Legislative Update: Unions and Civil Rights Groups Strongly Oppose DeVos Nomination

In what will likely be the first of many battles to come, teacher unions and civil rights groups have come out swinging against the nomination of Betsy DeVos to become U.S. Secretary of Education while Republican governors are applauding President-elect Trump for his “inspired choice” to reform federal education policy.

The Senate confirmation hearing for DeVos, originally scheduled for January 11, was postponed one week and is now scheduled for January 17 at 5 p.m. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), HELP’s ranking Democrat, said in a statement the hearing change was made to accommodate the Senate schedule.  Later media reports indicated the hearing date was pushed back because the ethics check on DeVos was not completed.

After meeting with DeVos last week, Sen. Murray said in a statement, “I continue to have serious concerns about her long record of working to privatize and defund public education, expand taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, and block accountability for charter schools.”

Sen. Alexander told The Chattanoogan, “Betsy DeVos and I had a great meeting today, and she is going to make an excellent Secretary of Education. I’m looking forward to her hearing because I know she will impress the Senate with her passionate support for improving education for all children.”

In a letter to Sen. Alexander, 18 Republican governors said that DeVos was an “inspired” choice. “Betsy DeVos will fight to streamline the federal education bureaucracy, return authority back to states and local school boards, and ensure that more dollars are reaching the classroom…Betsy DeVos also is a passionate supporter of increasing parental engagement in their children’s education and of harnessing the power of competition to drive improvement in all K-12 schools, whether they be public, private or virtual.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—a coalition of more than 200 national organizations—said in a letter, “We reject the notion that children are well served by the dismantling of a public school system that serves 90 percent of all American students or by the elimination of civil rights protections that require the federal government to intervene when students are discriminated against.”

In a Huffington Post piece, AFT President Randi Weingarten called DeVos “a billionaire with an agenda” who could reignite “education wars” between Democrats and Republicans. 

The NEA maintains that “by nominating Betsy DeVos, the incoming Trump administration is demonstrating it does not share our vision of public education and what works best for students, parents, and communities.”

More about Betsy DeVos in this New York Times article.

The First 100 Days and Beyond—What’s in Store for Education?

There is lots of talk about what the first 100 days of the Trump administration will look like. Many expect the new Administration will reverse many Obama-era regulations, repeal Obamacare and replace it with a Republican plan, and introduce tax reform.  

In education, two education-related regulations likely to be overturned deal with teacher preparation and the ESSA state and education accountability. More here on that. 

Although not likely in the first 100 days, look for efforts to scale back the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

Many also anticipate some kinds of initiative to expand private school choice, although it is possible this could be done through the ESSA State plans now being developed.

On Capitol Hill, members of Congress will be paying keen attention to the Implementation of ESSA.  Two education bills that will likely come up include the the Higher Education Act, which was last comprehensively reauthorized in 2008, and the rewrite of the Perkins Act, which oversees federal funding of career and technical education.

Update on ESSA Implementation

On January 6, the Education Department posted new guidelines for states to help them develop consolidated state plans, state and local report cards, and determine graduation rates under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Links to the guidance are below.

Consolidated State Plan guidance

State and Local Report Cards Guidance

High School Graduation Rate Guidance

States are allowed to submit their consolidated State plan or individual program plans on April 3, 2017, or on September 18, 2017. Do you know what your state is doing to implement ESSA? Learn more here about how to make STEM a priority in ESSA.

A reminder that the U.S. Department of Education is hosting a series of webinars on the ESSA, Title IV, Part A Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant.  More information on the webinars is below. These grants will allow STEM activities.

Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 2 p.m. eastern
Role of State Educational Agencies; Local Application Requirements; and Implementing Effective SSAE Program Activities 
Registration: https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/node/8739/0/register

Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 2 p.m. eastern: 
Allowable Activities to Support Well-Rounded Educational Opportunities; Safe and Healthy Students; and the Effective Use of Technology
Registration: https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/node/8740/0/register

And finally, the Department of Education is seeking highly qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of State plans required under ESSA. For more information, including a link to the application, visit https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplan17/index.html.

American Innovation and Competitiveness Act <Finally> Becomes Law

Before the Senate adjourned prior to the Christmas break, on Friday, December 16, 2016 they passed S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA). President Obama signed the bill into law on January 6, 2017.

This legislation is the successor to the America COMPETES Act, which sets policy for a number of federal STEM education programs and for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Department of Energy Office of Science.

The House version of this bill was largely controversial, and it was assumed that the Congressional clock had run out and that this legislation would not pass prior to adjournment of the 114th Congress. However, on December 10, 2016 the Senate passed a modified version of the bill before leaving town that had both bicameral and bipartisan support. The House had already adjourned but still passed the AICA on December 16, 2016 by unanimous consent (both chambers of Congress can bypass their procedural rules and pass legislation with no objections.)

In regard to STEM education, the key new law authorizes a restructure of NSF’s Robert Noyce STEM teacher program, including a new program to partner recently retired STEM professionals with STEM teachers; creates a STEM education advisory panel of non-Federal employees to advise the President and the Committee on STEM education (CoSTEM) on federal STEM programs and STEM policy; asserts that NSF continue grants to broaden participation in STEM; provides continuing K-12 computer science grants; and encourages on-going partnerships between NSF and institutions involved in informal STEM learning, institutions of higher education, and education research centers.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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4 Responses to Legislative Update: Unions and Civil Rights Groups Strongly Oppose DeVos Nomination

  1. Scott Pyle says:

    It is so exciting to see changes finally coming to education! Far too long the Teacher’s unions have tried to keep us under their boot. Now we can finally get someone who will work with us. This change as well as our new State Superintendent here in Indiana has me very excited as we look toward a bright future.

  2. Mark Castleman says:

    Ms DeVos is an outspoken young-Earth creationist and is a danger to the teaching of science at all levels.

  3. SJ says:

    I’d like to be better informed about Ms. DeVos. What is a young-Earth creationist? and what is your source? How will her views impact those of us teaching science?

  4. Michelle Brown says:

    The same teacher unions that have been forcing our students to remain in FAILING schools with FAILING administrators oppose this nominee because they are afraid of losing POWER. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn from successful, highly qualified educators. The teacher unions primarily protect teachers’ jobs that wouldn’t be able to survive any other work environment because they’d be fired for nonperformance!
    NTSA shame on you for using your platform to indoctrinate rather than allowing free thought! I’m disappointed…

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