Environment, Trump Administration

Ex-DEQ chief Donald van der Vaart could lead EPA Council on Environmental Quality

Donald van der Vaart, former DEQ secretary, could lead the
EPA’s Council on Environmental Quality. (Photo: DEQ)

Donald van der Vaart, the controversial former NC DEQ secretary, is a leading candidate for a top EPA post, E&E News reported yesterday.

Van der Vaart, who long had his sights on an EPA job, has the support of conservatives who want to see him lead the agency’s Council on Environmental Quality.

CEQ wields power over several key environmental laws. It oversees  the implementation and interpretation of NEPA, the cornerstone of environmental protection. NEPA — the National Environmental Policy Act — requires federal agencies to assess the environmental, social and economic impacts of certain projects. For example, a new interstate would trigger an NEPA review, as would opening public lands to energy drilling.

CEQ also develops and recommends national policies to the president that promote the improvement of environmental quality.

E&E News quoted energy lobbyist Mike McKenna as saying, “Don is a well-thought-of name by people who matter in the administration.”

In what’s likely a promising sign to some conservatives, van der Vaart appears willing to review EPA’s endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, an anthology of climate science that forms the legal justification for regulating heat-trapping emissions. He argued that the finding should be constantly updated as science progresses — E&E News

Van der Vaart has a long history of opposing tighter environmental regulations. As DEQ Secretary, his vision for the department was to be more “business- and customer-friendly,” meaning that those interests often  trumped environmental protection. In November 2016, after Donald Trump was elected president, van der Vaart sent him a letter calling for the disbandment of the EPA — a view Trump also shared. Van der Vaart subsequently made the short list of nominees to be deputy administrator to Scott Pruitt, a position that later went to Andrew Wheeler, whom Pruitt knew from their time in Oklahoma. (Pruitt was attorney general; Wheeler worked for US Sen. Jim Inhofe.)

Van der Vaart, who is skeptical of humankind’s role in climate change, had worked in the Division of Air Quality. He then served under Gov. Pat McCrory for two years. A political appointee, van der Vaart then demoted himself back to an air quality post in order to protect himself from being fired when Roy Cooper became governor.

Van der Vaart resigned from DEQ last November after current Secretary Michael Regan placed him on investigative leave. Van der Vaart had co-written an opinion piece in a national environmental law journal supporting the rollback of a key air quality rule — which conflicted with the current administration’s view — and he had accepted a position on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. After EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt essentially cleared the SAB decks of independent scientists, he filled it with industry representatives and conservative state regulators, like van der Vaart.

While he has the support of several key allies, van der Vaart has not officially been nominated. The Trump administration is still stinging from the failed nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White. The former head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, she had made several controversial comments about climate change and carbon dioxide. The Trump administration withdrew her nomination earlier this month.

Now van der Vaart could achieve one of his career goals. E&E News quoted him as saying, “It would be a thrill for somebody like me who’s been in this field for a long time.”

 

Trump Administration

Trump unlikely to extend DACA deadline

The White House is showing no signs of extending a deadline for the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The Washington Post reports:

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said Tuesday that President Trump is not expected to extend a March 5 deadline for when legal protection and work permits begin to expire for young immigrants known as “dreamers” — raising the stakes for lawmakers struggling to reach a solution.

“I doubt very much” Trump would extend the program, Kelly told reporters during an impromptu interview at the U.S. Capitol.

Kelly’s comments come as lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to grant permanent legal protections to dreamers and resolve other aspects of the immigration system. Kelly also said he would recommend against Trump accepting a short-term extension of the program legislative patch.

NC Policy Watch spoke to NC Justice Center immigration attorney Raul Pinto last week about Trump’s immigration proposals and the fate of thousands of immigrants currently protected by DACA. (Click below to watch an excerpt of that interview or listen to the full podcast.)

Roughly 28,000 individuals in North Carolina are protected by DACA, with another 13,000 covered by a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation.

News, Trump Administration

Betsy DeVos, Jeb Bush, gather with school choice champions in Tennessee

Some of the country’s most prominent school choice champions—including U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush—will gather once again this week to push a choice-friendly slate of K-12 reforms.

Bush has been leading the national education reformer summit since 2008, extolling the virtues of charters, private school vouchers and virtual schools, despite mounting criticism of some states’ divestment from traditional public school coffers.

This week’s summit, which is slated to kick off Wednesday, is expected to do the same, taking on charter growth, the nation’s new federal education law (The Every Student Succeeds Act) and more.

Chalkbeat offered a primer on the school choice gathering this week.

From Chalkbeat:

On Thursday, Bush will introduce a keynote address by the nation’s most prominent “school choice” advocate, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. A long-time friend and former member of the foundation’s board, DeVos was championed by Bush to lead the education department under President Donald Trump.

“I’m a big Betsy DeVos fan,” Bush told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “I think she’s been the best advocate for school choice of moving to a parent-centered system of any secretary ever.”

The Nashville gathering of some 1,100 reform-minded players comes as efforts to reengineer education as a consumer choice have buoyed under the Trump administration, even as new data has called the movement’s primary vehicles into question.

Recent studies in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and Washington, D.C., show that student achievement drops, at least initially, when students use vouchers to attend private school.

Charter schools have fallen substantially in popularity among both Democrats and Republicans, according to a 2017 poll by choice-friendly Education Next.

And some virtual schools in Indiana, Colorado and Pennsylvania have been called out recently for low rates of student log-in and graduation, in addition to poor scores. (The nation’s largest operator of virtual charters, K12, is among the summit’s sponsors.)

Bush cites the “highly charged political environment” for the slump in charter cheering, and he questions the validity of the voucher research.

“I’m not a psychometrician or a statistician, but I don’t think that the scale of the studies is enough to warrant great praise if they’re good for vouchers or great criticism if they’re not,” he said. “The next iteration of studies needs to go deeper.”

He’s promoting other reforms too, even as the effectiveness of his own Florida agenda is still being debated. His foundation, known as ExcelinEd for short, advocates for new teaching approaches like personalized learning, policy shifts such as emphasizing early literacy, and accountability programs like assigning A-F letter grades to schools based on test scores.

Ultimately, Bush said, student learning should be at the center of each decision, and “we need to significantly pick up the pace of reform.”

News, Trump Administration

Betsy DeVos accused of citing bogus statistics

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using bogus data to back up recent calls for reforms in American public schools, Chalkbeat reports today.

From Chalkbeat:

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a remarkable claim: “Children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created.”

This statistic bolsters DeVos’s view that schools need to radically change in order to accommodate a rapidly evolving economy.

But there’s a problem: that number appears to have no basis in fact.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not respond to a request for a source for this statistic.

DeVos is not the first person to use a version of this claim. In fact, it’s been percolating for some time, across the world. After a number of British politicians repeated some iteration of the statistic, the BBC investigated its source.

Apparently the claim gained popularity in a 2011 book by Cathy Davidson, a CUNY professor; this in turn was cited by a New York Times article. But attempts to track that claim back to an actual study have failed, which Davidson herself now concedes, saying she no longer uses the figure.

Others making the claim offer an even flimsier citation. For instance, a reportreleased by the World Economic Forum says, “By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types,” and simply cites a series of popular YouTube videos (which doesn’t even appear to make that precise claim).

Some even say the number is higher: A Huffington Post headline said that “85% Of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet.” The piece links to a report by Dell, which bases the claim on “experts” at a workshop organized by a group called Institute for the Future.

In short, no one has pointed to any credible research that lands on the 65 percent figure.

Of course, making predictions about the future of work is inherently tricky. But a recent report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated areas where the most new jobs would be created between 2016 and 2026. The positions included software application developers but also personal care aides, nurses, fast food workers, home health aides, waiters, and janitors — and though that’s less than 10 years in the future, these are mostly jobs that have been around for some time.

Sweeping, unsourced claims like this about the future economy are not uncommon — and seem to be a driving force behind some policymakers’ approach to education. The fact that DeVos’s go-to number isn’t backed up by evidence raises questions about the foundation of her view that schools need dramatic overhaul.

After citing the 65 percent figure, DeVos continued, saying, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

DeVos is a wealthy GOP booster and school choice advocate tapped by President Trump for the nation’s top education policymaking job this year. She’s been a lightning rod for critics since then.

During her confirmation hearings this year, DeVos was even accused of plagiarizing sections in a Senate questionnaire. 

 

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

816,000 NC kids would be left out of GOP tax bill’s Child Tax Credit proposal due to low income

House Republican leaders highlight an increase in the maximum value of the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) as their tax bill’s signature benefit for working families, but the provision completely excludes 354,000 children in North Carolina whose parents work in low-paying jobs, according to a new report from the Washington, DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Another 462,000 North Carolinian children in low-income working families would receive less than the full $600 increase in the credit that would be available to higher income families.

Altogether, about 816,000 North Carolinian children in working families would either be excluded entirely or only partially benefit from the increase in the CTC. A larger share of North Carolinian children are excluded or only partially benefit than in the country as a whole.

Nationally, roughly 23 million children would be partially or entirely excluded from the House Republicans’ plan, even as it newly extends the CTC to families with incomes between $150,000 and $294,000. For example, a single mom of two working full time at the minimum wage would get no benefit from the CTC expansion under the House Republican plan while a married couple earning $230,000 would receive a new $3,200 benefit.

Republican Senate leaders have suggested that they may increase the CTC further when they release their tax bill this week. Unless they revise the proposal’s basic structure, however, it would provide far larger benefits to higher income families than to families that face difficulties affording the basics.

Analysis on the Children and Top Working Parent Occupations Affected

Analysis shows that of the roughly 23 million children across America that would be partially or fully excluded from the CTC increase:

  • 8 million are children under the age 6
  • 7 million are Latino children
  • 3 million are white children
  • 6 million are African American children
  • 600,000 are Asian children

According to the report:

“The average income of working families with children that would be partially or entirely left out of the CTC increase is $22,000.  Among these working families, two-thirds include at least one parent who works full time for most of the year.”

Analysis of available data shows that the top occupations of working parents fully or partially left out of CTC proposal in house tax bill are:

  • Office and administrative support
  • Sales
  • Food preparation and serving
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance
  • Construction and extraction
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Manufacturing
  • Personal care and service
  • Health care support

Based on this latest report it is clear that rushing this tax legislation without real debate, without informed analysis, and without input from key stakeholders is not the way our Congress should operate.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.