“Educating kids is my passion”

Advocating for public schools is high on Brandon Mowinkel’s list of priorities.

As principal of Milford High School, Mowinkel wants to ensure that Milford’s story and those of other Nebraska schools are being heard by lawmakers on both the state and federal levels.

“Educating kids is my passion,” Mowinkel said. “Regardless of if you think your message is being heard or not, you need to keep advocating. If you stop, they think you don’t care.”

Mowinkel went to Washington, D.C., at the end of September and spent a day on Capitol Hill, meeting with Nebraska Sens. Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

The trip was Mowinkel’s fourth to D.C. in the last 15 months. This particular one was for the State Principals of the Year conference and awards ceremony.

“It’s always great to have Nebraska’s educators stop by Capitol Hill,” Sasse said, “but it’s a special honor when it’s Nebraska’s Principal of the Year. Milford should be very proud that Brandon represents their community and school so well.”

Principal of the Year

Mowinkel found out in March that he was the 2017-18 Nebraska High School Principal of the Year as chosen by the Nebraska State Association of Secondary School Principals.

“This was the culminating activity,” he said.

Top principals from 47 U.S. states attended the ceremony, as well as one from Ramstein, Germany, who was recognized by the Department of Defense.

A local award ceremony will be held in Nebraska in December.

More important than the awards, Mowinkel said, was the chance to speak with lawmakers about the best interests of public schools.

The principals spent time in professional development activities, learning about what it means to advocate, putting together talking points and learning about etiquette for meeting government officials.

They also talked about building culture within a school system, exchanged ideas and asked questions of other state principals.

Best interests at heart

Advocacy may sound simple.

“It’s ensuring strong public schools, which we have, and telling our stories about how policy influences what we do in our buildings,” Mowinkel said.

But it can get complicated, too.

Mowinkel said his main talking points focused on special education funding, career and technical education and Title IIA funding.

He said special education funding starts at the federal level with how much is allocated to each state. Then, the states divide it by school district.

“It’s the most crucial for a group of students that needs it to succeed, whether that’s offering it through classroom skills or things like Project Search,” Mowinkel said. “Telling our stories is the big part of it, trying to tie in specific policies and how they would impact us at a local level.”

Mowinkel said he only had a few minutes with each lawmaker, but he spent more time working with their aides to get his points across. He said sometimes lawmakers aren’t always aware of the issues that impact schools.

“Any time you bring up Title IIA, even people in D.C. always say ‘What does IIA mean?’” he said.

Title IIA is a specific line in the federal budget that allows professional development funding for teachers and principals.

Mowinkel said President Donald Trump cut Title IIA funding in his initial budget proposal.

Speaking with purpose

Advocating for public schools has been Mowinkel’s mission on his previous three trips to D.C. through the NSASSP, as well, and not just for Milford.

“We’re there to advocate on behalf of all schools in the state of Nebraska,” he said. “We always try to put a personal touch on our stories and the great things we’re doing in our schools. I talked about the uniqueness of having robotics, screen printing and broadcasting, and our state testing scores, that are positive aspects of what you’re doing that lawmakers don’t always see.”

He said he was glad this was not his first experience on Capitol Hill.

“It can be overwhelming. The hill is an amazing place, and it’s hard to stand there and not be awe of what takes place in this tiny little area in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Everything that impacts us here (in Nebraska) happens there.”

Mowinkel has been a school administrator for 11 years. He said he never thought he would have the opportunity to advocate for his students like he does, and he is thankful for the chance to tell Milford’s story in a way that counts.

“I’ve found out how important it is,” he said. “I have three kids of my own, and I want them to have the best education possible. We want to be able to tell our story in a way that represents who we are. You hope your message is being heard.”

Veterans victimized in $24M education scam, authorities say

A $24 million “bait and switch” college education scam — targeting U.S. military veterans — could send two women to prison.

Court documents released Tuesday in Newark, N.J., described a scheme in which thousands of veterans using their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill tuition benefits thought they had signed up for courses at Caldwell University, a small Catholic college in New Jersey.

But instead, the veterans were enrolled in low-cost correspondence courses marketed by a Pennsylvania company – courses that were not covered by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Authorities in New Jersey said two women have pleaded guilty to one count each of wired fraud in connection with the scam: Lisa DiBisceglie, 56, of Lavallette, N.J., a former associate dean at Caldwell University; and Helen Sechrist, 61, of Sandy Level, Va., a former employee of Ed4Mill, the Pennsylvania company.

The pair defrauded the government of $24 million between 2009 and 2013, federal prosecutors said. They could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when they are sentenced Jan. 24, 2018.

The women have also been ordered to repay the $24 million, although authorities were uncertain how much money would ultimately be recovered. It was unclear Tuesday whether the women had benefitted personally from the scam.

“DiBisceglie and Sechrist were part of an elaborate bait-and-switch scheme that stole millions of dollars in Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition assistance,” acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Instead of receiving a quality education under the Caldwell brand, the veterans that were recruited by Ed4Mil were enrolled in unapproved online courses without their knowledge, all while members of the conspiracy profited from their hard-earned benefits.”

“Scams like this steal money from hardworking taxpayers and legitimate students — and in this case, our veterans — and that is completely unacceptable,” said Debbi Mayer, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Northeastern Regional Office, which helped investigate the case.

Also indicted was David Alvey, 50, of Harrisburg, Pa., the founder and president of Ed4Mil. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His case is still pending.

Caldwell University officials said in a statement that they ended their relationship with Ed4Mil in 2013 and only learned of the “bait-and-switch” scheme after DiBisceglie quit her assistant dean position to work for Ed4Mil.

“Neither Caldwell University nor its current administration or staff is accused of wrongdoing, and only learned of the conduct after the former employee left the school to work for Ed4Mil,” the university said in a statement. “Caldwell University has and will continue to cooperate with the government until this investigation is concluded.”

The government was charged between $4,500 and $26,000 per course, instead of the $600 to $1,000 per course the correspondence company charged for the same classes, prosecutors said.

The $24 million in tuition benefits collected through the GI Bill was allegedly paid to Caldwell University, which then turned over between 85 percent and 90 percent of the money to Ed4Mil, according to court documents.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to give military veterans money for tuition, housing and other education costs. The money is paid directly to colleges for eligible courses.

Herring Sues Department of Education for Not Enforcing Gainful Employment Rule

Release from Office of Attorney General Mark Herring:

Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a coalition of 18 state attorneys general in suing the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos for refusing to enforce the Gainful Employment Rule, a federal regulation designed to protect students from predatory for-profit schools.

“The Department of Education should be protecting our students and holding for-profit schools accountable, but Secretary DeVos is irresponsibly refusing to enforce a rule that does just that,” said Attorney General Herring. “Too many students across the country take on thousands of dollars in student loans based on promises made by a for-profit school, only to find themselves in deep debt with no degree or one that may not lead to a good job like the school advertised.  More than one million Virginia student borrowers have a total of more than $30 billion in outstanding student loan balances, and I’ll continue to stand up and fight for them and their families.”

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that the Department of Education violated federal law by refusing to enforce the Gainful Employment Rule, which implements the requirement in the Higher Education Act that all for-profit schools, all vocational schools, and non-degree programs at all other schools “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” 

The Gainful Employment Rule has two important aspects.  First, it empowers prospective students to make informed decisions by requiring schools to provide information about the program’s average debt load, the loan repayment rate of all students who enroll in the program, the percentage of students who graduate from the program, the number of graduates who obtain employment in a field related to the program, and the average earnings of graduates.  Second, the Gainful Employment Rule assesses whether schools’ programs provide education and training to their students that lead to earnings that will allow students to pay back their student loan debts. If the programs fail the objective metrics, federal student loans and grants would no longer be provided to those programs.

On July 5, 2017 and August 18, 2017, the Department announced its intent to delay large portions of the Gainful Employment Rule without soliciting, receiving, or responding to any comment from any stakeholder or member of the public, and without engaging in a public deliberative process. The Department has also publicly stated that it has no plans to calculate the necessary metrics to determine whether programs are failing the Gainful Employment Rule’s minimum requirements.  State attorneys general argue in their lawsuit that the delays have no legal justification and the Department’s actions are “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.”

Today’s complaint asks the Court to declare the Department’s delay notices unlawful and to order the Department to implement the Gainful Employment Rule.

Attorney General Herring joined state attorneys general from California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington in filing today’s lawsuit. 

Education dollars: $3m in jeopardy after audit

State House Bureau

October 16. 2017 10:02PM

CONCORD — The federal government is not happy with how New Hampshire accounted for millions in educational grants since 2014, and could demand that some of the money be repaid, depending on the result of an audit to be conducted early next year.

“Our estimate is that a little more than $3 million is at risk,” Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut said. “Obviously we know a good bit of that was spent correctly, but can we substantiate that? We don’t know what will be clawed back or not clawed back.”

The programs in question support low-income families, English learners and disabled students through portions of education law known as Title I, Title II and Title III.

In 2017, those three programs, along with School Improvement Grants, brought nearly $55 million to local school districts, with 1 percent allowed for administration at the state level.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on how state education officials should account for the distribution of federal education dollars to local school districts. Several states, including New Hampshire, were audited to determine how they were complying.

The review concluded that the state did not adequately monitor federally funded programs at the local level or have accounting systems in place to ensure compliance with federal requirements by local school districts.

“This lack of fiscal oversight creates a significant risk that (local school districts) could mismanage federal programs, resulting in potential unallowable expenditures or instances of waste, fraud, or abuse,” according to the “Pilot Fiscal Review” from the federal Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The report was presented to the state Department of Education in July but not publicly released until late September. The state has until Oct. 18 to respond with a plan that addresses the most serious concerns.

Could prove costly

The practice that could prove most costly to the state is the method that was used to calculate how much of the federal money could be used to pay personnel in the Department of Education for administration of the grants.

The department determined a fixed amount from each grant for administration in its annual budget, and deducted the funds accordingly, in violation of the federal guidelines.

“Part of this uniform guidance clearly established that all personnel expenditures must be supported by records that accurately reflect the work performed,” said Edelblut. “It clearly says that budget estimates alone do not support the charges.”

Each pay period, NHDOE would allocate the total salary charged for each employee to individual programs according to the pre-determined percentages, with no after-the-fact evaluation as to whether the charges accurately reflected the actual time worked by the employee on activities related to any single program.

Edelblut, a CPA with extensive background in financial management, has since changed the accounting method.

“Employees now keep track of the hours they work on programs; we charge the programs for the level of effort expended; and we support that with the underlying documentation for the time claimed,” he said.

Claw back coming?

That’s going to depend in large part on an independent audit of the expenditures from fiscal years 2014-16 that the state is required to do as a result of the federal findings.

The accounting firm of KPMG has been retained and is expected to launch the $25,000 financial review some time after it completes the audit of the state fiscal year due by the end of December.

Gov. Chris Sununu said he found the results of the Pilot Review “disappointing and troubling.”

“I appreciate the work the commissioner and his departments have done to respond to the action steps, as well as their efforts to ensure that systems are in place to achieve compliance going forward,” he said in a statement.


State Government

Schreyer Conference 2017: ‘General Education: Inspiration for …

Faculty of all ranks and administrators at all Penn State locations are invited to participate in the biennial Schreyer Conference, co-sponsored by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, the Schreyer Honors College, and the Office for General Education. Conference topics will address the concerns of faculty, particularly faculty who will be submitting new course proposals and revised courses for recertification.

The conference will begin with a brief video of students’ perspectives on Gen Ed and a review of the program approved by the University Faculty Senate. Participants will next select one of 4 concurrent sessions:

  • “Managing the Senate Recertification Process”
  • “Promotion, Dossiers, and Structures that Support Integrative Teaching”
  • “Integrating Inclusive Teaching into Gen Ed Courses”
  • “Effective Teaching in Integrative Studies Courses”

The conference will culminate with lunch and a wrap-up session featuring University Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones, emceed by Schreyer Dean Peggy Johnson, and including ample time for participant questions.

The conference will be lived streamed. URLs will be posted in the near future.

View the agenda at http://www.schreyerinstitute.psu.edu/SchreyerConference/Program.

Washington state sues DeVos for suspending rule intended to keep colleges from offering worthless degrees

Four days after he stood on a Bellevue street corner with other protesters and denounced Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit against DeVos and her department.

This lawsuit is aimed at stopping the U.S. Education Department from delaying, or refusing to enforce, an Obama-era rule intended to keep for-profit college and trade schools from offering worthless degrees and leaving their graduates with high levels of debt.

In an interview, Ferguson said the rule offers “common-sense protections for folks all across the country,” and he believes it is being suspended illegally because the administration is not going through public hearings and other forms of feedback outlined by the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Attorneys general from 16 other states, plus the District of Columbia, are joining the lawsuit.

The Administrative Procedure Act “is there … to avoid exactly this situation,” in which a new administration comes in and tosses out rules developed by a previous administration, he said.

DeVos suspended the rule this summer, calling the regulations “overly burdensome.”

It’s the 17th such lawsuit Ferguson’s office has filed against the Trump administration; his office has also intervened in four other cases to defend rules it believes the administration isn’t defending.

The “gainful employment rule,” as it is called, aims to hold postsecondary schools accountable for the quality of the education they offer. It is a new rule that would stop the flow of federal financial aid to schools whose graduates aren’t making enough money to repay the student loans they took out to earn their degrees.

In early January, before Trump was sworn in, the Department of Education released a list of more than 800 schools nationwide that had failed the gainful employment test. Almost all of the schools were for-profit colleges.

But no school has yet lost federal funding. DeVos’ predecessor, John B. King Jr., said in a conference call with reporters in January that the numbers were released to give career colleges “an opportunity and in some cases a warning to improve the quality of their programs.”

The gainful employment rule requires colleges and other postsecondary schools to provide accurate information about average earnings and debt loads of their graduates.

The rule gives postsecondary institutions many different ways to show they are meeting their obligation to prepare students for gainful employment, “and only penalizes those institutions that repeatedly and flagrantly failed to do so,” according to the lawsuit.

Ferguson’s office has also filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit that challenges Obama-era rules on student loans. He has joined other state attorneys general in arguing that those rules deter predatory for-profit colleges from violating consumer-protection laws. And his office is also suing Navient, the nation’s largest loan servicer, for a range of business practices, including allegedly making unauthorized robocalls, doing a poor job of tracking payment processing errors, steering borrowers into costlier repayment options and misapplying payments.

“Long before Donald Trump was president, we’ve been pretty focused in this office on student loan issues,” Ferguson said. “This is not a new issue for the office, but it is frustrating to me the Trump administration is not following this rule.”

Normandale Community College receives federal grant

The Normandale Community College World Languages Department received a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The $118,037 grant, awarded through the department’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program, is for the Accessible Global Immersion Learning Experiences project. The project will allow Normandale faculty to develop courses in Senegal, Costa Rica and China that are designed to maximize the impact of the study abroad experience on student learning.

Faculty members will develop relationships with institutions in the host countries for immersive learning during study abroad and establish ongoing communication with 18 on-campus language courses through telepresence and social media. The new and revised curricula will be designed to increase engagement and the number of students pursuing foreign language studies.

Building on new and revised courses, Normandale will develop an international experience certificate that includes a study abroad course, a foreign language course and two other courses that meet learning outcomes related to intercultural and international studies. This 12-credit certificate will be eligible for financial aid, providing students with additional resources to pursue the credential.

Faculty Senate: University evaluating possible ‘cultural competency …

The university is working to evaluate a model for “cultural competency” courses, Ohio University interim Executive Vice President and Provost David Descutner told Faculty Senate on Monday night.

Descutner and President Duane Nellis opened the meeting by saying the university is working to prevent sexual misconduct, highlighting diversity and inclusion efforts such as the implementation of “cultural competency” courses for faculty and students and addressing $20 million in unallocated funds in the budget. Senators also discussed two resolutions related to students.

“We have 213 years of university history and 21 presidents, (OU has) had a lot of stability, which I think is a good thing for the university, but we have some challenges as well, as far as our financial situation, the need for creating a more sustainable model for our future,” Nellis said. 

Nellis will present “strategic pathways” in moving forward as a university at his investiture on Wednesday. That will include an outline that aims to establish OU as a “national leader” in diversity and inclusion. 

Descutner began his presentation by updating Faculty Senate on the discussion around implementing a “cultural competency” course by putting a group together to evaluate a model from Carnegie Mellon University and explore ideas. That course could be an additional general education requirement.

“I think (cultural intelligence is) a much better way of describing the course as I imagined it,” Descutner said. “Of course, however it unfolds is in the hands of the faculty, but it really is about cultural intelligence. … It’s about adaptability and it’s about being able to meet others with cultural sensitivity.” 

Descutner and Associate Provost for Academic Budget and Planning John Day gave an overview about budget challenges colleges will face next year. 

“I haven’t seen anything like this since 2008,” Descutner said. 

OU colleges are assessing a 7 percent budget cut, although the actual funding cut could be less than that. The 7 percent budget cut is partly the result of the statewide tuition freeze and limited funding from the state.

“There are circumstances where some colleges have already cut (their budgets) in recent years,” Day said. 

Faculty members asked how their colleges would be affected by next year’s budget. 

“There does seem to be some confusion in this room about what has been proposed and what has been decided, and I think it would be helpful if everybody involved in the conversation is getting a consistent story about what’s being proposed,” Faculty Senate Chair Joe McLaughlin said. “We have to get everybody on the same page.”

Later in the meeting, senate passed a resolution asking the university to rescind the interim “Freedom of Expression” policy.

The resolution was brought forward for the Executive Committee after senators discussed the interim policy at the September meeting. The resolution will establish a task force to evaluate the need for a policy, determine what that policy could entail and create a set of procedures for the university to follow during “situations of conflict.”

The comment period for the interim policy ends Oct. 20. The president’s council has discussed “next steps” for the policy, Nellis said.



Hennepin County’s teen birth rates decreased last year, but federal cuts will impact programming

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Meghan Davy Sandvold is an enterprise reporter who is passionate about education, the environment and history. Meghan is hard-working and detail-oriented. She enjoys video games, sci-fi and exploring with her family and dog, Madison.

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