Education Week - May 17, 2017 - 19
massive cut to teacher-quality funding-might
actually make it across the legislative finish line.
It doesn't help that the Education Department
still hasn't filled key positions. So far, Trump
has nominated just one political appointee: Carlos Muniz, as general counsel. Other players in
K-12 positions that require Senate sign-off-
like Jason Botel, who is acting as the assistant
secretary for elementary and secondary education-are temporary fill-ins. It's unclear how
long any of them will stick around in those roles.
Some education representatives are scratching their heads about whom to approach with
policy proposals and questions.
"I think in many ways the administration is
still getting its people in place," said Jacki Ball,
the director of government affairs for the National PTA. "We're just not always sure who to
go to. We're trying to develop relationships with
the people that are there," including Botel, who
spoke at a recent PTA conference. "That was a
good opportunity to open the door."
And one advocate said there have been
changes in dealings with the department's
career employees, who stick around from one
presidential administration to the next. "Any
communication you have with federal employees now is difficult," the advocate said. "They
are really hesitant to communicate via email.
They say things like, 'It is so hostile over here.'
... Everyone is walking on eggshells. "
Aides for GOP members in Congress are quick
to tout lawmakers' ties to Trump, but aren't shy
about criticizing DeVos, said Sasha Pudelski, the
assistant director for policy and advocacy at AASA.
"They're attacking the administration via DeVos,"
she said. (A similar dynamic prevailed among
Democrats in Congress during Secretary Arne
Duncan's tenure in the Obama administration.)
There's an upside: Those representing educator groups say their members are fired up and
watching Washington closely. That means more
are willing to write letters, sign petitions, call
their members of Congress, or lobby in person.
"This is a really unique time, where people
who would normally sit back and say it's going
to be fine feel a threat" to public education, the
NEA's Kusler said.
The boost in education community engagement isn't without its challenges. Several advocates said they got a flood of calls from their
organizations' members about a bill introduced
by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would create
federally supported vouchers nationwide. That
legislation is almost certain to go nowhere. But
it can be tougher to get members riled up about
proposals that may actually be able to get traction, including potential budget cuts.
Fielding questions about extreme, dead-onarrival proposals cuts into advocates' time
"We have to make sure there's not burnout.
We have to make sure that the level of attention
is appropriate," Pudelski said. "Every lobbyist
I talk to feels like they're running on empty a
Even though the 2016 bill that served as a
model for the new legislation sailed through
the House, Pudelski said she's actually less optimistic about the new reauthorization push.
She cited the current "hyperpartisanship" in
Congress that could kill off many legislative efforts. Pudelski also worried that there could be
a leadership deficit on CTE.
"The Trump administration would need to
take the lead to encourage the Congress, and
particularly the Senate, to move forward," she
said. "So far, they haven't done too much to indicate that CTE is a high priority for them. That
can always change. There would have to be a big
push on the Senate side to prioritize this."
In a speech last month at a Wisconsin factory,
President Donald Trump said "vocational education" is "the way of the future."
With Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the
Senate education committee, occupied with
a new health-care bill and possibly reauthorizing the Higher Education Act during this
Congress, other senators on the committee
who've highlighted CTE recently, including Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Tim Scott,
R-S.C., could be called on by the leadership to
push through a Senate Perkins reauthorization. (Enzi was in charge of the Senate education committee when Perkins was last reauthorized 11 years ago and helped push the bill
A spokesman for Enzi said the senator was
"optimistic" about Perkins reauthorization but
pointed out there's no timeline right now in the
Senate. "Senator Enzi is working to reduce that
administrative burden that the federal government places on states and local communities
that accept Perkins CTE funds," he said.
One thing that has helped lighten the load:
Education advocacy organizations that work on
behalf of public school educators and those representing disadvantaged students are working together much more closely, and on a much broader
range of issues, than they have in the past
"Under Clinton, under Bush, and under
Obama, the education community was afforded
the luxury of disagreeing with one another,"
said Ellerson Ng, the AASA official. "We can no
longer afford to disagree, because we have such
a basic task of supporting public education."
Ultimately, though, nearly any major education
initiative-from the president's proposed budget
cuts to any school choice proposal-will have to
go through Congress. Even in a polarized climate
on Capitol Hill, advocates say they're still able
to keep working with the same lawmakers and
staffers they've relied on in the past.
"It's ultimately up to Congress to pass the
law," Kusler said. "We're still working predominantly with members on both sides of the aisle
who support public education."
Unanswered Spending Questions
In addition, the new Perkins bill doesn't address the issue of CTE funding, which has long
been the single-biggest source of federal money
for high schools.
In February, a coalition of advocates, business
groups, and others wrote to members of the
House and Senate CTE Caucus urging them
to increase funding for Perkins grants. Among
other things, they argued that better-funded
career and technical education programs could
help any long-term infrastructure plan, and the
associated jobs, that's backed by Trump and
The letter noted that from fiscal 2007 to fiscal
2016, Perkins funding declined by $170 million.
Perkins funding for fiscal 2017 is about $1.1 billion, the same as fiscal 2016, after a budget deal
Congress approved this month.
The Trump administration did not address
Perkins funding in the preliminary spending
proposal released in March for fiscal 2018,
which will start Oct. 1. Overall, the president's preliminary spending plan would cut
U.S. Department of Education funding by
$9 billion, or about 13 percent of its current
total. Trump is expected to release a full budget later this month.
"His budget is unpredictable," Pudelski said
Political Policy Questions
Tinge Ed-Tech Conference
By Sean Cavanagh &
Salt Lake City
Political uncertainty in the federal
policy arena hung heavy over the recent
ASU/GSV Summit here, an annual event
that draws thousands of educational
technology executives, developers, and
investors, as well as educators.
Among the biggest questions at last
week's conference: How will states implement the Every Student Succeeds Act,
and how much leeway will the U.S. Department of Education grant them? Will
the Trump administration get the deep
cuts it wants to make to the Education
Department? And how soon will Congress reauthorize the Higher Education
Act-which affects K-12 in myriad ways?
Conference attendees also heard
starkly different messages in appearances by U.S. Secretary of Education
Betsy DeVos and former Secretary Arne
Duncan, who helmed education policy for
most of the Obama administration.
Views From the Top
DeVos used her May 9 speech to sound
a bleak picture of K-12 education in the
United States, which she noted has a
high level of spending compared with
many other countries. And she stressed
the need to return policy authority from
the federal government to the states and
localities, while repeating her long-standing support for school choice.
Her visits to schools around the country since taking the top role in the
Education Department, she said, "bring
home the fact that we have a very large
and very diverse country, and the notion that the federal government should
be mandating anything from the top is
pretty much a hellacious approach."
DeVos encouraged the audience to
speak with their representatives in Congress "about what you do, and how you
view ... the restrictions on the way you do
what you are setting out to do."
She also said the Trump administration "is very intent on ensuring that
states are empowered and returning
powers to localities that have heretofore
had to defer to the federal government for
too many things."
Speaking on a panel a day later called
"A Conversation with the Beltway
Boys," Duncan said he is less troubled
about what policies the current administration might undo than he is about a
lack of direction.
"I don't see any vision. I don't see any big
goal to lead the world" in early-childhood
education, graduation rates, or college
completion. "These are nation-building
goals. I haven't heard one thing coming
from the administration about goals."
Questions about what comes next on
national education policy emerged during a panel titled "TrumpED: How Will
#45 Change the Learning and Work
One of the panelists, Colorado state
Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democrat and
a candidate for governor, said President Donald Trump's recent budget
proposal for fiscal 2018 should deeply
trouble educators, particularly because
of the impact it could have on vulnerable student populations.
That budget calls for a reduction of
$9 billion, or 13 percent, for Education Department spending from $68
billion today, with deep cuts to programs in professional development
and after-school care, as well as the
elimination or reduction of 20 programs. It also proposes rechanneling
$1 billion in Title I funding for disadvantaged students into school choice,
which critics say will pave the way to
private school vouchers.
Many of the targeted programs help
needy students and families, and "the
biggest risk is that we see a retreat
from all of those populations," Johnston said. If those cuts go through,
he asked, "what does the department
But Lauren Maddox, a principal
at the Podesta Group, a Washington
government-relations and publicaffairs firm, said many fears about
Trump's spending plan have been
Federal lawmakers will ultimately
approve a spending plan to their liking, which is unlikely to make the kind
of far-reaching reductions the president wants, said Maddox, who was an
adviser to Trump's transition team.
Trump's budget might be "informative"
and "insightful" in outlining his priorities, she said, but "there's going to be a
lot of give and take."
Higher Ed. 'Shaking Out'
Meanwhile, Congress appears to be
moving toward a rewrite of the Higher
Education Act, which was last reauthorized in 2008.
A broad set of issues will be under
the microscope, including whether to
reconsider a litany of regulations affecting colleges, policy affecting Pell
Grants, options for increasing the
amount of information given to parents about colleges' performance, and
possibilities for overhauling financialaid policies.
Overall, higher education is going
through a period of "massive transformation," and the landscape of institutions is "more diverse than ever,"
said panelist Ben Wallerstein, the
co-founder of Whiteboard Advisors, a
Washington consulting and communications firm.
The steady change in the postsecondary world makes the work of lawmakers
much more difficult, he said, as "things
are still shaking out in the market."
Maddox, a one-time aide to
Capitol Hill Republicans, including former Speaker of the House
Newt Gingrich, agreed, saying her
sense from talking to congressional staffers is that there's wariness
of creating new policy as "all of this
dramatic change is taking place."
EDUCATION WEEK | May 17, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 19