Sunday, May 17, 2015

AG Vows to Advance Obama’s Push to End ‘Zero Tolerance’ School Discipline Policies

A good idea, if for a racist reason

Attorney General Loretta Lynch vowed on Tuesday to continue the Obama administration’s push for public schools to abandon their “zero tolerance” discipline policy, because critics claim it is aimed disproportionately at minority students and other “at risk” youth, including migrants and LGBT students.

“We are working with our partners in the private sector, and of course, the federal government, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, to end the school to prison pipeline that sends too many children on the well-worn path from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” Lynch said at the National Summit on Youth Violence Prevention in Crystal City, Va.

“And we are standing up and speaking out against so-called zero tolerance school discipline policies that bar the doors of opportunity for children who need support, leaving them stigmatized and marginalized, left out and left alone,” Lynch said.

In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a 37-page report explaining the administration’s opposition to “zero tolerance” policies in public schools, titled “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.”

The report reads, in part:

“Schools should consider crafting goals covering the school’s provision of supports for all students, including students of color, students with disabilities, and students who may be at risk for dropping out of school, trauma, social exclusion, or behavior incidents,” the report states.

“Those with such risks include, but are not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students; homeless and unaccompanied students; corrections-involved students; students in foster care; pregnant and parenting students; migrant students; English language learners; and others,” it states.

“For example, specific goals may include reducing the total numbers of suspensions and expulsions, reducing the number of law enforcement referrals from the school, identifying and connecting at-risk youths to tailored supports, or increasing the availability of quality mental health supports available for students,” the report states.
A 2001 report by the National Association of School Psychologists showed what percentage of U.S. public school had zero tolerance for “serious offenses” as follows:

firearms (94%)
weapons other than firearms (91%)
alcohol (87%)
drugs (88%)
violence (79%)
tobacco (79%)

The summit is a federal government initiative -- now in its fourth year -- that includes giving grant funding to U.S. cities to develop programs to prevent youth violence.


Tennessee Lawmakers Vote to Create Education Savings Accounts

In late April, the Tennessee General Assembly passed SB 27/HB 138, which, if signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, will create the nation’s fourth K-12 education savings account (ESA) law. Sponsored by Rep. Debra Moody (R- Covington) and Sen. Dolores R. Gresham (R-Somerville), the bill refers to the accounts as Individualized Education Accounts and models the program on ESA laws in Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi.

Some 20,000 Tennessee students with special needs would be eligible for accounts. The state would deposit public funds in a private bank account parents then use for educational products and services for their child. Parents would be able to pay for therapies and private school tuition, and even save for college, among other possible approved uses.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee reports one-third of children with special needs in Tennessee do not graduate from high school. ESAs created by this legislation would allow families to customize educational services to suit their children’s individual needs. U.S. Department of Education data indicate a 14-point gap between the overall graduation rate for Tennessee students and the rate for students with special needs in the state.

“I became even more convinced as I heard from parents and some in the education community what a great program this was for children with special needs,” said Rep. Moody.

There are more than six million children with special needs enrolled in the nation’s public schools. In national comparisons of reading, math, and science achievement, these students regularly lag behind their mainstream peers, according to U.S. Dept. of Education data.

ESAs are helping students around the country meet their potential, according to research and analysis by the Beacon Center. An Arizona family used an education savings account to buy braille materials for a student with vision impairment in addition to paying private school tuition, according to a report. The student, Max Ashton, eventually earned a scholarship to college.

Approximately 1,200 students are using the accounts in Arizona, and the state’s Department of Education reports the program has doubled in size every year since its inception in 2011. Florida lawmakers appropriated funds for 1,800 accounts last year, but Step Up for Students, which operates Florida’s accounts, reports some 10,500 families have started applications for the coming school year. 

More than a dozen states have considered education savings accounts since Arizona lawmakers enacted the state’s law.

“We believe this is a true victory for these children and applaud lawmakers for courageously standing up for special needs families across our state,” said Lindsay Boyd, director of policy for the Beacon Center of Tennessee.


Congress Goes to High School: Students Get a Firsthand Look at Debate Over School Choice

Archbishop Carroll High School, a private Catholic school about four miles north of the U.S. Capitol, today took center stage in the debate over school choice.

More than 100 students joined teachers and parents in the high school’s auditorium to watch members of Congress spar over the effectiveness of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has provided financial support to about 6,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia.

Jordan Winston, a 17-year-old junior who serves as the school’s student council president, is one of the program’s beneficiaries. He had the honor of sharing the stage at Archbishop Carroll with some of America’s most powerful leaders.

Winston, a recipient of the scholarship since fifth grade, credits the program for his academic success. This morning, he quickly established a rapport with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who testified at the hearing. Winston said he enjoyed the hearing, especially the political debate between Republicans and Democrats.

“It’s a very important experience for our students to see what goes on and how different decisions are made,” Winston said. “It’s a positive and uplifting experience to see how our lives are being changed.”

Many D.C. scholarship recipients attend private Catholic schools like Archbishop Carroll, giving students and their parents an opportunity to observe a unique civics lesson on an issue that’s particularly personal.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, convened the field hearing at a time when the future of the program is once again being debated.

In this year’s budget proposal, the Obama administration has proposed eliminating funding for new scholarships. The Republican-led Congress is expected to counter that move later this year in legislation that would reauthorize the program.

Students got a first-hand glimpse of the debate this morning.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., voiced opposition to the program, at times prompting the auditorium to react unfavorably to their comments.


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