Tulsa early childhood advocates to testify before Congress this week


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Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2017 12:01 am
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Updated: 12:43 am, Sun Mar 12, 2017.

Tulsa early childhood advocates to testify before Congress this week

By Ginnie Graham
News Columnist

TulsaWorld.com

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0 comments

Tulsa will be making the case for early childhood programs with two of four people set to testify in a congressional hearing on Thursday representing local organizations.

Featured on the panel will be Steven Dow, executive director of the Community Action Project of Tulsa, which administers the federal Head Start grant, and Don Mullican, chief financial official of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co., who will speak on behalf of the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., will oversee the hearing as chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. It is responsible for making decisions on the allocations to those agencies.

These hearings allow for agency secretaries and people outside the agencies affected by the policies and decisions to speak to lawmakers. It is a way for elected officials to gather information.

Actress Jennifer Garner, of television’s “Alias” and films such a “Juno” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” will be talking about her work with Save the Children.

The other expert set to testify is Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, professor of child development and education at Columbia University.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to share with members of Congress how we in Tulsa have made education of very young, at-risk children a top community priority,” Dow said.

“Through a combined effort of many people, the prudent use of federal, state and local taxpayer dollars, and the extraordinary generosity of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Tulsa has developed a reputation as a national leader in preparing very young children with the skills they need to succeed in school and life.”

During the past 20 years, Tulsa has developed a unique model for early education programs for low-income families, led in large part by philanthropists and nonprofits.

When the state education department in the 1990s expanded volunteer 4-year-old programs in public schools, Tulsa’s Head Start arranged partnerships with local school districts to leverage funding. This allows for more children to be served in those pre-K programs with more resources.

The goal is to eliminate duplication of services and provide what families need in one location.

At the same time, philanthropist George Kaiser led the effort to build Educare Centers to offer comprehensive early education programs as a poverty intervention. These centers start at infancy and include parent self-sufficiency supports.

Both programs include a mix of federal Head Start grants, federal department of agriculture free- and reduced meals programs, state funding and private donations.

The University of Oklahoma-Tulsa launched its Early Childhood Education Institute a decade ago to promote research in the field, evaluate the programs and prepare professionals for the field.

All of these aspects work together to form Tulsa early childhood education community.

The initial — and continuing — support has come from the business community, which has championed many of the initiatives to prepare for a better workforce.

“The fact that Steven Dow and I are being asked to appear before the House Committee on Appropriations is evidence of the reputation Oklahoma, and particularly Tulsa, has developed nationally in the field of early childhood education,” Mullican said.

“Our success in combining federal, state and private funding to give children born into poverty a chance to succeed in life in an excellent model for other communities to pattern. And, this story is one I’ll be privileged to tell next week in Washington.”

Outcomes of Tulsa’s programs have been studied in research through Georgetown University, OU-Tulsa’s Early Childhood Education Institute and other university researchers.

It is common for Tulsa’s Head Start and Educare programs to host tours for groups interested in replicating the model in other cities. It has been highlighted in national and international publications.

Part of the testimony will likely focus on the necessity for more funding because the need far exceeds what the grant allows.

“However, we will also be communities that the demand for high quality early childhood education for low-income children is much greater than our current capacity, both locally and nationally.”

Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376

ginnie.graham@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @GinnieGraham

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Sunday, March 12, 2017 12:01 am.

Updated: 12:43 am.


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Institutes

So far, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is just what her critics feared


President Trump listens as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a meeting with parents and teachers at the White House on Feb. 14. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos has been U.S. education secretary for only a few weeks, but already she has shown herself to be exactly what her critics feared. In her brief time running the Education Department she has (among other things):

*insulted teachers at a middle school
*
bashed protesters, saying they are “hostile” to change and new ideas
*said she would be fine if the department she runs is shut down
*complained that critics want “to make my life a living hell
*did not participate in the first Twitter chat her department had for teachers on Feb. 21
*suggested schools should be able to compensate for troubles children have at home, such as absent fathers
*had U.S. marshals protect her after protesters blocked her entrance to a D.C. school door
*made a confusing statement about the Common Core State Standards
*made crystal clear that a top priority will be pushing for alternatives to traditional public schools, otherwise known as “school choice.”

And, according to this Washington Post story, while she personally opposed the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama administration’s federal guidance protecting the right of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, she did not say so publicly and was unable to persuade them to leave the guidance in place. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), issued a statement saying that she hoped DeVos “stands strong” and doesn’t “cave to pressure,” but the New York Times reported that she was given the choice by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go along with the move or resign — and she “relented.” After the rollback, she said the issue was best left to states and local school districts.

DeVos’s boss, President Trump, has come to her defense, saying that she has been unfairly attacked and that she will do a great job as education secretary.

And for those who support her prioritizing of school choice, statements such as this, which she gave to Axios, are reassuring: “I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.”

To advocates of the public education system, the absence of a mention of traditional public schools in her vision is alarming, though not unexpected. They had fought against her confirmation in the Senate because they believed her years-long advocacy for school choice showed that she wants to privatize the public education system. Though she has denied this, her strong connections to the privatization movement helped spark unprecedented opposition to her nomination around the country, forcing Mike Pence to become the first vice president in history to have to break a tie over a Cabinet nominee.

Now that she is the education secretary, DeVos (who said in 2015 that “government sucks”) expressed ambivalence about the very existence of the department she heads. In the Axios interview, she was asked whether the Education Department should be eliminated, something Trump said in the past he could support, and she replied: “It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but I’m not sure that — I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.”

Actually, there’s already a bill in Congress proposing to do just that, H.R. 899, which says in its entirety: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

Another bill in the U.S. House, H.R. 610, has this as a self-described mission: “To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.” The bill would, as explained by the Congressional Research Service, repeal the current version of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and only allow the Education Department to award block grants to qualified states. It would have no other powers.

DeVos, a big supporter of vouchers, has said she would enforce the current federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, but it doesn’t sound like she would shed tears if the law — and the department — were made to go away.

Is there enough support in Congress to close the Education Department and create a federal voucher program for America’s schoolchildren?  No, according to people on Capitol Hill who are familiar with the issue, though a pilot federal voucher program is possible. Still, Trump has said he wants to spend $20 billion in federal funds to expand school choice, and the Hill sources said this could come in the form of a federally funded scholarship tax credit program that would be part of a Trump-promised reform of the U.S. tax code.

Vouchers are funded with public dollars and used to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. Scholarship tax credit programs offer lucrative tax credits to individuals and corporations donating to nonprofits that provide money for students to use for tuition at private and religious schools and public schools outside a student’s designated district.

There are now 17 states with programs that offer scholarship tax credits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including Florida, the state that DeVos has frequently mentioned as a model for the kind of reform she is seeking.

A close ally of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, DeVos has talked up the Sunshine State’s corporate school reform for years, including recently on a Michigan-based radio station, heaping praise on a tax credit program to help students with disabilities, the same program that a 2011 Miami New Times story found had sparked  “cottage industry of fraud.” The Orlando Sentinel just published a story about one school for students with autism that received money from two tax credit programs in Florida that was abruptly closed after its leaders were charged with Medicaid fraud.

DeVos has been a target of critics of the Common Core State Standards, who have seen her as a supporter — along with Bush — even though she has said she is not. Trump has vowed to eliminate the Common Core — even though individual state officials would have to decide to get rid of it because they were the ones who approved it. DeVos told Michigan radio station host Frank Beckmann that the Every Student Succeeds Act effectively does away “with the notion of the Common Core,” Education Week reported. It doesn’t.

In a recent interview with columnist Cal Thomas of the conservative online publication Townhall, DeVos raised another issues that concerns public education advocates — just how much schools and teachers should be held accountable for students who come to class with overwhelming problems, such as hunger, sickness or the effects of living in a violent area. This was the back and forth:

Q. What about family situations that government can’t fix — the absent father, for example?
A. The whole child.
Q. Yes.
A. It’s not an easy or a single answer, but again it goes back to having the power to influence those things at the classroom level.

Address that at the classroom level? Exactly how? What are her expectations of educators?

Meanwhile, DeVos angered teachers at Jefferson Academy in Washington when she told Townhall  that teachers there seemed dedicated and sincere but were in “receive mode.”

“I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students, and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more successful from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

Jefferson Academy teachers were not amused, and posted tweets blasting her, as others did, including the former chancellor of D.C. schools, Kaya Henderson.

DeVos, no friend to teachers unions, did reach out to the leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in her first days on the job but that didn’t go smoothly. She spoke to AFT President Randi Weingarten, and the two agreed to visit some schools together, though Weingarten has continued to criticize DeVos’s education views. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García was not in the office and DeVos left a voice message, to which Eskelsen García responded with a letter. Eskelsen García said in a statement:

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called me the other day saying we should talk … I’m still struck by the lack of clear answers she gave the public at her Senate [confirmation] hearing. There is no doubt where we stand on issues critical to supporting students and public education, but Americans have a right to know where she stands. So … I sent her a letter, asking for the answers that we didn’t get from her confirmation hearing.”

DeVos, the union says, has not yet responded.

 

Read More:

Congress Erases K-12 Rules, A Financial Aid Foul-Up And Other Education News

The case of transgender high school student Gavin Grimm, seen here last year, has been sent back to a lower court by the Supreme Court.

Steve Helber/AP


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Steve Helber/AP

The case of transgender high school student Gavin Grimm, seen here last year, has been sent back to a lower court by the Supreme Court.

Steve Helber/AP

Once again, it was another big week for national education news. Here’s our quick take on the top stories.

Senate scraps federal regulations

On Thursday, the Senate voted to roll back Obama-era rules that clarified and elaborated on a wide range of accountability requirements in the federal education law known as The Every Student Succeeds Act.

The vote was narrow, 50 to 49. To be clear, Congress is not scrapping or even changing the law itself. When it comes to school accountability, ESSA still requires that states flag schools where groups of students are “consistently underperforming.” And it requires that the measurement of school performance include not just test scores and graduation rates but also some other indicator of school quality, including absenteeism or access to AP courses.

After ESSA became law, the Obama administration was tasked with writing rules to clarify key sections. What the Senate voted to do this week was to scrap the previous Education Department’s interpretation of the law’s accountability requirements, not the requirements themselves.

If that’s not clear enough, here’s a handy, point-by-point comparison of the law and that interpretation by Education Week‘s Alyson Klein.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who is himself a former Education Secretary, hailed the change. He called the vote “a victory for everyone who was fed up with Washington telling them so much about what to do about their children in 100,000 public schools, and I look forward to President Trump’s signature of this resolution.”

The Education Trust, an advocacy group where John B. King Jr., the most recent education secretary under President Obama, is now president and CEO, called the rollback “misguided.” “This resolution will cause unnecessary confusion,” the group said in a statement, “disrupting the work in states and wasting time that students — particularly those who are most vulnerable — cannot afford for us to waste.”

New Executive Order on Immigration

President Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Monday, a new version of his initial ban against the arrivals from seven majority-Muslim countries. This time, Iraq was not included because of its promises to “increase cooperation with the U.S.” and share citizens’ information.

NPR’s Eric Westervelt spoke with Esther Brimmer, executive director of the Association of International Educators, about how policies like the travel ban — and recent violent events against immigrants — could have a lasting effect on higher education if international student enrollment numbers drop.

The revised ban is scheduled to go into effect on March 16.

Another online resource for students goes dark

First, the website that provides help to families of students with disabilities went down last month with little explanation. Now, it’s the IRS’ Data Retrieval Tool. If those words, “Data Retrieval Tool,” put you to sleep, it means you’re not a high school senior rushing to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the form — famously complicated and difficult to finish — that stands between many low-income high-schoolers and the federal Pell Grant that will help them pay for college.

In the past, many students weren’t finishing the FAFSA because it required them to manually enter their parents’ tax data. That was a big hurdle for at-risk students. But there was a clear fix, and in late 2015, the Obama administration agreed to the fix, allowing most applicants to use this IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically answer some of the FAFSA’s toughest questions.

Yet students who have tried to use the IRS tool in recent days have, instead, been told: “This service will be unavailable due to system maintenance. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

According to a joint statement released Thursday by the IRS and the Department of Education:

“As part of a wider, ongoing effort at the IRS to protect the security of data, the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

And it won’t be back soon: “The IRS anticipates the online data tool will be unavailable for several weeks.”

That’s a problem because now is primetime for FAFSA filers, with many states’ financial-aid deadlines fast approaching. In short: Students are in for “a rude awakening,” says the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, or NASFAA.

Until the problem is resolved, NASFAA’s president and CEO, Justin Draeger, called on the Education Department “to take immediate steps to ease application and verification burdens that will fall squarely on students, potentially delaying or complicating their application process, not to mention increasing work on college campuses that could lead to delays and backlogs.”

School districts close for #DayWithoutAWoman

On Wednesday, at least three school districts closed because of a national protest aimed at calling attention to the inequities women face in the workforce, such as unequal pay and harassment. Women make up 76 percent of the public school teacher workforce.

Among the schools that shut down were: the 12,000-student Chapel Hill-Carrboro district in North Carolina, which announced an “optional teacher workday.” About 300 staff members requested the day off in the Alexandria schools in Virginia. And an estimated 1,700 staff members, including transportation staff, did the same in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

Officials in the three districts said the number of staff who requested the day off left them unable to operate safely and effectively. The last-minute cancellations caused some irritation among families scrambling to find child care.

Transgender bathroom case back to lower court

On Monday, the Supreme Court sidestepped the controversial question of whether transgender students should be allowed to use the school bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The case was brought by Gavin Grimm, 17, a transgender senior at Gloucester High School in eastern Virginia. He had been using the boys’ restroom but, after parents complained, the school board required that he use a private, unisex bathroom instead. As we wrote earlier:

“Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in Grimm’s favor, citing the Obama administration’s guidance on Title IX that has now been rescinded.”

That Obama-era guidance specified that Title IX’s protections against sexual discrimination should be read to include a student’s gender identity. But the Trump administration recently rescinded those guidelines, giving states and school districts more flexibility in interpreting the law.

Because the 4th Circuit’s decision was based on old guidance, the Supreme Court chose the path of least resistance, asking the lower court to give Grimm a new hearing taking into account the new, Trump-era guidance.

177 private colleges fail federal financial-responsibility test

The Chronicle of Higher Education analyzed data from the Education Department and found that 177 private colleges failed the department’s test for financial responsibility — 18 more than the previous year. The data was taken from the 2014-15 school year. Of the total, 112 were non-profit and 65 were for-profit.

Mass.-Based Jobs For The Future Gets $4.9M Federal Grant

BOSTON (CBS) — Boston-based Jobs for the Future is the only national program to win an educational grant from President Obama’s’ Youth Career Connect funds.

Most of the 24 Youth Career Connect awards totaling $107 million went to individual schools and communities.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kendall Buhl reports

Mass.-Based Program Gets Federal Education Grant

Jobs for the Future Vice President Nancy Hoffman said she thinks the program received the grant because it leads the way for other organizations and applies lessons learned in Massachusetts to the rest of the country.

The $4.9 million grant will be used to better develop students’ science, technology, engineering and math skills through programs at Brockton, Marlboro, and West Springfield high schools. Development of so-called STEM skills is being targeted to help address the unemployment problem that many young people are facing.

“Many young people, even those getting bachelor’s degrees, find themselves either underemployed or unemployed because they don’t have the skills that employers need,” said Hoffman.

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Testing opt-out measure, narrowed from last year, gets hearing in House

Cindy Rose encourages her son, Ben, who is severely disabled, to push the button on his official communication device. It plays either a recorded message from Rose or Ben’s teacher.

Their view: Teacher preparation regulations need to earn a better grade – Wilkes Barre Times

The intention of the U.S. Department of Education’s “final rule” on regulations for teacher preparation programs is honorable. Its underlying goal is to improve accountability of collegiate programs for new teachers. What is missing, though, are some common-sense elements that may affect this vital professional field.

The guidelines as released in 2016 fail to account for changing demographics in both kindergarten through 12th-grade students and current teachers, the decline in the number of students majoring in the K-12 teaching field and the exodus of current teachers for new career paths.

The proposed rating system imposes a one-size-fits-all approach onto 50 state education systems and a wide range of different institutions of higher education, ranging from smaller colleges to the largest research institutions. In all, more than 27,000 teacher preparation programs will need to adjust in order to comply with the new federal regulations. The ratings, as proposed, dictate indicators for student learning outcomes, employment and retention of program graduates, teacher and employer survey outcomes, and accreditation or state approval. A federal report card would include the outcomes and be posted on each individual college’s website.

Further, the regulations appear to address challenges in K-12 by changing policy at the level of higher education – a dubious practice. Further, the cost of implementation rests solely on higher education, again adding yet another unfunded federal mandate that will increase tuition costs. At the state level, the additional costs are likely to equal higher taxes. The new rating system seems to be an overreach.

Most troubling, in my opinion, is the linking of federal financial aid in the form of the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant to the rating obtained by each teacher preparation program. The TEACH grant program is a positive attraction for students, as it offers $4,000 per year in exchange for service in a high-need school or high-need field.

Under new U.S. Department of Education regulations, a teacher education program would not be eligible to accept students using TEACH grants if the academic program was rated as “ineffective’’ in two out of three years. Students from low- and middle-income families already have plenty of challenges in paying for college. Removing or restricting access to yet another form of federal financial aid will likely translate into even lower enrollments in teacher education programs, particularly in urban and rural areas. In the end, those areas in the country that face the greatest challenges in attracting new teachers to their school districts will find the supply of candidates further diminished.

The proposed requirements are undergoing a federal review. It is my hope Congress — after rejecting the regulations — will return the “final rule’’ to the U.S. Department of Education to be crafted into a positive program that supports better outcomes and access for all.

Thomas J. Botzman

Guest Columnist

Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas., the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Luzerne County. The Times Leader welcomes guest opinions from leaders of area nonprofits. To submit a guest opinion, email [email protected]

Proposed federal cuts would eliminate UM and MSU Sea Grant program

ANN ARBOR, MI – The work done through the Michigan Sea Grant program reaches far beyond the campus of the University of Michigan, Director Jim Diana insists.

According to the Michigan Sea Grant, a cooperative program of UM and Michigan State University, the program directly resulted in $3.7 million in economic benefits to the state in 2015. Nationwide, the Sea Grant program was funded at $67.3 million in 2015 and delivered an economic return of $575 million, according to its 2016 report.

That has been achieved through working with coastal communities like St. Ignace, Pentwater, Au Gres, Rogers City, New Baltimore and Ontonagon to provide research and education that addresses local needs, support sustainable use of Great Lakes resources and ensure that they remain engines of economic growth.

According to a 2009 Sea Grant study, approximately $62 billion in wages came from jobs related to the Great Lakes, which produced about 15 percent of all jobs and 23 percent of all payroll in Michigan.

Trump cuts would hit Great Lakes beach safety, fishery research, marine security

“(The Great Lakes) are fairly significant to the state from an economic perspective, but even more significant, in my mind, is that the people from Michigan love the Great Lakes because it’s a part of their life and their view of what the world is worth,” Diana said. “The quality of life in Michigan would decline dramatically if the quality of the water was reduced.”

Recent proposed federal budget cuts would eliminate the Michigan Sea Grant, which was established in 1969. As part of a national network of 33 university-based Sea Grant programs administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Michigan Sea Grant receives roughly $1.8 million annually from the federal government. To receive the funding, the state of Michigan must provide a two-to-one match of funds or in-kind resources, such as facilities or equipment.

The largest portion of the Michigan Sea Grant’s budget goes toward working directly with coastal communities. Eight extension educators live and work in coastal communities, serving all of Michigan’s 41 coastal communities to ensure that university research meets community needs.

Another 15 outreach staff in Ann Arbor and East Lansing support work occurring in communities to address issues important to stakeholders, Diana said. All those jobs would be eliminated should the current budget proposal pass.

“We do a lot of work with coastal communities in helping with decision making as far as infrastructure in the area, economic development and tourism through our outreach program,” Diana said. “We work with them on what they would like both their city and harbor to be and try to get them to come to a consensus on how they view the harbor. Sometimes that can be building recreational facilities and parks in town, or bringing in restaurants where boaters might come in.”

Proposed budget cuts at the National Atmospheric Oceanic Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Coast Guard could could reach beyond the Michigan Sea Grant, impacting Great Lakes fishery research, beach and boater safety, environmental protection, algal bloom monitoring, icebreaking, maritime security and rescue capabilities.

The Washington Post reported the Trump administration wants to cut the nation’s top weather and climate agency $5.6 billion budget by 17 percent, citing a leaked memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The NOAA cuts come on the heels of a proposed 97 percent cut to an Environmental Protection Agency grant program that funds Great Lakes pollution cleanup, invasive species management and watershed projects in eight states.

Diana cited programs like the Sustainable Harbors project — a research venture designed to identify barriers preventing small harbors from becoming economically, socially and environmentally sustainable — which was primarily funded by the Michigan Sea Grant and multiple state agencies, as one having an immediate impact on the state’s economy.

Diana said the program has helped six different Michigan coastal communities plan the economic and environmental futures of their harbors.

“The city of New Baltimore developed a plan for their harbor and applied for a grant which got them $3 million to purchase a private harbor to include into their program,” Diana said. “They were at a large advantage because they had detailed financial and environmental management plans (developed through the Michigan Sea Grant).”

Proposed cuts are nothing new to the Michigan Sea Grant, Diana said. The most recent proposed cuts, he said, have brought more attention to what the program does for the state, serving as a reminder for what the Great Lakes bring to the economy.

“Most people were surprised, but not stunned by (the proposed cuts),” Diana said. “It’s been zeroed in on before in the budget, but nothing ended up happening. We’ve started to get emails from people asking how they can help.

“If anything, it’s brought out our supporters,” he added. “We probably wouldn’t have gotten this same level of support otherwise, so it’s been reassuring in a way.”

How Did Student Loan Debt Reach $1.4 Trillion? Blame Russia (Sort Of)

American consumers owe mountains of debt, but one of these mountains looms large over all the others: student loans. It’s astonishing to consider: Add up every auto loan in the country, and total student loan debt is bigger. Add up every credit card bill in the country, you only get about three-quarters of the way up the student loan mountain. Only mortgage debt is greater, but those with mortgages have homes to show for their debt. These days, many Americans aren’t really sure what they got in return for their oppressive student loan bills.

There is little disagreement that adult life in America without a college degree is a struggle, and it’s only going to get harder as the economy continues to modernize and manual labor continues to be devalued. So it’s imperative that America figures out how to educate its young people without bankrupting them — but it’s important to understand how we got here.

A History Lesson

In some ways, you can blame the Russians. Sputnik, and the Space Race, specifically. The federal government first got into the student loan business as a direct result of the USSR’s successful launch of Sputnik into orbit, and widespread fear that America was losing the Space Race. In fact, the law that created student loans was called The National Defense Education Act.

America has lent money to teenagers ever since, with the good intentions of helping them compete in the global economy. Today, some 44 million Americans owe student loan debt — a majority of college students graduate with at least some debt, and the class of 2016 had an average student loan debt of $37,000.

But even before the National Defense Education Act went into effect, America had committed to helping young kids who showed promise get college degrees. The federal government’s first real foray into pushing people towards college was The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act — the GI Bill — passed at the end of World War II. Colleges swelled as America repaid some of its debt to the Greatest Generation through free or discounted college.

By the 1950s, there were calls to extend what was generally considered a wildly successful program. But three terms in a row, a Senate-passed measure to increase federal funding for college died in the House. Then, on October 4, 1957, the Soviets sent shock waves through the country with their successful launch of Sputnik into space. That day Sen. Lister Hill (D-Alabama), chair of the Education and Labor Committee, read a memo from a clerk with a clever idea.

“Perhaps if they called the education bill a defense bill they might get it enacted,” recounts a Senate history page on the subject.

Hill latched onto the idea and National Defense Education Act was born.

Despite widespread public opinion demanding government action “in the wake of Sputnik” (the Senate history page’s words), House members were still resistant, calling federal college grants “socialist.” Other critics worried that the legislation interfered with the long-held principal that states and local communities were responsible for schooling. As debate progressed, supporters in the Senate offered a compromise: Much of the aid offered would come in the form of low-cost loans instead of grants.

That argument won the day. Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act in September 1958, 11 months after Sputnik’s launch. Uncle Sam was now a bank for college students.

Uncle Sam Becomes a Direct Lender to Students

NDEA loans are generally considered precursors to subsidized loans that became known as Perkins Loans.

That because it wasn’t long before the NDEA was expanded, and its inherent encouragement of defense-friendly subjects dropped. An amendment to the law signed by Eisenhower in 1964 increased funding, raised borrowing limits, and struck the provision that special consideration should be given to students who showed proficiency in math, science, engineering, or foreign languages.

By 1968, America had spent $3 billion extending student NDEA loans to 1.5 million undergraduate students.

In other words, Uncle Sam’s role as a direct lender for higher education was fairly well established by the time Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society ideas took hold. In 1965, the Higher Education Act included a further expansion of both loans and grants, this time aimed at lower-income Americans. The HEA established what we now know as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and directed the Department of Education to administer lending. Thus, the Guaranteed Student Loan (precursor to the Stafford Loan) was created.

HEA loans were different than NDEA loans in an important way, however. Students borrowed from banks, with the federal government acting only as a guarantor. That made Uncle Sam a co-signer, expanding the kind of funding available. (Since then, Congress has vacillated between preferring the co-signer role, and the banker role. Today, most federal loans are direct loans, but that could change again.)

Not surprisingly, college attendance soared, more than doubling from 1960 to 1970 (from 3.5 million to 7.5 million).

The Higher Education Act requires reauthorization every five years, each one a chance for Congress to change the law. Many of those provisions have been intended to expand the opportunities afforded by it. The 1972 Equal Opportunity in Education Act, known as Title IX, was passed to prevent discrimination based on gender. That same reauthorization also created the Student Loan Marketing Association (Sallie Mae), designed to encourage lending. In the 1980 reauthorization of HEA, PLUS loans were created, ultimately allowing parents to borrow money from Uncle Sam to pay for their kids’ college.

As Enrollments Rise, So Do Tuitions

Each loan expansion meant college attendance continued to expand, hitting 10.8 million by 1983. Today, it’s 20 million.

With more customers, and more funding, it should be no surprise that college tuition has soared right along with them. According to the College Board, annual tuition at a public (state) college averaged $428 in 1971-72.  This year, it’s $9,648. During that same span, private tuition rose from $1,883 to $33,479.

So it should be no surprise that a chart showing the total outstanding student loan debt looks like a picture of the steep side of Mt. Everest. In 1999, former students owed $90 billion. By 2011, that figure had grown to $550 billion, an astonishing 550%. Since then, student loan debt has more than doubled … again.

In fact, student loan debt is the only kind of consumer debt that has grown since the recession.

Other Factors in Rising Tuition Rates

It’s important to note, however, that while one theory holds that the history of ever-widening availability of credit has led directly to higher tuition costs and higher debt, that’s not the only possible explanation. Higher education advocates also point to reduced state government spending on state colleges. As one example, Ohio State received 25% of its budget from the state in 1990. By 2012, that percentage had fallen to 7%. Students, often via borrowed money, must pay the difference.

F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University, painted a bleak picture in testimony before a Senate committee during 2015. More generous federal loan programs created in the 1950s and 60s had an unintended consequence: They nudged budget-crunched state governments towards a dark solution.

“State funding for higher education sits currently around 48% to 50% below where it was in 1981,” he said. “It was assumed that any new federal funding policies would simply supplement state funding, not replace it.”

But, today, states are ”getting out of the higher education funding business, to the point that the federal government has now become the primary funding source,” Alexander said. And while schools, states, and the federal government argue about the higher math of higher education, many students are left with personal education budgets that just don’t add up. To put a fine point on it, attorney and student loan expert Steven Palmer offers this sobering example:

“In 1981, a minimum wage earner could work full time in the summer and make almost enough to cover their annual college costs, leaving a small amount that they could cobble together from grants, loans, or work during the school year,” he says in a blog on the topic. “In 2005, a student earning minimum wage would have to work the entire year and devote all of that money to the cost of their education to afford one year of a public college or university.”

A Longstanding (But Growing) Problem

It’s important to note that burgeoning student loan debt — and the inherent problems those bills present to borrowers and their families —  did not go unnoticed until recently. In fact, back in 1987, a New York Times article summarized the issue in a paragraph that sounds an awful lot like something Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might have said during the 2016 Democratic Party primary races.

The growth of the problem is affecting not only individual lives, some authorities believe. They say the burden of debt is also chasing many students away from poorly paid public service jobs and forcing others to defer the start of a family and the purchase of a home or car, with economic and social consequences that have not been measured … Such cases worry education officials and other experts, who say that record borrowing for college threatens the financial stability of a generation of young people and their families.

At the time the article was written, the average debt for public college graduates was $7,000 ($15,000 in 2017 dollars). Since then, college tuition has risen at about four times the rate of inflation, and student debt, right along with it.

How Do We Fix Those Inherent Problems?

President Donald Trump did discuss the student loan problem on the campaign trail; his most significant proposal involved slightly more expensive, but also more generous income-based repayment plans for debtors. His plan would require 12.5% income contributions, but provide loan forgiveness earlier. The timetable for such a proposal is unclear.

The newly-minted head of the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, said during confirmation hearings that the (then) $1.3 trillion in student loan debt is “a very serious issue,” but didn’t indicate support for any particular solution. In her testimony, there is this tea leaf:

There is no magic wand to make the debt go away. But we do need to take action. It would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten so high. For starters, we need to embrace new pathways of learning. For too long, a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. The old and expensive brick, mortar, and ivy model is not the only one that will lead to a prosperous future.

A comprehensive solution will almost certainly require another reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The last reauthorization was signed by George W. Bush in 2008. It has been temporarily extended since then — Congress punted on a reauthorization during election season, which means it is overdue for another overhaul. DeVos told the Senate that she’s ready to get to work on that.

“I look forward to working with Congress and all stakeholders to reauthorize the Higher Education Act to meet the needs of today’s college students,” she said. The Education Department did not immediately respond to Credit.com’s request for comment as to whether there were any updates regarding DeVos’ plans since she testified.

Many issues remain on the table: Stakeholders are already arguing about enforcement of new rules against for-profit schools and the future of government direct lending vs. “co-signing” for borrowers. But the $1.4 trillion, 70-year-old problem is now an elephant in America’s living room — and no administration can make debt like that simply disappear.

What Can Students Do? 

While solutions to the systemic student loan problem are unlikely to come to fruition overnight, there are some steps struggling borrowers can take to stay current on their payments — and to preclude that debt from harming their credit. (You can see how your student loans may be affecting yours by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Federal student loans borrowers, for instance, can apply for a deferment or forbearance if they’re temporarily unable to repay those bills post-college. They can also apply for an income-based repayment plan that can help lower monthly payments to an affordable level. Private student loan borrowers may also have these options available to them, but it varies by lender and there may be fees attached to certain requests. (It’s best to ask about these options ahead of time — you can find more about vetting private student lenders here.)

There are also ways to lower the cost of your college education before and while in school. These options include looking into scholarships and grants, working part-time while taking classes and attending community college for few years before transferring to a four-year institution — more on how to pay for college without building a mountain of debt here.

Image: Geber86

 

Teacher preparation regulations need to earn a better grade

The intention of the U.S. Department of Education’s “final rule” on regulations for teacher preparation programs is honorable. Its underlying goal is to improve accountability of collegiate programs for new teachers. What is missing, though, are some common-sense elements that may affect this vital professional field.

The guidelines as released in 2016 fail to account for changing demographics in both K-12 students and current teachers, the decline in the number of students majoring in the K-12 teaching field, and the exodus of current teachers for new career paths.  

The proposed rating system imposes a one-size-fits-all approach onto 50 state education systems and a wide range of different institutions of higher education, ranging from smaller colleges to the largest research institutions. 

In all, more than 27,000 teacher preparation programs will need to adjust in order to comply with the new federal regulations.

The ratings, as proposed, dictate indicators for student learning outcomes, employment and retention of program graduates, teacher and employer survey outcomes, and accreditation or state approval. A federal report card would include the outcomes and be posted on each individual college’s website.

 

Further, the regulations appear to address challenges in K-12 by changing policy at the level of higher education – a dubious practice. 

Further, the cost of implementation rests solely on higher education, again adding yet another unfunded federal mandate that will increase the tuition price. At the state level, the additional costs are likely to equal higher taxes. The new rating system seems to be an overreach.

Most troubling, in my opinion, is the linking of federal financial aid in the form of the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant (TEACH) to the rating obtained by each teacher preparation program. 

The TEACH grant program is a positive attraction for students, as it offers $4,000 per year in exchange for service in a high-need school or high-need field.

Under new U.S. Department of Education regulations, a teacher education program would not be eligible to accept students using TEACH grants if the academic program was rated as “ineffective’’ in two out of three years.

Students from low- and middle-income families already have plenty of challenges in paying for college.

Removing or restricting access to yet another form of federal financial aid will likely translate into even lower enrollments in teacher education programs, particularly in urban and rural areas. In the end, those areas in the country that face the greatest challenges in attracting new teachers to their school districts will find the supply of candidates further diminished.

The proposed requirements are undergoing a federal review. It is my hope Congress – after rejecting the regulations – will return the “final rule’’ to the U.S. Department of Education to be crafted into a positive program that supports better outcomes and access for all. 

Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Luzerne County. Misericordia University ranks in the top tier of the Best Regional Universities – North category of U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 edition of Best Colleges and was designated a 2017 Best Northeastern College by the Princeton Review.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Federal student aid programs can help pay college costs


Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017 8:15 am


Federal student aid programs can help pay college costs


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The federal government sponsors numerous financial aid programs that can help students and their parents pay college expenses. This brief summary from KHEAA describes the more common federal grant and loan programs. Grants generally do not have to be repaid, but loans do.

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      Thursday, March 9, 2017 8:15 am.