Schooled Reporting on education

School choice marching orders

Education | Reform advocates urge lawmakers to give military families access to education savings accounts
by Leigh Jones
Posted 10/18/17, 03:28 am

Military families want school choice. That’s the broad takeaway from a new survey conducted by researchers at EdChoice and the Heritage Foundation.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the survey’s results bolster the researchers’ advocacy for a school choice program for children from families associated with the federal government—primarily those whose parents are in the military but also Native American children living on tribal lands. Heritage education policy experts Lindsey Burke and Anne Ryland co-authored a report earlier this year urging lawmakers to modernize the Federal Impact Aid Program, which provides funding for schools on reservations, military bases, and nearby public campuses that educate students from military families. Rather than giving the money to public schools, Burke and Ryland suggest lawmakers put the funds into education savings accounts.

Led by Heritage, school choice advocates are pushing education savings accounts (ESAs) as the new and improved way to give parents control over their children’s education. Unlike vouchers, which can only be used to offset private school tuition, ESAs also can pay for homeschooling expenses and therapies for special needs students. Despite high hopes among advocates heading into the 2017 state legislative sessions, ESA bills didn’t fare well. Getting an ESA program implemented at the federal level would provide a good test run for the concept and perhaps encourage state lawmakers to reconsider.

Earlier this year, a Military Times survey showed 35 percent of respondents cited dissatisfaction with a child’s education as a “significant factor” in deciding whether to continue their military career. Another 40 percent said they would sacrifice a career advancement opportunity if it meant moving to a base served by low-performing schools.

The EdChoice survey delved into those factors in more detail. Interest in public and private schools split almost evenly, at 34 and 33 percent, respectively. But the vast majority of military families—80 percent—send their children to public schools. That disparity indicates parents feel like they don’t have a choice when it comes to their children’s schooling. But they are very invested in their children’s education. Military members are more likely than civilians to report moving to be closer to their children’s schools, taking out a loan, or getting a second job to help with education expenses.

More than half of those surveyed—56 percent—said they’d “significantly changed their routine” for the sake of their children’s education. That’s 18 points higher than the national average.

“In order to ensure that those who serve in the military to protect the U.S. are able to access the best possible educational options for their children, federal policymakers should work to empower children of military families with educational choice,” Burke and Ryland argue.

The Federal Impact Aid Program now allocates $1.3 billion to educate nearly 800,000 children from families associated with the federal government. If school choice advocates can persuade lawmakers to “modernize” the funding into an ESA program, it would more than double the number of U.S students who have access to a private school choice program. But perhaps more importantly, it could boost morale among military families with school-age children.

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Universities reject new sex assault guidelines

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in September she would scrap controversial guidance issued by her predecessor to colleges and universities over how to handle sexual assault claims. But few college administrators have changed their approach, frustrating student advocates to the point of filing lawsuits.

The Obama-era Education Department told universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, a relatively low threshold for determining guilt. If they didn’t, they would lose federal funding. DeVos urged schools instead to use a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which comes closer to the U.S. legal system’s foundation of “innocent until proven guilty.” But she’s not forcing them to make any changes until the department goes through a formal rule-making process, something her predecessor deemed unnecessary.

Faced with likely backlash from women’s groups and victims’ advocates, most schools are keeping their Obama-era policies, a decision that continues to trample the rights of the accused, critics say. At least eight schools face lawsuits filed by attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who represents accused students. “The schools that are not adjusting are the ones that are still coming out with ridiculous results,” he told Politico.

Criticism of the Obama-era sexual assault guidance cut across the political and ideological spectrum. On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed a bill that would have codified the former federal rules into state law. “Thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault—well-intentioned as they are—have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students,” Brown wrote in a statement announcing his veto. “Depriving any student of higher education opportunities should not be done lightly, or out of fear of losing state or federal funding.” —L.J.

Getty Images/Photo by Chip Somodevilla Getty Images/Photo by Chip Somodevilla Richard Spencer and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12.

Richard Spencer’s seemingly unstoppable college tour

White supremacist Richard Spencer is winning his battle against university administrators attempting to keep him off campus. On Friday, the University of Cincinnati announced it would approve Spencer’s request to speak, even though his “ideology of hate and exclusion is antithetical” to the university’s values, school President Neville Pinto said in a campuswide email.

After reviewing Spencer’s request, administrators determined they didn’t have a constitutional reason to bar his event. Spencer’s lawyer had threatened to sue over any denial, a tactic he’s used successfully in the past. Ohio State University remains the only college still holding out against Spencer. An attorney representing Ohio State said Friday the university couldn’t accommodate Spencer’s request for space on Nov. 15 but would look for “viable” alternatives.

Meanwhile in Gainesville, Fla., where Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida on Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency. Scott’s Monday declaration that a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” allows state and local law enforcement agencies to work together on security. University administrators previously said they expected to spend about $500,000 trying to maintain order. Scott also activated the Florida National Guard to pitch in if necessary. “We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority,” Scott said in a statement. —L.J.

Death of common sense?

A Mississippi school board has done the impossible: unite Democrats and Republicans in scorn over its decision to pull a “controversial” book from school library shelves. The Biloxi school district decided last week to remove copies of the 1960 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird because the book contains language that “makes people uncomfortable,” district vice president Kenny Holoway said. Conservatives howled in protest, but so did liberals, including former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “When school districts remove ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from the reading list, we know we have real problems,” Duncan tweeted. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., urged parents via Twitter to protest a “terrible decision,” writing, “Engaged parents should call the school district with the clear message: Our kids are tough enough to read a real book.” —L.J.

Judge orders teachers back to work

A judge in Rhode Island ordered teachers on Monday to stop staging sick-outs to protest disagreements with the state’s education officials over contract negotiations. Three elementary schools in Warwick, R.I., closed Monday because so many teachers called in sick. Middle and high school teachers in the state staged similar protests earlier this month. Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl issued a temporary restraining order and demanded the teachers not close any more schools for the next 10 days. Because, you know, educating our nation’s children is kind of important. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 10/18/2017 09:50 pm

    I wonder why the universities do not simply offer Mr. Spencer a debate forum with, say, Ben Shapiro.  He gets to flatulate, Mr. Shapiro gets to skewer him, and the universities get to hire security.  That would be fun, informative, and satisfactory to all parties, I think.

  • Robin Wiggins
    Posted: Thu, 10/19/2017 12:22 am

    In regards to your article on the teacher sick-out in Rhode Island did you even attempt to talk to someone representing the teachers......'cause you know, telling all sides of the story is is kind of important.