Tag Archives: Ted Cruz

Are “microgrants” a new name for Devos’ same old voucher proposal?

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at a White House briefing, March 27, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is asking Congress to fund “microgrants” to provide money for online learning during the coronavirus outbreak. Appearing with President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020, during a White House briefing by the national coronavirus task force, DeVos said, “I’ve always believed education funding should be tied to students, not systems, and that necessity has never been more evident.” Microgrants, as envisioned by Devos, would provide funding directly to students in a manner akin to numerous voucher proposals in the past.

Here on our Teach the Vote blog, ATPE has written about efforts by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), with high-profile support from DeVos, to pass legislation that would fund a federal voucher program. Thus far, the federal voucher proposal has gained little traction in Congress. But the recent changes to learning environments compelled by the COVID-19 crisis appear to have given Secretary DeVos a new angle to pursue funding streams for private individuals and families as an alternative to providing federal dollars directly to public schools. As reported by Education Week, DeVos announced her desires for the microgrant program last week using the same talking points she has used to argue in favor of a tax credit scholarship voucher program. The microgrant program would purportedly focus on students eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and those with an individualized education program (IEP). According to a Department of Education spokesperson cited by the article:

“The grants could be used to fund materials needed for home-based learning, like computers or software, internet access, or instructional materials. They could also support educational services like therapies for students with disabilities, tuition and fees for a public or private online learning course or program, and educational services provided by a private or public school, or tutoring, spokesperson Angela Morabito said in an email.”

The federal government is asking schools to continue to educate students while they are at home as a result of school closures or stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has made relief funding for school districts contingent upon their promise to continue instruction and provide distance learning.

Many voucher programs have attempted to provide funding for online learning as an alternative to  classroom settings with the intent of diverting students and funding away from the traditional public education system. The $5 billion voucher program DeVos has been promoting in Congress since long before the coronavirus outbreak overlaps with parts of her new microgrant proposal. According to Chalkbeat:

“The idea — especially the grants for students that could pay tuition — is a glimpse at how DeVos will use the upheaval to advance her ideas about education. A proponent of private-school vouchers and school choice, DeVos has long downplayed the role of the federal government and scoffed at those who see school buildings or school districts as education’s key organizing principle.”

So far, the Democratically controlled U.S. House of Representatives has served as a firewall against DeVos’s and the Trump administration’s voucher proposals. The microgrant program would need funding with the approval of Congress to move forward. With assistance from our Washington-based lobby team, ATPE has been and will continue to be communicating with the Texas congressional delegation about the need to maximize funding for public schools during this crisis without diluting those funds through an opportunistic voucher program with a catchy new name.

As a founding member of the Coalition for Public Schools, ATPE has long opposed vouchers and the privatization of public education. Due to the current crisis, many Americans across the nation are experiencing a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, the importance of public schools and public school educators. Now is the time to bolster the nation’s system of public schools and the teachers who work in them, rather than finding ways to divert funding and dismantle our community schools.


4/30/20 UPDATE:
During her White House press conference appearance on March 27, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stated, “We will propose Congress provide microgrants to help students continue to learn.” This statement  was interpreted as an indication that DeVos believed funding for the microgrant program was not yet approved by Congress and available under existing law. Despite initially signaling that she would seek congressional action to provide for future funding of microgrants, Secretary DeVos has since announced that she intends to use existing funding provided by the CARES Act, which had already been passed at the time of the statement above, to fund at least a limited version of the microgrant voucher program. Whether or not the secretary actually has the authority to use CARES Act funding for this purpose is a developing story. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 7, 2020

Check out what happened this week in education news from Texas and the nation’s capital, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary elections will begin in less than two weeks. Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

This week on our blog, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter shared information about education-related recommendations in the ballot propositions being put to voters by the Texas Republican and Democratic Parties in this primary election. The ballot propositions help each political party fine-tune its platform based on views expressed by voters in the primary election on various issues. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looked at some of the latest campaign fundraising news, takeaways from the Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and more in his election roundup blog post from yesterday.

With the primary elections inching closer, ATPE is focusing on helping educators find resources that will help them learn more about the candidates vying for their votes. Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education in 2020 by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include candidates’ responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and additional information. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. Watch this new instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.

For additional resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com, or attend one of the “For the Future” education-themed candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details on the events.


FEDERAL UPDATE: President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, the third of his presidency. In the speech, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports for Teach the Vote, the president expressed his opposition to public schools and called on Congress to pass a school voucher bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The bill in question, S. 634, proposes to divert taxpayer dollars that may otherwise go to public education away from local schools and use those tax dollars to subsidize private and for-profit programs. The president cast public schools disparagingly as “failing government schools.” It’s worth noting the Texas Constitution guarantees a right to a free public education as being key to a healthy democratic society, and our state has a long history of independent school districts run by the communities they serve. ATPE’s Wiggins spoke to the Houston Chronicle and previewed the president’s remarks on Tuesday in this blog post.


Last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 included a Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) intended to provide additional funding to school districts that create an incentive pay system for teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that districts interested in creating a TIA program were asked to submit letters of intent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by January 24 of this year. Anecdotal reports indicate that more than 700 of the state’s over 1,000 school districts have responded to date. TEA is implementing this initiative with a series of presentations to stakeholders around the state, and the agency is expected to publish rules in March 2020.

ATPE successfully lobbied the 86th Legislature to ensure that districts would not be required to use the STAAR test to measure teacher performance as part of a TIA program, but questions remain over the degree to which these programs may rely on student test scores. We will be paying close attention during the rulemaking process to see how these programs are allowed to be structured in order to qualify for the additional state funding. You can read more about TIA programs from TEA here.


Members of the ATPE Governmental Relations team gave a presentation on advocacy at this week’s Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention and Exposition in Austin. Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier spoke to attendees about the implementation of major bills passed in 2019, what’s at stake in the 2020 elections, and ways educators can get involved in advocacy efforts.

ATPE lobbyists Wiggins, Mitchell, Exter, and Chevalier at the TCEA Convention, Feb. 4, 2020

Pres. Trump to pitch vouchers in SOTU speech

President Donald Trump is expected to voice his support for a federal voucher bill filed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in tonight’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, according to the Houston Chronicle.

U.S. Secretary of Education and Trump appointee Betsy DeVos, whose past privatization efforts wrought havoc on public schools in Michigan, has backed Cruz’s voucher legislation. The proposal would allow individuals and businesses to divert public tax dollars that could otherwise go toward public schools, using them to subsidize private and for-profit academies instead. President Trump touted the bill himself during his 2019 SOTU address, and he is expected to delve deeper into the subject during this year’s speech.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is also an important backer of Cruz’s voucher bill. Some privatization supporters hope Trump’s remarks tonight will renew the voucher debate in Texas, where a majority of voters oppose spending public money on private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers and can refuse to serve many Texas children. Opposing private school vouchers has long been an ATPE priority and a component of the ATPE Legislative Program which is approved annually by our members. In most cases, a voucher would not adequately cover a child’s tuition or transportation for private schooling. Such a program would divert money away from local public schools to provide a tax break to parents, many of whom likely plan to send their children to a private school already, with or without a voucher.

Democratic and Republican voters alike issued a scalding rebuke of voucher legislation in the 2018 Texas elections, when several pro-voucher legislators were swept out of office and replaced with a bipartisan class of pro-public education lawmakers.

“I think most legislators in Texas have gotten the message that parents don’t want a dollar-off coupon to a private school across town. They want their neighborhood schools to be the best they can be, and that means giving resources to schools so they can be the best they can be,” ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins told the Houston Chronicle.

Cruz’s bill is unlikely to go far in the Democratically-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, but the Houston Chronicle reports that 10 Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation have signed on, including Reps. Brian Babin, Michael Burgess, Michael Cloud, Dan Crenshaw, Bill Flores, Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Randy Weber, Roger Williams, and Ron Wright.

The State of the Union address is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. tonight, Feb. 4, 2020, on all major networks.

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ATPE attends Texas Tribune Festival

The Texas Tribune held its annual TribFest event in Austin this past Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, 2019. The festival brought together state and national candidates, officeholders, policymakers, and thought leaders to discuss a range of topics, including public education, in a series of panels and one-on-one interviews over the course of the event. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter were on hand to engage with policy makers and other key advocates while taking in the panel discussions regarding Texas public education

At the Texas Tribune Festival, Evan Smith discussed “The Future of Education” with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas 2036 co-founder Margaret Spellings, 2018 Texas Superintendent of the Year Dr. LaTonya Goffney, and former President of UT Brownsville Juliet Garcia.

This year’s education line-up for the festival included panels discussing how states can more effectively work with the U.S. Department of Education, reforms coming out of Dallas ISD, challenges for rural schools and the importance of solving them, school finance considerations following the passage of House Bill 3, the “Future of Education,” and four Texas teachers giving their take on Texas public education, school choice partnerships, and standardized testing.

Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel made up of four Texas teachers.

Click here to access archived live-streams of the festival’s keynote addresses and many of the one-on-one interviews, including those with Texas Congressman Will Hurd, Senator Ted Cruz, and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

DeVos, Cruz launch federal voucher push

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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the filing of new school voucher legislation Thursday, which is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Cruz’s bill, S. 634, would create a voucher program estimated to cost as much as $10 billion per year. The measure would allow corporations and individuals to deduct from their federal taxes 100 percent of their contributions to “scholarship funds” for private schools. Tax credit scholarship proposals aim to subsidize private, for-profit schools with taxpayer dollars redirected from free, constitutional public schools.

The credit would be capped at 10 percent of an individual’s adjusted gross income or five percent of a corporation’s net taxable income. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama) has filed a similar version in the House with a $5 billion price tag. State-level legislation of the type Devos, Cruz, and Byrne are aiming to encourage by proposing federal tax credits has previously been filed in Texas, but has been opposed by Texas educators and has failed to pass. State leaders have repeatedly said similar voucher proposals will not be a priority this session. Many believe this is largely due to 2018 Texas election results, which were widely seen as a rejection of privatization efforts. For this reason, state legislators in Texas have yet to file a major voucher bill during the current state legislative session.

President Donald Trump appointed DeVos, who has used her family’s vast wealth to advocate for the privatization of public schools. During her time as education secretary, DeVos has led a number of efforts to promote vouchers and voucher-like policies.

Fortunately, there is slim chance that the current Congress will pass any voucher legislation. Some Senate Republicans have expressed concerns over voucher legislation, and a voucher bill is unlikely to find traction in the Democratically-controlled House. To read more about the new Cruz bill and send a message to your elected officials in Washington, DC about it, visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Texans in Congress support federal voucher bills as Trump continues privatization push

United States Capitol BuildingIt probably comes as no surprise to Texans that federal voucher bills are being filed in the U.S. Congress after President Donald Trump campaigned on a $20 billion voucher plan promise. He continued to promote such a plan last night during his first speech to Congress. However, Texans might be surprised to learn that some of their elected representatives are jumping on board as supporters of these pieces of legislation.

Texan serves as original co-sponsor on House voucher bill

A bill termed the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was filed in the U.S. House recently with Texas Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) as an original co-sponsor of the legislation. H.R. 610 would create a federal voucher program and repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was most recently amended by and is commonly referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Instead, the Department of Education’s (ED) authority would be limited to awarding block grants to states that legalize vouchers and follow the federal voucher program requirements.

The “Choices in Education Act” voucher would work like this:

  • ED would distribute block grants to qualified states.
  • States would distribute that money to districts based on the number of eligible school children within each district.
  • Districts would be responsible for distributing a portion of their funds to parents who choose to enroll their child in a private school or home-school their child. The amount distributed would be equal to the per-student federal funding in each state. Districts would be responsible for distributing funding in a way that ensures money is spent on “appropriate educational expenses.”

Both Texas senators co-sponsor Senate voucher bill

In the U.S. Senate, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has a voucher bill (S. 235) called the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or the CHOICE Act. Both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have signed on as cosponsors.

The “Choice Act” has three parts:

  1. The bill would expand eligibility for the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the federally funded voucher program that distributes funding to students in the District of Columbia only.
  2. The bill would make funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) portable, meaning qualified students could take their portion to the private or public school of their choice. It would also provide states seed money for establishing a special education voucher program.
  3. The bill would create the Military Scholarship Program, allowing students living on military bases to use a voucher at the private or public school of their choice. Students would be eligible for the combined cost of tuition, fees, and transportation, with an $8,000 cap for elementary students and $12,000 for secondary students.

White House continues push but offers no details

The White HouseLast night during his prime time speech to a joint session of Congress, his first time to address the body, President Donald Trump reiterated his support for vouchers and called on Congress to pass a bill that funds “school choice for disadvantaged youth.” He didn’t offer additional details on such a plan, adding that “families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

It has been reported that the White House is considering a tax credit scholarship approach, something neither of the above bills would offer. Again, details on the type of federal tax credit scholarship President Trump might be considering have not been released. (Check out an example of a tax credit scholarship in our post on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill being considered here in Texas.) In short, tax credit scholarships give taxpaying entities or individuals a break on their taxes in exchange for donations to a voucher fund. The fund is then used to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools or to fund a home-school education. During his campaign, President Trump campaigned on a promise to redirect $20 billion dollars in federal spending to a voucher program.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE members can alert their federal representatives of their opinions on these and other federal voucher bills by logging on to Advocacy Central.

Outcry against DeVos continues amid majority support from U.S. Senate

Educators, parents and other stakeholders continue to express concern over Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos and her qualifications to the lead the U.S. Department of Education. Especially since her nomination hearing held last week, concerns are growing regarding DeVos’s lack of commitment to public education, meaningful experience in public schools, and credentials to become the next Education Secretary. U.S. Senate Democrats aren’t letting up, but the latest reports continue to indicate she has wide support among Republicans, meaning her confirmation is in sight.

After pressing hard for a delay of the vote to advance DeVos’s nomination to the full Senate (the final step in the process to confirmation), Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee got a small win over the weekend. They had requested the delay in order to have more time to review the Office of Government Ethics report that found 102 potential conflicts of interest DeVos would have on the job (she’s agreed to divest from the companies and investments of concern) and to give her more time to answer additional questions they were unable to ask during her confirmation hearing. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ultimately granted the delay, pushing it to Jan. 31, but he and many of his Republican colleagues remain vocal in support of the nominee.

That does not seem to be the case when considering the outcry from educators, parents, and the public, which has exploded since the hearing. As we reported last week, DeVos showed a lack of understanding for some federal education laws, namely the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She also failed to commit to protecting funding for public schools, wouldn’t agree that equal and rigorous accountability should follow tax dollars, and didn’t indicate a belief that federal laws protecting and supporting students should extend to any school where public money was transferred.

Despite all of that, in a publication this week, Chairman Alexander again called DeVos’s positions “well within the mainstream” of the public’s views on education. He compared the 837 follow-up questions for DeVos to the roughly 50 submitted by Republicans for each of the two previous secretaries nominated by President Obama. And in an exchange on the Senate floor with HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman Alexander said Democrats and DeVos’s opponents are “grasping for straws.” Ranking Member Murray countered: “it’s our job to ask [cabinet nominees] tough questions.”

Democrats have also maintained that the two previous Secretaries of Education, Arne Duncan and John B. King, had established records in education. DeVos, on the other hand, has no professional experience in public schools, has never attended public schools, and has never enrolled her children in public schools.

The reality of DeVos’s nomination is that she seems to have a clear path to confirmation. Republicans support her nomination and make up a majority on both the HELP Committee and in the full Senate. Still, as the opposition to her nomination grows, advocates for public education have seen some small wins so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Texas’s two Senators do not sit on the HELP committee, but they will vote on confirmation when it hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz regarding their position on DeVos’s confirmation.

ATPE officers make the rounds in D.C.

Things were certainly heated in Washington, D.C. last week—June 16–19—as ATPE State President Ginger Franks, Vice President Richard Wiggins, Executive Director Gary G. Godsey and Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg brought Texas weather (98 degrees) and hot issues to the Texas congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Education.

Our team attended meetings with key Texas Congressmen who serve on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce as well as majority and minority staff members of other Congressmen on the committee. We met with the two Texas Senators, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz, and Texas Congressmen serving on the House Ways and Means committees, which oversees the Social Security system.

We focused on educating Congress about the recent federal requirement that Texas institute a new principal and teacher evaluation system (that accountability based on student test scores) as a condition of receiving a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The waiver exempts Texas from accountability sanctions from the outdated accountability standards under current law; the outdated accountability standards are a result of more than a decade of Congressional gridlock and inability to update the ESEA. The DOE is using this inaction to force states to adopt several “reforms,” including the teacher evaluation piece, in exchange for flexibility under current law.

ATPE has worked hard with Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and the Texas Education Agency to create an evaluation system primarily based on recently adopted state standards of practice for what an educator should know and be able to do. On the test score portion of the evaluation, ATPE recommended using student scores aggregated at the campus level so that all educators are held accountable for every student on the campus, instead of using classroom scores at the individual teacher level. We have also asked for an extension of the pilot program’s timeline so that the program’s first year can be properly evaluated prior to full implementation of the system in all districts.

During our meeting with the DOE, we were pleased to hear that the department has recently decided to consider requests for more flexibility, and we are hopeful Commissioner Williams will request and receive more time. We also hope that the Commissioner will continue conversation about using campus scores, which we believe are more accurate and create a sense of campus collaboration instead of competition, anger and fear of the unknown.

Our message to our Congressmen was to please help us persuade the DOE that Texas does need that flexibility and that we would prefer to handle our own state-level teacher evaluation system. In addition, we advocated for changes to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a Social Security provisions that effects public servants who don’t contribute to Social Security for at least thirty years. The formula used for the WEP is arbitrary and is not proportional to the number of years paid in, unlike the formula that applies to all other Americans who are covered by Social Security.