Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Obama administration is Trying to Bypass Congress to Continue Meddling in Local Education

Last year, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, reflecting a consensus that the federal government needed to pull back from the prescriptive mandates of the No Child Left Behind law and give states more flexibility. While imperfect, the ESSA sought to move in the right direction. Like most laws, however, the ESSA left a significant amount of implementation decisions to the administrative state, in this case the Department of Education. The Obama administration in new proposed regulations is seeking to use this regulatory power as a back door to continue imposing federal control over local education issues, even potentially continuing its efforts to force Common Core on unwilling states.

As highlighted last week in a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the chief authors of ESSA, the law specifically sought to prevent the Department of Education from imposing Common Core on the states. As noted in the hearing, ESSA makes clear that each state must “assure” the Department of Education that it has adopted curriculum standards. However, section 299.16 of the proposed regulations would require each state to “provide evidence” of adopted curriculum standards. As Sen. Alexander rightly noted in the hearing, this seemingly minor language alteration leaves a potentially gaping hole: under these regulations federal bureaucrats could reject a state’s curriculum standards for insufficient evidence, and keep rejecting any curriculum that does not conform to the federal government’s preferred Common Core guidelines. These sort of regulatory games are precisely how the Obama administration attempted to impose Common Core under previous law.

This is only the most glaring regulation hidden in the more than 190 pages of proposed rules. The rules include numerous prescriptive mandates on the states, almost as if federal bureaucrats are deliberately ignoring the intent of the ESSA in order to maintain federal controls on state education. For example, despite widespread opposition to testing mandates, the proposed rules seek to require states to take “robust action” against schools which do not reach the arbitrary threshold of 95% participation in standardized tests. The Department of Education is effectively seeking to punish parents who choose to opt out of high-stakes testing, treating their judgement as worthless.

The proposed regulations also create what is described as a “summative rating system.” This would require each state to come up with a single rating system for its schools based primarily on scores on federally mandated tests. Nowhere in the ESSA is the department directed to take this action, the bureaucrats have simply made it up.

The Department of Education is hoping to sneak these rules through without much fuss, giving only a short window for the public to read and comment on the over 190 pages of rules and mandates.


Fury Over School Regulations: It’s the Department of Education, Stupid!

Proposed regulations bring education back under federal control

The new school regulations are so old school.

Last month's proposed rules on school accountability are yet another reminder that it’s time for federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education to get their hands out of our education system. They have done enough damage already with their long record of failed reform efforts.

However, when it comes to regulating our children, the Department of Education will never back down. Nothing is over until they decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Heck no!

Okay, maybe that was John Belushi in Animal House, not the Department of Education. At the rate Common Core is diminishing the humanities, it’s hard to tell. And, we all know what happened when Dean Wormer tried to regulate Delta fraternity: Toga! Toga!

Alright, back to the proposed education rule – we don’t want to give the Department of Education the chance to hand over the dunce cap – let’s take a look at the federal government’s role in our education system.

Since the Common Core curriculum is unlikely to cover this topic, it's time for a brief history lesson in education policy. Don't worry, there will be no standardized test on this. Not yet, at least.

Education Department 101: No Child Left Behind with Common Core and Every Student Succeeds with School Choice

The Department of Education, acting as a federal board of education, has a long history of enacting top-down measures that grab power from the hands of teachers and schools. These standards and regulations, always a far cry from effective education reform, merit the department a failing report card.

In 2001, Congress passed highly lauded, bipartisan effort at education reform known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Despite the initial positivity surrounding NCLB, over time it proved to be a bureaucratic one-size-fits all uniform testing program that vastly expanded the reach of the Department of Education.

After years of amendments and alterations by administrative rules, this program was left behind and replaced in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA is a purported shift away from federal accountability provisions.

The success of this reform is yet to be determined, although recent events indicate that the expansive regulatory authority of the Department may limit its positive effects. The rule could be circumvented through legislation that takes power away from federal education regulators.

One instance of the federalization of education can be found in the Common Core fiasco. The Common Core curriculum provided an opportunity for exercise of federal authority.

Like NCLB, much of the Common Core debate centers around standardized testing. The debate intensified during this year’s Education Department-mandated “Testing Season”, a period that was transformed by the opt-out movement.

The opt-out movement led to some very heavy-handed Department of Education policies by penalizing schools for noncompliance and silencing teachers speaking out against Common Core.

School choice is the other recent Department of Education issue. School choice vouchers would allow student to escape poor policy decisions of educrats by allowing students the option to attend schools other than the school that was assigned.

Last month, parental choice in education was placed on the public radar as the Department of Education issued an absurd ruling that could require schools to allow transgender bathroom and shower facilities. In a Forbes op-ed, FreedomWorks’ Stephen Moore argued that this decision makes a powerful case for “school choice now more than ever.”

The Department of Education’s new proposal, with its implication of federal overreach, makes a powerful case for taking back control over our schools now more than ever.

The Proposed Regulation: More Federal Oversight and More Testing Equals More Education

Here's a Common Core math problem:

1.) Federal control of education + more standardized tests =

A. more education
B. the most education
C. the best education
D. monkeys

The best guess is probably D, but we won't know for sure until the Education Department's accountability report tells us if we passed.

If you couldn't answer the question, you (or your school) may be in trouble. The new regulation would impose federally mandated accountability measures that give the federal government oversight over student and school achievement.

While states and local school boards are given some flexibility in their methods of rating school performance, they are help accountable by the Education Department for administering achievement exams and for intervening in under-performing schools.

The need for school accountability rules, according to the Department of Education, stems from academic underperformance.

What is the Department’s solution to poor academic achievement? More testing, of course!

In a power grab that ignores the complaints of teachers and parents, the Department of Education is responding to the Common Core opt-out movement by making testing anything but optional. Under this regulation, school districts would be held accountable for ensuring that 95 percent of students take performance-indicating standardized tests.

The Education Department has recommended punitive measures for schools and students for opting not to participate in testing. Additionally, the new rule states that federal funds can be withheld from states that fail to test 95 percent of students.

Public outcry against the testing craze has criticized federally mandated standardized tests as a being poorly constructed, inaccurate indicators of performance used to unfairly evaluate teachers and students.

Rather than listen to teachers and students, the Department of Education has decided in favor of regulatory overreach.

The Initial Backlash: Sharp Criticism, Promised Hearings, and Congressional Review

Speaking out against the new regulations, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) stated:

"I am deeply concerned the department is trying to take us back to the days when Washington dictated national education policy… Congress worked on a bipartisan basis to move the country away from the prescriptive federal mandates and requirements of No Child Left Behind. We replaced that failed law with a fundamentally different approach that empowers state and local leaders to determine what's best for their schools and students."

Rep. Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, also indicated he will hold a hearing on the rule. Echoing Kline’s opposition, Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), promised to block the regulation through the Congressional Review Act:

"I will review this proposed regulation to make sure that it reflects the decision of Congress last year to reverse the trend toward a national school board and restore responsibility to states, school districts, and teachers to design their own accountability systems… If the final regulation does not implement the law the way Congress wrote it, I will introduce a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to overturn it."

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to repeal regulations that are overreaching, expensive, or unduly burdensome.


Students at Mass. public colleges gird for higher tuition

The price for in-state students to attend Massachusetts’ nine state universities is going up by as much as 7.8 percent in the coming academic year, according to preliminary figures from the campuses. The increase for students attending the 15 community colleges will be as much as 10 percent.

The separate University of Massachusetts system is expected to raise charges across its five campuses this week by between 5 and 8 percent, officials have said.

Last year, tuition also rose by between 5 and 8 percent across the campuses, the first increase after a two-year freeze.

The burden of paying for an education is especially acute at the state universities and community colleges, which educate a combined 200,000 students, because they serve many of the state’s poorest residents — many of whom work to pay for school.

“How do they expect us kids to pay for this?” said Romie Blanc, a student at Bunker Hill Community College, where fees will rise 10 percent, or about $390 annually for a full-time student. “I’m glad financial aid is there, but I’m not glad that I have to pay back.”

Blanc, 20, plans to start her fourth semester of college in the fall and hopes to eventually become a nurse. She said she commutes to the Charlestown campus from Billerica and works at the Registry of Motor Vehicles as an assistant title clerk.

“They should actually be lowering costs,” Blanc said.

The tuition hikes come as Beacon Hill officials finalize the state budget for next year. It includes virtually no increase in funding for public higher education.

Some campuses await the final state budget before they finalize their increases, but it is all but certain that every campus will see at least a slight increase.

Students at Bridgewater State University will pay as much as $700 more next year, an increase of nearly 8 percent. At Framingham State, students will see a $636 increase, and at Salem State, it will be $490 more expensive.

Even with these increases, state universities and community colleges offer the most inexpensive degrees in the state. A year at Bridgewater State next year, for example will cost at most $9,473 in tuition and fees. Campus housing is another approximately $8,000.

College presidents said they understand how rate hikes squeeze students with already precarious finances. But increases are necessary to pay professors and keep facilities up to date, they said.

“Are we happy about increasing fees? Absolutely not, but at the end of the day we needed to make a choice to deliver quality education,” said William F. Messner, president of Holyoke Community College, who is retiring this month. Fees there are set to rise 10 percent, or about $420 for a full-time student for the year.

The higher education system in Massachusetts is largely decentralized. State officials set the tuition, which is virtually the same for all campuses, but local boards of trustees set each campus’s fees, which are more expensive than tuition. The base tuition rate for state universities was $970 last year and $720 for community colleges.

As campuses await the final state budget, they are not hopeful. Several college presidents called state support shamefully lacking.

“We’ve been trying to operate this place at a very, very low level of cost, and that’s very admirable, but we can’t do it, and unfortunately the state hasn’t been able to give us the level of support that’s necessary,” said Messner, at Holyoke Community College.

Many campuses said the main factor driving the tuition increases is contractual salary increases that the campuses must pay employees, as well as related increases to health insurance and other benefits. State officials negotiate the contracts but they must be funded by the campuses.

For example, Messner said, the state is likely to increase its support to Holyoke by$150,000 next year, but employee salaries are set to rise a collective $850,000.

At Framingham State, personnel costs are scheduled to rise 4 percent; meanwhile, the state support is expected to stay flat, said campus spokesman Daniel Magazu.

The school is also trying to comply with a policy that mandates that no more than 15 percent of courses be taught by part-time professors. Adding more full-timers costs more.

The university also recently renovated several buildings and is opening a new residence hall in the fall.

“We don’t take fee and tuition increases lightly,” Magazu said.

Schools are taking internal steps, as well. Bridgewater State’s trustees this year voted to cut the university’s overall operating budget by 2.5 percent.

Undergraduate enrollment at Bridgewater has risen 22 percent in the past decade, campus officials said, even as the number of students attending state universities and community colleges overall is shrinking, following a peak after the recession.


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