Education, News, Trump Administration

Why Trump wants to diminish the U.S. Department of Education

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Since his election, President Donald Trump has made no secret of his plan to diminish the federal government’s role in public education, a big-ticket item for conservative reformers who balked at Obama-era education initiatives like Common Core.

That’s why it came as little surprise last month when the president proposed a merger between the federal education agency and the U.S. Department of Labor.

To explain Trump’s proposal, which has the support of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the nonprofit Brookings Institution offered some good background Monday on what’s come before for the Department of Education and what’s likely to come next.

Read on:

Republicans have opposed the Department of Education’s existence since its establishment in 1979. Recently, Republican voters’ backlash against the Common Core State Standards has reignited the Republican Party’s efforts to reduce the federal government’s role in education. In the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump campaigned to terminate Common Core and the Department of Education to restore local control in education. Even though this proposal is unlikely to become law, Trump is motivated to demote the Department of Education in order to advance his campaign promises and engage in “position taking” with Republican voters on a salient policy issue before the midterm election this November.

In October 1979, President Carter signed the Department of Education Reorganization Act, which established the Department of Education as a separate, Cabinet-level agency. Republicans opposed the enactment of this law because of their opposition to the federal government’s role in education and, generally, the growth of the federal government. President Reagan and Republican legislators introduced legislation to re-merge or abolish the Department of Education with no success. Over time, Democratic and Republican administrations, especially the George W. Bush administration, expanded the Department of Education’s influence in education.

During the Obama administration, the federal government’s role in education re-emerged as a salient policy issue for Republican voters because of their strong disapproval of Common Core. Common Core is a set of K-12 education standards that 45 state governments initially implemented in 2010 and 2011. Americans, especially Republicans, increasingly opposed Common Core because its curriculum standards constrained teachers, frustrated parents, and exemplified—in their view—the Obama administration’s overreach into local education. Based on Education Next’s annual poll in 2016, Republicans (53 percent) somewhat or strongly disapproved of Common Core to a greater extent than Democrats (32 percent). Interestingly, only 34 percent of Republicans somewhat or strongly disapproved of the academic standards when the term “Common Core” wasn’t included in the description of the policy issue.

Although state governments adopted Common Core, Republican legislators in Congress introduced and enacted legislation to prohibit the Department of Education from incentivizing state governments to adopt Common Core. From the beginning of the Obama administration in the 2009-10 congressional session, there were no introduced or amended bills that explicitly proposed to prohibit the federal government’s advocacy for Common Core in the 2009-10 or 2011-12 sessions, three bills in the 2013-14 session (H.R. 5, H.R. 4008, S. 2967), and six bills in the 2015-16 session (H.R.5, H.R. 524, H.R. 2803, S.73, S. 1177, S. Con. Res. 11). In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which, in part, prohibits a federal government employee or officer from influencing, incentivizing, or coercing state governments to adopt the Common Core or other multi-state K-12 academic standards.

Over the same time period, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to abolish or entirely defund the Department of Education. There were no introduced or amended bills that proposed to abolish or entirely defund the Department of Education in the 2009-10 session, one bill in the 2011-12 session (S. 162), one bill in the 2013-14 session (H.R. 5394), three bills in the 2015-16 session (H.R. 1950, H.R. 2281, H.R. 6119), and two bills in the 2017-18 session (H.R. 899, H.R. 1510).

By the end of President Obama’s second term, the Republican Party was clearly frustrated with the extent of the Department of Education’s reach and the Obama administration’s support of Common Core. In this context, this policy issue became a litmus test for the 2016 Republican presidential candidates during the primary election in summer and fall 2015. Republican candidates positioned themselves on Common Core to signal not only their position against the federal government’s overreach in education, but also their position for reducing the size of the federal government. During the primary election, then-candidate Trump advocated on Twitter to repeal Common Core (although this is not something the federal government had control over, then or now) and eliminate the Department of Education to reduce the federal government’s role in education. During the general election, candidate Trump pledged in his Contract with the American Voter to “end” Common Core and restore local control in education.

In order for Trump to successfully merge the two departments, it is necessary to enact a new law amending the original Department of Education Reorganization Act. To enact such a law, Trump will need a majority of votes in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. (In the standard lawmaking process, 60 votes are required in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. If Republicans choose to amend the act through the budget reconciliation process, only a majority of votes in the Senate is necessary.) In the current session, there are only 51 Republicans in the Senate. The response of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teacher’s union in the country, is a reliable indicator of Democratic support for education-related legislation. In contrast to their ambivalence on Common Core, the NEA’s strong dismissal of this proposal suggests that Democrats in the Senate are unlikely to vote for the proposal. Given the insufficient number of Republican votes in the Senate, this proposal is unlikely to become law in the current congressional session.

Why, then, would President Trump propose this merger in the first place? The most likely answer is that the proposed merger is a case of “position taking,” an elected official’s public declaration for or against a salient policy issue to demonstrate policy congruence between the incumbent and her voters. According to political scientists David Mayhew and Phillip Edward Jones, voters are more likely to reward incumbents for the positions they take on policy issues, rather than the enactment of a policy or a policy’s outcomes. Thus, proposing a merger that is unlikely to happen may still be valuable for Trump and the Republican Party during a midterm election year; this position is consistent with Republican voters’ preference for a smaller federal government in general, and a smaller role for the Department of Education in particular.

Regardless of whether this proposal becomes law, Trump’s introduction of this plan may help increase his approval rating among his Republican base, mobilize Republican voters in the upcoming midterm election, and increase the likelihood the Republican Party will retain majority control of Congress.

Commentary, public health, Trump Administration

Another act of health care sabotage over the weekend from the Trump administration

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

On Saturday, the Trump administration announced it would temporarily suspend a program that helps health insurers in the individual market cover the costs of high-risk enrollees, injecting uncertainty into the health insurance markets that could lead to higher premiums and fewer insurers offering coverage.

Sound familiar? It should, as it’s just the latest of many Trump administration efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including a similar effort from last October when the Trump administration abruptly cut off reimbursement payments to health insurers for subsidies they provide to consumers with low incomes. That action caused North Carolinians to pay a premium hike of 14.1 percent for Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC plans this year.

The insurance industry is already sounding the alarm about this decision. America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) released a statement shortly after the announcement highlighting the sabotage effect:

We are very discouraged by the new market disruption brought about by the decision to freeze risk adjustment payments. This decision comes at a critical time when insurance providers are developing premiums for 2019 and states are reviewing rates. This decision will have serious consequences for millions of consumers who get their coverage through small businesses or buy coverage on their own. It will create more market uncertainty and increase premiums for many health plans – putting a heavier burden on small businesses and consumers, and reducing coverage options. And costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies.

After all, suspending the Risk Adjustment program means insurers who cover sicker enrollees are missing out on billions of dollars they are owed under the law, and if the fund transfers aren’t restored, it’s likely consumers who will pay the price.

Risk adjustment programs—which enjoy bipartisan support in programs like Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage—exist in order to maintain a functioning health insurance market in which insurers cannot discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. The ACA’s Risk Adjustment program requires insurance companies that enroll relatively healthier populations to transfer funds to companies who enrolled older, sicker, and higher-risk enrollees, creating a disincentive for insurers to game the system (to the extent they can under the ACA) in an effort to avoid covering high risk patients.

The administration cites a months-old U.S. District Court decision for its announcement, but legal analysts have already poked holes in the government’s case. University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley writes:

CMS says that the ruling “prevents [the agency] from making further collections or payments under the risk adjustment program, including amounts for the 2017 benefit year, until the litigation is resolved.” That’s wrong. The truth is that the Trump administration has lots of options. It’s just choosing not to exercise them.

Like in other issue arenas, the Trump administration has manufactured a crisis that will harm North Carolinians, and in a continued demonstration of bad faith, it’s refusing to govern effectively.

Commentary, immigration, Trump Administration, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Op-Ed: Choose civil rights over civility

“The Greensboro Four”: Four men began a 1960 protest in a Greensboro Woolworth’s over racial segregation.

Much has been made over a Virginia restaurant owner’s decision to boot Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last month.

The controversy spurred countless think pieces and ruminations on the balance between civility and disagreement. Expect similar hand-wringing over a New York woman’s Fourth of July protest at the Statue of Liberty, in which Therese Okoumou said she wanted to draw attention to the president’s shameful immigration policies.

Now a new op-ed in The News & Observer from Duke history professor William Chafe offers some historical perspective on the debate. As Chafe points out, such debates surrounded protests during the Civil Rights Movement.

From the op-ed:

When Donald Trump’s press secretary was asked to leave a restaurant because of the president’s policy of breaking up immigrant families, it was seen as a violation of “civility” — treating other citizens with politeness and respect.

But what happens when dedication to “civility” is used as a basis for suppressing protest? Is it necessary to insist on good manners in public and private before responding to demands that an unjust social policy be changed?

When four black students in Greensboro “sat in” at local lunch counters in 1960 to demand equal treatment, that was the position taken by local leaders. In the Greensboro Daily News, a liberal paper in the relatively moderate state of North Carolina, the editors declared that social protest was incompatible with “civility.”

“Somewhere,” the paper said, “a Southern community must find a way to deal with civilities as well as civil rights.” Such an answer “will not be found while the management is under the gun,” the paper contended; rather, social justice could only happen when “unimpeded by the threat of force.”

Yet the civil rights movement succeeded only because it insisted that racial justice take precedence over “civilities.” Through sit-ins, voting rights marches and mass demonstration, it disrupted the social order. Only then was the government compelled to respond — which it did with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. If “civilities” took priority over movement activism, these events would never have occurred. Justice required breaking with civility.

More relevant — then and now — than the Greensboro paper’s definition of political reality was the injunction of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave, who said this in 1857:

Those who profess to favor freedom

And yet deprecate agitation

Are men who want crops

Without plowing the ground

They want rain without thunder and lightning

They want the ocean without the awful roar of it waters

Power concedes nothing without a demand

It never did, and it never will

Today, Douglass’ insight is more relevant than ever before. We are now more polarized as a nation than at any time since the Civil War. Yet just as a reliance on “civility” failed completely to address the demands of black Americans for equal rights in 1960, the same insistence on “civility” today — without ever addressing the depth of our racist assumptions about immigrant families and other minorities – is futile.

Direct demonstrations were essential to the gains achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Activist protest, such as we saw this past weekend, is just as essential today if we are to address the violation of immigrant rights and the break-up of immigrant families.

Yes, we should respect the right of any person to enjoy a meal in a public restaurant. That’s what the civil rights movement was all about.

But no, we should not use the argument of defending “civility” to deflect, denigrate or rule out of order mass protests against an immigration policy that contradicts all the values we celebrate on July 4. The only society that can be truly “civil” is one where everyone enjoys protection under the law, and where the values enunciated in our Declaration of Independence are the basis for our nation’s policies and the rhetoric of our national leaders.

Our nation has been made up of immigrants. My grandfather was the 14th child of a tailor from England. He came to America to seek a new life, and got a job as a night watchman at Harvard. His daughter, my mother, became a secretary at Harvard. I, in turn, became a student at Harvard. Three generations — and a story repeated in other immigrant families tens of thousands of times.

It is ironic that some commentators are using the need to protect “civility” in personal manners as an instrument for opposing protest against government policies. It would be far more relevant to remember Douglass’ words: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.”

immigration, NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Too little, too late: Trump can’t fix damage already done to 2,000 children separated from families

President Trump may want people to believe he ended his devastating policy of separating children from their families at the US border, but his reversal (and subsequent back and forth confusion) doesn’t turn back the clock for those who have already been separated, and does not end the mistreatment of families seeking refuge through asylum in the United States. Trump’s order also fails to lay out a humane policy for how families and children will be treated going forward, an omission that will likely lead to even more trauma for immigrant families and ongoing legal wrangling. Most recently, 17 states including North Carolina filed a suit against the Trump administration, and, in a separate lawsuit, a U.S. district judge ordered that border authorities reunite children with their families.

Trump’s executive order is no act of heroism, but rather an insufficient response to a crisis created by his own administration’s cruel policies.

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the border since the “zero tolerance” policy took effect in early May as part of the administration’s latest attack against immigrant families. Family separations drew widespread condemnation from professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and thousands of individual mental health professionals.

Health professionals point to a range of short- and long-term harms that family separation imposes on children. In the short term, serious cases of traumatic separation, reactive attachment disorder, and sustained toxic stress lead to a range of coping strategies, including aggression, withdrawal, self-harm, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can undermine long term health, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and substance use disorders, and inhibiting the formation of healthy relationships.

In addition to the events at the U.S.-Mexico border, families currently residing in the United States are being separated in ICE raids, most recently in Ohio, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These, too, result in families being torn apart, have a similar negative impact on children, and are issues of concern to medical professionals, teachers, social workers and more. These traumatic experiences will continue for children whose families face the daily fear of deportation, and for the thousands of children who have already been separated from their families.

Read more

Commentary, Trump Administration

Read this story and be outraged by Trump’s horrific immigration policies

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news in recent days, you’ve no doubt heard something about the roiling controversy surrounding the Trump administration’s dreadful immigration policies and the frightening impact it’s been having on the families it’s been destroying.

To get a real and stomach-turning feel for what the reality of these policies are really doing, check out this article from Zoe Carpenter at The Nation entitled “What It’s Like Inside a Border Patrol Facility Where Families Are Being Separated – The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy has overwhelmed Ursula, where children sleep in cages, the lights never go off, and detainees are brought in 24 hours a day.”

The dog kennel: That’s how the Border Patrol processing facility in McAllen is known, because of the chain-link fencing penning more than a thousand migrants inside. The 77,000-square-foot facility—often called “Ursula,” because of the street it’s on—lies just a few miles north of the US-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for unauthorized migrants. Ursula is one of the first places immigrants are taken to after being apprehended by Border Patrol—and now, the facility is the epicenter for the family separations that are occurring because of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy towards border crossers.

A large cage inside held dozens of young boys and teenagers without their families, some of whom looked as young as 5. A few slept on green mats with silver Mylar blankets pulled tightly around them. A few water bottles and bags of chips lay strewn around. Otherwise, the cages were bare, without toys or books. Separate areas held groups of girls; men and women alone; and mothers and fathers with their children. The overhead lights never go off. In one pen, a woman named Valesca sat on the ground, holding her 1-year-old son. She cried as she recounted leaving another child behind in Guatemala. She’d been inside the processing center for four days.

Under normal circumstances, adults confined in the facility are supposed to stay only 12 hours before being sent to court hearings or other detention centers. But across the border region, detention facilities, children’s shelters, and the legal system are overwhelmed. In May, the Trump administration issued a directive to prosecute all unauthorized border crossers in federal court, rather than to process them through immigration courts. The criminal charges mean extra paperwork, and a flood of cases into the legal system. The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley office is now charging more than a 1,000 adults each week with illegal entry, a misdemeanor.

In one area of the Ursula facility, computers have been set up for “virtual processing,” so that Border Patrol agents in other cities can process the paperwork of detainees being held here. Ursula has only 10 agents permanently stationed there, plus hundreds of temporarily assigned agents, and they can’t handle the volume on their own. Detainees are brought in and out of the facility 24 hours a day. As of noon on Sunday, Ursula held 1,129 people, including 528 families and nearly 200 children who’d crossed the border without their parents. The facility has only four social workers onsite.

The shift to criminal prosecutions is also causing the systematic separation of parents and children….

Click here to read the rest of this important story.