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DeVos proposes department spinoff to handle student loans

12/04/2019 10:00 AM EST

Presented by the Walton Family Foundation

With help from Juan Perez Jr. and Michael Stratford

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Quick Fix

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing spinning off the nearly $1.5 trillion federal student loan portfolio from the Education Department into its own agency. The proposal came after DeVos discussed her department‘s downsizing in an editorial board meeting with the Washington Examiner.

— Bowing out: Sen. Kamala Harris, the 2020 presidential candidate who memorably put integration busing back in the spotlight. But other candidates are promoting school integration, as well. They’ll be able to talk about public education at a candidate forum later this month.

— A bipartisan group of Senate education leaders on Tuesday night said they reached an agreement on funding for historically black colleges that expired at the end of September and has been caught in a logjam for months.

A message from the Walton Family Foundation:

The Walton Family Foundation’s Innovative Schools Program supports educators and entrepreneurs who open all types of schools that look and feel truly different. Are you ready to be the next education innovator? Apply now for up to $325,000 in funding to turn your ideas into action. Learn More.

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Driving the Day

DEVOS: THE DEPARTMENT ISN’T ‘A BANK’: DeVos on Tuesday pitched the proposal for federal student loans to be operated by “a stand-alone government corporation, run by a professional, expert and apolitical board of governors,” instead of by the department‘s Office of Federal Student Aid.

— “Congress never set up the U.S. Department of Education to be a bank, nor did it define the secretary of Education as the nation’s ‘top banker,’” DeVos told thousands of college financial aid professionals gathered in Nevada for the department‘s annual conference.

— But the idea drew a chilly reception from House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who said “there’s nothing that could be done with a new agency that can’t be done today.” More from Michael Stratford.

‘RIGHT-SIZING’ THE DEPARTMENT: President Donald Trump, like other GOP leaders before him, has called for shrinking the Education Department, and DeVos may be making progress. The Washington Examiner, after a recent editorial board meeting with DeVos, reported earlier this week that the department has “eliminated” 600 staff positions. “Well, I have long advocated for the notion that it would be great to work myself out of a job,” she told the newspaper.

— Asked to comment, DeVos spokesperson Angela Morabito on Tuesday said the department has had a net staffing decrease of 509 people during this administration. She said that “no positions have been eliminated per se,” but staffing counts decreased due to attrition and a previous hiring freeze. DeVos is requiring a justification to create any new positions or to fill empty ones, she said. “Secretary DeVos is committed to right-sizing the Department so that it can best serve students while being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars,” she said in a statement.

— The staffing reduction is also reflected in the numbers — provided by the agency — of bargaining unit employees, which dropped from 2,422 in June 2018 to 2,236 in February 2019, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

— AFGE spokesperson Tim Kauffman said the union attributes “at least some of the loss in staff to employees leaving following imposition of the agency’s no-telework policy at the beginning of fiscal 2019, and we expect to see additional losses when we receive updated numbers from the agency.”

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2020 Watch

HARRIS DROPS OUT: Citing financial concerns, the California Democrat is exiting the race after producing one of the most memorable debate moments on an education issue: school desegration. Harris, who was bused to school as child, blindsided former Vice President Joe Biden during the first Democratic primary debate for his 1970s opposition to federally mandated busing, forcing him to defend his record on civil rights.

— Biden said he never opposed voluntary busing and his campaign told POLITICO in July that he backs a move in Congress to remove one of the last vestiges of the 1970s anti-busing fights from federal law.

— Philip Tegeler, president and executive director of the Poverty Race Research Action Council, said in an email that Harris “deserves a lot of credit for starting a conversation about school integration in the campaign — and we’re gratified that most of the other candidates have now taken up the issue as well.”

— Achieving racial and economic integration in public schools involves a range of basic strategies, he said, such as school assignment zones, controlled choice plans, magnet schools and interdistrict transfer programs. Also needed, he said, are accompanying strategies — “inclusive school climates, teacher diversity, equality of resources in relation to student need, integrated classrooms, culturally responsive curriculum and adequately trained teaching staff.”

— PRRAC doesn’t take positions on candidates, he said, but his organization’s research shows Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Biden have “pretty robust proposals on school integration.” He added, “Castro, Sanders and Warren have also explicitly connected housing and school integration.”

NEW DETAILS RELEASED ON EDUCATION FORUM: Six 2020 presidential challengers will discuss American education during a live-streamed forum moderated by MSNBC television personalities later this month, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association announced Tuesday.

— Biden, Sanders, Warren, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and billionaire Tom Steyer are confirmed to participate in the forum on Dec. 14 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. Juan Perez Jr. has more.

In Congress

DEAL REACHED ON HBCU FUNDING: Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray, (D-Wash.) have reached a deal to permanently reauthorize $255 million in annual funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

— The deal is an amendment to the FUTURE Act, H.R. 2486 (116), which the House passed in September. Alexander has blocked it while proposing to instead permanently extend the HBCU funding as part of a package of higher education bills that many dubbed a “mini” reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

— Democrats for weeks also blocked Alexander from bringing up that package, arguing that it didn’t go far enough to comprehensively update HEA. The bipartisan agreement announced Tuesday would pay for the funding reauthorization by including legislation, known as the FAFSA Act, S. 3611 (115), that would make it easier for the Education Department and IRS to share information about student aid recipients’ tax data. The bill would eliminate up to 22 questions on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and make it easier for borrowers to enroll in, and stay enrolled in, income-based repayment programs. Michael has more.

PANELS FOCUS ON IMMIGRATION: The Democratic-led House Education and Labor Committee will hear testimony this morning on how the Trump administration’s immigration policies have affected access to education and nutrition assistance.

— Later, members of several congressional caucuses will hear from representatives of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the independent watchdog group’s October report, “Trauma at the Border: The Human Cost of Inhumane Immigration Policies.” Vice Chair Patricia Timmons-Goodson, in written testimony, cites “credible allegations that family separations continue, despite an Executive Order halting them.” She calls for congressional action to set “minimum safe, sanitary, and humane detention conditions.”

— The panel is jointly hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Congressional Progressive Caucus.

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Report Watch

GAO HIGHLIGHTS IDEA DISPARITIES: Families in wealthy school districts are far more likely to lodge formal complaints about students’ access to special education services than families in poor districts, according to a GAO report released Tuesday. Students are allowed to pursue special education disputes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but GAO found that cultural differences, retaliation fears, language barriers and inconsistent access to information about students’ rights created several barriers in the process, according to the report.

— The GAO’s findings are based on a review of five states — Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — and data from the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education.

— “The GAO’s report is a wake-up call to school districts, states, advocates, and policymakers. The data clearly show that the civil rights protections provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are not equally accessible to all students,” Scott said in a statement.

A message from the Walton Family Foundation:

The Walton Family Foundation’s Innovative Schools Program supports educators and entrepreneurs who open all types of schools that look and feel truly different and can help students achieve at the highest level. Since 2017, 14 schools have received a total of $4 million in funding to open their doors and put students on a path to upward economic and social mobility.

Are you ready to be the next education innovator?

Complete a pre-application to be eligible for up to $325,000 in funding to turn your ideas into action. The pre-application period closes January 15, 2020. Apply Now.

Syllabus

— HBCU advocates hosting town halls as part of 100 days of action: Maryland Matters

— 74 Interview: Howard Fuller on schooling Elizabeth Warren about charters, African American families, school choice her education plan: The 74

— Border wall ultimatums could foul up December spending deals: POLITICO Pro

— How Booker would spend $100B boosting historically black colleges and universities: POLITICO Pro

— How Klobuchar would expand national service: POLITICO Pro

Jane Norman @janenorman
Michael Stratford @mstratford
Nicole Gaudiano @ngaudiano
Bianca Quilantan @biancaquilan
Juan Perez Jr. @PerezJr

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