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.
Latest Education Posts
By Amy Swain
Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers.
By Ivan A Moore
As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, universities have experienced unprecedented disruptions. Over the past few weeks, they’ve emptied classrooms and dorms, with most opting to finish the semester online. A few have cancelled courses altogether. Though extreme, these measures will protect students and staff from the rapid spread that would occur via stadium-like lecture halls, busy cafeterias, and crowded dorms. It was the only safe option, but the fallout will reverberate through America’s higher education system for years to come.
The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities. The bill, a product of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), clarifies and adds to the CARES Act which was enacted in late March. Though the bill was introduced just over a month ago it remains a proposal and lawmakers have yet to finalize a package for schools, despite the nearing start date.
The bill sets aside $345 billion for education in general, with a little over half going to K-12 schools. Specifically, the bill aims to: direct money to education agencies with more students from low-income families; set aside money for migrant and homeless children and English language learners; increase “liquidity and cash flow” to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) so they can tap into their assets. CCCERA goes further to protect educators, students, and school communities from state budget cuts by requiring that states receiving federal funds maintain or increase state education spending for three years. The bill contains several other points, but generally aims to enact a robust and equitable funding plan meant to tackle the gap in education and technology access for our most vulnerable students and families.
In addition to a greater sum of aid and more thoughtful allocation, the bill condemns Education Secretary DeVos’ implementation efforts to limit aid eligibility for Dreamers and undocumented students and repeals the Secretary’s discretionary spending fund, a percentage of aid to be spent at her discretion under laws written into the CARES Act. In May DeVos distributed over $350 million from the fund to small, private, primarily religious universities whose typically smaller and wealthier student bodies would receive more money per student than universities with more low-income students. She also distributed $180 million in grants for states, with the “absolute priority 1” being the creation of “microgrants” which could pay for technology and services to support remote learning — but could also be used for private school tuition. Both of these inequitable allocations are remedied in CCCERA which solidifies how money can be spent across the public and private sector and provides an updated formula that places more weight on the headcount of low-income students in a given school.
As the nation is gearing up for the school year lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on a stimulus package that will not only help the economy, which seems to be their main priority, but also address the inequities in education that have been exasperated by the current public health crisis. Not all families will be able to support remote learning at home or have access to or money for technology required for effective remote learning, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have been going back and forth for months on an all-inclusive proposal while our youth and school communities have been waiting for answers.
CCCERA policies, supported by advocacy groups, educational agencies, professional organizations, and families, provide much needed funding and spending clarifications which address the multiple levels of inequities in our education system. This bill shows that legislators are hearing what the people have been demanding and continue to demand — an educational system that is built to help everyone succeed. The bill also recognizes the people’s calls for transparency and accountability in government, as it seeks to remedy DeVos’ violation of “Congressional intent” when implementing the CARES Act. Instead of “equitable services” for private schools, she gave large grants to private institutions and required that a greater percentage of federal aid goes to private schools than what is normal under the law by counting all students instead of just low-income students — this was not what was intended by the law as equitable and is an abuse of power. Only by bringing accountability and transparency to the forefront and closing these loopholes can lawmakers prevent further misuse of funds and ensure that students’ rights to quality and accessible education are not trampled on.
S.4112 goes above and beyond the stimulus proposals currently being debated. However its passage is by no means assured. For S.4112 to become a law lawmakers from both parties must treat education, especially public education, as a nonpartisan priority. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for additional review, but even if it is forwarded to the Republican Majority Senate for a vote, chances of it moving on to the House are slim. Nor is it likely to be signed by the President — who before COVID was planning on cutting the education budget by about 8% for the next fiscal year. Since the stimulus package as an all-in-one deal is taking the stage, schools and students must patiently wait in hopes that democrats will negotiate for more and equitable funding for schools.
NASSP — The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an action page with education justice issues and a convenient fill-in template that sends emails to your local elected representatives. It also has tools that help you register to vote, find relevant elected officials, and prepare you to vote on relevant educational policies.
NEA EdJustice — The National Education Association’s EdJustice site provides information and resources for addressing injustices in education, including relevant petitions, pledges, and events. Join their “League” to connect with other advocates and organize in your community.
Educators for Excellence — Educators for Excellence connects Educators and school communities with tools to advocate for progressive policies that will help under-resourced schools and students have better access to and quality of education. They have templates, contact info, and links to help you reach out to the appropriate governing bodies and demand justice.
Healthy Schools — Healthy Schools is a 501(c)3 that partners with the CDC and EPA to provide expert advice and action plans to school leaders and governments in order to create healthy and safe schools. They’ve created an extensive plan and action tool-kit to address the pandemic, check out their resources for organizing and assisting in its implementation in your local schools.
- Bill Text
- Bill Fact Sheet
- Future-Ed (Georgetown)
- CAP: Why K-12 Education Needs More Federal Stimulus Funding
- Providing Equitable Services in Private Schools Under CARES (FAQ – DoEd)
- Education Activism Picking Up
- Alliance for Excellent Ed – CCCERA
- Trump Threat to Withhold School Money
- Learnings from Local Ed Leaders
- Ed Activism During Covid
- DeVos Discretionary Spending
Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers. The reopening Trump is pushing for would send students and teachers back to classrooms as early as next month. There has been talk of a resurgence of the virus in the fall and winter months since the pandemic began. The numbers have risen so steadily due to quick state re-openings that it may no longer qualify as a resurgence, but now simply as an increase.
A sixty-nine page file created by the Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, marked “For Internal Use Only” was obtained by the New York Times and circulated this week. It was meant to be used by the White House corona virus task force while visiting areas highly impacted by the virus. While most of the file was made up of documents already made public and posted to the CDC’s website, there were some new details that seemingly got the president’s attention. Specifically, it stated that a full reopen of schools put the country on the “highest risk” option.
Seemingly in reaction to the documents, Trump began firing off Tweets in favor of school reopenings: “Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning. Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.” He then took his tweets a step further, with a bizarre claim that those opposing school openings are doing so for political reasons, and that there may be financial consequences: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” He insisted that he would put pressure on governors and local governments to reopen.
While federal funding does not account for a large part of school budgets, most of what it does account for is aid low income families and students with special needs – populstions deemed to be at high-risk for the corona virus. Most education funding is provided by the states and local government, who will ultimately make decisions concerning reopening. Luckily, Trump does not have the authority to cut funding to schools.However his threat displays a lack of concern for American citizens.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been a champion of local and parental school control , has completely adapted her message to echo Trump’s. In April she stated “If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student.” And just days ago, “I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom, because we know for most kids, that’s the best environment for them.” DeVos is putting her spotlight onto low-income schools and those in communities of color. She insists they do not have the funds to operate properly remotely but contradicts her concerns by continuing to support the threat of removing federal funding from them if they don’t them if they don’t reopen.
The issue has become so publicly political that families and teachers at the heart of the debate are feeling frustrated and left behind. Appropriate and responsible planning has been pirated by making political choices while lives hang in the balance. As President of the National Parents Union Keri Rodriguez put it, “We have so politicized the situation we don’t know who we can trust, and it’s become very clear that we can’t trust her (DeVos)..”
- National Parents Union is a collection of 200 advocacy organizations across 50 states representing parents from communities of color. www.nationalparentsunion.org
- American Federation of Teachers is a teachers labor union fighting for more federal funding in order to accommodate safety considerations within classrooms. www.aft.org
Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed.
Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed. Recent events have led districts to second-guess a fresh start this fall: The pandemic’s expected death toll continues to rise as states move to reopen against the advice of scientists; Coronavirus task force advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned against assuming that vaccines and widespread treatments will be available by fall, calling the expectation “a bridge too far”; and in recent weeks, the popular belief that children are “safe” from the virus has been turned on its head by emerging reports of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome.
On May 12th the entire California State University system announced that it will hold the upcoming semester online, and universities around the country are expected to follow suit. As difficult as this situation is for college students, it may be impossible for schoolchildren. Even for those with consistent Internet access, the lack of structure and high stress levels will prevent kids from meeting standard academic milestones. In fact, many analysts are expecting them to lose ground in an intensified version of the “summer slide.”
Meanwhile, President Trump has been pushing for schools to reopen as soon as possible. He rejected Dr. Fauci’s suggestion to remain cautious in the fall, calling it “not an acceptable answer.” Trump added, “We have to open our schools. Young people are little affected by this.”
Despite President Trump’s optimism, the risks of a rushed reopening cannot be understated. Setting aside his apparent ignorance of pediatric inflammatory syndrome, children are not the only ones affected by potential outbreaks in schools; staff and students’ families will also be caught in the crossfire.
There is hope that, like the retail sector, schools can reopen earlier if they do so gradually. The United States could follow the example of Denmark, which reopened schools for the lower grades on April 15th. In addition to increased hygiene measures, children are required to stay six feet apart, and classroom sizes are limited to ten. However, questions remain about the viability of doing this in larger schools. Denmark chose to open primary schools first for good reason: they tend to be smaller, and they’re more likely to be within walking distance. In densely-packed high schools, creating a safe plan would present a significant challenge. The cited NPR article suggests staggering schedules to reduce class sizes, meaning kids could attend on alternating days or in daily shifts.
As with every aspect of public life, coronavirus presents an impossible choice for schools and families. Proposed safety measures can only do so much to mitigate the risk, especially since children have more difficulty understanding and adhering to social distancing policies. However, at some point the suffering caused by missed milestones and social isolation rivals that of the virus itself. The spectre of disease is coupled with that of a mass-scale academic and developmental backslide.
While the fall quarter is up in the air, districts should do more to address the drawbacks of distance learning. Some schools are not offering online instruction due to lack of preparedness and equity concerns. This summer is the time to train teachers and administrators, as well as develop an effective online curriculum — preferably at the state level. Some districts have offered wifi and laptops to low-income students, but the current patchwork of resources is hurting children nationwide. Federal and state support for such programs would go a long way towards making phased reopenings possible. A staggered schedule will be much more viable if kids can learn effectively from home.
Perhaps we’ll get lucky and the situation will improve drastically by August, but we need to prepare for the worst now. Having effective digital options will reduce the rush to return to the classroom before it’s safe.
On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19.
On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19. In the United States, many children will be out for the rest of the year. Virginia, for example, has already announced that in-person instruction will not resume until fall, at the earliest. According to NPR, experts expect it will take current students at least two years to recover academically. In the meantime, drop-out rates will surge.
School districts have scrambled to roll out distance learning programs, although many students lack the resources to access education online. Low-income students may lack internet at home, and those with disabilities are unable to receive the accommodations they need. In an effort to fill the gaps, telecommunications companies have offered discounted service for some consumers, and certain districts have attempted to make WiFi more accessible via hotspots. Additionally, some teachers have chosen to provide printed worksheets and phone conferences. In the midst of widespread panic and disorder, however, it is impossible to scale these measures to meet the need completely.
Providing for millions of students is a job for the federal government, which has unfortunately given a muted response. In the recently passed CARES Act, $13.5 billion of the $2 trillion package was allotted to education. The funds could be used for a wide variety of needs, including distance learning initiatives, upon Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ approval. Even more concerning, the legislation allows states to fund education at a lower level than previous years “for the purpose of relieving fiscal burdens on states that have experienced a precipitous decline in financial resources.”
Like every other facet of society, the American education system is struggling to hold itself together during this crisis. Individual districts have made admirable efforts to support students, but this amounts to a confused patchwork of resources nationwide. Yet again, the most vulnerable Americans will find themselves at a disadvantage. Low-income students from poor and rural areas will have the most obstacles to accessing education, while their schools will have the fewest resources to help.
Additionally, the $13.5 billion given to education in the CARES Act pales in comparison to the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which gave schools $77 billion. The amount allotted in the CARES Act is essentially a pittance given the scale of the crisis; after all, the Obama-era legislation was enacted when schools were operating normally. Not to mention the fact that the oncoming recession may eclipse the 2008 financial crisis, constraining school budgets further.
In the wake of this recession, funding for education should be maintained, not decreased. The federal government’s refusal to guarantee this shows that students, particularly working-class ones, are not a major priority. Wealthier districts, blessed by the neighborhood’s tax base, will continue to provide an education of consistent quality. Meanwhile, poor districts that were already struggling will see their difficulties compounded under CARES Act provisions. In short, the cycle of educational inequality will only intensify, spurred on by the empty gesture of this stimulus package.
- The Education Trust is working towards equitable education for low-income and POC students.
- No Kid Hungry has outlined its response to the crisis and provided additional resources for those looking to help.
- Khan Academy provides free, high-quality educational resources.
As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, universities have experienced unprecedented disruptions.
As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, universities have experienced unprecedented disruptions. Over the past few weeks, they’ve emptied classrooms and dorms, with most opting to finish the semester online. A few have cancelled courses altogether. Though extreme, these measures will protect students and staff from the rapid spread that would occur via stadium-like lecture halls, busy cafeterias, and crowded dorms. It was the only safe option, but the fallout will reverberate through America’s higher education system for years to come.
In previous generations, when college was reserved for the well-to-do, campus closures were a frustrating inconvenience. Today, there are literally millions of low-income college students in the US, and these unexpected changes have left them reeling. They’ve been forced to make costly trips home or rent apartments on short notice. These effects are compounded by surging unemployment rates, particularly in the service sector. While some institutions are offering full or partial refunds, it won’t be enough for many low-income students to balance the unforeseen expenses. For those that can’t rely on their family’s coffers, dropping out may become the only option.
Additionally, the transition to online instruction has put financial strain on the universities themselves. Roughly a third of schools were already operating at a deficit due to plateauing enrollment and declining government funds; now they’ll struggle with losses during and after the crisis. After sending out tuition refunds, universities will likely see a marked decline in enrollment. How schools will navigate these dire straits remains unclear; for the hardest hit, it will become an existential threat.
In response to the crisis, American Council on Education (ACE) released a memo asking for federal support. Among their requests were emergency financial aid for students and schools, zero-interest loans for universities, and support in implementing remote instruction.
The pandemic has laid bare the already untenable state of American higher education. Soaring tuition and poor job prospects have already led younger generations to question the value of a degree, and these concerns are more salient than ever as online curriculums are rolled out with limited preparation.
In addition, the crisis in higher education has cast yet another spotlight on America’s chasmic wealth gap. Despite our society’s insistence to the contrary, a college degree is a hard-earned privilege, and now thousands — perhaps millions — of low-income students will be unable to afford it.
As ACE’s memo points out, these are the same students that rely on universities for food, housing, transportation, and medical care. Particularly in large public institutions, these basic needs are heavily subsidized. Many students would be unable to access reliable transportation without their school’s shuttle or bus passes, and the university healthcare system provides the only medical care they can afford.
Yet schools were never intended to provide these services on such a massive scale. Colleges have come to offer so much more than knowledge and professional credentials; increasingly, they are the scaffolding upon which poor students build their lives. For too long they have been covering for our government, providing for students’ basic needs when no other institution will. In the aftermath of this crisis, untold numbers of young adults will be facing an economic void that a $1,200 check won’t fill.
Our higher education system deserves all the federal aid it can get, but ultimately it faces deep flaws that our society as a whole must address.
Photo by Anshu A
Among the propositions in Donald Trump’s budget for the fiscal year of 2021 is slashing $5.6 billion dollars from the Education Department. This includes an overhaul of current student loan forgiveness programs.
The plan for doing this includes canceling Public Service Loan Forgiveness, established by Congress under the Bush administration in 2007, to reward federal student loan borrowers for entering a public service career by forgiving their debt after ten years of monthly payments, or 120 consecutive payments.
The justifications for this, according to Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is to save money that would be lost by forgiving these federal loans. Instead, the White House has proposed a simplified federal loan forgiveness program that, in theory, should allow student loan borrowers to pay them off five years sooner than the current income-based forgiveness program.
With this proposed rule change, the Trump administration is trying to distract from the mishandling of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program by Fed Loan Servicing, a branch of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).The handling of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness by FedLoan Servicing has come under scrutiny in recent years. According to NPR, 99% of applicants to the PSLF program were rejected.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited the reasons those with student debt are having issues with the program include borrowers not having the right loans, unqualified employers, being enrolled in the wrong payment plan, not being eligible in the first place, or being “yet to make any qualifying loan payments.”
When the program was launched in 2007, initial instructions to loan servicers managing this program were vague at best. However, the repeated pattern of mismanagement by FedLoan Servicing indicates a deliberate pattern of misbehavior.
Given the government’s current relationship with PHEAA, any accountability from the PHEAA seems unlikely. Trump’s former campaign manager for the state of Pennsylvania is a lobbyist for the PHEAA, so in exchange for helping Trump on the campaign trail, one is likely to expect tit for tat.
Also, while the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does have the authority to provide oversight of Federal loans, it has abandoned that responsibility completely. This is largely thanks to the installation of the CFPB’s current ombudsman, Robert Cameron, the PHEAA’s former “deputy chief counsel and vice president of enterprise compliance.” Under Cameron, the CFPB’s responsibilities to oversee Federal Service Loans has been abandoned.
Given this context, it is likely that canceling the very program that the PHEAA has been recklessly mismanaging for years is just another way to protect its interests, instead of holding it accountable for extorting money from thousands of students.
- Democracy Forward: “In 2017, we founded Democracy Forward to help expose the rampant corruption in the Executive Branch and fight it in court on behalf of the people it hurts.”
- Student Borrower Protection Center: “The Student Borrower Protection Center is a nonprofit organization solely focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.
- Student Debt Crisis: “Student Debt Crisis is a non-profit (501c4) organization dedicated to fundamentally reforming student debt and higher education loan policies. Student Debt Crisis (SDC) takes a personal approach to member needs—working directly with borrowers to understand their challenges and fears, repayment obstacles and frustrations. SDC tackles the challenges of loan refinancing and consumer protection policies with media and legislators, as well as educating borrowers and higher education experts with lectures, webinars and special events.”
Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new rules for Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded educational institutions. The regulations outline definitions for domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence, putting them all under Title IX’s purview. Now schools will be able to investigate and resolve these cases internally, theoretically allowing victims to avoid a lengthy and thorny process in the court system. In the past, such misconduct fell in a regulatory grey area; some schools chose to handle it based on the rules for sexual assault and harassment, while others claimed it did not qualify for Title IX investigations.
The confusion created a frustrating, dangerous legal landscape for victims. In one highly-publicized case, Lauren McCluskey, a student at the University of Utah, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend after filing over 20 reports of abuse. Despite numerous instances of stalking, domestic violence, and harassment. the university refused to investigate. McCluskey’s parents even petitioned University President Ruth V. Watkins repeatedly, all to no avail. The student’s death, and others like it, were cited as a motivation for the new rules.
The proposed regulations are a positive development in DeVos’ otherwise controversial tenure; a major blindspot in Title IX has now been covered. However, this does not negate the clear harm DeVos has done by rolling back other Title IX protections. Last year, the Department of Education released several amendments favoring the rights of the accused. Supposedly an effort to encourage “due process,” the changes would require both parties to be cross-examined in person. These proceedings could re-traumatize victims, and would dissuade many from ever reporting a crime. Additionally, the DOE narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and made it more difficult to hold institutions legally accountable for failing to address discrimination.
The new rules are a paltry gesture in the context of this larger picture. Most of DeVos’ updates to Title IX read as pointed attempts to dissuade victims from reporting. Since the majority of gender-based violence goes unreported, cries of “due process for the accused” are myopic at best. Adding these new definitions does very little if victims can’t feel safe coming forward.
That said, defining domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence creates a good legal framework. In the future, a more sympathetic iteration of the DOE can utilize them in a stronger version of Title IX. Unfortunately, these increasingly toothless regulations offer little support to students today.
- The Feminist Majority Foundation has an educational equality program. It includes information on Title IX and toolkits for activists.
- The American Association of University Women offers an Ending Campus Sexual Assault Tool Kit intended for student activists.
Student loan debt has reached unprecedented levels in the United States. In just 15 years, the amount of debt has tripled to over $1.5 trillion, surpassing credit card and auto debt. The burden is shared between roughly 44 million Americans. Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center, roughly a third of borrowers age 25 to 39 with a Bachelor’s believe that the cost of their degree outweighs its benefits.
The crisis has become a top issue for voters, and many presidential candidates have plans to address it. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have advocated for forgiving all or some debt, respectively. Meanwhile, this week President Trump made another call to end a popular student loan forgiveness program.
In Congress, several bills have been introduced to combat the issue. HR 3448 and S 1947, introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-5) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) respectively, would both cancel all student debt. On the Republican side, S 2339 offers more modest reform; in addition to changing the accreditation system, it would require educational institutions to publish data on student loans and educational outcomes. However, none of these three bills have advanced since their introductions, all in the summer of 2019.
With stagnating wages and almost 30% of loan holders in delinquency or default, more aggressive loan forgiveness legislation will likely become a necessity. It’s apparent that an increasing number of loans will never be repaid, and keeping borrowers beholden to them harms our entire country. According to CNBC, it is becoming more common for people to postpone marriage, buying homes, and starting businesses — all activities that produce and signal a strong economy.
However, debt cancellation alone wouldn’t address the web of systematic flaws that perpetuate that debt. As enrollment has grown, state funding has deflated, leaving universities little choice but to pass on higher operating costs to students. After Congress expanded federal student loan programs in the 1970s, it became possible for families to foot the rising bill, which took pressure off states and schools to budget more effectively. Meanwhile, colleges have expanded non-instructional spending on services like counseling and healthcare. Though expensive, these services can be literally life-saving for the growing number of low-income students, who may not have access to care otherwise — demonstrating a bizarre dovetail connecting our healthcare crisis and our student loan crisis.
Ultimately, an issue this complex and urgent demands innovative policy. Sen. Sanders’ call to cancel debt and subsidize university education offers the most direct solution. Although it’s highly unlikely to gain congressional support in the near future, readers should remember that our government spends over half of its discretionary budget on the military every year (almost $700 billion in FY 2019). Our government has the resources to address this issue, and it has a moral obligation to do so.
On March 21st, 2019, Donald Trump signed an executive order at the White House meant to, according to its text, “encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate, including thorough compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions.” In attendance were Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Turning Point USA leader Charles Kirk, and several college students from across the country who claimed to have been marginalized by staff for advocating for conservative values.
This order will be enforced through the withholding of “Federal Research and Education Grants” from campuses deemed to not to promote “free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.”
The executive order will not impact, according to the text, “funding associated with Federal student aid programs that cover tuition, fees, or stipends.”
This Executive Order, on the surface, is about protecting students’ rights to free speech, but put into context, it stands to benefit right-wing ideologies on College campuses more than anything else. Several studies indicate that the need for the White House to step in and create this legislation is exaggerated. While a Gallup-Knight Foundation Survey in March of 2018 does indicate that College students’ confidence in their right to free speech has declined since 2016, the number of cases where Colleges attempted to disinvite guest speakers has also dropped. Also, in 2018, the number of faculty dismissals for expressing conservative opinions versus liberal opinions were virtually the same.
The vague language in the actual text of the Executive Order also makes it difficult to determine whose free speech will be protected, and what constitutes a violation of this free speech. The terms “open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate” does not include any specific examples, as well as does not make any exceptions for cases of language regarding racist language or anti-Semitism. The language of the policy also does not specify what this disruption actually entails.
It is also worth noting that one of the primary driving forces behind the creation of this executive order was Turning Point USA, whose self-proclaimed mission is “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” The organization has been known, according to Vox, to engage in such activities as “dressing students in diapers to protest safe spaces [and bringing] intentionally inflammatory speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos to provoke their left-wing opponents.” The organization’s leader, Charles Kirk, was present in the audience at the signing of the Executive Order, as well as Kaitlyn Mullan, a University of Nebraska student, whom Trump claimed “was approached by staff and a graduate instructor, and was berated and cursed at” for staffing a table for Turning Point USA. Kirk himself said is the Order was the “culmination of Turning Point USA’s tireless work to break the left’s stranglehold on campus, a grip that has suffocated the free exchange of ideas and helped indoctrinate an entire generation to hate America, the freest, most prosperous, decent and generous country ever to exist.” The fact that a heavily right-leaning organization backed the bill is a red flag for the bill’s true intentions.
- Association of Public and Land Grant Universities – “The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is a research, policy, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The association’s membership consists of 242 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations. “
- Foundation for Individual Rights in Education -”FIRE protects the rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty for every American. FIRE defends those whose rights are denied on campus, regardless of identity or viewpoint, and we educate those on and off campus about these rights and their importance.”
Photo by Amanda Lins
In the past, Bernie Sanders has sponsored bills to make public colleges and universities tuition-free, as well as to drastically reduce interest rates on student loan debt. Sanders’ is a proponent of tuition free public colleges and universities. Sanders’ also believes students shouldn’t have to reapply for financial aid every single year, and the use of work-study programs should be utilized at a higher rate. In regards to K-12 education, the Senator fights for higher-quality, affordable early childhood education and that No Child Left Behind should be seriously overhauled. When it comes to educators, the Senator believes colleges and universities should hire more faculty and increase their percentage of tenured and tenure-track professors. As for DREAMers, Sanders’ supports the position that children brought into America undocumented at a young age need to be given a fair and attainable opportunity to remain in the U.S., get an education, and contribute to the economy.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, a fan of the No Child Left Behind Act in its early days who later turned away from the landmark federal education law, is the latest candidate to announce his running for the 2020 presidential election. Biden has not made education policy one of his signature issues during time in DC. However, serving as Delaware’s senator for 36 years and throughout his tenure in President Barack Obama’s White House, he had a K-12 record that touches on several issues. Biden was one of the first Democrats in recent history to support free public education for community colleges and four year public institutions. In 2016, the former Vice-President called for 16 years of free public education, including community college and four-year public colleges. Biden also backed universal pre-Kindergarten, paid for by closing some loopholes in the tax code. On May 7th, Biden publicly clarified his positions on multiple educational issues during a speech in Las Vegas valley. Biden touched briefly on how he believes teachers need more pay, smaller class sizes, and more classroom resource in order to succeed. The former Vice President has been quite outspoken on President Trump’s take on immigration, saying it’s “betrayal” to DREAMers. In 2017, he wrote on social media, “…roughly 800,000 people known as DREAMers arehere in America today. These children didn’t choose to come here, but now many of them are grown with families of their own. They’re paying taxes. They’ve joined the workforce. They went to college. Some of them joined the military. Now, they’ll be sent to countries they don’t even remember. These people are all Americans. So let’s be clear: throwing them out is cruel. It is inhumane. And it is not America.” Though Biden has only supported a path to citizenship for DREAMers he has yet to lay out a specific path to do so.
Kamala Harris, a 54-year-old senator and former prosecutor, continues to blaze a strong trail throughout the United States. The native Californian has voiced concern over gun violence in schools and the consequences of racial profiling by administrators During a speech in Oakland, California this past January the Senator said, “I am running to declare education is a fundamental right, and we will guarantee that right with universal pre-K and debt-free college”. In March, she took her position on education a step further when she addressed teacher’s pay. Harris has focused on the educator unrest sweeping the country due to issues of low pay, crowded classrooms and education funding levels, etc. “We are not paying our teachers their value,” she said at a rally at Texas Southern University in Houston. Harris has even vowed to close the teacher pay gap by the end of her first term if elected president. The California Senator’s 10-year plan to increase teachers’ salaries amounts to an average of $13,500 or a 23% increase in salary per educator. The federal government would pay the first 10%, of the overall projected total of $315 billion, to states to fill the teacher pay gap, and then invest $3 for every $1 the states contribute. The plan Harris has created would also invest billions in evidence-based programs to boost teacher development, with half of the funds going to historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. Harris’ plan would obtain the finances to do so via an increase in the estate tax for the top 1% of US taxpayers. In April, Harris promoted legislation allowing Dreamers to become eligible to work as staffers or interns in Congress..
Senator of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, introduced a $1.25 trillion initiative to assist higher education by ending a majority of student loan debt and eliminating tuition at every public college. Warren would eliminate up to $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of less than $100,000; borrowers who earn above $100,000 and less than $250,000 would have part of their debt eliminated. Warren plans to expand federal grants to help students with non-tuition expenses and create a $50 billion fund to support historically African-American educational institutions. Warren, a member of the Senate education committee, has been very outspoken on how U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is not fit for the position she resides in. Warren has even created “DeVos Watch” on her website, detailing current oversights made by the Department of Education. The Senator was also one of just three Democrats who voted against the earlier version of the Every Student Succeeds Act as she thought it didn’t reach far enough on accountability. However, later in time, Warren agreed with all Senate Democrats in voting for the final version of the law. Warren has also been adamantly outspoken on her support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In 2017, the Senator wrote, “Dreamers are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. They are part of the diverse and beautiful fabric of our nation…President Trump’s decision to subject Dreamers to mass deportation is part of the bigoted and anti-immigrant policies that have been a cornerstone of his administration. Turning our backs on Dreamers makes us weaker, makes us less safe, and betrays our values.”
Pete Buttigieg has not had a significant amount of experience in education policy and politics. However, as a a Rhodes Scholar and Afghanistan veteran, he’s also looking to become the first openly gay president of the United States. The 37-year-old mayor has publicly rejected the idea of Free College, riding against the currents of the popular national movement. He also called for reviewing student loan refinancing and “robust ways to have debt forgiven” specifically for graduates who decide to go into public service. At his campaign rally celebration, Buttigieg made a point of voicing his support for the nation’s educators, “Empowering teachers means freedom, because you are not free in your own classroom if your ability to do your job is reduced to a number on a page.” He also says charter schools “have a place” as “a laboratory for techniques that can be replicated.” Buttigieg openly supports providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. He proposed extending amnesty and TPS status for Dreamers and other illegals in the country, as well as reforms for legal immigration and border security. However he has been criticized for being vague and not releasing particulars for any type of immigration policy proposals.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, is offering an image of a practical Midwesterner who will promote liberal policies to primary voters. The three-term Senator has cautiously attuned her positions on many progressive platforms, voicing her support without fully backing the issues or elaborating. On free four-year college, Klobuchar has been outspokenly opposed the idea since announcing a presidential run. Klobuchar answered a question from a young voter at at a CNN town hall forum, responding that she would not support the plan espoused by Senator Bernie Sanders for tuition-free college as she found the plan too expensive. She went on to say, “No, I am not for four-year college for all. If I was a magic genie, and could give that for everyone, and we could afford it, I would.” Instead, Klobuchar went on to explain that she would support easing restrictions on refinancing student loans, as well as expanding Pell Grants program. However, many feel as though the Senator is being timid in the face of special interests and Wall Street. Klobuchar has openly supported the DREAM Act. Posting messages on social media, such as, “…the Republican congress can’t allow 800,000 kids to be deported. Pass the Dream Act now.” Klobuchar supported Senator Harris’ proposal to allow DREAMers to work in Congress.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is running for President and has a extensive record on education. In January, Booker vowed to run “the boldest pro-public school teacher campaign there is. However, many teachers unions and public school advocates are skeptical of such promises as in the past the Senator has often gone astray from more typical Democratic stances, such as promoting merit pay for teachers. In 2002, he supported policies such as school choice, including privately managed charter schools, accountability for low-performing institutions and assessments for educators based on student test scores. Booker has been a vocal critic of teachers unions, something that could be problematic as he tries to run a pro-teacher campaign. Consequently, in 2010, the Newark teachers’ union openly opposed his mayoral re-election bid. Booker’s close ties to Betsy DeVos may also allow for criticism throughout the campaign trail. He has supported school vouchers with the Education Secretary, an issue many Democrats and Progressives oppose and has also served on the board of directors of the Alliance for School Choice (now known as the American Federation for Children Growth Fund) with DeVos. Booker has openly stated that children of lower-income families and children of color need ways to abandon struggling public schools in their neighborhoods. Booker said, children are “by law locked into schools that fail their genius.” However, the Senator did not support DeVos’ nomination, saying his vote pertained to issues outside of school choice, that the answers she gave in her confirmation hearing about special education and student’s civil rights concerned him. Since then he has continued to publicly distance himself from the Education Secretary. Along with Senator Harris, Booker introduced the American Dream Employment Act, legislation that would rescind the current prohibition on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients from working or participating in paid internships in Congress. Booker commented on his support for the Act, saying, “For DREAMers, the United States is their home. They are our neighbors, classmates, community leaders, service members, teachers—DREAMers love this country…It’s time we show these DREAMers this country loves them back and allow them to work and contribute to this country in any way they choose, including working for the United States Congress. This legislation recognizes the dignity of these young people and the value they would bring to Congress as employees. When we lift up those around us, we all benefit.”
The former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke is seeking the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination. The native Texan is known for his charismatic speeches, locally-minded take on politics and his genuine manner on social media. O’Rourke does not support tuition-free public college. However, when asked to clarify he said he supported free community college the idea of debt-free, as opposed to tuition-free, four-year public college. At a town hall forum in Carroll, Iowa, this past April, O’Rourke went on to say, “I mention debt-free higher education if it’s a publicly financed, public-serving educational institution. And then for those who have accrued the debt, that $1.5 trillion, at a minimum, let’s refinance more of that at lower rates. And then let’s increase the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.” This came as a relief for many of O’Rourke’s supporters as O’Rourke did not sign on as a co-sponsor when debt-free college legislation was introduced in the House in 2018. On his first day in Iowa as a Democratic presidential candidate, O’Rourke addressed the issue of teacher’s pay across the United States, using Texas as an example of changes needed for the future. In March he said, “Nearly half of public school teachers in Texas are working a second or a third job, not for kicks, not for extra spending cash, but just to make ends meet. To put food on the table, to buy that medication with a $444 co-pay, just to exist. And at the same time, and the gentlemen said this in his question, out of their own pocket, they are buying supplies for their classroom, supplies for the students in them.” He has openly supported issues such as increasing the salaries of our nation’s educators and implementing universal pre-kindergarten, as well as his aversion to standardized testing.O’Rourke also has garnered much attention on the subject of charter schools. His wife, Amy O’Rourke started a charter school in El Paso 13 years ago, andnow works for an organization that backs the expansion of charter schools in the region and previously worked as a teacher in a private school. However O’Rourke has yet to speak out directly on the issue. Meanwhile, he has been outspoken in his support for providing a path for citizenship for DREAMers, recently releasing a 10-point plan that promotes citizenship for both “Dreamers” and their parents, as well as for “millions more” who now live in the U.S. illegally.
When it comes to education, there’s consensus among 2020 Democratic candidates on some basic platforms, like increasing teacher pay. However there seems to be significant divergence when it comes to issues such as lessening the burden of higher education costs, how to solve the steeply-rising student debt crisis, and ways to repair our public school system. Although college-age millennials are a core part of the party’s base, education has not seemed to be a key issues in voter platforms. The 2020 election may be the time to change this, making education stances a more important issue for voters. Nominees like Sanders and Warren have much less of an uphill battle on the education front than nominees, such as Booker, who have supported issues such as charter schools or continuing to allow high-cost college tuitions. Candidates like Klobuchar and Buttigieg who have not supported free four year colleges, will face harsh criticisms from democrats, educators and teachers unions. However, only time will tell how crucial the American public finds these platforms and only voter interest can show candidates how seriously we taking their opinions, endorsements and promises.
- The Stand Up 4 Public Schools campaign provides the public with a more accurate and thorough perspective of public education by capturing the ordinary, yet extraordinary activities and the dauntless and bold actions of educators – teachers, administrators, superintendents, and school board members – that help prepare students for the future.
- Pearson unequivocally supports the provision of free, high-quality, government-funded education led by well-qualified, well-trained teachers, for every child around the world.
- The Teacher Salary Project is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness around the impact of our national policy of underpaying and under-valuing educators.
- dreamactivist.org was launched in 2008 by five undocumented youth as a site where we could share our stories of struggle and come together to develop strategies for self-defense in a country that considers them “illegal.”
- United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country, creating a welcoming space for young people, regardless of immigration status.
Photo by Kimberly Farmer