Education, News, Trump Administration

Secretary Betsy DeVos touches off controversy again, says schools can report undocumented students

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is under the microscope again.

This time, some are criticizing the wealthy GOP booster after she told members of Congress this week that local schools and communities should decide whether to report undocumented students and families to federal immigration authorities.

DeVos, who was selected for the top education post last year by President Donald Trump, has angered public school advocates before, over topics like teacher strikes, school choice funding, and a remarkably uncomfortable interview with 60 Minutes.

From ABC News:

The head of the Education Department shifted the responsibility of reporting undocumented students to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to principals and teachers when she said on Tuesday, “it’s a local community decision.”

“I think that is — that is a school decision,” DeVos said during her testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee after Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., pressed her on the issue of undocumented students. “It’s a local community decision and again I refer to the fact that we have laws and we also are compassionate and I urge this body to do its job and address and clarify where there is confusion around this.”

Espaillat immediately rebuked the secretary’s statement, stressing that immigration policies are defined and executed by the federal government, not by communities.

“Let me just remind Madam Chair that immigration law is federal law,” he said. “It’s not a local law. It’s not governed by a municipality.”

“You cannot have immigration law for one state be different for another state and it applies to everybody across the country,” he added.

This is not the first time the secretary has faced controversy.

During her tenure at the Department of Education, she has faced criticism for comments she’s made on school safety, black history, and other matters.

In March, she said arming teachers “should be an option for states and communities to consider” during an interview after a visit to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In her highly contentious confirmation hearing, DeVos stirred up vehement objections to her nomination after hedging on an answer about guns and ultimately conceding that guns might be needed in schools in states like Wyoming to defend against “potential grizzlies.”

Her most recent comments are drawing considerable backlash from civil rights groups.

“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong,” Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

During the heated exchange with Espaillat, DeVos referenced a Supreme Court decision that ruled that all children — regardless of their immigration status — are entitled to a free public education.

“This was a Supreme Court decision rendered many years ago and so there are undocumented children in K-12 education today that we support and we give education to on a daily basis.”

Critics pointed to that same 1982 decision, Plyler v. Doe, as they sought to poke holes in her testimony.

“The Court determined in 1982 that the Constitution requires all public schools to provide a free public education, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, to every child, regardless of immigration status,” Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said. “Any public school or school district that denies an education to any undocumented child – whether by refusing to enroll, by limiting access to the programs and benefits provided to other students, or by reporting a child to ICE – has violated the United States Constitution.”

Education, News

New Census figures: Minus charter spending, N.C.’s education spending ranks near the bottom of the nation

North Carolina education spending per-student ranks near the bottom of the nation, according to new U.S. Census figures released this week. 

The data, which do not factor in North Carolina’s growing spending on charters, placed the state at 45th in the nation, not counting Washington, D.C.

Total spending per student, about $8,792, lags the U.S. average of $11,762, according to the Census charts.

The funding levels were for the 2016 fiscal year. Census officials noted they did not include charter holders who were not governmental entities.

North Carolina charters are approved by the State Board of Education but run by private, non-profits. Of course, charter spending is of import in this discussion. Since North Carolina lawmakers lifted the 100-charter cap in 2011, the charter sector has risen to include 173 schools.

A report this year from the National Education Association tallied up the state’s per-pupil spending, including charter funding, to $9,528 per student. According to the NEA, that ranks 39th in the nation, trailing the national average by more than $2,300.

The new Census data arrive about a week after 20,000 to 30,000 teachers and education advocates swarmed Raleigh to rally before the N.C. General Assembly. Among their grievances, teachers complained of insufficient school spending, poor pay, cuts to their retirement benefits, over-testing, and hostility from state leaders.

See below for the state rankings:

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Education, News

Report points to financial, legal complications of Matthews charter school battle

Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg

A new report authored by a longtime N.C. General Assembly attorney points to multiple financial and legal complications associated with a controversial proposal to clear a town-run charter school in the Charlotte suburb of Matthews.

Among those complications, the report—written by Gerry Cohen, a former General Assembly lawyer and chief of bill drafting—notes state law bars towns like Matthews from taking on debt to build a municipal charter.

Nor would the town be cleared to use state funds in order to buy land or build a school, meaning the Charlotte suburb would likely have to cough up millions for the school upfront, possibly by raising taxes.

The report claimed significant implications for local teachers’ retirement benefits too.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat who opposes the Matthews charter, questioned Monday how a town with a budget of about $23 million would pay for a $30 million school. “I don’t think proponents of this bill have leveled with the people of Matthews about the fiscal realities,” Jackson said.

Last year’s House Bill 514 applies to the Charlotte suburbs of Matthews and Mint Hill, although it has the potential to set the table for similar suburban clashes in large school systems such as Wake County. And, as Policy Watch has reported, it comes laden with concerns about the creation of a predominantly white town splitting off from a decidedly more diverse school system like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). 

Jackson said last year’s bill, co-sponsored by Matthews Republican Bill Brawley, would be a “precedent-setting piece of legislation” if approved by state lawmakers this year.

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg

Cohen’s report was touted Monday in a press conference by critics of the so-called “secession” proposal, chief among them school district leaders in CMS. The former legislative attorney said he was asked to draft the report by CMS lawyer George Battle, although he said he was not directed what to write.

CMS officials have been engaged in a war of words with Matthews town leaders in recent months. Matthews leaders say they want more say in their local schools, as well as a long-term guarantee that the district won’t force student reassignments in order to diversify racially-isolated schools like those found in the city’s predominantly white suburbs.

The progressive N.C. Justice Center issued a report this year that found CMS to be, by far, the most racially segregated district in North Carolina (Disclosure: The Justice Center is Policy Watch’s parent nonprofit).

School district leaders counter that splitting the district would be costly and inefficient, unpopular with Matthews residents, and may only exacerbate segregation worries.

It’s unclear whether Brawley’s draft bill will be a priority for the Republican-led legislature as members ramp up their short session in the coming weeks. The bill swept through the state House last year. But after a study committee led by Brawley this year punted on any specific school system splits, the proposal seemed to lose momentum.

CMS Chair Mary McCray

CMS Board of Education Chair Mary McCray told reporters Monday that the district is speaking out forcefully on House Bill 514 after leaders “made multiple attempts to provide reasonable solutions.”

School board Vice Chair Rhonda Cheek said Cohen’s analysis “could and should cause pause” with lawmakers.

“This bill is a nightmare for taxpayers,” said McCray, arguing that residents of Matthews would be “double-taxed” to support the charter school by both the county district and the town.

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Education, News

Facing a shortage in school nurses, N.C. lawmakers seek new standards

Following a report that details painful school nurse shortages in North Carolina, a state legislative panel will ask for new standards and programs to address the problem.

Members of the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee approved that report and advanced a bill draft Monday that would do several things, but chiefly orders the State Board of Education to ready a new goal for school nurse staffing levels and a plan for meeting those levels by January 2020.

This year’s report from the nonpartisan Program Evaluation Division estimated that it would cost the state between $45 million and $79 million to meet a 1:750 nurse-to-student ratio recommended by the state board in 2004 or the one nurse per school ratio prescribed  by the National Association of School Nurses.

Public school advocates say insufficient nursing levels in schools will spell major problems, particularly for students who lack access to healthcare outside of school.

While the bill draft that advanced out of committee Monday lacks any recommended funding levels, it would direct the state to prepare a plan for combining two school nurse programs—Child and Family Support Teams (CFST) and the School Nurse Funding Initiative (SNFI)—run by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Instruction.

Lawmakers are also moving to address Medicaid reimbursement for school nursing services. This month’s PED report pointed out that about 60 percent of medical procedures performed in schools are done by employees who are not nurses. That’s why few local school systems file for Medicaid reimbursement because, under the state’s Medicaid plan, such care must be provided by a registered nurse as directed by a physician or the students’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).

The bill draft would require DHHS to examine rates paid for school-based nursing and craft a plan for establishing Medicaid reimbursement for school nursing services. DHHS would have to report to the legislature by December 2018 on these provisions.

Watch here as Liz Newlin of the School Nurses’ Association of N.C. explains the problem facing North Carolina school systems to Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield.

Education, News

Study: More than 90% of U.S. teachers spend their own cash on school supplies

More than 20,000 North Carolina teachers marched in Raleigh Wednesday to demand school funding. (Photo by Billy Ball)

A new study from the U.S. Department of Education says the vast majority of teachers spend their own money on school supplies.

That’s likely no surprise to North Carolina teachers. Many of the 20,000 or so who marched on Raleigh this week spoke openly and often about spending hundreds out of their pockets on school supplies, a reflection of insufficient school funding.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” one first-year teacher, Sari Diaz of Onslow County, told Policy Watch Wednesday.

A report from The Independent breaks down just how common it is for teachers like Diaz to run into this problem in American schools.

From The Independent:

Andy Yung, a nursery teacher in Queens, New York City, is adept at raising money online for ambitious classroom projects, but even he sometimes pays for supplies out of pocket. And he has company.

According to a US federal Department of Education survey released on Tuesday, 94 per cent of public school teachers in the United States reported paying for supplies without reimbursement in the school year that straddled 2014 and 2015.

It made little difference whether they taught in cities, suburbs or rural areas, or whether or not their students were poor — virtually every public school teacher said they had used their own money for their classrooms.

“It’s almost expected, especially in the summer months creeping up into September,” Mr. Yung said. “It’s just something we kind of naturally do.”

The teachers who reported spending their own money on supplies shelled out $479 (£406) each on average, according to the survey. Seven percent reported spending more than $1,000.

The findings, based on a nationally representative sample of tens of thousands of teachers, underscore the demands teachers across the country have been making in recent months amid protests over stagnant pay and underfunding.

The latest took place on Wednesday in North Carolina, where some schools cancelled classes as throngs of teachers and others marched in the capital. Similar rallies have been held this year in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

The protesters have been successful at extracting concessions from conservative lawmakers, though the deals have not always fully met their demands.

On average, public school teachers earned just under $60,000 last school year, according to the National Education Association, but pay is so low in some areas that officials have been recruiting overseas.

Limited budgets and red tape have led some teachers to seek outside funds for classroom projects. Like Mr. Yung, some of them use DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding website where educators can solicit donations for supplies, trips, and other projects.

In March, he raised almost $3,000 for materials to teach his students about insects. The project was a hit, but the children wanted to see live bugs, too.

The cost of the additional materials was less than the DonorsChoose.org $100 (£85) minimum and Mr. Yung had already reached a city reimbursement limit, so he spent his own money to buy two more books, an ant farm and caterpillars.

“I don’t want to deprive my kids of this awesome experience of witnessing a caterpillar turn into a butterfly and watching ants burrow because it’s such an interest that they have right now,” he said. “So I went on Amazon.”