Betsy DeVos, Congress, and Federal Education Policy: What’s Ahead


– [Mark] Okay, hi again. I want to say hello again
to Andrew and to Alyson, who I see each day. They are key members
of the Education Week’s Government and Politics team. They are the co-bloggers
on the Politics K-12 blog that keeps everybody
informed on daily doings having to do with federal
education policy every day. And this is kind of a
perfect handoff, I think, from the last discussion. I think between the two of you, you really cover the waterfront on federal policy from the White House, and the Education Department to Congress, and blogging each day. So I’d really like to start out kinda picking up the ball
from the last discussion to ask you, Alyson, what’s next for Betsy DeVos
in this post-election world? – [Alyson] So obviously,
as most people here know, Betsy DeVos came in, and everybody was expecting her to push a big school choice initiative, and I think she was expecting to push a big school choice initiative. And it just really hasn’t gone anywhere. Even with Republicans in charge of both the House and the Senate, and obviously, after the
most recent election, you know, the Republicans lost the House, the Democrats will now be in charge. So if her agenda was already
pretty dead on school choice, it’s like super dead now, extra dead. There’s really no good, no chance that the Democrats will go along with a private school voucher program, which is something she’s pitched, a tuition tax credit scholarship program, which is something she was working on, kind of behind the scenes, or even just allowing federal money to follow students to the
public school of their choice. Maybe eventually Congress would do that, but it would be many years down the road. It won’t be this next Congress, and it won’t likely be
under this secretary. She’s also pitched some big
budget cuts to the department, $5 billion, I believe, last year. Again, those were rebuffed by congress. You know, she wanted to get, she and President Trump
wanted to get rid of the 21st Century Community
Learning Centers program, which is the biggest
program for afterschool, Title II, which a lot of you probably know is the biggest program for teachers. They proposed doing away
with those programs. The Republican Congress said no, a Democratic Congress is
going to say, like, hell no. So it’s gonna be a tough, a tough couple a years for her. And I think Andrew can
talk a little bit more about how often she’ll
be coming to Capitol Hill on oversight issues. – [Mark] Before we get to
that, I was just gonna ask, if she’s not going to make traction on these signature issues
that she wanted to push, what are they going to do? What is there to the administration’s
education agenda then, if these are basically dead-ended in a couple of different areas? – So they’ve gotten
interested, first of all, in changing the structure
of the department. I don’t know, and in our last panel, we heard that doesn’t have a huge impact on the classroom level, but they’ve talked about things like getting rid of the office for English language learners. That office has a pretty small budget, but they do do important research. Betsy DeVos and her team want to fold that into the larger K-12 office. They say that that would help infuse English language learners and concentration on
English language learners kinda throughout all K-12 programs but many in the ELL and
civil rights community are really concerned that they kinda won’t have a dedicated
home for their issues. So they’ll be a lot of, I guess kind of bureaucratic, it sounds, that seems trivial to say, rearranging of deck chairs,
but it may end up being that, just kind of changing around offices. She’s also spent a lot of time getting rid of Obama
administration directives. She’s expected to, shortly, probably call for getting rid of, or at least significantly
changing guidance that the Obama administration had put out on discipline disparities, and she may do that as part
of her school safety push. And so a lot of shrinking
of the Federal role, a lot of taking down Obama guidance, and probably a lot of
coming after Capitol Hill to answer to lawmakers about, especially the way that she’s
handled civil rights issues. – [Mark] Well this is a
good handoff to Andrew who is our primary congressional reporter. You know, there may be more action, or at least more noise in the current congress, you know, with the current changeS that are taking place there. – Yeah, so I dunno how many
people in the audience think our federal lawmakers
exercise a lot of foresight. But if you’re a fan of oversight, particularly on the house side, you might soon be in a better mood because as many of you probably anticipate there will be quite a bit of
that regarding Betsy DeVos both in the education committee where Bobby Scott is
the incumbent chairman, and in other committees as well. As was eluded to, there
will be a lot of oversight, and questions the Democrats
will have for DeVos about her moves on civil rights. Keep in mind that Bobby Scott is a former civil rights attorney, he’s also the 2nd African American to hold the post as chairman,
once he takes office. Lawmakers will also be
asking her about her approach to the Every Student Succeeds Act. Lawmakers on the Democratic side for close to two years now have been saying that the
plans that she has approved do not adequately or do
not conform to the law when it comes to taking into account low performing students
and low performing schools. I have been told that we shouldn’t expect to see DeVos twice a week. So if you were looking forward
to that kinda programming you might be a little disappointed. You might see some deputies
for her like Kent Markus who oversees the Office for Civil Rights, and Frank Brogan who oversees elementary and secondary education. You might see folks like that in the mix, called up by house
Democrats to Capitol Hill. So we might not see as
much of Betsy DeVos, quite as much as people might think. – [Mark] You mentioned congressman Scott, are there other players in congress that we oughta be watching that may kind of either rise or fall in this new environment? – Yeah, so I think, obviously the first person I think many people would
mention is Lamar Alexander who will continue as the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee. There are a couple things to
keep in mind about Alexander. It’s not clear he is
going to run again in 2020 when he’s up. But even if he does, after 2020 he will be
termed out, so to speak, of his chairmanship of
the Education Committee. Now for awhile it’s been his priority to get reauthorization of the
higher education act done. Two years ago that looked
like the odds might be decent. Now that effort with Patty Murray, and on the house side has fallen through. Now it will be interesting to see if he can make a deal with Bobby Scott, and others to reauthorize
a higher education law, similar, I should point out, to what was done with the Every Student Succeeds Act, potentially in 2015. So it will be interesting to see how Alexander
approaches that decision. Another lawmaker to watch, just quickly, is Rosa DeLauro who is gonna be the house
lawmaker in charge of basically the education
department appropriations and the subcommittee. She is very vocal and very oppositional to many Betsy DeVos initiatives. One more thing I should say about Scott is that he’s not one of these lawmakers who appears a lot on
CNN, he’s understated, and to use the British expression, he’s not fond of giving
people the hairdryer. He doesn’t shout, he doesn’t scream, but he is very focused on civil rights in particular as well as ESSA. – You recently wrote a
piece for Education Week about the most recent Congress, what they did or they didn’t do. Can you talk a little bit about that and what kind of unfinished
business is there out there? – Yeah if you want some light reading, you can check out that piece. They didn’t get a great deal done. Probably their signature accomplishment in terms of passing a law, as people understand it, was a reauthorization
of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Law
which Trump signed into law over the summer. It was something he Trump
administration wanted, it was something that the
business community wanted, was overdue for reauthorization
by about 10 years. And so once it got momentum behind it, it passed relatively quickly and relatively easily. One thing that we noted at the start of Trump’s term was that Congress got rid of Obama era regulations regarding ESSA and school accountability which Republicans like
Alexander really didn’t like, thought it was too restrictive, as well as Obama rules
for teacher preparation. After that, the list
thins out pretty quickly. They passed appropriations bills for the Education Department, although as I wrote, praising people for that is sort of like praising people for brushing their teeth. Sort of a low bar to cross. – You mentioned higher education. I was gonna ask you, Alyson, you have a higher education bill, with a lot of attention
to higher education in the current departments
and in congress, what’s up with that? Why higher education not so much K-12. Have the K-12 issues kind
of fallen off the agenda? – So before this crew,
the term crew came in, Congress had already passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. Which was a long time coming, reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and that kind of settled a
lot of K-12 issues for awhile. Probably the most important thing that the Republican Congress and Secretary DeVos and President Trump did on education, they did in the first 100 days of Congress when they got rid of the
Obama administrations, and this is very wonky, but it really mattered, I promise, on accountability regulations for ESSA. So essentially Republicans in Congress and President Trump and Secretary DeVos felt like those regulations went too far in restricting the state role, that they kept up a bigger federal role
than there needed to be. The civil rights organizations and actually some state leaders were like, well no it actually gives a lot of clarity on important parts of the law and we want these
regulations to stay in place. But they got rid of them. And then once that was done there wasn’t really all
that much left to do, right? Cause ESSA had already passed. Secretary DeVos did need to approve and she has approved all 50 state plans. But she used, as one would expect, for somebody who really believes in a smaller federal role, she used a pretty light touch on that. On the other hand though, the Higher Education Act is still up. I think that Bobby Scott, who we heard Andrew talk about, and Lamar Alexander may even take a go at trying to come up
some sort of a bipartisan reauthorization there, so higher ed is kind of a
hotter policy in that way. ESSA had a whole list of prohibitions on the Secretary’s role in education. And those were put in
partly because Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress really felt the Obama
administration overreach. So there’s this whole section of ESSA’s, if you’re a Washington policy nerd, it’s actually really fun to read, it just talks about all
the things the Secretary is not allowed to do and
almost every one of them is something like Arnie Duncan did, you can look back on the
calendar and be like, oh, no interfering with
teacher evaluation, Arnie Duncan did that in December. You like go through. So it wouldn’t have mattered
really who the next Secretary, who the next President was, you know, it could have been Hillary Clinton and it could have been a Secretary who really believed in a big Federal role and they still would have been facing this whole litany of restrictions, so you’ve got all the restrictions plus a Secretary who doesn’t believe in a big federal role in K-12. So K-12 just hasn’t
been a really hot issue. Where as higher ed, there’s no list of restrictions in the Higher Education Act. There is a lot that the Federal government is allowed to do on that. Student loans was actually, we didn’t write about it a ton, cause we’re a K-12 publication, but the student loans were a huge issue. During the Obama years there was a lot of curbing of what for profit colleges can do through a very wonky regulation known as Gainful Employment. And now just like the Trump
Administration is undoing much of the Obama administration’s
Civil Rights guidance they’re undoing many of those things on higher ed and that takes up a lot of energy that otherwise might be spent on K-12. – Now I want to return to something that I mentioned earlier in the day that we’re gonna do
some crystal ball gazing and we do have the title of the event is 2020 Vision. So I wanted to ask really, what’s the education buzz around some of the possible Presidential contenders for 2020 who may be out there, kind of polishing up there resumes at this point. – So Andrew and I did a blog post a couple weeks ago where we, I think, how many people were in that post? Like… – Close to 30. – 30, okay. So we looked,
and one of them was Oprah. So we cast a wide net of what various people who
are thinking about maybe, possibly running for President, what their views have been on Education. And I guess some of the
main folks to mention just because, more because
their track records in education are a little interesting. One would be Cory Booker who originally was sort
a like the original pro-voucher democrat, that
was really interesting. And he worked with Facebook
to get all this money for Newark city schools
when he was the mayor there. Now that he’s in Congress, he’s suddenly, he had actually spoken, because he’s a pro-voucher Democrat, he had spoken at Betsy DeVos’s, she used to run a group called, most of you probably know this, The American Federation for Children, which was a pro-voucher organization, he spoke at their conference, Cory Booker did, and then
when she was nominated for Secretary of Education, he wasn’t like, oh great, let’s all vote for my friend Betsy, he was like, this would be terrible, she’d be a terrible
Secretary of Education. Because he’s kind of positioning himself to run in 2020. So that’s one to watch. Andrew, what do you think, who else would be? – Well, I think that a lot of you are familiar with the names, I would say one thing to keep in mind, especially on the Democratic side, is that, it’s gonna be
real interesting to see how the candidates approach the unions, especially after this
year of educator activism and all the attention that was given by, we in the media and other people, to teachers engaging with politics. And so I think there is gonna be quite a lot of effort put in by candidates as they get more serious
to establishing links with the NEA and AFT and in turn the NEA and AFT are gonna have sort of things to navigate, in terms of, who do we endorse, when do we endorse, because as Alyson can talk about their endorsement process when it came to 2008, for example in 2016, not the smoothest process for them. – So yeah, in 2008 they did not, the NEA did not endorse any
candidate in the primary, They stayed neutral, between at the time, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama. And then Barrack Obama got the nomination without any help from them. And then for the next eight years he proceeded to pass a bunch of policies and enact a bunch of policies they did not like, like teacher evaluation through test scores,
or like big expansions of charter schools. So they made a really early endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2016 hoping that that would, she would really be tied to them, she would owe the nomination to them. But that backfired because a lot of their supporters really wanted them to endorse Bernie Sanders and got really mad at them. So it’ll be interesting to
see how they play it this time with such a big field. What I’m actually really curious about is if you look at many of the issues that Democrats ran on in 2018, who are running for Governor or State Chief or Senate they really weren’t talking about a lot of things that we
talking about up here, like testing and accountability and school turn arounds. They really weren’t talking about that. They were talking about things like career and technical education, education funding,
expanding pre-kindergarten, social and emotional learning and the importance of that. So that’s really where
the focus has shifted and I wonder if we’re gonna see sort of 30 different education platforms that all look the same or if somebody will try to
differentiate themselves by, for instance, deciding
that it would be a good idea to back off of annual testing, which would be a really,
I guess provocative, interesting move to make. Might make the teachers
unions really happy. It might make the civil rights groups a lot less happy. – So to what extent has
really, the kind of, action shifted to the state level? Can we see some of that
with the new Governors who are coming in, I
know that, we heard from the NJ person, literally
today, and from Maria talking about new governor
names as folks who maybe throwing their hat in the
ring at a certain point. – Yeah I think that thanks to ESSA and also to a department
that doesn’t believe in a very strong Federal role a lot of the action has
shifted to the states. And there are definitely some really interesting Governors to watch who were elected in 2018. Obviously one of them is Tony Evers who just barely won in Wisconsin being able to unseat Scott Walker. Tony Evers was previously
the State School’s Chief. Wisconsin is one of the states
that has a voucher program. Tony Evers is not a fan of vouchers. He wants to see big increases
to education funding. He’s gonna have to deal with
a Republican legislature. So he’s an interesting Governor to watch. Another one would be
Laura Kelly in Kansas. She won, basically running on
increasing education funding, in one of the reddest
states in the country. Which is also really,
Kansas has really starved K-12 schools for quite a while and there’s a lawsuit
going on and she wants to see that funding increased. Be interesting to see
if she’s able to do that with a Republican Legislature. And the new Governor of Colorado is a gentleman names Jared Polis, who many of you in Washington probably know he was one of the biggest charter school supporters
among Democrats in Congress. So it’ll be interesting to see how he takes that sort of,
education reform perspective and brings it to the
Governor’s Mansion in Colorado. – Andrew I wanted to pick up on something that you mentioned a little bit earlier, talking about the teacher’s unions as, trying to find their role,
their pressure points here. If you and Alyson could
maybe just talk a little bit about where are the, kind of traditional, advocacy groups, civil rights groups, or various different advocacy groups, where they’re likely to
be putting their pressure in the next two years. Because we know what that,
whether we’ve had a line up of a discussion having to do
with the Trump Administration, maybe having in the way of
unfinished business in Congress. Do you have a sense yet of what other interest groups,
really are gonna be putting their energies into? – I think it’ll be a mix, like at lots of other different points. I think it would be a mistake to say that there won’t be a lot
of attention on Washington because a lot, every time
the Democrats in the House get Betsy DeVos in public
testifying, there are gonna be all different kinds of
groups trying to get their questions asked
through members of Congress on that committee. So there’s gonna be a
lot of attention on that and as many of you know,
Betsy DeVos has made news up on the Hill in ways
she often did not intend. The Democrats are very happy about which ya know, maybe they’ll
try and fold into 2020 messaging when the time comes, I don’t know. So there will be a lot of pressure on that but ya know, we write about ESSA a lot, and I think that there will
be continuing pressure by civil rights advocacy groups, in particular at the state level to ensure that, ya know,
states are not slipping up when it comes to under performing schools and disadvantaged students. Alyson I don’t know if I
stole your thunder there– – No, I think that was a good answer. I do think, there’s not a lot of, like during the Obama years we saw a lot of friction between
civil rights groups and teachers unions on areas like testing and even to some extent some
civil rights enforcement. I don’t think that, like
now they are all united in their hatred of Trump and Betsy DeVos. I don’t think that a lot of that friction that we saw during Obama years has been put on hold. – Interesting. We have
some time for questions from the audience. If folks have questions for
our political team here. I would like to mention at this point also that we had hoped to have Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici here
for this event today. She had RSVP’d, she was to be here. Because of leadership votes
that are taking place today on Capitol Hill, she’s not able to be with us. It’s just impossible
while the leadership votes are taking place. The same thing is also true for Congresswoman-elect Jahana Hayes who you saw a video of a
little bit earlier today. She was to have been here in person but because of the leadership votes that are happening, she was not able to be there. I would really encourage everybody to tune into edweek.org. Our reporter Madeline Will had an exclusive sit down interview with Jahana Hayes two days ago. Very interesting 30 minute session and we will be posting that on edweek.org so you’ll be able to hear her expand on her policy positions and her thoughts about going forward. And we’re open for any questions. Really appreciate this. – [Moderator] Well I wanted to say thank you very much for joining all of us. If we have no questions, we’re going to close the day here. I want to thank Alyson, Andrew and Mark if we could, for their insights and their expertise today.

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