Is DeVos Leading or Falling in Line?

On her second international trip this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in South America participating as a member of the U.S. delegation of the first-ever G-20 meeting of education ministers. After a preliminary visit to Chile, she went to Argentina to participate in meetings with other G-20 education ministers [emphasis added].” So it seems Secretary of Education DeVos enjoys the authority that is the equivalent of a Minister of Education in foreign countries discussing international economic development and cooperation.

When the Carter Administration supported Department of Education Organization Act in 1979 (P.L. 96-88) that created the cabinet position of Secretary of Education, the New York Times editorialized, 

Supporters of the new department dwelt heavily on the need for a “national education policy.” Such a departure from a precious American tradition is precisely what the country does not need — or, in our view, want. Nothing would be more harmful to educational diversity and freedom than even a hint that the new department may engage in the standardizing missions associated with ministries of education in other countries.

It took about 40 years to fully realize just how prophetic the NYT editors had been; but DeVos’s new found authority (the equivalent of a national minister of education) was cinched with the 2015 passage of Senator Lamar Alexander’s (TN-R) Every Student Succeeds Act which for the first time gave the Secretary of Education the authority to reject state plans in their application for federal grants funded by the Act. The authority to extort states into compliance with the federal agenda for education, of course, violates the enumerated powers of the federal government, but Congress rationalized its way out of the “chains of the Constitution” using the “general Welfare of the United States” as justification.

Like the first Secretary of Education, Shirley Hufstedler, DeVos has no professional experience in the field of education. What DeVos does have, is a plan to merge the U.S. Department of Education with the U.S. Department of Labor into a single Cabinet agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW), which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Jeb Bush education plan rolled out during his 2016 presidential campaign to reduce the Department of Education by 50%.

DeVos’s itinerary includes visits with education leaders and career and technical education programs in Chile and Argentina which is interesting considering the recent changes in administration in those two countries. Chile’s leadership has swung from leftist socialism and an overhaul of public education to conservatism. Among the outgoing president’s most controversial changes was her aggressive push to expand access to free higher education which has strained the national budget since the price of copper fell. Chile’s new president has a free-market agenda and a personal profile much like Trump. Argentina was one of the biggest economic actors in the Americas, until the disastrous administration of the socialist-Peronist government. Argentina’s economic planning has been a complete failure, yet, DeVos believes the U.S. has much to learn from countries that merge labor and education.

The U.S. Department of State notified UNESCO of our country’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO at the end of this year, Yet, Item 2 of the G-2O Education Ministers’ Declaration 2018 Preamble states, “In line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda, we affirm our commitment to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It appears that the U.S. Secretary of Education’s participation in the G20 Summit is a not-so-discrete way of circumventing the U.S. Secretary of State and continuing down the road of standardizing and nationalizing American education for the economy begun by Jeb’s father with America 2000 (which by the way, was released and promoted by then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander). Not good. The last thing the Trump Administration needs is Secretary of Education that undermines the goal of his administration to Make America Great Again. But the undermining of a populist president by a Bush-Alexander team is nothing new.

When President Reagan worked to keep his campaign promise to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and restore control of education to parents and local school boards, his vice-president, G. H. W. Bush supported Reagan’s first Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, in preserving the Department; and it was another Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander’s mentor, Howard Baker, who thwarted Reagan’s efforts. Alexander worked to get Devos confirmed as Secretary of Education (or is that Minister of Education?). Now, as President Trump works to keep his campaign promise to return education to the states, his efforts are thwarted by his own Secretary of Education and Senator Baker’s protégé. Trump would do himself a service by requesting Secretary DeVos’s resignation, and Tennessee would do America a great service by settling Senator Alexander’s quandary about running for re-election in 2020, and clearing the way for President Trump to accomplish what he was elected to do.

DeVos, Foxx Celebrate Announced Merger of Education and Labor Departments

Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Committee
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

After the White House announced it’s government reform plan on Thursday that includes a proposed merger between the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lauded the decision.

“President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective. Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise. Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long. We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” DeVos said in a released statement.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” she added.

First, the fact that DeVos issued a statement, but U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta did not, gives us an idea who will remain a part of President Trump’s cabinet.

Secondly, DeVos celebrates the elimination of “artificial barriers between education and workforce programs.” What artificial barriers?

She’s not allow in celebrating. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce lauded the proposal as well.

“The federal government is long overdue for a serious overhaul. The proposed Department of Education and the Workforce is recognition of the clear relationship between education policy at every level and the needs of the growing American workforce. At the Committee on Education and the Workforce, we make these connections in everything we do. We welcome the administration’s focus on education and workforce issues together, and as we continue our oversight over the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, we look forward to working with the administration on the proposal and how the new department could function to best serve American students, workers, job creators, and families,” Fox wrote.

No word from U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the U.S. Senate HELP Committee, however. Which makes me think the proposal may have a harder time passing the U.S. Senate.

As I said yesterday, this institutionalizes “workforce development” as the education model and that is being celebrated this week.

Betsy DeVos Now Criticized for Giving Too Much Flexibility to States

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can’t make anyone happy. I’ve highlighted how the U.S. Department of Education was criticized (rightly) for being nitpicky toward state accountability plans.

Now the Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), accused her of approving plans that flaunt federal law.

Education Week reports:

Addressing Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, Murray said, “If the department is today ignoring the agreement we made in the law and just choosing to implement whatever it feels like—which I believe they are in their approval of state plans so far—then this committee needs to hear from the secretary directly about how she intends to follow the laws that Congress agrees to.”

This isn’t a brand-new criticism from Murray, but rather a somewhat fleshed-out version of a previous complaint.

In a confirmation hearing for several Education Department nominees earlier this month, Murray made a general allusion to this concern. On Tuesday, Murray was a little more specific in her concerns about ESSA plans and how the law handles school improvement. But she didn’t single out the state or states she was worried about.

First, these remarks by Murray demonstrate that ESSA never gave true local control back to states. How stringently the law is enforced will depend on the administration. It is clear Murray expected there to be clear boundaries for states to stay within. Again, I say, that’s not local control

Secondly, if Murray has a concern, she should spell it out. Name names. It’s difficult to address or refute a challenge that is hopelessly vague. If she is going to make comments like these, she needs to bring up specifics – specific plans and the particular text in the law that plan violates.

Third, the only way for Congress to avoid political games like these is to repeal ESSA and genuinely devolve control of education policymaking back to the states. While states have to continue to ask “Mother, may I?” with the U.S. Department of Education they do not have control.

Four Takeaways from Betsy DeVos’ Confirmation Hearing

I watched the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, before the Senate HELP Committee.

I wrote a recap at Caffeinated Thoughts last night, but I wanted to further clarify my thoughts here the morning after here.

1. We still don’t know where Betsy DeVos stands on a whole host of issues.

This is largely the Senators’ fault. Republicans went into the hearing planning to praise her and ask softball questions. Democrats planned to ask gotcha questions many of which have absolutely nothing to do with the position.

Does Betsy DeVos making (or her family making) a donation to Focus on the Family tell me what kind of a Education Secretary she will be? No.

Does leading, rapid fire questions about her opposition to Common Core help give me a picture of whether she will truly shrink the U.S. Department of Education or just give lip service to it? No.

There were only a handful of good questions asked and most of them were, in my opinion, not the right questions. Only one of the proposed 11 questions I submitted last month was asked. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) both asked a version of this – should the federal government mandate school choice programs?

Her answer was essentially no, the federal government shouldn’t dictate school choice programs to the states.

But the other questions I have are still unanswered which is disappointing. There was an opportunity to have an in depth conversation about the role of the federal government in education and that opportunity was squandered.

2. Betsy DeVos was clearly unprepared for the hearing.

Her answers lacked depth. She did not demonstrate knowledge about the growth vs. proficiency debate question that U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) asked. Granted she didn’t have to agree with his conclusions (he praised computer adaptive tests), but she at least should have known about the issue.

She didn’t appear to have knowledge about the IDEA law. That doesn’t mean she needed to agree with Democrat conclusions about it, but at least know what it is so she can articulate her differences of opinion.

Her answer on gun-free zones in schools (which I’m against by the way) was wanting. I think people are taking her comment about grizzlies out of context, but she could have provided a far better answer.

She didn’t appear ready to defend her record of education advocacy in Michigan.

These are things she should have known were coming, but just appeared unready in my opinion.

Regarding equal accountability for private schools receiving taxpayer money I appreciate that she was not in favor of that because, well, this is exactly how Common Core was slipped into private schools. Many private schools also can’t afford some of the federal requirements under IDEA for instance. Parents should know this going in. Instead of “accountability” to the federal government it would have great if DeVos could have turned that around and say they do have accountability – to the parents who send their students there.

What was clear from this hearing is that she wants to provide opportunities for students, but I’m still not clear exactly what kind of school choice programs she wants to pursue.

3. “That should be left up to the state.”

I do have to give DeVos props for this statement that I heard frequently during the hearing and it was heartening. I’m still unclear as how this sentiment will actually be applied should she win confirmation, but it was still good to hear it.  This statement could have been used for every question because ultimately there is no constitutional role for the federal government in education – none.

4. Confirmation hearings are largely worthless.

Democrats complained that they were not given enough time. I agree. Five minutes per Senator is not enough. However, five minutes per Senator also wasn’t enough for Arne Duncan and John B. King. They’ve dumbed the process down. While Chairman Alexander was right to apply this consistently, they have established a bad precedent. Time that nominees spend privately with committee members is not for public consumption, the hearing is all we have.

That said none of the Senators made good use of the time they actually did have.

Conclusion: Ultimately this hearing did nothing to dissuade her critics. It also did nothing to change the minds of those supporting her. What it failed to do is provide Americans with more information about what kind of Education Secretary she will be.

Below is a recording of the full confirmation hearing if you are so inclined to watch.

Betsy DeVos’ Senate Hearing Delayed

DeVos speaking at a post-election rally for President-elect Trump in Michigan.

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, was supposed to have her confirmation hearing tomorrow before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee tomorrow. It instead has been pushed out until next week, January 17, 2017 at 5:00p (EST).

The reason?

The HELP Committee says they are doing it at the Senate leadership’s request.

HELP Committee ranking member U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and other Democrats had requested the hearing be delayed until after DeVos is cleared by the Office of Government Ethics.

Education Week reports that an aide to HELP Chairman U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that the delay will not change the committee’s plans to vote on her nomination on January 24th.

New U.S. Senate Education Committee Members

Photo credit: Rob Crawley (CC-By-2.0)

Just an FYI, there have been some changes on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee due to the election. These committee members will hold their hearing for Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos on January 11th. I’d encourage you to contact them with questions they can ask of the nominee. I have eleven questions of my own here if you need some ideas.

Alexander: Assume You Can Do What You Want Under ESSA

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Photo credit: AMSF2011

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Photo credit: AMSF2011 (CC-By-2.0)

Education Week reports this week about some interesting comments U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, made to Kentucky lawmakers.

“Don’t assume you can’t do anything,” Alexander told the lawmakers.

And in a similar vein, he said that if the Education Department rejects Kentucky’s state ESSA plan without a clear rationale, “You can take the department to court, and I hope that you do. I hope that you don’t have to. We’ll have a new administration [in 2017].”

Well, that’s nice, but the fact is states can’t just do what they want under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Any ambiguity, and there is plenty, is the fault of lawmakers who passed this bill rallying around leadership talking points instead of listening to activists expressing concerns as they read the bill.

That said, I do agree with his advice, states should try to push the envelope and then sue the U.S. Department of Education if it does deny their plans and reforms.

Kline: Scrap The Convoluted Regulatory Process

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chair John Kline (R-MN)

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chair John Kline (R-MN)

Congressman John Kline (R-MN), who is chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, released an interesting statement on Wednesday about how the Every Student Succeeds Act is being implemented through the regulatory process. In particular he drills down on “supplement, not supplant” regulatory proposal.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), has pointed out his frustration with this as well.

Kline, in his statement, has taken his criticism further.

The Department of Education is threatening to unilaterally impose a multi-billion dollar regulatory tax on our nation’s schools. This punitive policy will unleash havoc on schools and their students at a time when education leaders should be focused on helping children succeed in the classroom. America’s poorest neighborhoods will be hit the hardest as communities are forced to relocate teachers, raise taxes, or both. Any supposed “flexibility” is really a limited set of bad choices dictated by the secretary of education. This is not at all what Congress intended, and those who helped enact this law cannot honestly believe differently.

What the secretary is proposing is unprecedented and unlawful. The only way to make this right is to scrap this convoluted regulatory scheme immediately. Members of Congress came together to pass bipartisan reforms that are designed to help every child receive an excellent education, and we will not allow this administration to undermine these reforms with its own extreme, partisan agenda. (emphasis mine)

First, had only Kline and Alexander listened to those of us who said this would happen. The bill’s language left too much to be decided by the Secretary of Education. You give educrats an inch and they’ll take a mile. They were warned and they didn’t listen.

Second, I’m encouraged by Kline’s statement that the only way to make it right “is to scrap this convoluted regulatory scheme immediately.” Frankly we’d all be better off if the executive branch was stripped of his regulatory power and simply had to enforce laws as intended by Congress. The only people to blame for this is Congress. When you pass bills that are hundreds and thousands of pages long it becomes convoluted. When you leave too much up for interpretation in a bill it becomes convoluted. When you pass the buck to the executive branch, in this case the U.S. Department of Education, to decide how it is implemented the process becomes convoluted.

This is the Frankenstein monster that Congressman Kline, Senator Alexander and others helped to create. I can only hope that they are beginning to see that the only way to return power to the states is to truly remove power from the federal government.

I’m hopeful, but skeptical as well because it’s an election year.

Alexander Still Thinks ESSA Deals With Common Core

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Photo credit: AMSF2011

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Photo credit: AMSF2011 (CC-By-2.0)

In an interview that U.S Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Education Committee, had with Alison Klein of Education Week he still insists that the Every Student Succeeds Act still prevents federal mandates, like Common Core.

“I didn’t trust the department to follow the law. … Since the consensus for this bill was pretty simple—we’ll keep the tests, but we’ll give states flexibility on the accountability system—I wanted several very specific provisions in there that [limited secretarial authority]. That shouldn’t be necessary, and it’s an extraordinary thing to do. But for example, on Common Core, probably a half a dozen times, [ESSA says] .. you can not make a state adopt the Common Core standards. And I’m sure that if we hadn’t put that in there, they’d try to do it.”

Alexander said that when he was education secretary during President George H.W. Bush’s administration Congress created the direct lending program, allowing students to take out college loans straight from the U.S. Treasury. Alexander didn’t like that program, but he implemented it anyway.

“Contrast that with the attitude of this secretary and this department,” Alexander said. Exhibit A: supplement-not-supplant.”That’s total and complete disrespect for the Congress, and if I was a governor I would follow the law, not the regulation.”

Here he says he didn’t trust the U.S. Department of Education to follow the law. The law gives the U.S. Secretary of Education the authority to approve state accountability plans. What makes him think they’ll listen on Common Core?

He sees they ignored Congress on supplement-not-supplant, so why in the world does he think they won’t do the same when it comes to Common Core?

Alexander: ESSA Not Being Implemented Properly

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Photo credit: AMSF2011

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Photo credit: AMSF2011 (CC-By-2.0)

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) gave a floor speech about a report released by the Congressional Research Service that concluded that the U.S. Department of Education’s spending regulations under Title 1 violates the “supplement, not supplant” language in the bill.

He said in part:

What I want to talk about today is a report by the Congressional Research Service that Congressman Kline—the chairman of the House education committee—and I released today, which says in the very first attempt by the department to write a regulation implementing the new law, they flunked the test. Those are my words, not the Congressional Research Service, but their words are nearly as plain as mine. A new report by the CRS says that the proposed “supplement, not supplant” regulation goes beyond “a plain language reading of the statute” and is likely against the law. Congressman Kline said, “The administration spent years dictating national education policy. They failed to deliver the quality education every child deserves. Now the department seems determined to repeat its past mistakes. There’s no question this regulation would violate both the letter and intent of the law, and it must be abandoned. Congress and the administration promised to reduce the federal role and restore local control, and we will use every available tool to ensure that promise is kept.”

Did he think this would not happen? You give the U.S. Department of Education an inch and they will take a mile. The simple fact is this – this law does not truly give back local control. Sure it may relax somethings, but when you give so much latitude to the Department you’ll have instances like this.

Now, I’m glad Senator Alexander is calling them on it, but the simple fact is this, he should have seen it coming because we did.