This Week in Education Politics: Kennedy SCOTUS Replacement on Deck as Affirmative Action Again in Limelight


THIS WEEK IN EDUCATION POLITICS publishes most Saturdays. (See previous editions here.) You can get the preview delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for The 74 Newsletter; for rolling updates on federal education policy, follow Carolyn Phenicie on Twitter @cphenicie.

INBOX: WHO’S NEXT FOR SCOTUS?  President Donald Trump said last week that he’d announce his next nominee for the Supreme Court on Monday.

That new justice will replace Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on many social issues, including affirmative action. The issue is prominently back in the public consciousness after the Education and Justice departments on July 3 dropped Obama-era documents emphasizing how colleges could use race in college admissions and how K-12 schools could emphasize diversity through competitive schools and zoning. The move drew immediate criticism from Democrats and civil rights groups, two constituencies already primed to oppose any Trump nominee.

Kennedy’s vote was key to a 2016 case upholding a University of Texas policy that considered race, among other factors, as part of a “holistic review” it used to fill a small portion of each year’s freshman class. Most of each year’s class was filled by offering automatic admission to the top 10 percent of each high school class in the state.

Another affirmative action case is already working its way through federal courts. Brought by the same attorney responsible for the Texas case, it alleges that Harvard has a policy that discriminates against Asian Americans by limiting their number in each freshman class. It’s scheduled for trial early next year.

Kennedy sided with the majority in several recent education cases, including the 7-2 Trinity Lutheran decision that ruled a religious institution can’t be excluded from a sectarian program, and last month’s 5-4 Janus decision ending mandatory union fees.

Though the core questions in those cases are decided, further cases on those issues, the exclusion of religious institutions from non-religious state grants and mandatory union dues payments, could come before the court again.

On the support for religious issues, the high court ordered the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider an earlier ruling barring private schools, including religious ones, from participating in a state textbook-lending program. The state court’s earlier ruling relied on a clause in the state constitution prohibiting state aid to religious schools. That’s the same reasoning lower courts had used — and the Supreme Court rejected — in barring a Lutheran-church-affiliated preschool in Missouri from participating in a playground safety program.

The New Mexico high court has re-heard the case, and a ruling is expected by the end of the year, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

And though the dust has barely settled on the Janus ruling, some teachers are already suing for repayment of fees already paid to unions, EdWeek reported.

ICYMI: APPROPRIATIONS, CTE TO SENATE FLOOR Senate committees before their week-long July 4 recess approved a 2019 Education Department spending bill and a measure reauthorizing the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

The Appropriations Committee approved the spending bill. It would provide $71 billion for the Education Department while lawmakers rejected the Trump administration’s proposed cuts and new school choice programs. A House Appropriations Committee markup of the education spending bill has been postponed twice; it had not been rescheduled as of July 5.

The CTE bill would let states set their own goals without negotiating with the Education Department, and would require certain accountability measures for students who are deemed “concentrators” in CTE, EdWeek reported. The House passed its CTE reauthorization last year.

Both should be ready for consideration by the full Senate shortly; it’s up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule debate time for the measures.

MONDAY: UNIDOSUS UnidosUS, the group formerly known as National Council of La Raza, holds its annual conference Saturday through Monday. Several workshops and plenary sessions focus on education, including the federal government’s role in promoting equity.

TUESDAY: JANUS REACTION  The Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee holds a hearing titled “After Janus v. AFSCME: Why Teachers and Workers are Fighting Back Against the Secret Money Campaign to Take Away Their Rights.” Unions and their Democratic allies have said that the First Amendment arguments made against mandatory dues payments disguise the true motives of big-money conservative donors who funded Janus and similar cases. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is among the witnesses.

TUESDAY: SUPERINTENDENTS — AASA: The School Superintendents’ Association holds its legislative advocacy conference Tuesday through Thursday. Panels will focus on the fall elections and teacher training programs; attendees will also have meetings on Capitol Hill.

WEDNESDAY: PRINCIPALS The New America Foundation holds a panel discussion on supporting the changing role of principals in America’s schools. Panelists will discuss how principals can be not only effective building leaders but instructional leaders.

THURSDAY: NCLB AND HEA — Centrist Democratic think tank Third Way holds a panel discussion on lessons learned from education reforms advanced under No Child Left Behind that can be applied to an ongoing effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

FRIDAY: DEVELOPMENT IMPACT BONDS — The Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion on the world’s first development impact bond that helped fund Educate Girls, a nonprofit that aims to get more girls in school and improve outcomes for boys and girls in Rajasthan, India. Representatives of the UBS Optimus Foundation, which provided the upfront costs, Educate Girls, and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which will repay the UBS foundation, will participate.

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