Disability Rights Groups Send Letter to Biden Transition Team Opposing Education Secretary Contender Eskelsen Garcia, Say Former NEA Chief Failed to Steer Union ‘Toward Equity and Access for Students With Disabilities’
Controversial comments that Lily Eskelsen Garcia made five years ago in an address to a progressive advocacy organization have resurfaced this week as speculation continues over whether the former National Education Association chief will be named President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for education secretary. As Linda Jacobson reported on Wednesday, backlash has been mounting online this week over the speech, during which Eskelsen Garcia can be heard detailing a list of students with diverse needs, such as the “hearing impaired” and “physically challenged.”
She then also included “the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.”
On Thursday, numerous disability rights groups co-signed and circulated a letter they had sent to the Biden transition team, expressing concerns for Eskelsen Garcia’s track record on issues involving students with disabilities:
Dear Members of the Biden Education Transition Team,
The signatories of this letter are national advocacy organizations that represent students with disabilities, their families, and the educators who serve them. Together, we advocate for policies that ensure students with disabilities are included in all aspects of society and have every opportunity to succeed. We write to express serious concern about the potential nomination of Lily Eskelsen Garcia as the Secretary of Education and positions previously taken by the National Education Association (NEA) while she served as their president.
Eskelsen Garcia served as President of the NEA from 2014 through 2020 and, in that role, led and oversaw the development of many positions that stood in direct opposition to those taken by parents and parent advocacy organizations in support of children with disabilities. The positions taken by NEA were detrimental to the success of students with disabilities. These include but are not limited to the following:
1. Opposing the core legal tenet of “least restrictive environment” in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA makes clear that every child with a disability must receive their education alongside students without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. This fundamental promise within the law is known as the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) requirement. Students with disabilities are general education students first. Any student receiving specialized services (e.g., students with disabilities, low-income students, English Learners) is first and foremost a student in the general education system. Research overwhelmingly shows that providing students with disabilities an education in the general education classroom has clear academic, social, and behavioral benefits for students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. Despite this, in 2016, NEA published an article suggesting that inclusion does not prepare students for life after high school and that following the law’s requirement of LRE is not always appropriate.
2. Opposing statewide assessments, citing their harm on students with disabilities. NEA’s “2020 Policy Playbook” indicates their opposition to statewide assessments and calls on policymakers to reexamine the assessment system due to the tests’ “negative effects on students from all backgrounds, especially those from under-resourced communities, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities.” Ironically, statewide assessments are the only comparable indicator available to the public demonstrating how all students with disabilities are performing compared to their grade level peers in multiple grades. It wasn’t until the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001 that students with disabilities were counted in state and district accountability systems. Before this, parents did not know how their children were performing against state grade level standards. Disability and civil rights advocates strongly oppose a return to an era when students with disabilities and other systemically marginalized students were
3. Opposing the 1% cap on the use of alternate assessments in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Research shows that the vast majority of students with disabilities can and should be achieving at grade level content standards.4 It is only appropriate for a small percentage of students with disabilities to participate in statewide alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS). Thus, the Every Student Succeeds Act imposes a 1% cap, limiting participation in these assessments to 1% of students (approximately 10% or less of students with disabilities). NEA opposed this cap and fought to allow more students to be held to this lower standard, despite students’ ability to achieve at higher levels. Despite it being contrary to the law, being assigned to the AA-AAS can have very significant negative consequences for students with disabilities, including removal from general education instruction and lowering expectations for students to achieve grade level standards, being assigned to segregated classrooms, and being unable to graduate with a regular high school diploma.
4. Opposing the elimination of the “2 percent” assessment. After the passage of No Child Left Behind (when students with disabilities were first included in the assessment and accountability system) and before the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states were permitted to develop alternate assessments on modified achievement standards (AA-MAS). According to the National Council on Disability (NCD), “[t]hese assessments allowed districts and states to count students with disabilities who were ‘unlikely to achieve grade-level proficiency’ as proficient if they scored proficient on alternate assessments on modified achievement standards (AA-MAS) as long as students included as proficient did not exceed 2% of all students assessed (2% translates to approximately 20 of students with disabilities).” In practice, this assessment (and the instructional practices that accompanied it) was used to lower expectations for students with disabilities and many states assessed more than 2% of their students using this test. In some places, such as districts in California, as many as 70% of students with disabilities were tested under the AA-MAS. With the support of the disability community, the U.S. Department of Education issued a rule in 2015 to prohibit the 2 Percent rule.
5. Opposing efforts to eliminate seclusion and reduce physical restraint in schools. Data from the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection continues to show that most students restrained and secluded were students with disabilities, who comprised 13 percent of all students enrolled, yet represented 80 percent of all students physically restrained, and 77 percent of all students secluded. Restraint and seclusion are dangerous practices that continue to cause children trauma, injury, and death. The disability community has advocated for many years that federal legislation is needed to establish national minimum standards to prohibit the use of seclusion and prevent the use of physical restraint in schools. NEA supported the Keeping All Students Safe Act in 2014 but then failed to do so under Eskelsen Garcia’s leadership through 2020.
As the leader of NEA, Eskelsen Garcia had the opportunity to steer the organization toward equity and access for students with disabilities but failed to do so. We have serious concerns about placing someone with such values at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education — a federal agency that is charged with upholding the civil rights of students with disabilities and improving outcomes for all students.
We would be happy to discuss these concerns in greater detail and hope you’ll seriously consider them as you develop and finalize the slate of potential nominees. We encourage you to ensure that any nominee for Secretary of Education has a strong track record of supporting the inclusion of and ensuring high standards for students with disabilities.
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Center for Public Representation
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
National Down Syndrome Congress
The Advocacy Institute
Five years ago, states took back control over public schools.
That’s how Congress framed the adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by then-President Obama on December 10, 2015. An unexpected bipartisan gift during a period of divided government, the bill swept aside the top-down mandates of its mostly unloved predecessor, No Child Left Behind. In the future, states would instead be trusted to judge failing schools according to their own criteria and provide them with the targeted assistance necessary to turn things around. The watchword, forever on the lips of politicians and the pens of headline writers, was “flexibility.”
At the half-decade mark, however, some worry that very flexibility could be coming at the cost of equity — and historically underserved students will likely bear that cost. A new report released today from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national education policy and advocacy group, finds that different states vary dramatically in the schools they identify for support; in several, large percentages of even the lowest-performing schools are not offered crucial federal resources for improvement. The students who attend those struggling schools, disproportionately drawn from poor and minority families, are in danger of being overlooked, the authors warn.
Ominously, the disparities observed don’t even capture the effects of 2020’s unprecedented K-12 event, the coronavirus pandemic. The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden still needs to decide whether to allow states to pause this year’s round of standardized testing, but the need to strengthen accountability frameworks is made even clearer by COVID’s disruptions to information-gathering on metrics like absenteeism and high school graduation rates, according to report author Anne Hyslop.
“This data came from Year One of ESSA implementation, before the pandemic, and I don’t think anyone is expecting that these [accountability] systems have gotten better this year,” said Hyslop, the Alliance’s assistant director for policy development and government relations. “If this is the situation before the COVID-19 crisis, it’s incumbent as we think about recovery that we think about what kids need moving forward.”
The analysis relies on publicly available data from 10 states: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, and Washington State. Hyslop and coauthors Lindsay Dworkin and Ziyu Zhou studied the quality ratings each state assigned to its schools, the demographic composition of those schools, and the criteria by which the states identified them for additional support. The data came from the 2018-19 school year, the first in which states issued ESSA-compliant school ratings and identifications based on the previous year’s data.
The findings show that the law has done what many of its authors vowed it would when debating its provisions in the late Obama era. States are allowed much greater freedom to determine whether a given school qualifies for intervention, a process that requires schools to develop their own improvement plans and allows them access to federal Title I money to implement them.
But that freedom was supposed to be mixed with firm guardrails pushing states to step in when schools persistently underperformed (scoring in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools statewide, for example, or graduating fewer than two-thirds of high school seniors). Similar rules applied to schools where one or more groups of children, such as low-income students or English learners, were underperforming. Hyslop said that when push came to shove, those precautions didn’t prevent states from under-identifying schools for badly needed help.
“There was hope that the floor that states had to set was high enough,” she lamented. “What we found with this analysis, unfortunately, was that even some of the guardrails that were perceived as the most clear-cut and straightforward…are not so clear-cut in implementation.”
One glaring example involves graduation rates. While states are required to flag high schools where fewer than 67 percent of seniors graduate, in practice, some slip through the cracks because of states’ differing criteria for intervention. Sixty-seven percent may be the federal benchmark, but states don’t have to measure by four-year graduation rate; some rely on a five- or six-year rate, and a few average that rate over successive years.
That allows different states to identify radically different portions of their schools. Florida identified nearly 70 percent of its schools for some form of institutional support, while Connecticut identified just 4 percent. Even among schools that are acknowledged to be among the lowest-performing in their states — receiving F ratings — significant differences exist. In Michigan, a full 80 percent of schools rating in the bottom 5 percent statewide were overlooked for support.
Under-identification exerts a disproportionate impact on students from disadvantaged groups, who are much more likely to attend poorly rated schools. In Mississippi, for example, African American students are 17 times more likely to attend an F-rated school than white students. Nearly half of those schools were not identified for support by the state.
In particular, Hyslop pointed to the example of Connecticut, which is plagued by one of the steepest achievement gaps in the country between white and non-white students. The state’s definition of a “consistently underperforming” group of students is so restrictive, the authors note — it had to perform in the bottom 1 percent statewide across 12 separate academic indicators for three consecutive years — that few, if any, schools met the classification.
Hyslop said she found the process “egregious,” but that it was well within the state’s intended flexibility under federal education law. It “wasn’t a case of Connecticut going around the law,” she added, but rather one of ESSA “[allowing] states to craft a definition of consistently underperforming subgroups to pick and choose which schools it wants to support — and, by extension, which students.”
“There definitely is no Goldilocks, ‘just-right’ number of schools to identify,” she concluded. “But when you see only one school identified for Latino students in the entire state of Connecticut, given the state of their achievement gap, that makes me question whether the system is credible and is set up in a way to make sure that schools serving historically underserved kids are getting the resources and help they need.”
Former NEA Chief Eskelsen Garcia, Possible Education Secretary Pick, Under Scrutiny for Comments About Special-Needs Kids
Updated December 18
On December 10, numerous disability rights groups co-signed and circulated a letter they had sent to the Biden transition team, expressing concerns about her track record on issues involving students with disabilities. Read the full letter.
Comments that Lily Eskelsen Garcia made five years ago in an address to a progressive advocacy organization have resurfaced this week as speculation continues over whether the former National Education Association chief will be President-elect Joe Biden’s likely pick for education secretary.
In a list of students with diverse needs, such as the “hearing impaired” and “physically challenged” Eskelsen Garcia included “the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.”
Eskelsen Garcia apologized, saying the first was a slip of the tongue — she had meant to say “tardy” — and the second was a reference to students who try to annoy their teachers when they have a bad day.
But the disability community didn’t take it that way, and now, opponents of a union leader being named education secretary are putting a spotlight on her words.
“And you all were worried about @BetsyDeVosED?” Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen tweeted Monday. “Did you ever hear her say anything mean about a child?”
“She has a history of being incredibly caustic and negative about a lot of things,” Allen said. “I think she’s got a history of saying pejorative things.”
Allen added that those who raised the issue are advocates for children with special needs. “These are not people who are particularly on one side or another,” politically, she said.
The question is whether Eskelsen Garcia’s comments — whether intentional, misunderstood or something else — could derail her chances at the nomination.
It’s “hard to imagine that would be a deal-breaker for someone with her long public profile and bona fides,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.“But sensitivities are such that almost anything is possible.”
Eskelsen Garcia, Utah’s Teacher of the Year in 1989, served as NEA president from 2014 until earlier this year. In 2017, she led an effort to craft the union’s policy statement on charter schools, saying it supports only those that are authorized and held accountable by school districts, not those that are managed by private organizations.Joanne Cashman, an independent consultant, worked with Eskelsen Garcia on issues related to special education when Cashman directed the Individuals with Disabilities Act Partnership at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. She said Eskelsen Garcia continued that work while she was president, after federal funding ended.“She has supported that kind of relationship-building, and that idea that we have to learn by interacting with other people, not just at one-time events,” Cashman said. “She has done what she could do to move [the work] through the channels at NEA so it had organizational support.”Leslie Finger, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Texas, agreed that Eskelsen Garcia’s comments likely wouldn’t be enough to knock her off the top of a list of Biden nominees, especially since she has strong support among Hispanic groups.
But Finger doubted that someone with a more moderate stance toward charter schools and school choice would be getting the same treatment.
“I think that the education reform community doesn’t want somebody so closely aligned to the teachers unions and has an incentive to discredit her,” Finger said. “Prominent education reformers seem to have been broadcasting these comments.”
The 74 reached out to the NEA for comment but did not receive a response.
Hess added there’s a growing “real sense she could be the pick,” and that Eskelsen Garcia “checks a lot of boxes for Biden and has a strong public presence.”
If that is the case, and the Senate confirms her — which could hinge on the results of the Georgia runoff election next month — advocates for students with disabilities will be looking for how she’ll approach issues related to special-needs children.
“The leader of the agency responsible for implementing the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] and enforcing protections through the Office for Civil Rights needs to be a leader in establishing that students of all abilities are valued and respected,” said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.
The sentiments Eskelsen Garcia “has shared in the past reflect a sense of ‘otherness’ which is hugely problematic to everything we are trying to accomplish for students with disabilities,” Morando Rhim added. “We would love to hear more about her plans to elevate students with disabilities and make that message of value and respect clear if she is selected for the role.”
Drive-Thru Thanksgiving: California District Offers Immunizations, Groceries and Turkeys to More than 200 Students
More than 200 students in one California district received turkeys, groceries and their required school immunizations at a drive-thru clinic last week.
With Thanksgiving looming, the event for West Contra Costa Unified School District families in Richmond, California, on Thursday attempted to solve two problems at once — many families in the district are vulnerable to food insecurity, and more than 700 students still hadn’t formally registered for school because they were missing their regular immunizations, said Tony Wold, the district’s associate superintendent of business services. Those students have been participating in online classes, but can now officially enroll.
During the drive-thru event at district headquarters, 244 students received immunizations, and hundreds more are expected to take advantage of the program in the coming days at the El Cerrito Safeway supermarket, which partnered with the district on the event. Families also picked up a turkey and a week’s worth of food as part of the district’s ongoing meal program for students.
The district will also draw names to give 200 families $50 gift cards for Safeway, paid for by the West Contra Costa Public Education Fund, a nonprofit that supports families in the district.
Students could get any of the shots in the series of immunizations required to enroll in school in California, which protect them from measles, mumps, chickenpox and other illnesses.Children and the family member who brought them could also get a flu shot during the event, Wold said. Many students fell behind on their immunizations this year as clinics became overwhelmed dealing with COVID-19, he added.
Wold hopes to have nearly all students caught up on their shots by Thanksgiving, and the district will continue to work with families until everyone has met state requirements.
Safeway pharmacists provided and administered the vaccines. The cost will be covered by insurance for families who have it, and the district will use CARES Act funding, the one-time aid Congress set aside for schools earlier this year, for those who do not.
“I can’t think of a better use of those dollars than to support these students,” Wold said.
Safeway also gave out coupons for 10 percent off at their stores to every student who participated. Another partner, the school bus company First Student, which provides transportation for West Contra Costa special education students, picked up families who needed a ride and brought them home after the event for free. Hill Physicians Medical Group, a local network of doctors, also helped with the project.
The district, located just north of Berkeley, serves almost 29,000 students, more than half of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, a common indicator of poverty.
Blue Shield of California, an insurance company, brought the partners together and helped organize the event.
“On the most basic level you want [kids] to be as healthy as possible and not be getting sick or being vulnerable in any way, and so something like this is right up Blue Shield of California’s alley, trying to make sure that we lift all boats when it comes to health of citizens here in California,” said Mark Seelig, a spokesman for the company.
Today, we partnered with West Contra Costa Schools to host a free drive-thru immunization clinic, where we successfully…
The collaboration was “fortuitous,” Wold said: It started with an email from someone at Blue Shield looking to help children vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic in West Contra Costa Unified, and the event came together in less than two weeks.
“I’ve been in public education for almost 30 years. Today is probably one of the proudest events of my life, my professional career,” Wold said Thursday. “Getting these kids the simplest of things — the immunization that keeps them safe, and getting them back into school — I cannot tell you how proud I am of the team and our district that put this together and the partners that came to our aid. It’s heartwarming.”
‘I May Have to Leave the City I Love’: Parents in New York City, Grappling with a Dysfunctional School Shutdown and the Uncertain Academic Year Ahead, Voice Frustration — and Fear
This is continuing coverage of the Nov. 18 announcement that New York City schools — America’s largest district — would suspend all in-person learning due to a surge in coronavirus cases. See Zoë Kirsch’s complete news report on the announcement, the initial backlash among parents and what will (and won’t) be different this time around, versus the system’s shutdown in the spring. (Get the latest NYC and pandemic update delivered to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter)
Wednesday proved to be an insane roller coaster of a day for New York City families.
After having warned parents last Friday, Nov. 13, that public schools might close as early as the following Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio scheduled a press conference yesterday at 10 a.m. to discuss the latest numbers on coronavirus infections. When he had yet to make an appearance three hours later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he’d be having a press conference himself at 1:30 p.m. There, he proceeded to say that New York City had not yet met the 3 percent Covid positivity trigger to close the school system.
Parents across the state let out a sigh of release.
But then a few minutes later, School Chancellor Richard Carranza sent out an email to New York City’s principals informing them that all public schools would be closed as of Thursday.
The reason? The city had surpassed the 3 percent Covid trigger to close the school system.
Shortly after 2 p.m. that letter leaked to a very confused press corps. While NY1 TV reporters were informing city residents that schools were now in the process of shuttering, a reporter at the Cuomo press conference ventured to the governor that parents were confused by the mixed messages.
“They’re not confused,” the governor shot back. “You’re confused.”
As someone who has labored for over a decade to demystify, explain, and simplify the Draconian NYC school system for overwhelmed parents, I can assure you: Today the city’s parents are very, very confused — and very, very angry.
Here’s a small sampling of the 50+ replies I received overnight; deeply emotional notes from parents who are frustrated, exasperated and fearful for what this disruption may mean for their children. (We have agreed to protect their identities and only use first names due to their fears of retaliation by their schools.)
Anu: “This is outrageous! These decisions are made with zero regard for children and parents! To inform working parents in the afternoon that NYC schools are closing!!!”
Frank: “It is highly disheartening, and I feel our public school system will receive the blunt of these inconsistent policies for years. For younger students, pre-K centers remain open in community organizations like the YMCA, but in a DOE building, it is closed. Many parents are moving their children (who can) to private, full-time schools and may never come back to the public school system, creating an ever-widening chasm that may take years to repair, if ever. All told, this will lead to even larger inequities in our public school system.”
Miriam: “I watched the Cuomo presser. He said we are “at 2.5%” at least a dozen times. So what gives with de Blasio? United Federation of Teachers pressure all week?? Livid!”
Cathy: “Pros: I want the teachers to stay safe and feel safe. I think part of this is because we do not have enough teachers to handle the number of in-person kids especially over the holidays in case teachers need to quarantine before/after seeing family. Cons: My kids have had learning losses. One has an IEP that cannot be served since none of the IEP teachers are in-person and she can’t do online learning. I do not know when schools will reopen. I am bleeding cash.”
Natalia: “Liquor stores were considered essential, while schools are first to close! Way to go as a nation.”
Sarah: “We are disadvantaging students who do not have devices, connectivity, and adults at home who can help them navigate the various apps and learning platforms (which, as we know, are not that easy to organize and navigate!). Something like 25% (more?) of students do not log in from home on their remote days. Now they will slip further and further behind. This is a political game to appease unions, at the expense of our children’s learning. We should be trying to get them into schools more days rather than taking them out altogether. “
Kate: “De Blasio and Carranza have not shown any level of competence throughout this whole year. Latest evidence: The plan was to close schools at 3% and they were giving daily updates on the issue. Yet they won’t distribute devices to some kids for six weeks? No planning. No coordination. No plan to get food to kids who need it!”
Fred: “Kids going from home to school to home clearly aren’t the COVID problem. Now parents will have to allow caretakers, nannies, etc into their homes. That will likely spread the virus.”
Daya: “It is another insult to parents that the announcement was delayed for hours after the closure was obvious. I feel the mayor has no respect for parents because of how poorly he communicates. Closing public schools while private schools (including city-funded UPK in private preschools) remain open is an advertisement for the school choice movement. Vouchers or homeschool/pod grants would be more useful for young children than remote learning.”
Kelly: “I’m in my savings already paying someone to watch my kids and manage remote learning while I work (my kids are 4 and 6). Why are we paying taxes?”
Elena: “Disgusting. Spit in the face over and over. This is a definite way to drive away all families that are still left in the city. This is the greatest city in the world! And I no longer want to live here because of this administration and how much they have poisoned things over the years and now with COVID they are really showing their true colors. I’m concerned what will be left of the school system and the city when COVID is no longer a threat.”
Vicky: “If NYC DOE had announced that schools were going to be fully remote, I think a lot of parents/guardians could have prepared and jobs wouldn’t be so (averse) to the idea of having their employees work remotely as well. But because NYC DOE thinks they can fight COVID-19 with the already-limited resources they have, a lot of parents are left to find means for child care last minute and jobs are less open to allowing employees to work from home. I am fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, and I thank God for it but I really do feel for my fellow parents and school community.”
Eileen: “The 3% COVID threshold is arbitrary; it’s not CDC guidance, or even NYC Health Department guidance. It doesn’t reflect what’s actually happening inside the schools. Also, de Blasio decided the 3% was non-negotiable but has no equally clear standard for reopening schools. So all of us parents who put faith in our teachers and principals and sent out kids back to school despite all the upheaval the DOE threw at us in August and September feel pretty ill-used by de Blasio. Also, there is a feeling that he is making these decisions without any input from the many experts he has available to him at the DOE. They could have told him the announcement has to come before 1:30 p.m. Because if you make it at 2 p.m., which he did, many teachers are already on their way home. So they all have materials still in the classroom that they need at home. And the principal is going to have to chase them all down to discuss his/her plan. So it’s a nonsensical decision that was executed badly on a very basic level.”
Faiza: “As an immigrant woman of color and someone who has worked hard to make NYC my home for almost 15 years, it saddens me to think I may have to leave the city I love and have invested so many years of my life in in order for my kids to get the education they need.”
M.R.: “Public schools are simply not a transmission vehicle for the virus. In fact, one could argue that keeping children outside schools might be even more dangerous than keeping them in schools. I expect New York City to represent excellence, intelligence and courage for our youngest citizens. Unfortunately, our elected or appointed officials are demonstrating once again that we, as a city, thrive not because of them, but despite them.”
Maggie: “The teachers union should be ashamed of themselves. It is absolutely nonsensical that they can’t do this by individual schools and shut them down if a certain percentage of people test positive.”
Stephanie: “The DOE has done a terrible job with remote learning and the thought of endless months of it is hideous on a level that’s beyond words. The days my hybrid-son is home are a complete waste. Today the class told each other knock-knock jokes for 20 minutes. My lease is up in 2021, and I plan to move out of the city to ensure my child has the best education possible moving forward!”
Celia: “We are all going to be stuck together in our small apartments again 24/7. Public school kids are losing out. Private schools are monitoring and managing well it seems, taking precautions, and their children are benefiting from some normalcy. As are the parents. A remote office parent and two remote kids can’t function in an apartment. From my son’s preschool class, I only know of three families that stayed in the city. The mayor and chancellor’s management of the city has everyone bailing, and leaving, starting with parents. I argued for years with my husband about staying in the city instead of the Westchester burbs. I won. And now I am the one who is about to flip the city the bird and never return.”
Carl: “I think the closings should be by district. And for large districts, like 2, which span giant swaths of the city, they should do it by zip code, meaning if you live in a safe zip code and go to a school located in a safe zip code, you may attend school in person.”
Rocky: “My emotions are very mixed. I am boiling-mad at de Blasio, Carranza, Cuomo, UFT President Michael Mulgrew for being so cruel to these students and parents. Another part of me is breathing an enormous sigh of relief. I reached my fed-up point a week ago and enrolled my child in Catholic school, so we are free from the DOE.”
Report: District-Charter Funding Gap Grows to 33 Percent Less Per Student; 12 Cities Provide ‘A Trivial Amount’ or ‘No Funding’ for Charters
Charter schools across 18 major U.S. cities received, on average, 33 percent less funding per student than traditional schools during the 2017-18 school year, according to a new analysis.
The gap more than doubled over a 15-year period in eight cities that include Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles — from $3,266 in 2003 to $6,701 in 2018, adjusted for inflation. Across cities added to the study since 2013, the gap has grown by almost 30 percent.
The research team, led by the libertarian Reason Foundation’s Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas, examined all sources of available funding, including federal, state, local, and philanthropic sources. They attribute the growing disparity to a lack of funding for charters at the local level. Twelve of the school districts examined “provided either no or a trivial amount of local funds to their public charter schools,” the report said.
The researchers grade the 18 regions on funding gaps between district and charter schools. Shelby County, Tennessee, where charter schools receive $550 less per student than district schools, is the only site to receive an A. In the 12 districts that received an F, the gap ranged from 29 percent less for charter school students in Detroit to 57 percent less in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The researchers argue that per-student funding should be “portable” and follow students to any public school they attend.
“If we had student-centered funding, students wouldn’t be penalized just because the traditional school didn’t work for them,” DeAngelis said during a press call Wednesday.
The report notes that federal funding typically doesn’t make up the gap between charter and district schools. Boston and Phoenix were the only cities where charter schools received more federal funding per student than district schools.
A part of Biden’s ‘coalition’
The paper is part of the research team’s continuing comparisons of funding between charter and district schools — an issue that has grown increasingly heated in recent years. Charter proponents argue their schools get better student achievement results with less money. But supporters of traditional schools say charter growth hurts their funding, especially in districts with declining enrollment. The debate intensified during the presidential campaign, when Biden said he wasn’t “a fan” of charter schools, fueling questions about where he will come down on the issue now that he is president-elect.
Michael Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, recently advised charter advocates to “remind the new president and his team of the real-life people that charter schools serve, people who are a key part of his coalition. Building back better means, in part, continuing to build charter schools that are lifelines for the people Biden knows and loves,” he wrote.
DeAngelis and Wolf address some of the common reasons charter critics cite for giving more funding to district schools. One argument is that district schools serve more students who quality for special education. But the analysis shows that enrollment rates of students with special needs only explained the funding gap in two places — Boston and Shelby County.
Second, advocates for traditional schools sometimes say that charter schools serve fewer low-income students. But the researchers found that in seven of the 18 locations, charter schools are serving a higher proportion of low-income students and still receive less per student than district schools.
Finally, some say charter schools receive significant philanthropic or “nonpublic” funding. About five years ago, data supported that argument. In 2015-16, charter schools were receiving $655 more per student in nonpublic funds than district schools, and even then those resources were “highly skewed towards a small number of favored operators.”
But since then, nonpublic funding for traditional schools — including donations to public school foundations, investment earnings, and real estate sales — has “surged,” they wrote, and by 2017-18, charters were receiving an average of $1,412 less per student. In Shelby County, however, charters are still raising more nonpublic funds than traditional schools, which partly explains the funding relative parity between the two sectors, the researchers said.
The pandemic has further added to the finger-pointing on both sides of the charter-district funding debate. For example, advocates for traditional school systems argued that some organizations running charter schools were essentially double dipping because they received millions in Paycheck Protection Program funds in addition to normal education funding.
Meanwhile in California, legislation freezing state funding, so schools losing enrollment wouldn’t also lose money, has led to some growing charter schools not receiving funding for new students. Several schools are now part of a lawsuit against the state, arguing that districts are getting to keep funding for students that opted to leave for charter schools.
Some observers say that there’s no way to make a fair comparison between charter and district schools.
“A charter is fundamentally a different organization than a district school,” said Sean Gill, a research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. “Are we expecting schools to do the same thing or have the same mission?”
Districts have costs such as employee pension obligations or debt payments that might not apply to charter schools. Districts also have to maintain some “excess capacity” rather than close as soon as they lose students, he said.
In fact, declining enrollments in traditional schools in cities such as Detroit, Indianapolis, and Washington, are “part of the story,” Wolf said, adding that Indianapolis, for example, is “funding a system that is built for far more students that they are serving.”
He suggested that districts either “hold on to [their] enrollments” or “think about rescaling.”
Gill, who has studied district-charter collaboration, said sometimes such funding comparisons can lead to efforts to share resources, such as transportation systems or curriculum expertise.
“Every dollar that a public school gets doesn’t mean it’s taken from a charter,” he said, adding that while there’s value in examining resources, “at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”
LISTEN: Without Sports, Band or Drama, How to Keep Students Engaged? New EWA Podcast Spotlights 74 Contributor Greg Toppo on the Risk of Kids Losing Interest — and Dropping Out
Millions of students across the country are attending school virtually this semester, raising concerns about “COVID slide,” the loss of learning caused by the pandemic and subsequent shift to online and hybrid classes. (See our complete coverage of the pandemic, remote instruction, and learning loss at The74Million.org/Pandemic).
But, as Greg Toppo reports, educators and experts are also sounding alarms about a different consequence: the loss of engagement that makes students interested in staying in school long enough to learn — and to graduate from high school.
“The widespread loss of school sports this fall, along with activities like drama, band and debate, is ringing alarm bells for educators nationwide, who worry that these activities serve a vital, unspoken purpose: They keep kids engaged in school. The necessity of postponing, minimizing, or canceling them due to COVID-19 puts millions of kids at greater risk of dropping out or falling behind,” Toppo wrote in The 74.
Toppo recently appeared on EWA Radio, the Education Writers Association podcast, to discuss his reporting on this topic.
“The rules of engagement don’t really change even though we’re in a pandemic. You want to keep students interested in what they’re doing, whether it’s in-person or remotely. It just turns out it’s so much harder to keep that interest in a remote situation,” Toppo said.
He also shares ways education journalists can avoid burnout and offers story ideas for covering education policy under the future Biden administration.
Listen to the full conversation:
Sign on, Zoom in, Drop Out: Pandemic Sparks Fears That Without Sports and Other Activities, Students Will Disengage from School
Read more recent coverage of the pandemic from The 74:
Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provide financial support to the Education Writers Association and The 74.
After Walking Out and Sitting In, Student Activists File Civil Rights Complaint Against Selective Admissions at NYC Schools
Updated November 18
Teens Take Charge, a New York City-based youth organization advocating for educational equity, filed a federal civil rights complaint against the city’s Department of Education Monday alleging that the use of admissions screens for public high schools has a discriminatory impact on students of color.
The complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is the student-led group’s most recent move in a series of high-profile protests against inequity in New York City schools, which holds the distinction of being both the nation’s largest district and one of its most starkly segregated. Since 2019, Teens Take Charge staged seven “Strikes for Integration” that mobilized over 2,000 youth, held a roundtable with education leaders in the city, and organized a sit-in at City Hall.
“We’ve done all we can,” member and Teens Take Charge press representative Sophie Mode told The 74 Monday. “It’s not right that high school students have to sue their government to get justice.”
After 7 School Integration Strikes, NYC Students Get Rare Public Meeting With Ed Department Officials, Asking ‘How Much Longer Will We Have to Wait?’
The filing of the complaint comes as the worsening pandemic forced city officials to announce Wednesday that schools will be closing, and also as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza mull a decision about admissions in the city’s schools for the 2021-22 school year. COVID has made some elements of the previous admissions system unworkable and put the process in limbo. Currently, more than 20 percent of public middle and high schools use screens in their admissions, which take into account factors such as attendance, punctuality, grades, and state test scores. The city’s eight specialized high schools, including the elite Brooklyn Tech, Bronx High School of Science, and Stuyvesant, rely on a single entrance exam which has produced offers of admission to very small numbers of Black and Hispanic students. Teens Take Charge and the de Blasio administration have both challenged the high-stakes test, but it remains codified in state law.
Now that COVID has forced the city to re-examine the admission practices it does control, they must also consider the discriminatory effects of screening practices, argued Teens Take Charge’s legal team.
“Any change to admissions policies must not only account for the challenges of the pandemic, but must also remedy the unlawful racial inequity baked into the system,” said Allison Scharfstein, a member of the New York University Civil Rights Clinic that is representing the student-led group. “We filed [Monday] to ensure that this discriminatory system does not harm yet another group of students simply seeking access to a quality and integrated public education to which they are entitled.”
The youth-led organization’s complaint cites data from the 2020 high school admissions cycle, alleging that the racial disparities in admission rates violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination in any program receiving federal funds.
“As students, we always knew screens were discriminatory,” said Brandon St. Luce, a student at Edward R. Murrow High School and Teens Take Charge leader. “Earlier this fall, we got the proof. The DOE’s own numbers show that admissions screens lead to rampant racial discrimination.”
For example, at two sought-after screened high schools, Baruch College Campus High School and Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Black and Hispanic students made up about 40 percent of applicants, but accounted for less than 10 percent of offers at each school, according to Teens Take Charge. At another screened school, Frank McCourt High School, the admission rate for white students was five times that of Black students.
New York City Department of Education representatives did not respond to questions from The 74 asking whether screening practices have a segregative effect. However, they did note that under the current administration, a number of initiatives have helped schools prioritize vulnerable students in their admissions processes and no new screened programs have been added.
“Our classrooms are stronger and more supportive for all students when they reflect the diversity of our city, and we sincerely value student voice in our ongoing efforts to advance equity,” department representatives wrote in an email. “We continue to make our admissions policies more inclusive, accessible, and equitable, and we are already seeing promising results.”
As Calls for Integration Mount, Analysis Finds 41% of New York City Schools Don’t Represent Their District’s Student Demographics
Regardless of district efforts, the civil rights complaint looks to prompt a federal investigation of screening practices in New York City schools, explained Mode. If the investigation finds such practices violate Title VI, schools using admissions screens would have to change their policies or risk losing federal dollars.
In place of current admission practices, the student-led group suggests an “educational option model” where schools would take students whose test scores fall across all portions of the bell curve in representative numbers, meaning 16 percent of admitted students would perform below-average on state standardized tests, 68 percent would receive average scores and 16 percent of students would score above average on state tests.
Adams: No Test Scores? No Problem — How NYC Can Screen for Admissions Without Exams and Find Out What Students Have Actually Learned
According to Mode, this alternative model “would mitigate the worst effects of using standardized test scores for public school admissions and provide the first step toward racially integrating New York City schools.”
2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, a 47-year veteran of the House of Representatives and a legend of Alaska politics, fought off challenger Alyse Galvin to win his 25th term, local officials reported Wednesday. With 100 percent of the vote reported, the incumbent had prevailed by a 57-43 margin.
In a dramatic turn, just hours after the final results were reported, the 87-year-old Young also announced in a tweet that he tested positive for COVID-19.
A Republican, Young is his party’s longest-serving member to ever serve in Congress. His mix of conservative politics, mastery of appropriations, and long-running ties with constituent groups have generally insulated him from Democratic opponents; a penchant for crude language and offbeat behavior — he once held a knife to the throat of then-Rep. John Boehner, though the men later became close friends — have also contributed to his national profile.
But in Galvin he faced a formidable candidate. A former teacher and homeschool mother, the 55-year-old helped the advocacy group Great Alaska Schools several years ago to lobby for more school funding. Faced with a global crash in oil prices, the state — which derives nearly all of its operating revenue from the petroleum industry — has imposed unpopular K-12 cuts over the last few years.
Running as a novice candidate in 2018, Galvin gave Young one of the toughest races of his political career by holding him to a 6.5 point victory. Key to her appeal was that even as she won the Democratic Party’s nomination both that year and in 2020, she ran her campaigns as an independent — a necessary strategy in one of the nation’s reddest states.
She was unable to replicate her success on Election Night, as the GOP enjoyed surprising triumphs in House races around the country. Still, with Young approaching his 90s, Galvin may opt for another try. As one Alaska political scientist told The 74 in a pre-election preview, “She might get a third run because the Democrats aren’t thinking that, by funding her, they’re guaranteed a win. My hunch is that they’re grooming her and working with her because Don Young is old, and she could be someone they’re thinking about keeping in the wings.”
Young, who has been criticized for downplaying the dangers of COVID and appearing maskless at public events, said that he felt strong and was working from home.
2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.
Trump Mulls Parting Shot on Private Schools, but Experts Dismiss Possible Executive Order as ‘More Bluster for the Base’
2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.
When U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos withdrew her rule directing pandemic relief funds to private schools and decided not to appeal a federal court ruling against the plan, much of the education community let out a sigh of relief.
But the possibility that President Donald Trump will issue an executive order to accomplish what DeVos could not has them wondering whether the outgoing administration is taking a parting shot before leaving office at what the secretary calls “government schools.”
Most observers cast doubt that Trump could legally allocate funds for school vouchers. Three federal judges, including one he appointed, already ruled that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act left no room for the secretary to steer the funds as she wished.
DeVos Waves White Flag on Private School Aid Fight, Pledging to ‘Respect the Rule of Law’ on Use of Pandemic Funds
“It is not clear what they have up their sleeves,” said Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, who served as an expert witness in a similar lawsuit regarding CARES Act spending in his state. “Given the litigation losses they have suffered with their first tricks, I struggle to imagine how their second tricks would be any more legally plausible.”
On Thursday, Politico reported that the president is considering a slew of final executive actions, including providing relief funds to parents whose schools haven’t reopened so they could pay for tuition at private or religious schools.
Attorney Tamerlin Godley, who represented the NAACP in one of the relief fund cases against DeVos, said the executive order would be illegal if Trump uses funds that Congress intended for a specific purpose.
“Only Congress can appropriate funds,” she said.
DeVos on the Docket: With 455 Lawsuits Against Her Department and Counting, Education Secretary is Left to Defend Much of Her Agenda in Court
Sasha Pudleski, advocacy director at AASA, The School Superintendents Association, called the plan “more bluster for the base” in a tweet. “There’s also nothing he can do that would be meaningful here. He can’t create a voucher program vis-a-vis [executive order]. He can’t force states into vouchers either.”
And even school choice proponents don’t think he should try.
If there were some mechanism for changing how CARES Act funds can be used, “it would be a terrible way to make policy,” said Neal McCluskey, the director of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. “Legislatures, which represent the people, should decide how money will be spent through law, not presidents through executive orders.”
With Barrett Poised to Join Conservative SCOTUS Majority, Lower Courts Weigh Granting More Students Access to Private and Religious Schools
The possibility that Trump would continue to use his executive powers up until he leaves office isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it does have some policy experts wondering what source of funds the president would tap if he could.
“I am guessing he’d focus on unused funds from CARES, but most of that education funding was already allocated to the state level” and has flowed to districts, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, AASA’s associate executive director for advocacy and governance. “Would he take money from other parts of CARES to put to vouchers? I anticipate states would have concerns with that.”
States have until spring — a year after the relief package was enacted — to return to the federal government any of the relief funds they haven’t allocated to school districts. There are longer timelines for administrative funds. But even if they return it, “I don’t think the Act just lets the president spend remaining funds however he sees fit,” McCluskey said.
The CARES Act also included more than $300 million for DeVos to distribute through grants, but she’s already allotted these funds. Another $100 million was allocated toward a fund for helping schools and colleges recover from a “traumatic event.”
As Ng said, there’s the question of whether the president would turn to relief funds not initially intended for education to accomplish his goal. For example, the White House has been urging Congress for authorization to spend unused funds for the Paycheck Protection Program.
Pudelski said that any executive order the president issues would immediately be undone by the Biden administration. But depending on how quickly Trump acts, there is a small possibility, Black said, that he could follow through on a promise he and DeVos have been pushing since the beginning of the pandemic.
“They won’t be around long enough to deal with the legal fallout and the money could very well be gone by the time anyone catches up,” Black said, “so that is a realistic problem.”
In another blow to state Democrats’ lofty 2020 ambitions, Republicans have retained their majorities in the Arizona state legislature. After narrowly missing their chance to flip both the state Senate and House of Representatives, the Democrats have chosen new caucus leaders in each chamber.
National Democrats had hoped to make serious inroads in the state legislative ranks this year, eyeing closely divided capitals around the country. But their efforts to win unified control over states like Minnesota and North Carolina, or at least disrupt Republican dominance in a major state like Texas, all crashed last Tuesday. Though such races generate far less media coverage than presidential or congressional campaigns, their outcomes hold disproportionate influence over issues of K-12 funding, accountability, and school choice, which are nearly all determined far from Washington, D.C.
Despite Major Push by Democrats, Texas House of Representatives, Always at Least a Little Purple, Stays Under Republican Control
Arizona was thought to be the best target for Democrats hungry to gain more control over state-level policymaking. Just two seats in the House, and three in the Senate, separated the party from building new majorities in Phoenix, a feat they haven’t managed since the early 1990s. After years relegated to minority status, they have been powerless to slow the state’s huge and controversial expansion of education savings accounts, a means of school choice that provides families with funds that can be applied to private school tuition. .
But while several races remained close in the days following Election Night, it gradually became clear that victory had eluded them again. Democrats netted zero new seats in the House, ousting one GOP incumbent while losing one of their own. In the Senate, they still have a strong chance of capturing one seat thanks to the strong campaign of Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year.
Arizona Teachers Took Their Case for Better Funding to Voters. A Tax on High Earners that Could Raise $1B Is Poised to Pass
Marsh made her political debut in 2018 after participating in the Red for Ed walkouts over teacher pay. In an interview that year with The 74, Marsh said that the precipitous surge in teacher activism was “the effect of decisions the governor and our legislature have made for a very long time — a couple of decades, but culminating in the last year or two. We’ve gotten to the end, where the last couple of straws have broken the camel’s back.”
Though she fell short of defeating incumbent Sen. Kate Brophy McGee by less than 300 votes that November, she currently maintains a 500-vote lead with over 74 percent of ballots reported. In another victory for teacher activists and their allies, the Invest in Education Act — a ballot measure proposing to generate more education funding by raising taxes on high earners — also won passage last Tuesday.
Californians have long complained that the state doesn’t adequately fund education. But last week, they still opted not to amend a 40-year-old property tax formula that could have added roughly $4 billion a year to the state’s education budget.
Proposition 15 divided the state in half, with official results released Wednesday showing it fell 51.8 percent against to 48.2 percent in favor. The measure would have altered 1978’s Proposition 13 — known for inspiring a tax revolt across the country — and based commercial and industrial property taxes on market rates instead of purchase price.
Ted Lempert, a former state assemblyman and president of Children Now, an advocacy organization, said he wasn’t surprised the vote was so close, even though the proposition was projected to win before Election Day.
“The governor and legislature will need to take other action to increase school funding,” he said, including increasing spending on early education.
Public Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights law firm that focuses in part on educational equity, blamed “wealthy corporations” for the measure’s defeat. Opponents, led by the business community, spent more than $60 million on opposition efforts. They argued it would force businesses to leave the state and would have been another step toward rolling back Proposition 13’s protections for homeowners as well.
Proponents of the measure — and big-name contributors like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — spent even more, at least $63 million, in their efforts to pass the measure. Democrats across the country, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, also contributed and campaigned in favor of it.
“Californians know that there is an unacceptable gap between the haves and have-nots in our state,” according to a statement from Public Advocates. “Now, the fight for progressive sources of new revenue turns to the legislature where we can build on this momentum.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who endorsed Proposition 15, will introduce the 2021-22 budget early next year. He will then release a revised budget in May when the revenue outlook will be clearer. States are also still waiting on Congress to agree on another pandemic relief package.
In a recent article, Heather Hough, the executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, said the measure’s defeat would create “a real danger that policymakers will take this as a directive from the voters that investing in schools is not a priority for them.”
Per-student spending in California consistently trails the national average and is half of what New York spends. Proposition 13 often gets the blame, because it shifted a greater share of the responsibility for funding education to the state.
That leaves schools more reliant on personal income taxes, a revenue source that is more “highly susceptible to economic fluctuations and vulnerable during a recession,” according to the policy center’s report.
In 2013, California voters approved the Local Control Funding Formula, intended to distribute more funding to schools serving a greater share of high-needs students. Experts generally agree it’s an equitable system, just that it’s underfunded.
“I think the bones of the [formula] are really good, but there’s an adequacy issue,” said Lawrence Picus, a school finance expert and professor at the University of Southern California. “The real problem in California is that revenues are so tightly tied to the performance of the economy. It’s a boom or bust thing.”
North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis claimed victory over Democrat Cal Cunningham a week ago, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that the challenger, his campaign weighed down by revelations of an extramarital affair, accepted the outcome.
With results still unofficial on Tuesday and 98 percent of precincts reporting, Cunningham, who received 47 percent of the vote, conceded the victory to Tillis, who received 48.7 percent.
“The end of this campaign does not mark the end of our need to improve access to health care, strengthen education, heal racial wounds, and create better jobs,” Cunningham wrote in his response, which he posted on Twitter. “These are causes that still must be championed.”
In a race that also saw a positive COVID-19 test for Tillis, the incumbent’s victory was unexpected. Despite the affair, Cunningham had been leading in the polls up until Election Day, with 53 percent of the vote.
The outcome of the race was considered a factor in deciding who controls the Senate during the next administration. Tillis’s win tips the balance in the GOP’s favor — 49 to 48.
But experts also saw the race as a measure of whether the Republicans would lose ground across the South, which was demonstrated in President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Georgia.
Now Tillis is putting his energy toward raising campaign funds and getting Republican voters to the polls for the runoff election Jan. 5 in Georgia, where appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and incumbent Sen. David Perdue will face off against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — ultimately determining who controls the Senate.
“Our race in North Carolina is over now, but we’ve got to keep working to defend the American dream by holding the U.S. Senate,” Tillis tweeted.
It was also unclear how soon the outcome of races in North Carolina would be known after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 on Oct. 28 not to interfere with a nine-day period for counting absentee ballots put in place by the State Board of Elections. Ballots postmarked by Election Day and that have arrived by 5 p.m. Nov. 12 will still be counted.
Republicans had asked the court to intervene, saying that the board interfered with the legislature’s authority over election procedures. Newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in the ruling.
The impact of the affair
In the days leading up to the election, Tillis, a one-time PTA president at his daughter’s high school, used Cunningham’s affair to suggest the candidate shouldn’t be trusted.
Immediately following the news that Cunningham, a husband and father of two, exchanged sexually-tinged text messages and had an affair with a California married woman, the race between him and Tillis grew closer. Cunningham’s campaign took a more guarded approach in the final weeks before the election to keep the candidate from having to respond to questions about it.
Tillis, on the other hand, received criticism from business owners for focusing more on securing a confirmation for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before Election Day than passing another pandemic relief bill.
Cunningham, an Army veteran who led an environmental services company before winning the Democratic primary, portrayed himself as a stronger education candidate, focusing on increasing teacher pay and Title I funding for high-poverty schools. As a former state senator, he voted in favor of the North Carolina Pre-K program and said he would work to create career pipelines for early childhood educators at the federal level.
Last year, Cunningham used the release of a report calling for more funding for the state’s schools to say the state “took a severe turn away from progress” under Tillis’s leadership as speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives.
The North Carolina Association of Educators endorsed Cunningham and criticized Tillis during the campaign for not supporting the pandemic relief bill passed by the U.S. House.
But Tillis touted his support of the Every Student Succeeds Act and said he has worked to expand job training programs and college opportunities for low-income and minority students.
Makeup of Senate Means Biden Will Likely Lack Votes and ‘Big Buckets of Funding’ for Expansive Education Agenda
President-elect Joe Biden might have won the White House, but his expansive education plan will soon hit a Congress that has far fewer Democrats than envisioned under the “Blue Wave” forecast prior to the election.
Democrats’ hopes for flipping the Senate now largely depend on capturing two seats in Georgia that won’t be decided until a runoff election in early January. While the outcome could limit the reach of Biden’s platform in Congress, experts expect him to turn back some aspects of the Trump agenda by making early use of his executive powers.
“I think teachers unions are going to expect Biden to stand with them on slowing the move towards school reopening,” said Bradley Marianno, an assistant education professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “They will want him to change the public messaging on reopening, even before he officially takes office — to signal to the nation that the safety of teachers and students are a top priority for his incoming administration.”
After four years of President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos shrinking the federal footprint in education policy, the nation now has a president-elect who has elevated the concerns of teachers, and has said that in educator and future First Lady Jill Biden, they will have one of their own in the White House. He has pledged a broad array of expensive programs, ranging from affordable child care and free preschool to tripling the size of Title I and college loan forgiveness. Like former President Barack Obama, Biden is expected to use executive powers to steer school districts in the direction he wants them to go. But the nation’s shaky financial outlook, a soaring national debt. and the uncertainty of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s status as majority leader will all determine how much Biden can deliver on those promises.
“A lot of what he was hoping to do hinged on big buckets of funding,” said Charles Barone, vice president of K-12 policy at Democrats for Education Reform. The Republicans, he said, would want “budget offsets for any increases in funding.” Many are also signaling a hesitancy to increase the national debt.
McConnell sent mixed signals on the next relief package last week, saying he would reconsider his earlier opposition to including state and local funding, which would help prevent cuts in education, but also noted a positive jobs report might indicate the nation doesn’t need as much help.
With Trump continuing to contest the election results, his agenda during his remaining days in office is unclear. McConnell will need to negotiate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on funding to keep the government running, which expires in a month. Pelosi has also indicated she’s still holding out for a larger relief package in order to “crush the virus.”
Georgia’s ‘astonishing shift’
First, however, McConnell will learn whether he remains leader of the majority or if the Democrats, motivated by Biden’s win, pull off an extraordinary upset in Georgia.
Democrats need to win both Georgia Senate seats to reach a 50-50 split, leaving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to break any tie. Two other undecided seats favor GOP incumbents. Sen. Dan Sullivan has a large lead in Alaska, and Sen. Thom Tillis is leading by less than 2 percentage points in North Carolina, where vote counting continues this week.
With Georgia having played a crucial role in Biden’s win, it’s possible the state could offer a victory for the two Democrats — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. If that happens, “it would be an astonishing shift that brings to fruition the state’s gradual transition from being a red state to a purple one,” said Steven White, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University.
But Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University, said he would be surprised if that happened. “Republicans will spend unlimited resources to get at least one of those seats,” he said.
‘The adults in the room’
With that in mind, Democrats are preparing for a scenario in which the Republicans retain control. There’s a chance Biden and McConnell could leverage the relationship they’ve had for more than 40 years and compromise, said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
“I see a scenario where there is a lot of upside for these guys positioning themselves as the adults in the room,” Hess said, adding that with any scenario, “you get more done [in education] than under Trump.”
Perhaps due to the uncertainty over the Senate, observers expect Biden to begin his tenure by drafting executive actions designed to restore Obama-era directives withdrawn by DeVos. These include discipline guidance intended to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions and another instructing schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.
DeVos on the Docket: With 455 Lawsuits Against Her Department and Counting, Education Secretary is Left to Defend Much of Her Agenda in Court
Toch suggested Biden might feel pressure to roll back DeVos’s new Title IX rule regarding sexual harassment and violence, but the regulation went through a thorough rulemaking process, and a federal court has already thrown out one of four legal challenges against it.
In an Education Next article published just prior to the election, David DeSchryver of Whiteboard Advisors wrote that Biden’s regulatory agenda might also include student loan forgiveness, protections for students at for-profit colleges, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and voluntary school desegregation strategies.
Taking the regulatory route, however, could get Biden off to a rough first 100 days if he goes “pedal to the metal on pen and phone,” Hess said, referencing Obama’s record of avoiding the legislative process through executive actions.
Biden’s rapport with the Senate could also affect the reception given his nominee for education secretary.
There was a time when the Senate would “tend to defer to a new president” on cabinet appointees as long as there were no major ethical or legal complications, Barone said, but added, “I don’t think that spirit prevails anymore.”
Republicans, Hess added, could also be looking for “payback” after four years of harsh criticism toward DeVos and her private school choice agenda. McConnell has already indicated that he would reject any far-left nominees for cabinet positions. The GOP would probably raise eyebrows about some names that have already been floated, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten or former National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia.
‘Kids returning with gaps’
If Biden doesn’t succeed at tripling Title I funding — which would push the figure from about $15.8 billion to over $47 billion a year — there are still ways he could incrementally move forward on some of the issues he promised to address.
Hess suggested Republicans might get behind an increase in funding for special education, especially since so many students with special needs haven’t received the services outlined in their individual education programs during school closures.
Increasing funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “has been decades in the making,” noted Elena Silva, an education policy analyst at New America, a left-of-center think tank.
Because of the pandemic, there could also be increased support for expanding another pillar in Biden’s education platform — the community school model, in which districts work with other organizations, such as nonprofits, to provide after-school programs and address issues such as hunger, housing and mental health.
“We know that we are going to have a lot of kids returning with gaps in learning and varying levels of trauma,” she said. “School has to be a hub of care.”
‘The backbone’ of the economy
Biden’s agenda offered considerable attention to early-childhood, another sector hoping for some quick action to rebuild programs that allow parents to continue working while also preparing children for kindergarten.
“We cannot continue to underfund and undervalue a system that is the backbone of the rest of the economy, Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children said in a statement.
‘Confusion Reigns’ for Parents Seeking Child Care and Pre-K. But Some Experts Don’t See Biden’s Sprawling Early-Childhood Plan as a Fix
It’s an issue that has bipartisan support, but has been tied up in months of failed negotiations over another relief bill.
Biden’s plan for Title I increases includes universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, but Silva noted the way the president-elect goes about expanding early learning programs could determine if Republicans get on board.
Most state pre-K programs already operate with a mix of school- and community-based centers, but conservatives might push for a system that emphasizes more parent choice and private sector contracts over expanding the role of public schools.
Finding common ground over choice in K-12, however, could be especially hard. Biden advocates tighter controls on federal funding for charter schools that are linked to for-profit companies and is completely opposed to any public funding for private school choice.
But he’s entering the While House after Trump succeeded at sitting a supermajority of conservative judges on the Supreme Court, which demonstrated earlier this year in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that it’s sympathetic to allowing public funds to flow to religious schools.
DeVos has suggested that Espinoza — in which the Court ruled private schools can’t be excluded from tax credit-funded scholarship programs just because they’re religious — could extend to religiously-affiliated charter schools. Support for tax credit funding for private school choice and homeschooling has picked up steam during the pandemic, with DeVos celebrating in September that all but one Republican senator voted in favor of a relief plan that included such provisions.
Church, State and Choice: Wednesday Supreme Court Hearing Could Affect Debate on Public Funding of Religious Schools and Inclusion of Gay Students
By July, almost a quarter of all federal judges were Trump appointees, according to the Pew Research Center. In an address to reporters before Biden was declared the winner, McConnell said that in addition to reaching a compromise over funding, the Senate will spend the rest of the session confirming Trump’s judicial nominees.
“There [are] some more judges to do,” he said. “We’re going to continue to confirm lifetime appointments to the courts.”
Updated November 9
After almost a week of counting absentee and provisional ballots, Mary Kay Murphy, longtime incumbent board member for the Gwinnett County Public Schools, officially defeated challenger Tanisha Banks, a special education teacher at one of the district’s alternative schools.While the gap between them narrowed as more outstanding ballots were counted, Murphy ultimately received 45,031 votes to Banks’s 44,060.
Georgia’s Gwinnett County not only held a closely-watched school board race this election, it’s also under the national microscope with a razor-close presidential election forcing a recount and more than 3,500 absentee ballots yet to be tallied.
To Democrats running for a seat on the county’s five-member school board, however, those uncertainties could change the outcome of one of the races and flip the makeup from one nonwhite member to four.
“Gwinnett County is tracking nationally. The absentee ballots are predominantly Democratic,” said Tarece Johnson, a Black board member-elect who will fill the seat of 47-year member Louise Radloff, who she defeated in the June primary. Johnson ran unopposed.
A Referendum on Race in Board Election for Gwinnett County, One of the Nation’s Largest and Most Stable School Districts
By Wednesday morning, with all precincts reporting, incumbent Mary Kay Murphy led challenger Tanisha Banks, a Black special education teacher at one of the district’s alternative schools, with just 50.81 percent of the vote.
Murphy, who has been on the board since 1997, has assumed victory, saying that in spite of a divisive campaign that saw conservatives label challengers as radicals, she was “confident that we will find the best in each board member and in our ability to work together.”
“Campaigning is one thing,” she said. “Governing is another.”
Banks, however, posted on her Facebook page that due to the outstanding votes, she’s not conceding defeat.
“Waiting on certification of all votes,” she wrote. “You all know I am all about facts, figures and data. When you talk the talk, you must walk the walk!”
Johnson said she was hoping the results would tip in Banks’s favor, noting that her perspective as a teacher would be helpful in a district that is nationally acclaimed but has experienced significant demographic shifts.
“She knows the players, more than anyone,” she said.
In the third race, Karen Watkins, a multiracial mother of two students in Gwinnett schools, defeated incumbent Carole Boyce with almost 59 percent of the vote. Boyce has served since 2005 in the district known for stable leadership.
For now, Johnson and Watkins will join Everton Blair, a graduate of Gwinnett schools elected in 2018 as the board’s first Black member.
Since 2010, the district has twice won the Broad Prize for Urban Education, presented to districts that have high overall performance while also narrowing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.
Though the district still performs above state averages on state tests, the Democratic candidates were among those calling for greater attention to lingering racial disparities in achievement and discipline.
Whether the board has three Black members or four, the dynamic between them and longtime Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, who has led the district for 24 years, will likely change.
Earlier this year, Wilbanks’s contract was renewed for two more years, but he has said that staff members in the district are anxious about changes that could be coming. Already, Berney Kirkland, the superintendent’s longtime chief of staff and a former spokesperson for the district, announced her retirement.
Wilbanks said recently that he tries to stay out of board politics as much as he can, but that he hopes the new and current members will “continue to be a board that people respect.”
Four New Members to D.C. State Board of Education Appear Set; Will be Advisors on School Reopenings to Student Literacy as Pandemic Continues
As D.C. contends with how to safely reopen schools during the coronavirus pandemic, voters in the nation’s capital have added four new members to a board of key education advisors.
The nine-member D.C. State Board of Education, an independent agency that advises the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, had five open seats this election cycle. While the races haven’t been officially called, D.C. as of Friday had counted the bulk of its ballots, with NBC Washington reporting that, “In D.C., there aren’t enough mailed ballots left to affect any local races.”
The presumptive new board members, also cited by The Washington Post, are: Education advocate and nonprofit fellow Allister Chang (for Ward 2), Ward 7 Education Council chair Eboni – Rose Thompson (for Ward 7), Education Department program specialist Carlene D. Reid (for Ward 8) and charter school employee Jacque Patterson (at-large member).
Retired teacher and Ward 4 incumbent Frazier O’Leary ran unopposed.
The D.C. State Board of Education doesn’t wield much power over public schools since the city went under mayoral control in 2007 — though the board does set broad policies governing things like academic standards and graduation requirements. (One current State Board of Education member, for example, is heading a committee to review the city’s long-standing social studies standards).
Members, rather, serve as vocal education advocates, and will be weighing in as the city looks to begin safely reopening its schools. It’s an open question for now after D.C. Public Schools on Monday cancelled plans to partially re-open for up to 7,000 pre-K to fifth grade students on Nov. 9, due to pushback from the teachers’ union and an unsolidified staffing plan.
D.C. Sees Warning Signs Teachers are Considering Leaving Jobs Amid Weeks of Uncertainty, Stress Over How District Will Open Schools
At least three of the four new board members, in interviews with The Washington Post, have expressed interest in revisiting mayoral control of schools, and making certain agencies — like the Office of the State Superintendent of Education — more independent from the mayor’s office. All four also weren’t wholly onboard with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s now-delayed school reopening plan, saying it felt rushed and was lacking necessary collaboration with teachers and the community.
They’ll also advocate their own priorities, from improving reading and digital literacy among students to updating the student funding formula to better serve at-risk students.
Thompson and Reid were endorsed by the Washington Teachers Union. Patterson and Chang were endorsed byThe Washington Post editorial board.
Some initial tweets from the presumptive winners below:
Retired Band Teacher Makes History as Kansas’s First Transgender Legislator, Nation’s First Transgender Lawmaker of Indigenous Ancestry
For Stephanie Byers, running for office was never the plan. But when, a mere five months after her retirement from a 29-year career teaching high school band, friends convinced her to enter politics, she understood the implications.
“This gives me a chance to use my voice where I can make a concrete difference for people,” Byers, 57, told the Wichita Eagle.
Byers made history Tuesday night as Kansas’s first transgender legislator, and the nation’s first transgender lawmaker of Indigenous ancestry. Byers claimed 55 percent of the vote to win her Democratic-leaning district, according to local outlets.
Currently, there are only four transgender state legislators nationwide. Come January, Byers will join their ranks, along with Sarah McBride who won her race for Delaware state Senate, and Taylor Small who bested her opponent to win a seat in the Vermont state House. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, Byers’s win makes her both the first transgender person of Native ancestry and the first transgender person of color to win a state legislative seat in the U.S.
Though Byers hoped voters would support her on account of her whole person, not just her gender identity, she also does not shy away from who she is.
“All politics are kind of identity politics,” Byers explained in a video documenting her campaign. “It’s about how much [candidates] can show of who they are and how they operate so that people go, ‘Yes. That’s somebody that I can hire to represent me.’”
After years going as “Mr. Byers” in band class, she came out as a transgender woman in 2014. Her colleagues and students were overwhelmingly supportive of her transition, reported the Wichita Eagle. And in 2018, she was named Educator of the Year by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network after having been nominated by her school’s principal.
It was only after she left the classroom that Byers began to think more about the politics of education, like a perennial lack of money for schools. “I didn’t really have much time outside of my class to be able to stand up and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t right,’” said Byers. “And so when I retired, that’s one of the things that kind of percolated around in my head.”
Now headed to Topeka, Byers will advocate for adequate school funding and better working conditions for teachers, including higher pay, according to her website. “First-rate teachers are essential to a beneficial education. Kansas kids deserve the best education possible,” she writes.
On Tuesday evening, Byers monitored election results with her wife of five years, Lori Haas, around a fire pit in their backyard. Video shows Byers taking a phone call after nightfall, presumably from campaign staff. When the first-time candidate realizes she has won, Byers’ eyes grow watery and she reflects emotionally on the race and what brought her here.
“That was one of the reasons for running, was to make the world change.”
After a Costly Campaign, Charter- and Union-Backed Candidates Each Win Seat on L.A. Unified School Board
Updated Nov. 9
Charter school supporters and teachers union backers each won a seat on Los Angeles Unified School District’s school board Tuesday after a campaign that again set records for spending.
Incumbent Scott Schmerelson, who was endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles, is expected to hold on to his seat representing District 3 despite big spending by charter advocates who backed his opponent Marilyn Koziatek. Schmerelson was ahead by roughly 7.5 percentage points Monday when Koziatek conceded in a Facebook post.
In District 7, newcomer Tanya Ortiz Franklin was well ahead of union-endorsed candidate Patricia Castellanos. Franklin led 57.97 percent to 42.03 percent as of Thursday morning. Castellanos conceded in a Facebook post.
Los Angeles Unified is America’s second-largest district, serving more than 600,000 students, most of them low-income students of color whose families have felt the brunt of the pandemic and the hardships of distance learning. The sprawling district is the largest in the country with an elected school board.
The seven-member board is a battleground for a long-running fight between L.A. charter school advocates and the teachers union, which opposes charter school growth. The 280 charter schools in the district serve 138,000 K-12 students. Of the other five members, two are strong union supporters.
Franklin won the seat vacated by the termed-out board President Richard Vladovic, who was seen as a swing vote but “more frequently allied with unions than charters” in his third and final term, the L.A. Times reported. Franklin is expected to give a “subtle” edge to charter supporters, but her background is in district schools, the paper said.
Charter school supporters spent millions of dollars on behalf of Franklin and Koziatek and attacking their opponents, dramatically outspending the union in this week’s election as well as the March primary. Total combined spending from both sides was almost $17.5 million.
“This election has turned out to be a very expensive jump-ball,” Dan Schnur, a political science professor in California told the L.A. Times.
Schmerelson, 69, is a retired teacher and principal first elected to the board in 2015. Franklin, 36, is a former educator and attorney who now works at Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit that oversees some district schools.
The Los Angeles Times endorsed Schmerelson and Franklin.
Voters in Los Angeles also passed Measure RR, a $7-billion bond to update and improve school infrastructure and technology, according to projections by the Los Angeles Times and others. The measure had about 71 percent support in “semiofficial” results posted Wednesday.
Voters in Los Angeles passed Measure RR, a $7 billion bond to update and improve school infrastructure and technology, according to projections by the Los Angeles Times and others. The measure had about 71 percent voter support in “semiofficial” results posted Wednesday.
The measure will raise property taxes on residents of Los Angeles Unified School District, with the money going to buy buses, air conditioners, computers and other technology and make improvements to school buildings.
“The students are the real winners today, this victory is theirs,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a statement. “Because of voter support, and the support of labor, business and community leaders, more students will get access to safe and updated schools and learning technology.”
Approval for the $7 billion borrowing reversed a string of defeated attempts by LA Unified to raise additional revenue, including a $500 million parcel tax overwhelmingly rejected by voters in 2019.
‘Voters Are Tired of You’: A Week After Parcel Tax Fails in Los Angeles, Parents Rail at District Leaders During Budget Hearing
The new bond measure is structured to keep residents’ school tax rate about the same as it is now as they pay for Measure RR and previously passed bonds, according to the L.A. Times. The annual payment will be $140 per $100,000 of assessed property value, which will start to taper off in 2034.
Supporters of the measure were optimistic in the runup to Election Day because the last time a similar proposition passed was in 2008 — when Democrats were energized to turn out for presidential candidate Barack Obama, according to the Los Angeles Times. Democrat Joe Biden captured 71.4 percent of the vote in L.A. County vs. Donald Trump’s 26.7 percent in the still-undecided presidential race, according to the county clerk’s office.
The proposition needed 55 percent support to pass.
After a Costly Campaign, Charter- and Union-Backed Candidates Each Win Seat on L.A. Unified School Board
New Mexico Voters Approve $156M Bond for Higher Ed, Tribal Schools and Schools for the Visually and Hearing-Impaired
A strong majority of the New Mexico electorate greenlit bonds for education infrastructure in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial race results posted Wednesday by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office.
Sixty-five percent of voters, or 522,057 people, chose “yes” for Bond Measure C, one of three statewide bond propositions that passed this year. A record-breaking number of people cast ballots across New Mexico in 2020.
The education-related measure will channel roughly $156.3 in capital improvement funding to public higher education institutions, tribal schools and schools for the visually and hearing-impaired.
Lawmakers have already outlined how the money will be spent, including $5.3 million for dining hall construction at the state-run New Mexico School for the Deaf and $1.4 million for a science building at Navajo Technical University, the country’s largest tribal college in the country, among other projects.
Two years ago, New Mexico voters also easily approved three other education-related bond measures that provided $150 million for improvements at state colleges, tribal schools and municipal libraries; new school buses and air conditioning for existing buses; and new books, electronics and broadband upgrades for K-12 public schools.
That same year, a judge ruled that the state was failing its children by not providing adequate public schools funding. Advocates hailed the decision “as a ‘landmark’ ruling that could have implications for underfunded education systems around the country,” HuffPost reported.
Aragon: New Mexico Is First State to Approve School Turnaround Plans Under the Every Student Succeeds Act. But Will Adult Politics Now Keep the Kids Waiting?
In New Mexico, one in four kids live in poverty, according to a 2020 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. An overwhelming 76 percent of fourth-graders in the state lack reading proficiency and 79 percent of eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math — numbers that are 10 to 12 percentage points higher than the national average and which have barely improved over the last decade.