This Newsbrief gives our sense of important and timely federal educational news within the following process and 
protest context
To advance educational excellence and equity, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities. To accomplish this goal, we need clear processes for the development of policy, and we need to take into account opposition to current and proposed policies and practices — protest — as a healthy part of those processes.  

Federal Update

What Democratic Control of the House Means for Education

November 9, 2018

The Issue

That the Democratic party won enough seats to claim a majority in the United States House of Representatives on Tuesday has at least two very significant and immediate implications for education policy:

  • More public hearings and requests for documents regarding planned actions by the United States Department of Education (US ED) on:
    • federal rules that would change procedures for how to investigate and resolve allegations of sexual assault in schools.
    • forthcoming recommendations from the Federal Commission on School Safety.
    • Plans from US ED to repeal the Obama Administration’s “Rethink School Discipline” policies.
    • Oversight of state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • Proposals to improve school infrastructure, reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) and update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The Record of Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia
Currently the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA 3rd District) is expected to become the new committee chairperson, replacing Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC 5th District). Scott has repeatedly proposed measures, including H.R. 2475 (115), the Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2017, to provide money and low-cost financing to help states and local communities improve the physical condition of their school facilities. He also negotiated with Republicans in the House to secure the passage of ESSA, and released a joint letter to US ED stating that he believed US ED had approved state ESSA plans that were not in compliance with the requirements of the law.

 

The Process

The newly-elected Congress will take office on January 3, 2019, and decide on its leaders, including the members that will chair its committees. Information about the membership of the House Education Committee and all public hearings will be posted on the committee’s website.

Likely committee hearings could include:

Rules on Sexual Assault Investigations
Media outlets have reported on US ED’s development of new regulations that would roll back requirements put forth by the Obama administration under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), a law that protects individuals from being discriminated against on the basis of their sex by education programs or activities that receive funding from the federal government. The new rules are expected to reduce school districts’ obligations to investigate claims of sex-based discrimination and would allow schools to use a greater variety of informal procedures to resolve complaints.

School Safety and Using ESSA Funds to Buy Guns
The Federal Commission on School Safety is expected to soon issue its final report. Convened by President Trump in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the commission is charged with “quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school,” and examining the repeal of the Obama administration’s “Rethink School Discipline” policies.

The “Rethink School Discipline” set of policies were developed by US ED and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to improve school climates and school discipline practices and reduce unnecessary out of school suspensions and expulsions.

Over the summer, the Commission held meetings about “proactively protecting our schools” and “creating a citadel of learning: new tools to secure our schools, inside and out.”

In response to media reports that US ED was planning to authorize the use of ESSA funds for the purchase of guns and/or gun training for school staff, Democrats in the House, including Scott, released a letter to US ED Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to publicly repudiate the use of ESSA funds for these purposes.

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