And Now We Have … Choice Tax Credits

The education community has been waiting two years to see a major education policy initiative come out of the Trump administration. And now the wait is over.

No, it isn’t focused on charter schools. No, it isn’t higher ed related. No, it isn’t even tied to past Trump rhetoric around early childhood education or career/tech education.

The major initiative is about providing $5 billion in tax credits to families. More specifically, it is providing billions to families who choose to send their kids to private schools. Essentially, they are offering a financial cousin to school vouchers.

But with the vast majority of school-aged kids attending traditional public schools, can we really have the tremendous impact on education that EdSec Betsy DeVos promised by offering tax breaks to private school families?

We explore the topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen here . It’s your choice.

It’s Time To Do Something, Anything, EdSec DeVos!

We are now six months into the Trump Administration, and when it comes to education policy, we must finally ask, what is the strategy, folks?

Just last week, we saw former governor, former U.S. Education Secretary, and current Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander call out the DeVos Administration for failing to understand what ESSA says about state decisionmaking.

We saw the head of the Department’s Civil Rights office state that most Title IX complaints are the result of the woman regretting a night of alcohol and a subsequent breakup with the accused.

And we witnessed supposedly sympathetic Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives pass a federal education budget without the needed funding for the EdSec’s signature school choice effort.

While the Administration continues to struggle to find individuals to take top education positions, the “successes” from the past six months include stripping billions in Title II teacher support dollars from the budget, and freezing action to absolve students from paying back loans to attend failed proprietary colleges.

One may not agree, ideologically, with the Trump/DeVos Administration, but we should all want to see it success when it comes to improving teaching and learning across the United States. And as we complete the first eighth of President Donald Trump’s first term in office, we all should wonder what the plan is here.

Despite what some may want to believe, the concerns facing public education in America are both wide and deep. We struggle to find qualified teachers for our high-need schools, particularly in areas like STEM, ELL, and sped. And we do so as the teaching profession itself has been stripped of the respect it had long enjoyed and deserves.

We fail to see the problem with continuing to pursue a homogenous approach to K-12 education at a time when our population of learners couldn’t be more diverse. And we do it by resisting the incoming wave of personalized learning and differentiated instruction. 

We ignore where we really stand when it comes to student performance, making excuses for the United States placing 38th out of 71 in PISA math and 24th in PISA science. And we do it while criticizing learning assessment itself, rather than focusing on a new generation of better, more effective tests.

The DeVos administration came into power without owing anything to those individuals, organizations, and interests beholden to the status quo and the way things have always been done. There is no benefit to defending flat test scores as other nations experience significant rises. There is no gain in ensuring the protection and support of dropout factories. There is no win in ensuring another generation of short-term educators without the knowledge, skills, and support to succeed in the classroom.

It is now past time for DeVos and her skeleton crew to take real action, be it with the power of the checkbook or the strength of the bully pulpit. What could this action look like?

  • A whistle-stop tour to discuss the true value of school choice, particularly in those communities that don’t already enjoy a robust charter sector. This could be particularly appealing to the special education community, giving it a deep dive on what Florida’s McKay vouchers have meant to sped families in the Sunshine State.
  • A collaboration of the Education, Labor, and Commerce Departments, supported by corporate partners, to make a major investment in career and technical education, with an emphasis on the STEM skills and jobs that will be needed for a strong economy 20 years from now. This can even include the apprenticeship push announced by the President earlier this year.
  • A reinvestment in early childhood education, building on the family leave and support efforts of First Daughter Ivanka Trump. This could include finally having the Federal government recognize that early childhood education is the purview of the U.S. Department of Education, and not Health and Human Services.
  • A refocus on teacher quality, offering even stronger executive action on teacher prep provisions than the recently revoked Obama language. Through a “return on investment” lens, this could include returning Title II dollars for efforts that raise the quality and results of teaching, looking at the outcomes of the teaching profession, not just the inputs.

Six months in, and federal education policy is still stuck in neutral. And based on the state of public education in the United States, neutral means that millions of kids are losing ground. Losing ground when it comes to reading proficiency. Losing ground when it comes to 21st century skills. Losing ground when it comes to required remediation.

It is past time to roll up the sleeves, seize the rostrum, and get it done. If this Administration is seeking to shake up the status quo, if this Administration is serious about breaking from the failed policies of the past, and if this Administration believes that traditional public schools are indeed failing, then do something about it. You are now steering the ship. Take us somewhere. Anywhere.

 

A Step Closer to School Vouchers

As it closed its 2017 session, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that private religious institutions could receive public taxpayer dollars when the provide public services. While many were quick to say that the Court offered a particularly narrow finding in its ruling, it seems clear SCOTUS has provided a legal opening for those seeing to dramatically expand school vouchers in the United States. 

This is the topic we explore on this week’s #TrumpED program on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

Home Schoolers Don’t Want to Be a “Choice”

Earlier this week, EdSec Betsy DeVos continued to tease the details of the big school choice plan that is likely to come from the Trump Administration. The next day, the President’s budget reflects that same commitment to dramatically expanding access (and dollars for) public charter schools and vouchers for private education.

In all of the discussion, though, an interesting voice has spoken out asking NOT to be included in the expanded school choice plan. That voice? The homeschool community. As Eduflack explains in the most recent edition of #TrumpED on BAM! Radio Network, the reasons for this make a great deal of sense. With federal dollars comes federal oversight and regulations.  And while the homeschool community may largely trust President Trump and his administration on the topic, there are no guarantees that a future President or EdSec will hold the same level of respect for homeschoolers.

Give it a listen. I promise it is an interesting examination of an equally interesting topic.

Of School Vouchers and Civil Rights 

For more than a decade now, we have heard advocates position the fight for education reform as the great civil rights battle of our generation. And there is little question that discussions of equity and equal pathways to college and career success for all students – regardless of their race, family income, or zip code – is a worthy fight.

It is on this fight that so much of the current school choice frame is constructed. The expansion and adequate funding of public charter schools is all about civil rights. And the renewed attention to vouchers is no different. 

As part of his first address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President Donald Trump again tied school choice to civil rights. But at a time when actual civil rights – from Title IX to LGBT to IDEA – are front and center of current school and education debates, is it fair to position private school vouchers in the same manner?

This is the topic we explore on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network.

Interestingly, immediate response to the segment began referencing the United Nations and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one should question that access to free, high-quality public education education is indeed a right all around the world should advocate for. And ensuring that parents have a say in the educational path that is best for their children should be rightly included in such discussions. In crafting Article 26, did the UN really intend for such language to be used to provide cover for those choosing not to send their kids to a community public school or a local public charter school, and instead send them to a possibly expensive private school with the financial support of taxpayers? Particularly if those vouchered tax dollars largely exceed what that same family was paying in taxes to support the local schools?

You be the judge. Give the program a listen. I realize Eduflack won’t necessarily make friends with the reform community by posing such questions, but it is an important discussion to have.

 

A Texas-Sized Step Back on Edu-Thinking

Earlier this month, the Texas Young Republicans passed a resolution adopting a two-page platform and recommending the Republican Party of Texas endorse it whole cloth in 2016. Why is this important? Well, the two-page platform included some specific language regarding education policy (in the non-Common Core-adopting Texas).

The Texas Young GOPers stated:

We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children, and we support their right to choose public, private, charter, or home education. We support the distribution of educational funds in a manner that they follow the student to any school, whether public, private, charter or home school. We reject federal imposition of educational standards and the tying of federal education funding to adopting federally mandated standards.

Reads like the flag and apple pie, huh? Setting aside the problem of using the Oxford comma at the beginning, and then forgetting the serial comma in the second set of school descriptors, let’s take a look at the statement.

Sentence one, I’m with ya. Every child should have access to quality education. I’ll do you one better, Young Texans, every child should have access to quality public education. And high-quality public education at that.

I’m also with you on parents having the right and responsibility to educate their kids. I didn’t realize that such parental rights were under siege. If anything, the main issue seems to be what we do when parents do not exercise said right, and their kids’ education is then solely the responsibility of teachers. We should be focusing more on getting parents more involved in what happens in our schools.

Then we shift into the “money follows the child” philosophy, with an added wrinkle. Not only are we calling for equal funds to go to charters (school choice) and privates (vouchers, or school choice on steroids, depending on your perspective), but we are now saying that money should follow the home schooler? Are we suggesting that each parent who decided to home school is now entitled to a $10k or $20k tax rebate (per child), for keeping them out of the public schools altogether?

And we finally get the horcrux that continues to dog just about every education discussion. The notion that the evils of everything public education lies embedded in Common Core State Standards. Forget that Texas had no issue rejecting the “imposition of federal standards” in the first place. Forget that most states who put the standards in place didn’t get a federal dime to do so (while they may have hoped to, there were far more Race to the Top losers than there were winners). Yes, now is the time to take a strong stand on a policy decision that was made four years ago (in terms of initial adoption of the standards and tying $$ to them).

At some point, we — and that includes those young Republican Texans writing political platforms — just need to acknowledge that the vast majority of states have adopted CCSS. They decided, for a range of reasons, that these standards were better than the hodgepodge of crappy standards each individual state had developed and adjusted and weakened over the years. They did so by their own free will, and did so (presumably) because they saw it as a positive step for their state, public schools, and communities. We need to see it isn’t a bad thing that many students will be held to higher standards than their older siblings, and we should embrace it.

Most importantly, we need to see it is imprudent to try and undo a policy decision that was made eons ago (politically) and that, instead, we should focus our attentions and energies on ensuring that said standards are implemented well and done so with fidelity. That we focus on the best in terms of instructional materials and PD. That we move forward with efforts to improve those standards and make them stronger and better over time (particularly with regard to early childhood and the math). That we use this as a foundation to build a stronger public education system for ALL students, and not as a “last stand” for those looking to reopen the battles of the past.

I yield the soapbox, and suspect I won’t be asked to speak at the Texas GOP convention in 2016 …