This week’s Federal Flash, discusses Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ testimony before the House Appropriations committee, funding for rural schools, where the unions are lending their support in the Democratic Presidential primary, and this year’s Digital Learning Day.
Secretary DeVos’ Testimony
It will come as no surprise that sparks flew between Congressional Democrats and Secretary DeVos when she testified last week before the House education appropriations subcommittee about the Administration’s fiscal year 2021 proposed budget. Two of the most contentious topics were: (1) the Administration’s proposal to consolidate 29 K-12 programs into a block grant while also cutting overall funding for the consolidated programs; and (2) the creation of a $5 billion tax credit to fund an Education Freedom Scholarship program for students to attend private schools.
All4Ed Opposes Both Proposals
All4Ed opposes both proposals and has urged Congress to continue providing robust, dedicated funding for the 29 programs that support the nation’s most disadvantaged and historically underserved students. While Democrats on the subcommittee shared our concerns, the Ranking Member, Republican Tom Cole, also raised issues with the block grant proposal. In particular, he was concerned that the Charter School Program would be consolidated into the new block grant, which he believes would result in less funding for charters.
On the tax credit scholarship program proposal, as expected, the subcommittee’s comments and questions split across party lines. Republicans wanted to learn more about the proposal and praised its potential to bring more educational options to families. Democrats raised concerns about funds being used to send students to private or religious schools that lack nondiscrimination policies. In particular, Democrats were concerned LGBTQ students could be denied access to schools in states that already run similar programs.
Effects to Rural School Districts
While the hearing focused on proposed cuts, some rural school districts are already facing a loss of federal funding. Under the Rural and Low-Income School Program, or RLIS, rural districts are eligible for financial support if 20 percent or more of their students are from low-income families. But how is low-income defined? In federal programs, eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch is often a proxy for poverty, and this is how some districts that have benefited from the program in the past qualified for funds. However, that isn’t how the law defines poverty in the RLIS Program. The Department of Education recently notified states and districts that they must use census data to determine the number of students living in poverty, which has a stricter threshold. As a result of coming into compliance with the law, many rural districts are at risk of losing their RLIS eligibility and funding. Congress and the administration are working to figure out a solution. We’ll keep you posted.
Teachers’ Unions Support Democratic Candidates
As we approach Super Tuesday, the nation’s teachers’ unions are still debating where to lend their support in the Democratic Presidential contest. While the National Education Association has yet to endorse a candidate, the American Federation of Teachers recently passed a resolution saying they will support three of the remaining candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. This is not the AFT’s national endorsement, which will come later, but it sends a strong message that support for any of these candidates in the primaries is supported by the union. However, adding more complexity to the union’s position, AFT President Randi Weingarten announced over the weekend that she will personally support Senator Warren in the primary. Also over the weekend, House Education Committee Chairman Bobby Scott endorsed Joe Biden. Scott’s home state of Virginia is one of 14 states holding a Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Ninth Annual Digital Learning Day
Last week marked the ninth annual Digital Learning Day, a nationwide celebration that highlights how technology supports great student learning experiences and outcomes. This year, states, districts, and schools hosted more than 1,600 Digital Learning Day events showcasing how innovation occurs in every classroom, every day, through the effective use of technology. To learn more about the incredible classrooms that were highlighted, you can view this year’s broadcast at digitallearningday.org. You can also check out the three-minute video Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel filmed in support of Digital Learning Day where she discusses how the FCC is closing connectivity gaps.
Finally, mark your calendars for the next Digital Learning Day on February 25, 2021!
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the March 2 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.