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EDUCATION POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Education Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with school choice, student loans, curriculum reform efforts, teacher unions, students with disabilities, affirmative action, minority students, vocational training and higher education. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Department of Education and state legislatures. Our Principal Analyst is Cindy Stansbury who can be reached at cindy@usresistnews.org.

Latest Education Posts

 

DeVos’ Strengthening of School-to-Prison Pipelines

Discriminatory policies that harm and deny students of color equal opportunities for quality instruction time at school violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs that receive federal financial assistance.

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Affirmative Action: Rescinding Obama-Era Policies

Trump administration is rescinding seven Obama-era policies which encouraged schools to look at race as one among many factors in admissions. The seven affirmative action policies are among 24 documents rescinded on the Department of Justice’s website. The DOE/DOJ claim that the documents advocate policy preferences beyond the requirements of the Constitution

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Teacher Walkouts Spreading Throughout Red States

Brief # 21 Education Summary Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona have been participating in walkouts in an effort to raise salary increases for teachers and increase funding for their schools. These protests come in the wake of teacher walkouts in West Virginia...

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Trump Establishes Federal Commission on School Safety

Education Brief #22 Summary In a White House briefing statement issued on March 12, 2018, President Trump established the Federal Commission on School Safety chaired by Education Secretary Betsey DeVos. The commission was established to address school safety and “a...

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Increase in Racial Harassment Complaints to the Department of Education

The civil rights division of the US Department of Education has seen a substantial increase in the number of racial harassment complaints they’ve received during 2017. Over the last nine years the Department’s civil rights division has never seen more than 600 racial harassment complaints in a year, until 2017 when 675 were filed. This is….

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Department of Education Prepares to Pilot FSA Payment Card Program

The Department of Education released a Pre-Solicitation Notice in January that gives details on a new payment card program for federal student loan excess fund disbursements. Starting this spring a pilot program with approximately 100,000 students will test this new system. Under the pilot program, federal student aid (FSA) would…

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PROSPER Act Passes Committee, Under Review in the House

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Representative Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation known as the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and…

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Devos Invests in the Pockets of For-Profit Colleges at the Expense of Defrauded Students

Devos Invests in the Pockets of For-Profit Colleges at the Expense of Defrauded Students

Brief #24—Education

Policy Summary
For-profit colleges are privately owned, post-secondary schools operated by businesses with the goal of maximizing their profits; most students are enrolled in two-year certificate programs. The schools focus on enrolling a stream of new students with little effort in improving educational programs. Unsurprisingly, most students drop out and are left with crushing student debt. Education Secretary Betsy Devos is proposing new DOE rules that would cut an estimated $13 billion in federal student loan relief for students defrauded by for-profit colleges. The changes eliminate the 2016 Borrower Defense rule, which provided student loan relief in a wide range of cases by the Obama administration after the collapse of ITT Tech and Corinthian College.

Since 2015, DOE has received more than 100,000 claims which are under review. The proposal will only apply to loans after July 1, 2019. Devos stated that DOE lays out clear rules which schools must follow in order to “avoid trouble but also stated that students are obliged to conduct their own research on for-profit schools because “postsecondary students are adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions if they have access to relevant and reliable data about program outcomes.” Under the plan, students are eligible for loan relief only if they can prove that their school knowingly misled them with statements or actions that directly led them to take out loans or enroll at the school. Some committee members argued that the new proposal will prevent taxpayers from paying for unreasonable claims of fraud. LEARN MORE

DOE officials will also allow schools to defend themselves against claims of fraud because “schools deserve to defend themselves against accusations that could damage their reputations and revenue.” Such changes could strip students of their rights to recourse, making it next to impossible for students who bring claims to receive adequate relief. For instance, for-profit schools have forced students into arbitration agreements – a practice banned under the Obama administration due to the unequal bargaining power between students and schools. While the Obama administration granted full relief for borrowers, the current DOE announced that it will provide only partial relief for borrowers based on income. LEARN MORE

Analysis
Unlike the Borrower Defense rule, which allowed relief in many cases dealing with breach of contract issues, Devos requirement that students must prove that a school knowingly misled them places the burden of proof unreasonably on students who have little to no access to a school’s internal operations or materials that could potentially prove a school’s intent. Eliminating the Borrower Defense rule essentially allows predatory schools to further mislead and defraud students.

Furthermore, companies running alternative schools, such as Camelot Education, have been accused of perpetuating staff-on-student violence. An investigation by The Teacher Project found allegations of abuse in Camelot schools spanning 10 years and three states in Reading; Lancaster; Philadelphia; New Orleans; and Pensacola, Florida. Although students described prison-like conditions in these schools – where they have been taunted, beaten, and isolated in order to maintain obedience and control – no staff member faced discipline or criminal charges.

It is no coincidence that for-profit colleges are more likely to recruit low-income students and underrepresented minorities by sending circulars to housing projects and assuring the availability of loans. DOE’s statement regarding the need to protect students from predatory lenders while simultaneously utilizing a patronizing tone of personal responsibility telling its victimized students to walk a tight line of perfection is deeply disturbing. For-profit schools deceptively funnel their revenues into advertising and enrollment efforts rather than into quality education programs, ensuring that a steady stream of tuition dollars will flow into the pockets of greedy executives and shareholders. Research also shows that community colleges may provide a better education at lower costs but budget pressures often mean that they are unable to meet the demands for higher education. Students unable to get into these programs are left with no option but to attend for-profit schools; the alternative is no postsecondary education – not a particularly viable option in a global economy where having a college degree has become a bare necessity to survive.

Rather than trying to squeeze blood out of stones, perhaps the DOE should focus on tightening regulation at for-profit colleges and decreasing the costs of nonprofit public or private schools, especially for low-income families. Taxpayer investment in student aid should also follow scrutiny on whether students are able to complete their studies and earn enough to justify pay back of their loans. Investing in public education to uplift disadvantaged students rather than well-to-do executives is not such a bad idea considering that a well-educated populace is essential to acountry’s successful social and economic welfare. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources
Higher Ed for Higher Standards – Growing coalition of college presidents, trustees, chancellors, and state system leaders who believe aligned expectations and strong partnerships between K-12 and postsecondary leaders are critical to improving student success.
American Council on Education (ACE) – ACE is the nation’s most visible and influential higher education association, representing presidents of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, which include two- and four-year colleges, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit entities. ACE convenes representatives from all sectors to collectively tackle the toughest higher education challenges, with a focus on improving access and preparing every student to succeed.American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) A nonprofit organization and leading proponent for community colleges, representing 1,200 two-year, associate degree-granting institutions and more than 13 million students, as well as a growing number of international members.
Association of American Universities (AAU) A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization of 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada. AAU focuses on issues important to research-intensive universities, such as funding for research, research policy issues, and graduate and undergraduate education.

This Brief was developed by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Tina Lee. Contact:Tina@usresistnews.org

Photo By: Nathan Dumlao

DeVos’ Strengthening of School-to-Prison Pipelines

DeVos’ Strengthening of School-to-Prison Pipelines

Brief #23—Education

Policy Summary
Discriminatory policies that harm and deny students of color equal opportunities for quality instruction time at school violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs that receive federal financial assistance. According to Civil Rights Data Collection, students of color across the U.S. are disproportionately suspended and expelled for the most minor or subjective offenses, such as “looking disrespectful” or “disrupting class” by burping. Innocuous behaviors like these are often labeled as hostile offenses, placing students at higher risk for suspension and gradually pushing them out of the school system.

The Department of Education (DOE) under Betsy DeVos has been swiftly closing more than 1,200 cases of civil rights violations in school districts and universities across the country. While the 12 regional bureaus under Obama required approval from headquarters to settle or dismiss a case, DeVos has essentially de-centralized the decision-making process and scaled back “compliance review” – a type of civil rights investigation that looks at issues through a systemic lens often prompted by data, news reports or direct complaints by students and parents. While 51% of cases that took more than 180 days culminated in civil rights violations or corrective changes under the Obama administration, that rate has now dropped to 35%. For instance, the DOE closed a 2015 Desoto County School District case regarding the school’s discriminatory disciplinary practices which used corporal punishment on 852 students – more than half of whom were Black. DOE claimed that the Title VI complaint was closed due to insufficient evidence. However, there was ongoing investigation and data revealing that Black students in the county accounted for 55% of suspensions/expulsions and over 60% of referrals to law enforcement by the schools, despite constituting only 35% of district enrollment.

Furthermore, complaints regarding students with limited English language proficiency that were previously upheld under the Obama administration dropped from 70% to 52%; students with disabilities – from 45% to 34%; sexual harassment/violence – from 41% to 31%; racial harassment – from 31% to 21%. Under DeVos, a case processing manual has given investigators greater discretion to dismiss complaints; for example, complaints can be dismissed if they appear to hold “unreasonable” burden. DeVos has also barred complainants from appealing the Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) decisions and plans to shrink its staff from 569 to 529, according to its 2019 budget proposal. Under federal law, OCR is responsible for ensuring equal access to education and investigating allegations of discrimination in schools and colleges. Families and students can file complaints with OCR. If violations are substantiated, OCR negotiates a settlement or prescribes corrective changes, which it sometimes oversees. It receives more than 10,000 complaints annually and has a target of resolving 80% of them within six months. LEARN MORE

Fortunately, ProPublica has been analyzing data on more than 40,000 civil rights cases and has made accessible the status of all pending and prior cases within the last three years on its website. To date, it has added 220 cases (most were resolved in a two-week period in December 2017) omitted from the DOE’s recent data. Search results are organized by the type of discrimination issue and provide general details on the status of each complaint. The data is retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act on DOE’s website. LEARN MORE

Analysis
Elizabeth Hill, a DOE spokeswoman, said that the new DeVos approach has “restored the role of OCR investigators as neutral fact-finders,” providing closure for both students and institutions. However, the rapid changes and rising dismissal of complaints without full and rigorous investigations reveal the current DOE’s changing priorities. While OCR previously made systematic and time-consuming investigations under Obama, the Trump administration is concentrating solely on individual complaints that can be quickly resolved and attempting to clear a backlog of potentially expansive cases. This strategy is a large shift away from compliance reviews and the exploration of systemic issues rooted in state-sanctioned segregation that marked schools, such as DeSoto County, for decades after Brown v. Board of Education. The unfortunate reality is that massive resistance strategies to past federal orders of school integration remain today. We see this in the fact that, in DeSoto County, there has never been a Black superintendent or member of the elected school board although Black students constitute over a third of the school district’s population.

School codes of discipline that include zero tolerance policies and vague, subjective, and discretionary language drive these discipline disparities. The lack of clarity and the high rates of disparities between groups suggest that typical, developmental behaviors of Black students are pre-emptively defined as violations while similar behaviors by White students are not. In a society so shaped by race and gender, no one is immune to experiencing the biases of our times. Educators are people, and our perceptions of differences can sometimes be based on involuntary ideas that derive from latent stereotypes about race, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of identity. Unlearning ingrained societal biases and negative perceptions about other groups means a commitment to a lifelong learning process.

Research shows that harsh and exclusionary discipline foster school-to-prison pipelines by increasing the risk that students will fall behind in academics, drop out or become involved in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. School pushout is particularly gendered and racialized for young Black girls. The stereotype of Black children as unruly, incorrigible or inherently ungovernable has affected society’s conscious and unconscious responses to Black girls who are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated than White girls, and the rate is dangerously increasing today. Once pushed out, Black girls are the most vulnerable to become victims of child sex trafficking. Students with disabilities and other marginalized groups are also disciplined severely at the intersection of their identities (e.g. race and disability). To say the least, the collateral consequences are devastating for affected students, and they ultimately make us less safe and more inequitable as a society.

Engagement Resources

  • National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls – A national coalition of women and girls connecting their criminal justice transformation work and sharing their expertise as directly affected individuals to create meaningful change in public opinion and policy making (#FreeHer).
  • Educators for Justice – White leaders committed to dismantling systems of oppression in schools through reading groups, convenings, personal empowerment, and collective action.
  • Antiracist White Educators Group – Affinity group for white educators seeking a safe space to examine and discuss race and whiteness; to critically reflect on their racial identities, understandings and actions around race; and to support each other in confronting and working to undo racism in our schools, in our lives and the larger world.
  • NAACP School to Prison Pipeline – NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) partners with community organizations to work on groundbreaking programs and advocacy efforts aimed at returning the emphasis to education instead of exclusion and incarceration.
  • ACLU Racial Justice Program – ACLU’s education work centers on disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline through strategic litigation and advocacy campaigns.
  • The National Coalition on School Diversity – Network of national civil rights organizations, university-based research centers, and state and local coalitions working to increase support for government initiatives that promote diversity in schools.

This Brief was developed by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Tina Lee. Contact: Tina@usresistnews.org

Affirmative Action: Rescinding Obama-Era Policies

Affirmative Action: Rescinding Obama-Era Policies

Brief #22—Education

Policy Summary
Trump administration is rescinding seven Obama-era policies which encouraged schools to look at race as one among many factors in admissions. The seven affirmative action policies are among 24 documents rescinded on the Department of Justice’s website. The DOE/DOJ claim that the documents advocate policy preferences beyond the requirements of the Constitution, and Title IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Trump administration reposted a previously withdrawn George W. Bush administration document, encouraging the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students to elementary and secondary schools. The race-neutral policy is based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, which held that a race-conscious approach is inconsistent with Title VI which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by school districts. The Court held that schools must make a good-faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives before implementing a race-conscious approach in accordance with the “strict scrutiny” standard. To be constitutional, a program must look at each applicant as an individual, and not simply as a racial group. However, because socioeconomic status is not subject to a “strict scrutiny” standard, under a race-neutral approach, schools may use socioeconomic status to determine admissions.

A senior Justice Department official denied that these decisions were rolling back protections for students of color but rather hewing the department closer to the letter of the law. In Tuesday’s joint letter issued by the Departments of Education and Justice, officials wrote that “protections from discrimination on the basis of race remain in place.” Officials replaced Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools. In the document, the Departments recognized the compelling interests that K-12 schools have in obtaining benefits from achieving a diverse student body and avoiding racial isolation in an increasingly multicultural world. Consistent with the principles articulated in Supreme Court opinions, the guidance lays out a strategic plan for schools to meet these compelling interests, and when it is more practical to use a race-conscious approach when a race-neutral approach becomes unworkable in achieving a diversity student body. LEARN MORE

Analysis
Previous cases reveals how a race-neutral/colorblind approach to the letter of the law has systematically denied equal protection for people of color. As established in Johnson v. California (2005), facially discriminatory laws based on race or national origin must pass a “strict scrutiny” standard, in which there must be a compelling governmental interest independent of the racial classification and the use of race must be narrowly tailored to that particular interest. The Supreme Court has held that governmental interest is compelling to remedy the effects of intentional discrimination and to obtain a diverse student body in higher education.

Today, schools like University of Michigan want more freedom to consider race and believe that race should be considered among many factors during admissions. This perspective is aligned with the the Supreme Court’s race-conscious approach in Brown v. Board of Education. In Brown, the Court ruled that there was no constitutional violation from using race and discouraged a colorblind approach. During this period, the Court had trouble guiding states on how to remedy inequalities that were fundamentally ingrained in the public consciousness and culture. Although Brown eliminated separate but equal, states remained resistant to desegregation policies even until the 1990s. For instance, Dowell (1991) held that dissolution of the desegregation decree was permissible because federal supervision was not intended to last forever. Civil Rights cases later established that policies “under color of law” (i.e. state’s unwritten policies or customs) were unconstitutional. In other words, although private discrimination by individuals was not unconstitutional because individuals were not considered state actors, it did not mean that such discrimination was constitutionally protected. Because the states’ role is to ensure the equality of civil rights, states have an affirmative obligation to push back on private discrimination when it does arise.

The ratification of the 14th Amendment during the Reconstruction era was a response to the vestiges of slavery – the denial of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Justice Harlan stated that the purpose of the 13th Amendment was to eviscerate all the vestiges of slavery – to not only make former slaves U.S. citizens in form but also in substance through equal participation in civil society. Last year, the Trump administration’s decision to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division towards suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants not only lacks historical basis but only makes sense if whites were once an enslaved group systematically denied their fundamental rights by the federal government. Furthermore, this perspective ignores the reality that the greatest benefactors of affirmative action have historically been white women.

Louis D. Brandeis Center, a human rights organization that champions Jewish causes, filed an amicus brief in 2012, arguing that “race conscious admission standards are unfair to individuals, and unhealthy for society at large.” On the contrary, using a colorblind approach when we are still struggling today to provide equal participation to all citizens and debating civil rights’ extension over public education will only move us further back to the vestiges of slavery. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources

  • Chiefs for Change – An education reform nonprofit aimed at facilitating change through policy and advocacy, building a unique community of practice, and cultivating a pipeline of diverse education leaders.
  • Poverty and Race Research Action Council –The Council is a civil rights policy organization aimed at helping to connect advocates with social scientists working on race and poverty issues, and to promote a research-based advocacy strategy on structural inequality issues.
  • The National Coalition on School Diversity – The Coalition is a network of national civil rights organizations, university-based research centers, and state and local coalitions working to increase support for government initiatives that promote diversity in schools.

This Brief was prepared by USRESIST NEWS Analyst Tina R Lee: Contact tina@usresistnews.org

Photo by Joanna Kosinska

Teacher Walkouts Spreading Throughout Red States

Brief # 21 Education

Summary

Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona have been participating in walkouts in an effort to raise salary increases for teachers and increase funding for their schools. These protests come in the wake of teacher walkouts in West Virginia after state legislature approved a 5% raise after nine days of the teacher led movement.

In Oklahoma teachers are asking for a $10,000 raise, a $5,000 raise for support staff and $200 million over three years for funding of schools. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has since signed a bill to fund a $6,000 raise for teachers and $1,250 raise for support staff. The same bill provides only $33 million for textbooks as opposed to the $200 million over three years.

In Kentucky, teachers are protesting education budget cuts, and a change in retirement plans for new teachers that would eliminate pension plans and create a retirement plan similar to a 401(k) which is used in the private sector. The new bill would also limit the amount of sick days teachers are allowed to put towards their retirement.

In Arizona teachers want a 20% raise to increase wages to those of neighboring states like Colorado and New Mexico, and they want increased school funding. They’re asking that the state of Arizona implements no new tax cuts until the per-pupil spending in state matches the national average.

Analysis

West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are red states, where Republican legislators have consistently passed tax cuts that benefit the businesses and cut funding for public services. These budget cuts have largely impacted classrooms and the students in them. A picture on Facebook posted by an Oklahoma art teacher, Laurissa Kovacs, has gone viral. In the post she says how she has up to 32 students in some of her classes and not enough chairs for all her students to sit in. The chairs they do have are broken and the bottoms are falling out from under kids. Another viral post, a tweet by a parent of an Oklahoma Public School student, shows an image of a textbook that still lists George W. Bush as the current president of the United States.

According to The 74, a nonprofit news site that covers education in the U.S., “When adjusted for inflation, education spending in 29 states (including Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona) was less in 2015 than it was in 2008.”

In light of the walkouts and the response from some legislators, teachers are now planning to run for local offices. One example is Cyndi Ralston, who is running to unseat Republican Representative Kevin McDugle. McDugle has said of the teacher walkouts, “I’m not voting for another stinking measure when they are acting the way they are acting.” In response Ralston announced her campaign by saying, “When my colleagues and I have visited our Republican representatives and senators, we have been brushed off, if not outright lied to. Republican members of the legislature have made it crystal clear that they do not believe they work for us, that our concerns do not matter. . . If Kevin McDugle won’t fight for teachers and students, then I will. If Kevin McDugle won’t back parents over oil companies, I will.” In Kentucky, 40 teachers or other educators have filed to run for office, and Arizona has also seen an increase in educators file to run for office.

Teacher walkouts are expected to continue in the following week in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona.

Engagement Resources

Research—Learn how much your state spends per-pupil and what the average teacher salary is in each state.

Contact your elected officials—Let them know that teacher wages and education spending are important issues to you.

 This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, rebecca@usresistnews.org.

 

Trump Establishes Federal Commission on School Safety

Education Brief #22

Summary

In a White House briefing statement issued on March 12, 2018, President Trump established the Federal Commission on School Safety chaired by Education Secretary Betsey DeVos. The commission was established to address school safety and “a culture of violence”. According to the White House briefing the committee, among other issues, will address:

  • Best practices for school buildings and campus security from Federal Government components, including the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and also from other State, local, and private sector sources.
  • A plan for integration and coordination of Federal resources focused on prevention and mitigation of active shooter incidents at schools.
  • Opportunities to improve access to mental health treatment, including through efforts that raise awareness about mental illness and the effectiveness of treatment, reduce barriers to the recruitment of mental health professionals, and provide training related to violence prevention.
  • Best practices for school-based threat assessment and violence prevention strategies.
  • Existing entertainment rating systems and youth consumption of violent entertainment.
  • Strategies to advance the science and practice of character development in youth and a culture of connectedness.
  • Effects of press coverage of mass shootings.

According to a press-release by the Department of Education, released nine days after the White House briefing, the members of the committee are: Secretary DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

The first meeting of the Commission took place on March 28, 2018. According to another press release by the Department of Education they discussed “staffing, the timeline for future meetings with stakeholders, coordination with State and local partners, the scope of the Commission’s work and how best to incorporate stakeholder input on the issue areas President Donald Trump directed the Commission to study.”

Analysis

Many key stakeholders in the public education community feel that the Commission is leaving out the voices of students, parents, and educators. After the first meeting of the Commission the National Education Association President, Lily Eskelsen García, issued a press release explaining the frustrations. “This commission is meeting just days after hundreds of thousands of students held marches in Washington and across the country to demand meaningful action to prevent gun violence in our schools and communities. Yet, today’s meeting purposefully excludes the voices of students, educators and parents . . . Given the previous actions of DeVos, we’re not surprised that today’s meeting is closed to the media and happening away from the eyes of the public. The commission’s clear purpose is to push an agenda that is focused on a dangerous and misguided plan to put more guns in schools by arming teachers and other school personnel.”

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat representing Washington, and the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, also expressed concerns about the Commission in a statement she released after meeting with DeVos about the Commission. In her statement she specifically called out the NRA’s potential involvement in the Commission. “While Secretary DeVos said she had no interest in meeting with the NRA as a part of this process, she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me how the NRA would be allowed to influence the commission’s recommendations, or even that they wouldn’t have veto power. She wouldn’t agree to put survivors of gun violence, families of victims, or experts on preventing gun violence on the commission — in fact, she told me that the only people on the commission would be federal officials.”

In response to the concern that there are no students, parents or educators on the committee, DeVos has said, “This is an urgent matter. We want to ensure sure that we are able to move and operate as quickly as possible, without getting bogged down in bureaucracy.”

The committee has not met again and there isn’t a public timeline of when the next meeting will be held.

Engagement Resources

Email the Commission—Let them know your concerns about school safety directly

Take action with the National Education Association—Tell Congress to pass common-sense gun violence laws

Contact your elected officials—Let them know that you want students and educators to have a voice in this process

This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, rebecca@usresistnews.org.

 

Department of Education Releases Notice to States: Stop Regulating Student Loan Servicers

March 11, 2018

Summary

On Friday, March 9, the U.S. Department of Education released a notice to stop states from regulating federal student loan servicers. The notice states, “Recently, several States have enacted regulatory regimes or applied existing State consumer protection statutes that undermine these goals by imposing new regulatory requirements on the Department’s Direct Loan servicers, including State licensure to service Federal student loans.” The notice also states that the federal government is the only entity that has the authority to provide oversight to their contractors.

The notice specifically names a Massachusetts lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Maura Healey, against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, commonly known as FedLoan Servicing, as an example of states overstepping federal authority. The federal government intervened on behalf of the loan servicer in this case although it is still ongoing.

Other states that have implemented their own regulations include California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia; they all require federal student loan servicers to obtain a license to operate in the state, meaning the state’s local agencies have the authority to monitor and investigate the loan servicers. New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are in the process of implementing similar practices. 

Analysis

The Department of Education’s federal student loan servicers handle roughly $1 trillion in student loan debt. Between September of 2016 and August of 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received 12,900 complaints about these student loans; over 9,000 of these complaints were directly related to loan servicer issues. These complaints are why states have been implementing their own regulations to monitor federal student loan servicers.

In October of 2017, 25 state attorneys general sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, defending their right to protect their residents from the “fraudulent and abusive practices” of student loan servicers. The letter signed by Democrat and Republican attorneys general alike states, “State enforcement agencies have long been at the frontlines in protecting their citizens from fraud, deceptive conduct; and unfair business practices, including by financial service companies, debt collectors, and others. Indeed, such actions reflect fundamental states’ rights and fall squarely within the historic police powers reserved to the states.”

In response to the Department of Education’s new notice, many of the attorney generals that signed the letter spoke out against the notice. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a tweet addressed to Betsy DeVos, “Betsy Devos, with today’s announcement, is attempting to exempt private contractors that service federal student loans from complying with state law. This is suspicious, unprecedented & most importantly, without any legal basis under federal law.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also tweeted about the new notice. “Secretary DeVos can write as many love letters to the student loan industry as she wants, we will not shut down our investigations or stand by while these companies rip off students and families.”

The National Consumer Law Center also released a press release in response to the new notice.  In the press release Persis Yu, a staff attorney and director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, said, “Servicers and collectors who mistreat student loan borrowers and steer them into inappropriate payment plans should not be above the law. . . States have a critical role to play in protecting student loan borrowers. With the Education Department inappropriately siding with servicers over borrowers, the role of states is now more critical than ever.”

Meanwhile, organizations representing student loan servicers, are pleased with the contents of the notice. The Student Loan Servicing Alliance, a non-profit, membership organization of student loan servicers and software providers in the Federal Family Education Loan Program and Federal Direct Loan Program, also released a press release in response to the notice. In the release they say, “The Department’s guidance is not just good law, it is good policy. Clear, uniform student loan servicing guidance from the federal government will help borrowers avoid the frustrations of an inconsistent patchwork of policies from individual states.”

There is currently no law that explicitly states the Department of Education has the authority to stop states from regulating student loan servicers. This notice will likely go to the courts to determine who has legal authority to regulate federal student loan servicers. 

Engagement Resources

  • National Consumer Law Center—A nonprofit that works with other nonprofits, legal services organizations, private attorneys, policymakers, and federal and state government and courts to stop exploitative practices.
  • Student Debt Crisis—A nonprofit dedicated to reforming student debt and higher education loan policies.

This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, rebecca@usresistnews.org.


 

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Increase in Racial Harassment Complaints to the Department of Education

March 4, 2018 

Summary

The civil rights division of the US Department of Education has seen a substantial increase in the number of racial harassment complaints they’ve received during 2017. Over the last nine years the Department’s civil rights division has never seen more than 600 racial harassment complaints in a year, until 2017 when 675 were filed. This is an almost 25% increase over 2016 and is the biggest climb in reported racial harassments since 2009. The data was released after a Huffington Post inquiry. This new data comes at a time when the Department of Education has announced they will be scaling back investigations into civil rights violations in public schools and universities. 

Analysis

A Southern Poverty Law Center report released in November of 2016 after the presidential election, surveyed over 10,000 teachers, school counselors and administrators on the impact the election had on students. The study reported that 8 in 10 respondents saw heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students. It was also reported that 4 in 10 respondents heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.

In another report, titled the Year in Hate and Extremism, released by the Southern Poverty Law Center on February 21, 2018, a rise in black nationalist hate groups was reported. In 2016 there was 183 chapters of black nationalist hate groups growing to 233 chapters in 2017. They also saw neo-Nazi groups grow from 99 groups in 2016 to 121 in 2017. As Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told the Huffington Post, “Our schools are places that encapsulate and reflect the national climate as well. It is distressingly unsurprising that there might be an uptick in racial harassment complaints coming to OCR.” 

Engagement Resources

  • Southern Poverty Law Center—A nonprofit that fights hate and bigotry, and seeks justice for the most vulnerable members of society.
  • ACLU—A nonprofit that works to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people that have historically been denied these rights because of their race.
  • YWCA—A nonprofit organization that works to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, rebecca@usresistnews.org.


 

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Department of Education Prepares to Pilot FSA Payment Card Program

February 8, 2018

Summary

The Department of Education released a Pre-Solicitation Notice in January that gives details on a new payment card program for federal student loan excess fund disbursements. Starting this spring a pilot program with approximately 100,000 students will test this new system. Under the pilot program, federal student aid (FSA) would be directly disbursed to the college or university, as it is now, but instead of student receiving their refunds via direct deposit or check, the funds would be placed onto the FSA Payment Card. A. Wayne Johnson, the former Chief Operation Officer of Federal Student Aid, said the payment cards would give the government control over “when and where and how much” federal loan money was spent. “It will have real-time coaching for people in terms of, ‘you’re about to spend this money on this particular matter — it’s going to have this effect on your student loans.’”

The FSA cards are part of Education Secretary Betsey DeVos’ plan to modernize and streamline the student financial aid system. FSA serves 40 million people, has more than $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans, and processes 50 million disbursements that total more than $125 billion. The idea behind the FSA prepaid card is to offer a cost-efficient way to give students access to a bank-like product. Employers and family members would also be able to load money onto the card. 

Analysis

U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote a letter to then COO of Federal Student Aid, A. Wayne Johnson,  asking 19 questions about the FSA Payment Cards. They raised concerns about the program stating, “While we support efforts to improve the financial aid distribution process, we have serious concerns about your proposal given the poor track record of such cards in the past. History shows that in the absence of strict oversight and safeguards, these card programs can leave students and taxpayers vulnerable to exploitation.” In 2012 the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a report showing that financial institutions that issued student IDs or prepaid cards to students through contracts with colleges were taking advantage of their access to student data. The report found that after a few years of aggressive marketing to the students using the prepaid cards and student IDs 70-80% of students were using their financial services. The cards also had per-swipe fees, inactivity fees, overdraft fees, ATM fees, and fees to reload the cards which means students were paying fees to access their financial aid. The colleges received monetary benefits from these institutions based on students using campus debit and prepaid cards.

In 2015, the Department of Education released new regulations to protect students from being exploited by campus debit and prepaid card programs. These regulations required that education institutions give students choices about how to receive their financial aid, ensured that students were not charged excessive fees when accessing payments of their federal student aid, and prohibited schools from requiring students or parents from open specific accounts to access their federal financial aid. The regulations also limited the sharing of student information and data with third-party servicers. With the new FSA payment cards, the financial services companies would own student data including spending patterns.

There is concern that similar predatory behavior from financial institutions could exploit students like they did prior to the 2015 regulations. Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center said of the new program and pre-solicitation notice that, “It could be that there are companies that would find this attractive, not so much for the card itself but for the opportunity to pitch other products or try to develop brand loyalty from customers.”

Engagement Resources

  • Student Debt Crisis—A nonprofit dedicated to reforming student debt and higher education loan policies.
  • National Consumer Law Center—A nonprofit that works with other nonprofits, legal services organizations, private attorneys, policymakers, and federal and state government and courts to stop exploitative practices.
  • Inside Higher ED—A leading digital media company serving the higher education space that prides itself on speaking as an independent voice.

This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, rebecca@usresistnews.org.


 

PROSPER Act Passes Committee, Under Review in the House

February 5, 2018

Summary

Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Representative Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced the Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation known as the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act or the PROSPER Act. It passed out of committee on a party line vote of 23 to 17 in December and is currently under review in the House. The timing of the PROSPER Act comes as the Higher Education Act, first passed in 1965, is up for renewal. The bill addresses a number of higher education issues including financial aid, religious freedom of institutions, Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), protections for sexual assault survivors, and regulations of for-profit colleges.

The PROSPER Act introduces a new income-based repayment plan for student loans to replace the current PAYE and REPAYE plans. The new plan increases the percentage a borrower must pay of their discretionary adjusted gross income from 10% to 15%. For borrowers on an income-based repayment plan, the PROSPER Act removes loan forgiveness after 20-25 years of repayment. The bill also cuts back on the amount of federal loans graduate students can take, and while it does expand funding for the work study program, it eliminates graduate students from the program. The bill would also eliminate Federal Direct Loans which are low-interest loans for students and parents, and replace all federal loans with Federal ONE Loans, a loan that would be limited to a standard 10-year repayment, barring all future loan borrows from qualifying for Public Student Loan Forgiveness under the current requirements. Under the PROSPER Act regulations for for-profit colleges would also change. The PROSPER Act would remove the 90/10 rule, which currently states that for-profit colleges can’t receive more than 90% of its revenue from Title IV federal financial aid. The gainful employment rule is supposed to incentivize for-profit colleges to remain competitive with non-profit institutions. The idea is that if they are offering high-quality education they will not only be funded by federal money, but also that students will see the value in paying for the programs out of their own pockets.

The PROSPER Act would also eliminate the gainful employment rule for for-profit colleges. This rule sets a minimum debt-to-income ratio for graduates of for-profit colleges, and if the college falls below this minimum they lose all federal funding.

The PROSPER Act also allows for discrimination of LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities. The government would not be allowed to take action against colleges for policies related to their religious mission, including those that forbid “homosexual behavior”. In some cases, colleges enforcing discriminatory policies related to their religious mission could lose accreditation, but under the PROSPER Act they would be able to appeal to the education secretary to maintain their eligibility. The bill would also change the regulations for how colleges and universities handle claims of sexual harassment and assault. Under the PROSPER Act schools could indefinitely suspend investigations into sexual harassment and assault claims if the claims are also being investigated by law enforcement. This means colleges don’t need to support students with protective measures such as no-contact orders, or changing campus living situations, as is common practice when colleges conduct their own investigation.

Analysis

The PROSPER Act seems aimed at limiting access to higher education for low-income students and allowing for discriminatory practices against LGBTQ students. The Association of American Universities raised concerns about the effect the PROSPER Act would have on the affordability of higher education for millions of students, “As drafted, the House plan is seriously flawed. It seeks to eliminate subsidized loans, on which nearly six million undergraduate students depend each year . . . Perhaps most alarming, this plan would get rid of student loan programs that put graduate and professional studies within reach for many, conflicting with our country’s long-term interest of producing highly-skilled and educated talent, particularly in areas of national need.”

The National Consumer Law Center issued a letter to members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce raising concerns about the effect the PROSPER Act would have on low-income students and their families, “HB 4508, would make it more expensive for low-income students to get a higher education while simultaneously eliminating the programs that make student loan repayment for low-income students possible. Low-income students would bear the brunt of the changes to federal aid. It would also demolish safeguards that prevent low-quality schools from using abusive and predatory tactics to line their pockets with taxpayer dollars at the expense of students who are working to build a better life for their families.”

The Human Rights Campaign released a statement that raised numerous concerns about what the bill would mean for LGBTQ students and sexual assault survivors. In regards to cases of sexual harassment and assault, “the PROSPER Act would allow schools to choose what standard of evidence they use, and many could use a strict standard that makes it harder for survivors to get justice, tipping the scales in favor of rapists. It also contains a provision that would allow schools to considerably delay investigations into a case of sexual assault if there is also a separate law enforcement investigation. Meanwhile, the sexual assault survivor could be forced to continue interactions with their abusers in their dorms or classes.” As for the effect the PROSPER Act would have on LGBTQ students, “[the bill] could undermine federal, state, and local non-discrimination protections by allowing colleges and universities to ignore these non-discrimination laws simply because they have a religious mission.”

Other organizations opposed to the PROSPER Act due to the implications it will have on affordability and access to higher education include the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, The Education Trust, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities. While the PROSPER Act is expected to pass in the House, it is expected that the bill will be more difficult to pass in the Senate.

Engagement Resources

This brief was compiled by Rebecca Leclerc. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, rebecca@usresistnews.org.


 

DeVos Rescinds Special Education Guidances

Policy Change
Announced on October 2, 2017 

Summary

Stating that the move would in no way impact the services currently received by disabled students, DeVos rescinded 72 special education guidance documents that her department referred to as “outdated, unnecessary or ineffective.” Many of the documents, including those titled “Implementing Community-based Educational Programs for Students with Disabilities, “ and“Procedural Safeguards and Due Process Procedures for Parents and Children with Disabilities,” clarified and explained the parameters of the  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act. LEARN MORE 

Analysis

While it may be true that the removal of these documents has no real policy implications, some remain wary. Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, explained that many of these memos focused on “critical clarifications of the regulations required to meet the needs of students with disabilities.” During her initial confirmation hearings, it was revealed that DeVos wasn’t even aware that IDEA, the act that many of these rescinded documents explain, was federal law, causing many to view this current move to rescind many explanatory documents as rushed or not well thought out. Despite the confusion around what the decision actually means, many democrats have still begun stepping forward to reaffirm their support for the country’s disabled students. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) expressed her support via tweet stating, “This administration’s campaign against students with disabilities continues. We should be doing more, not less, to help them.”  LEARN MORE 

Engagement Resources

  • National Center for Learning Disabilities -Working to create a society in which every person has the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed, the NCLD works to transform schools and advocate for equal rights for students and adults with learning and attention issues.
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America– Support the LDA, the association that led the push for passage of the first federal legislation mandating a free, appropriate, public education for students with disabilities
  • ACLU– An organization who works for an America free of discrimination against people with disabilities, come explore the many ways to support the ACLU.

This brief was compiled by Cindy Stansbury. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact, cindy@usresistnews.org.


 

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