examines the characteristics of schools where students attend classes less than five days per week. While just 1.9% of schools nationally used a shortened school week in the 2017-18 school year, more than 10% of schools within eight states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Wyoming) used a shortened school week.
Quote to Note
"I urge Congress to heed the President’s call to pass the Administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal. Education freedom is inevitable. We know it works for students, and we know overwhelming majorities of Americans want it. I’m grateful to the President for his strong support of this proposal from day one and look forward to Congress acting quickly on this bipartisan issue and putting students’ needs above everything else."
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (2/4/20), from a statement on President Trump’s State of the Union address
Among other observations, February is African-American History Month, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month (see Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education Scott Stump's recognition video), and National Magnet School Month.
On February 10, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the Department will brief stakeholders on President Trump's Fiscal Year 2021 budget request. Stakeholders are welcome to join in person (in Barnard Auditorium at the Lyndon Baines Johnson headquarters building, 400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, DC) or watch via livestream. That same day, budget materials will be posted on the budget page.
All are invited to watch the inaugural session of the Department's new International Seminar Series, February 26 from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. ET. The first speaker will be Director General Susanne Burger from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, who will discuss the trajectory of education reform in Germany, current challenges and opportunities, and how the U.S. and Germany might learn and benefit from one another's experiences.
The Department is offering identical webinars — March 19 and April 4 — to assist eligible districts in applying for Small, Rural School Achievement (SRSA) grants.
The Department's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) will livestream its "Attract, Prepare, and Retain: OSEP National Summit on Improving Effective Personnel for Children with Disabilities" on March 19 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. ET.
March 19 and 20, at the Community College of Denver, the Department and the American Association of Community Colleges will co-host another convening designed to help rural community colleges identify, plan, and design critical projects for federal grant applications. The content of this convening is the same as the past offerings in Racine, Wisconsin, and Gulfport, Mississippi.
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