Tag Archives: Senator Patty Murray

DeVos confirmation hearing fuels concerns

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced her confirmation hearing yesterday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee. The hearing, which was scheduled for late-in-the-day and allowed for each senator to ask only one five-minute round of questions, hardly resulted in a serious vetting of DeVos’s credentials and policy positions, but still provided a look at the potential-next-secretary’s agenda.

HELP committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing with praise for DeVos, pointing to her efforts to expand charter schools and push vouchers in states throughout the country, which he called “mainstream” ideas in public education policy. With his Republican colleagues largely in agreement and Democrats pressing her on concerns about her record, the hearing became a partisan debate that failed to offer specifics on many major education policy issues. In fact, while the hearing offered some perspective on the agenda DeVos would support, it was what she wouldn’t or, in some cases, couldn’t answer that offers the most perspective.

DeVos often turned to some version of the response “I look forward to working with you on that” when answering questions. She used the reply to dig in on her support for vouchers, dodging a question from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding whether she would promise to prevent funding cuts to public education or privatization of the system. She also leaned on the reply when asked about universal childcare for working families and whether all schools receiving federal funding (think vouchers) should be required to report instances of harassment, discipline, or bullying.

DeVos similarly failed to state whether all schools receiving federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards, instead diverting to the lack of apples-to-apples accountability standards traditional public schools and charter schools currently face.

Another regularly asserted answer by DeVos was that certain education policy issues are better left to states, a response that raised eyebrows when she was asked whether all schools receiving federal money should meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal law is the nation’s second largest federal education program and distributes about $13 billion in funding to states. When DeVos later admitted that she “may have confused” the law, one senator and many following the hearing expressed concern over her lack of familiarity. In another exchange, DeVos had trouble deciphering the difference between student growth and student proficiency when using tests to measure student performance.

Democrats on the committee advocated strongly for an additional round of questioning, an opportunity afforded to senators vetting cabinet picks in other committees, but the request was denied by Chairman Alexander who reminded committee members that the same process was used for several previous education secretaries as they faced confirmation. Still, Democrats argued unsuccessfully that those picks had been individuals with established credentials in education, unlike DeVos.

Per the chairman’s instructions, senators have until Thursday evening to submit any additional questions to DeVos in writing. She committed to attempting to answer those questions prior to the committee’s vote on her nomination, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Committee members were assured that the vote would only take place if the final Office of Government Ethics letter is sent to the committee by this Friday, giving senators time for review the relevant information about potential conflicts of interest.

Despite the above, DeVos has the support of Republicans, which is enough to garner the simple majority needed for her to sail through confirmation in both the HELP committee and on the floor of the Senate. If confirmed, she will take the reins of the Department of Education having no professional experience in our public schools, never attended public schools, and never enrolled her children in public schools.

Federal Update: ESSA accountability rule proposed, ATPE writes to Secretary King

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) published its rule proposal for the accountability piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the Federal Register yesterday. The proposal addresses state accountability systems, state and district report cards, and consolidated state plans.

As we reported on Teach the Vote, ED is in the middle of the rulemaking process for several aspects of ESSA. Negotiated rulemaking for the assessments and ‘supplement, not supplant’ portions of the law wrapped up in April. Other provisions, including this accountability piece, are being addressed through the typical rulemaking process over the summer.

medwt16002Initial reaction to the accountability rule proposal was mixed. In Congress, the partisan division again hinges on state control and flexibility versus strong civil rights protections. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced they will each hold hearings on the proposal and threatened to block the regulation through available means if it “doesn’t follow the law,” which aims to decentralize power away from the federal government. Their Democratic counterparts, Ranking Members Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), praised the proposed rule for protecting and promoting equity.

Outside of the Capitol, stakeholders pointed to more specific issues with the proposal, citing concerns about a definition for “consistently under-performing,” the inclusion of specific punitive consequences for low assessment participation rates (in situations where parents opt children out of state standardized tests), the need for guidance on ways to make school report cards more accessible and transparent for parents, and more.

The proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to identify schools in need of support the following school year.

In other ESSA rule proposal news, ATPE submitted a letter last week to U.S. Secretary of Education John King. The letter identified two areas of the new law where ED is asked to pay particular attention to previous ATPE input to Congress when writing rules or issuing non-binding guidance. Those areas of the law pertain to an innovative assessment pilot and a new avenue for potential funding for educator preparation programs.

ATPE’s previous comments on assessments to the Senate HELP committee outline recommendations for giving states “more flexibility to innovate and choose assessment methodologies that better suit the needs of their students, parents, and educators.” ATPE’s comments note that the high stakes testing regime is ineffective and even harmful to students, and suggest that tests “be low stakes, be administered less frequently, employ sampling, and be truly criterion-referenced.” While the new federal education law requires states to maintain the current annual testing schedule, ATPE’s letter encourages ED to allow states piloting innovative assessments to test these recommendations.

In the letter to ED, ATPE also points to previous comments on supporting educators. Particularly, the letter highlights ATPE’s input on “initiatives to encourage more selective recruitment of educators by setting high standards for educator preparation and certification.” ATPE encourages ED to support states through non-binding avenues as they seek to ensure high standards for educator preparation programs.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on ESSA implementation.

More details on U.S. Senate HELP committee’s ESEA reauthorization bill

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) met last week to markup a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The committee considered over 50 amendments to The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which is co-authored by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and ultimately passed the measure unanimously, 22-0.

The markup was conducted over a three day period that was closely managed by both authors in order to prevent controversial amendments from jeopardizing the bill’s bipartisan path forward. In the end, of the 57 amendments considered, 29 were adopted. Controversial amendments including issues such as vouchers and teacher evaluation requirements were kept off of the bill, but those debates are still expected to be had when the bill hits the full senate. Leaders have said that will be later this year, but no debate has been scheduled yet.

Below is a listing of the amendments passed during the committee markup as well as a few noteworthy amendments either withdrawn or defeated during committee.

Amendments adopted:

  • Amendment by Baldwin: creates grants for enhanced assessment instruments and audits of state and local assessment systems.
  • Amendment by Baldwin: requires the reporting of students with career and technical proficiency on report cards.
  • Amendment by Baldwin: provides grants to initiate, expand, and improve physical education programs.
  • Amendment by Baldwin: authorizes grants to encourage the use of technology to improve college and career readiness.
  • Amendment by Bennet: reduces the burden on districts with regard to reporting data for annual report cards.
  • Amendment by Bennet: pertains to financial literacy and federal financial aid awareness efforts.
  • Amendment by Bennet: allows funds to be used for the creation of teacher and principal preparation academies.
  • Amendment by Bennet: increases engagement from the U.S. Secretary of Education to assist rural school districts with competitive grants.
  • Amendment by Bennet: creates grants for education innovation and research aimed at high-needs students.
  • Amendment by Bennet: establishes a weighted student funding flexibility pilot program.
  • Amendment by Burr: alters the funding formula for teachers and leaders to be based 80 percent on poverty and 20 percent on population.
  • Amendment by Burr: adds a hold-harmless provision for Title II formula funding for teachers and leaders by mandating a 14.29 percent reduction each year over seven years. This amendment barely passed: 11-10.
  • Amendment by Casey: authorizes funding for Ready-To-Learn Television.
  • Amendment by Casey: reinserts hold-harmless language in Title II, Part A. This amendment was later amended by Burr’s narrowly passed hold-harmless amendment mentioned above.
  • Amendment by Casey: creates a grant program for districts that wish to reduce exclusionary discipline practices.
  • Amendment by Collins: creates an Innovative Assessment and Accountability Pilot.
  • Amendment by Franken: reinstates the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program.
  • Amendment by Franken: allows computer-adapted testing and adds other assessment criteria.
  • Amendment by Franken: supports accelerated learning programs.
  • Amendment by Franken: adds language to improve STEM instruction and achievement.
  • Amendment by Franken: creates a grant program for schools that utilize Native American languages for instruction with their students.
  • Amendment by Isakson: allows parents to opt out of testing.
  • Amendment by Mikulski: adds the Javits Gifted/Talented Students Education Act of 2015.
  • Amendment by Murkowski: reinstates 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
  • Amendment by Murphy: ensures that states work to reduce physical and mental abuse related to seclusion/restraint.
  • Amendment by Murray: requires reporting of data on military-connected students.
  • Amendment by Murray:  authorizes Project SERV allowing for services to schools in the aftermath of violent events.
  • Amendment by Murray:  authorizes early learning alignment and improvement grants.
  • Amendment by Whitehouse: establishes a program for literacy and arts education.

Additional amendments of note:

  • Amendment by Scott: would have given states the option to let Title I funds follow a student to any school, including private schools. Scott ultimately withdrew his portability amendment because of the controversial nature, but this is likely to be an amendment debated on the senate floor. Chairman Alexander said he looked forward to voting for such an amendment in the full senate.
  • Amendment by Warren: would have required states to describe how methods used for evaluation were reasonable and reliable, if a state chose to implement an evaluation system. Chairman Alexander said it would unnecessarily put federal requirements on state evaluation systems. The amendment failed on a 10-12 roll call vote.
  • Amendments by Alexander and Casey: would have dealt with bullying. The two offered dueling amendments regarding bullying and underwent extensive debate. Both eventually withdrew their amendments with the expectation to debate the issue again on the senate floor.

Other amendment topics not adopted in committee markup but that could be addressed on the senate floor include Title I comparability (a means of equalizing funding between schools with differing levels of need), interventions for struggling schools, and additional targeted support for certain student populations. Stay tuned for updates once a floor debate is scheduled.

U.S. Senate education leaders release bipartisan bill to rewrite ESEA

This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) released their highly anticipated bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The two authors negotiated the details of the bill, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, over the past two months and settled on a compromise that would significantly reduce the federal government’s role in education but maintain the annual testing schedule developed under NCLB and exclude a Title I funding portability provision.

To begin, a quick refresher is in order. Chairman Alexander released a draft version of a rewrite of the nation’s primary education law in January and a series of hearings in the HELP committee immediately followed. ATPE submitted testimony in conjunction with those hearings that dealt with testing and accountability and supporting teachers and school leaders. We also weighed in on the discussion draft proposed by Alexander. Meanwhile, on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released his own version of an ESEA reauthorization bill entitled H.R. 5 – The Student Success Act. H.R. 5 quickly moved through committee in early February and was debated on the floor of the full House in late February. However, in the final hours of debate and with the threat of veto issued from the White House, House leadership delayed the vote. Leaders said that move was made in order to debate a funding bill that faced a midnight deadline, but it is widely understood that the House didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and leaders wanted to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

The Senate HELP Committee will mark up the new Alexander/Murray compromise bill next week on Tuesday, April 14, at 9 a.m. (Central Time). Visit the committee’s website to watch the mark up live or access committee documents on the bill. Some major provisions of the bill are as follows:

Accountability

The Every Child Achieves Act would allow states to develop their own accountability systems, which is a departure from current law. State accountability systems would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education (peer review teams would be established to assist the secretary of education in the review of state plans) based on parameters outlined in the bill, such as the inclusion of graduation rates, a measure of post-secondary education or workforce readiness, proficiency rates for English language learners, and standardized test results. However, states would be able to include any additional measures of performance and would have the authority to weight all measures as they see fit. That flexibility would include how much weight is placed on student performance on standardized tests.

States would still be required to report disaggregated data on student subgroups. They would also still be required to identify low-performing schools through accountability system results, but would only monitor school districts as they implement their own methods of evidence-based intervention.

Testing

The most discussed piece of Chairman Alexander’s original draft bill was the portion on testing, which offered two options intended to spur discussion among committee members. The options were to keep the current testing schedule or scrap annual testing and give states a significant amount of leeway in developing their own testing systems. The Every Child Achieves Act maintains the annual testing schedule, but does give states the option to conduct one annual test or a series of smaller tests that combine to a summative score. Additionally, in what is likely an attempt to appease supporters of state-developed systems, the bill creates a pilot program that would initially allow the secretary of education to permit five states to develop innovative testing systems. If successful, the program could be expanded.

Curriculum Standards

States would be required to adopt “challenging state academic standards.” Those standards would not have to be approved by the Department of Education, and the bill specifically states the secretary of education would not have the authority to “mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision” with regard to the adoption of state standards.

School Choice and Privatization

The primary provision in Alexander’s earlier draft bill aimed at school choice involved the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. That language is not included in The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. Title I portability language has received strong backing from Republicans and would allow Title I funding to follow students from school to school. Democrats and President Obama have opposed the inclusion of such language and the White House based its threat of veto on H.R. 5, in part, on portability language included in the bill.

The new bill consolidates two federal charter school programs into a program that includes three grant programs: High-Quality Charter Schools, Facilities Financing Assistance, and Replication and Expansion. Additional language aims to incentivize better transparency and quality among state charter schools.

Educator Evaluations

States would have a lot of discretion on how to spend money related to teacher quality under Title II. That could include the development of an educator evaluation system, but no state would be required to develop a system, which is departure from current law. Thus, there is no language requiring the inclusion of student outcomes in an educator’s evaluation.

The new bill removes the statutory definition of “highly qualified” as well as some of the requirements surrounding the term and allows states to develop their own definition.