Today's news -- January 19, 2017





DeVos flunks her Senate test *

If confirmed as secretary of education, would Betsy DeVos promise not to strip funding from public schools? “I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students,” the Republican donor and activist told a Senate committee in response. What are her proposals for making childcare affordable? “I would look forward to working with you,” DeVos responded. Does she support transparency around student loans? “I certainly will look forward to working with you and your colleagues.” Do guns have a place in public schools? That’s “best left to locales and states to decide,” she said, adding that they might be necessary to ward off grizzly bear attacks. Should all schools that receive taxpayer money be required to provide an equal education to students with disabilities? “I think that is certainly worth discussion,” DeVos said. There were plenty of moments in Tuesday’s hearing that betrayed DeVos’ lack of preparation for the country’s top education post, but none more than her stumble over protections for disabled students. Under questioning from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Maggie Hassan, DeVos appeared unfamiliar with (or uncommitted to) the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, a major civil rights law that requires publicly-funded schools to accommodate disability. The Department of Education distributes $13 billion to states to help them comply with the law -- making it the department’s second-largest K-12 expenditure. Asked whether all schools that receive public money should be required to meet the requirements of that law, DeVos said it was “a matter best left to the states.” Later, when Hassan reminded her that the IDEA was federal law, DeVos backtracked, saying she “may have confused it.” DeVos either could not or chose not to answer most serious policy questions, from inquiries about reporting standards for sexual assault on campus to regulations on for-profit colleges. “It surprises me that you don’t know this issue,” Sen. Al Franken told her, after he had to explain the difference between measuring student achievement by growth versus proficiency—a standard debate amongst educators and policymakers. She offered a wildly inflated figure for the growth in student debt. Asked to account for poor performance in Detroit’s charter schools, which DeVos has fought to shield from stricter accountability measures, she insisted that “a lot that has gone right in Detroit.” Standing in the hallway outside were dozens of parents and students who’d come from the Motor City by bus to oppose her confirmation. When DeVos did speak specifically, it was to affirm her market-based vision for the education system. She included private schools in her description of what constitutes “today’s public education,” and would not agree that private and charter schools receiving taxpayer money should face the same accountability standards as traditional public schools. She voiced support for “great” public schools, but indicated that those struggling should be abandoned rather than improved. Of the two schools she praised by name, both are private, and one is religious.


DeVos’ knowledge of the basics is open to criticism *

Until Tuesday, the fight over Betsy DeVos’s nomination to be secretary of education revolved mostly around her support of contentious school choice programs. But her confirmation hearing that night opened her up to new criticism: that her long battle for school choice, controversial as it has been, is the sum total of her experience and understanding of education policy. In questioning by senators, she seemed either unaware or unsupportive of the longstanding policies and functions of the department she is in line to lead, from special education rules to the policing of for-profit universities. DeVos admitted that she might have been “confused” when she appeared not to know that the broad statute that has governed special education for more than four decades is federal law. A billionaire investor, education philanthropist and Michigan Republican activist, Ms. DeVos acknowledged that she has no personal experience with student loans — the federal government is the largest provider — and said she would have to “review” the department’s policies that try to prevent fraud by for-profit colleges. She appeared blank on basic education terms. Asked how school performance should be assessed, she did not know the difference between growth, which measures how much students have learned over a given period, and proficiency, which measures how many students reach a targeted score. DeVos even became something of an internet punch line when she suggested that some school officials should be allowed to carry guns on the premises to defend against grizzly bears. But if she was sometimes rattled on the specifics, DeVos was unshakable in her belief that education authority should devolve away from the federal government and toward state and local authorities. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked DeVos whether she would enforce Obama-era education policies intended to prevent fraud at for-profit colleges — institutions like Trump University, which paid to settle federal class action lawsuits accusing it of using marketing tactics to enroll students. “I will review that rule and see that it is actually achieving what the intentions are,” DeVos said. Warren, in apparent disbelief, responded: “Swindlers and crooks are out there doing back flips when they hear an answer like this.” She added, “If confirmed, you will be the cop on the beat, and if you can’t commit to use the tools already available to you in the Department of Education, then I don’t see how you can be the secretary of education.”


Franken exposes how breathtakingly incompetent DeVos is


The coming crusade against public education


The GOP is sabotaging itself by confirming weak Cabinet nominees like DeVos


DeVos could mean more Florida charters, a lot more

Betsy DeVos, whose children never attended public schools, may soon lead the nation’s Department of Education. Assuming she is confirmed, care to take a guess what Florida public education will look like four years from now? Perhaps former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is DeVos’ biggest cheerleader, can provide some insight. He wrote a stirring endorsement of her in Tuesday’s USA Today, coinciding with her hearing before a U.S. Senate confirmation panel. “Instead of defending and increasing Washington’s power, Betsy will cut federal red tape and be a passionate advocate for state and local control of schools. More importantly, she will empower parents with greater choices and a stronger voice over their children’s education,” Bush wrote. “In the two decades that I have been actively involved in education reform, I have worked side-by-side with Betsy to promote school choice and put the interests of students first. I know her commitment to children, especially at-risk kids, is genuine and deep.” Let’s dissect those words. First, the biggest federal overreach in education was the No Child Left Behind program signed into law in 2002 by Jeb’s brother, President George W. Bush. It had strong bipartisan support in Congress and from the business community, which argued that U.S. public school students were falling behind those from other nations in math and science. In the name of “accountability” for schools, NCLB mandated a battery of standardized tests for students. It also allowed students from poor-performing schools to transfer to ones with better overall test results. There were other federal demands on local school districts, including offering free tutoring to students in need. Of course, the money that was supposed to pay for that never quite materialized in the federal budget, and many schools still struggle to provide that service today. “Accountability” testing has become a raw spot for teachers, who can face reprisals if low-performing don’t improve. By not “defending and increasing Washington’s power” we would assume DeVos would defer more education power to Florida. That may not be much help. Besides the federal mandates, Florida tacked on many other tests, leading to teacher burnout and complaints they were only “teaching the test” to bored students while Republicans touted charter schools as the answer. In the next four years, Florida undoubtedly will have many more than the 652 charter schools currently serving more than 270,000 students. That is an increase of 134 charters and 90,000 more students since Rick Scott took over as governor in 2011. Public school teachers and administrators complain loudly that some of those charters don’t have to meet the same standards they do and don’t have to accept problem students. Class, let’s review: School “choice” means less money for public education. We will see more private charter schools – probably a lot more. That will be done over the wailing and teeth-gnashing of Florida Democrats (like that matters, given their general impotency these days) and the state teachers’ union. Florida Republicans will celebrate that victory with particular vigor.


FEA: “Who can challenge on voucher program?”

The Florida Education Association (FEA) vented its “frustration” Wednesday after the Florida Supreme Court declined to take up a suit challenging the constitutionality of what’s been called “the nation’s largest private school choice program.” The court decided not to hear a challenge to the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, created in 2001, though – as one former judge noted – its order “doesn’t say (it) lacks jurisdiction.” That had Joanne McCall, the statewide teachers’ union’s president and the lead plaintiff in the case, asking, Who can pursue a case? A trial court and the 1st District Court of Appeal had previously ruled the matter could not go forward. “This ruling, and the decisions by the lower court, doesn’t answer that question,” she said in a statement. “We still believe that the tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional, but we haven’t had the opportunity to argue our case in court.” Though the Supreme Court put an end to this case, first filed in 2014, the challenge now for voucher opponents is to find one or more plaintiffs who do have the legal standing to successfully press a complaint. At issue was money going toward religious schools, and whether “taxpayers,” like McCall, could challenge “indirect state subsidies” paying for parochial school tuitions. The program works by companies ponying up money for private-school scholarships for disadvantaged students, then they get tax credits equal to their donations.  “We’re baffled that the courts would deny taxpayers the right to question state expenditures,” McCall added. “This decision has ramifications beyond this challenge to a voucher program.” It “relies on private, voluntary donations—not public dollars,” the state’s brief on the jurisdictional question said. “And the program provides tax credits to donors—not schools or students.” But the FEA and others have argued it’s led to a “parallel system of education that is separate and unequal.” (Joanne McCall quoted) (Joanne McCall quoted) (Joanne McCall quoted) (Joanne McCall and Ron Meyer quoted) (Joanne McCall and Mark Pudlow quoted) (Mark Pudlow quoted) (Mark Pudlow quoted) (Mark Pudlow quoted) (Mark Pudlow quoted)


Manatee teachers “walk-in” together at schools across district (Pat Barber, Melanie Motlow-Newhall and Kate Travis quoted)


Brevard schools chief “very unsure” of Trump's impact (Vanessa Skipper quoted)


Court upholds charter school appeal law

In a dispute stemming from a proposal to add a charter school in Palm Beach County, an appeals court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of a law that allows the State Board of Education to overturn local denials of charter-school applications. The 5th District Court of Appeal turned down arguments by the Palm Beach County School Board that the law infringes on the power of local school boards to decide on the creation of charter schools, which are public schools typically run by private entities. "The Florida Constitution … creates a hierarchy under which a school board has local control, but the State Board supervises the system as a whole," said the eight-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Alan Forst and joined by judges Carole Taylor and Mark Klingensmith. "This broader supervisory authority may at times infringe on a school board's local powers, but such infringement is expressly contemplated -- and in fact encouraged by the very nature of supervision -- by the Florida Constitution." The ruling came in a dispute about an application by Florida Charter Educational Foundation, Inc., and South Palm Beach Charter School to open a charter school. The Palm Beach County School Board denied the application on grounds including that the proposal lacked "innovative learning methods," Wednesday's ruling said. The applicants appealed the Palm Beach board's decision, and the state's Charter School Appeal Commission -- which makes recommendations to the State Board of Education -- said the charter school should be approved. The State Board of Education subsequently issued an order reversing the county's denial of the charter-school application. While the appeals court Wednesday upheld the constitutionality of the law, it ruled in favor of the Palm Beach County School Board on part of the case. It said the Charter School Appeal Commission failed to provide a legally required "fact-based justification" for recommending approval of the proposed charter school. As a result, the appeals court ordered that the case go back to Charter School Appeal Commission to provide a justification for its recommendation. The State Board of Education would then be able to act on the recommendation. "CSAC (the Charter School Appeal Commission) was required to make factual findings, either about the application itself or the process used by the School Board in making its decision. … Moreover, at the required CSAC meeting, CSAC members failed to discuss the issue, ask any questions to the parties, or engage in any fact-finding before their vote," Wednesday's ruling said. "CSAC's sole, conclusory statement in its recommendation failed to assist the State Board in making a fair and impartial review of the denial, and frustrates our review of the record. Due to the omission, we cannot meaningfully determine if the State Board's decision was supported by competent, substantial evidence."

Student attendance waiver rules change after new Florida law


Study finds SIG program had no impact on student achievement


Guns on campus? Idea makes no sense

College, we like to think, is a time of intellectual inquiry. But it is also, as anyone who has spent any time on a campus knows, a time of boundary-testing, experimentation and alcohol-fueled parties. Not exactly the kind of place where it makes sense to let folks wander around carrying hidden weapons. Yet that is exactly what gun-rights advocates are pushing for around the country. They succeeded most recently in Texas with a law that allows people licensed to carry concealed weapons to do so on college campuses. With no apparent sense of irony, lawmakers made the effective date of the law Aug. 1, 2016, the 50th anniversary of the incident in which Marine-trained sniper Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas at Austin clock tower and, over a period of more than 90 minutes, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in what is considered the nation's first campus mass killing. With that law, Texas became the eighth state to allow campus carry (some of those states limit weapons to employees and faculty). Nearly half the states — 23 — leave the decision up to college and university officials, and 19 more ban the practice. But campus-carry drives, building on state-level Republican election wins in November, are underway in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Wisconsin. As the nation has learned so painfully, there is little that can be done once someone has armed himself -- and it is almost always a him -- and starts shooting up a school or a workplace or a neighborhood, intending to kill as many people as possible. Lax gun control and the pernicious influence of the NRA have made access to military-style firearms far too easy, thus making people with a violent impulse -- born of mental illness, anger or an insatiable grudge -- all the more deadly. Campus-carry advocates say that an armed America is a safer America. The NRA and its statehouse allies adhere to the disproved theory that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun, and thus the more firearms carried around, the safer society becomes. In fact, the opposite is true. Studies have found a correlation between higher statewide restrictions on access to guns and lower levels of gun violence in those states. Similarly, women in households where firearms are present are more likely to be shot to death by an intimate partner than they are to use it in self-defense. The presence of a gun makes an act of domestic violence much more likely to end in death. It is the presence of firearms that makes violent encounters more likely to become deadly encounters. So why would anyone think it's a good idea to add concealed firearms to college campuses? In its 2008 Heller decision, in which the Supreme Court for the first time recognized a 2nd Amendment right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the decision "should not be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings." States should recognize the unique nature of college campuses and keep the guns out.


Colleges, universities spend big on lobbyists


America’s great working-class colleges


Miami-Dade’s GOP mayor on sea-level rise: “We live it every day”


More than 360,000 Miamians could lose insurance when GOP guts Obamacare

Scott says he’s helping Trump craft replacement health care plan


Webster: Congress will not pull rug out on health care coverage


Florida members of Congress ask Trump to save federal hospital funding


NRA wants to block sheriffs from opposing its Capitol agenda


Florida privatizer gets boost from Trump victory


FBI, five other agencies probe possible covert Kremlin aid to Trump


Russia’s radical new strategy for information warfare


Americans are united on retaliating against Russian cyberattacks


Haley, at confirmation hearing, says Russia is guilty of war crimes


What does Putin see in Trump?


In farewell, Obama sets red lines that would pull him back into fray


Castor: Here's what Obama did for Tampa Bay


Obama understood the power of art. And he wanted you to get it, too.


Lessons taught: Obama’s legacy as a historian


Obama aides, full of emotion, get ready to turn out the lights


Under Trump, approach to civil rights law is likely to change definitively


House Democrats to Trump: “The women of America are watching”

Views on abortion strain calls for unity at Women’s March on Washington


Women in Florida plan protests


Congress moves to give away national lands, discounting revenue


“He has this deep fear that he is not a legitimate president”


A fierce will to win pushed Trump to the top


Bravado and branding: Trump brings a new leadership style to the White House


At dinner honoring Pence, Trump touches many bases


Trump aides promise aggressive action early


Trump team prepares dramatic cuts


Trump Cabinet nominees meet growing ethical questions


Trump’s Cabinet choices stumble by


These Hardee’s workers wound up with less than minimum wage under Labor pick


Choice for health secretary is vague on replacing Affordable Care Act


Price’s marvelous medicine for your stock portfolio


Nearly 400 health care experts urge Congress to reject Trump’s HHS secretary


Republicans look to avoid YouTube moments in fight over Obamacare repeal


Pruitt, testifying to lead E.P.A., criticizes environmental rules


Outgoing EPA chief reveals fears Trump administration will halt climate action


“Learning curve” as Perry pursues a job he initially misunderstood


Ross vows to push Trump’s trade agenda, starting with NAFTA


Trump budget nominee did not pay taxes for employee


Trump picks Perdue for agriculture secretary


For Trump’s nominees, a billionaires’ guide to running the government


For the first time since Reagan, the president’s Cabinet won’t include a Latino


Trump's “beachhead” teams primed to grab agencies' reins at noon Friday


Trump’s national security team is missing in action


Media in the age of Trump


Trump's D.C. hotel bans press during inauguration week


Daily White House press briefing to stay in the West Wing -- for now


From headline to photograph, a fake news masterpiece


Trump will violate the Constitution on Day One


Republicans will not rein in Trump corruption. Can anything be done about this?


In the age of Trump, the resistance will be localized


Jewish centers across the country are being targeted with bomb threats


Earth sets a temperature record for the third straight year


The last time the Earth was this warm was 125,000 years ago


Hey Florida, get ready for less perfect weather as 2016 marks record heat



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