DeVos Testifies Before House Education and Labor Committee; Startup College Raises $15M; Idaho Gives College-Ready Students Greater Flexibility

ED Releases Parent and Educator Guide Regarding School Climate: On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the release of the Parent and Educator Guide to School Climate Resources. This guide, based on the recommendations of the Federal Commission on School Safety, was produced jointly by the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. It provides best practices and includes resources school leaders and teachers can utilize as they work to achieve a positive school climate, address disciplinary issues and enhance school safety. The Q&A document provides parents and educators with decision-making frameworks and implementation tools, as well as examples from schools across the country to illustrate the various interventions communities are using to enhance student behavior and achievement. [U.S. Department of Education]
 
Secretary DeVos Testifies Before House Education and Labor Committee: On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, appeared before the House Education and Labor Committee to discuss the policies and priorities of the Department of Education - her first appearance before the Committee since the Democrats took the majority. During a hearing that lasted more than five hours, members asked the Secretary about a range of issues, including oversight on charter schools and loan servicing companies as well as the Department’s latest budget request, which includes a $5 billion proposal to expand school choice and a request for $60 million more in funding for charter schools. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) also pressed on DeVos for not processing over 150,000 loan forgiveness claims under the Borrower Defense to Repayment rule, even after a court ordered her to implement the regulation in October. DeVos confirmed that no claims had been approved or denied since the court order.Additionally, when questioned about the Department’s proposal to cut funding towards literacy programs and teacher professional development, she defended the budget, saying the Department was required — under statutory funding levels set previously by Congress — to cut 10% of its current year budget. [The Detroit Free Press]
 
Congress Reintroduces REAL Act To Allow Pell Grants in Prisons: On Tuesday, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), along with Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, a bill that would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. In broad sweeping crime legislation passed in 1994, incarcerated individuals lost access to Pell Grant assistance, causing a significant drop in the number of education programs in prisons. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) introduced companion legislation in the House with cosponsors Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and French Hill (R-AR). Nearly 70 groups issued endorsements of the legislation, including the American Bar Association, the Council on Christian Colleges and Universities, the NAACP and FreedomWorks. [Inside Higher Ed]

Idaho Gives College-Ready Students Greater Flexibility: Idaho Governor Brad Little (R) signed SB 1060/Chapter 297 into law, permitting high school students who demonstrate college or career readiness to receive greater flexibility in their schedules. The new law measures college and career readiness through student performance on the ACT, SAT, or similar assessments, and will allow high performing students to have the flexibility to take postsecondary classes, participate in internships, and/or graduate early to advance their education or career goals.

Last-Dollar State-Aid Program for Higher Ed Proposed in Maine: A bill (LD 1445) moving through the Maine legislature would establish a last-dollar state-aid program for eligible students attending public institutions of higher education. The bill, which was introduced and referred to the Joint Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee on April 2, would create the Debt-Free Educational Opportunities for Maine Residents Program to provide grants to cover tuition and other expenses related to the cost of attendance starting in FY 2019-2020. Eligible full-time or part-time students may receive grant funding for one academic year, and may apply each year to receive grants for the equivalent of a 4-year baccalaureate program.

Oklahoma Considers Stricter Health and Nutrition Standards for Child Care Centers: An Oklahoma bill (HB 2038) that would set nutrition standards for child care centers in the state is moving through the Senate. The legislation would require licensed child care centers to follow recommendations issued in 2013 by Healthy Eating Research (HER) for healthier beverages, as well as limit sugar-sweetened drinks to one serving per day. It would also require centers to provide children with opportunities for physical activity (60 minutes for full day programs and 30 minutes for programs that operate less than a full day), and eliminate screen time for children less than two years of age. 

Study Finds Investment in School Leadership Results in Higher Test Scores: A new report from the RAND Corporation found that investing in the professional development of school principals was linked to stronger student success in math and reading, as well as principal retention. The study followed six school districts over six years as they increased investment in school leadership and made an investment of over $85 million through the Wallace Foundation’s principal pipeline initiative. [Education Week]
 
California-based Coding Program Prepares Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs: The grant program Kids Code is helping thousands of students from 260 schools in low-income California communities learn coding skills after school. As a result, big tech companies such as Apple, TechNet, and CompTIA are seeking state and local support to expand STEM education in schools. [EdSource

Pennsylvania Higher Ed System Experiences Power Shift in College Tuition Control: The Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), recently agreed to allow their 14 public colleges to determine their own tuition plans. This shift is in response to the larger goal of redesigning PASSHE into a “sharing system,” where universities work closely with one another to expand education opportunities and ensure their program offerings are more aligned with workforce needs. Higher education leaders hope that this new policy will allow for increased consideration of the disparities that affect student access such as regional economic differences, program costs, and students’ ability to pay for tuition. [Education Dive]
 
Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to Stop Using Affirmative Action in Medical School Admissions: As the Trump Administration continues to support ending affirmative action in education, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center recently agreed to stop using race as a component of its medical school admissions process. Texas Tech hopes to determine whether the use of race neutral practices will enable them to achieve diversity and educational goals. The university is the first under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ term to end affirmative action practices; however, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is currently investigating race in admissions at Yale and Harvard. [Washington Post, subscription required] 

People Value Mentors, But Most Don’t Have One: In a survey by Olivet Nazarene University, 76% of workers said that mentorship is important to them, but only 37% currently have a mentor. In addition, 41% of mentees said that it was difficult to find time to connect with their mentors. The survey found that mentees tended to be junior-level employees, work at the same company as their mentors, and be the same gender as their mentors. [Olivet Nazarene University]
 
Pew Research Center says Adults Pessimistic About Automation: 82% of adults believe that robots will take over some people’s jobs, but only 37% believe that their own jobs will be at risk. People are generally pessimistic about the effects of automation on the labor market and on inequality, and 85% would support public policies restricting the number or type of jobs that businesses can replace with machines. [Pew Research Center]

Google Cancels Advisory Council After Outcry: Last week, Google created an Advanced Technology External Advisory Council to advise the tech industry about artificial intelligence. This week, Googlecanceled the council after two members’ backgrounds caused backlash among employees and another member wrote on Twitter that he didn’t believe the council was “the right forum” for these discussions. [EntrepreneurVox

Wisconsin Considers Legislation Prohibiting Schools from Withholding Meals: The Wisconsin State Legislature is considering legislation, called the Hungry Free School Zone Act, that would require schools to provide breakfast or lunch to any student who requests it, regardless of their ability to pay. The bill would also ban schools from identifying or stigmatizing students who are unable to pay for a meal or who have outstanding meal debt.
 
Bus Ridership Decreases Absenteeism among Rural Students: Rural students who ride the bus to school have higher attendance and are less likely to be chronically absent, according to a study of 3,400 students in rural areas by researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara. According to federal civil rights data, absenteeism in rural districts is lower than in urban districts, but higher than in suburban and municipal districts. The researchers hope that school districts will begin considering bus ridership as an intervention to address chronic absenteeism. [Education Week, subscription required] 

Nearpod Acquires Flocabulary: Nearpod, the most comprehensive Student Engagement Platform for K-12 teachers, has acquired Flocabulary, the leading video and student creativity platform that uses educational hip-hop to engage students and increase achievement. With Flocabulary, Nearpod is deepening its commitment to bringing culturally-relevant and media-rich content into the classroom. Together, Nearpod and Flocabulary will be used by teachers in 97 of the 100 largest US districts. [EdWeek Market Brief]
 
2U Acquires Trilogy Education to Reach Workforce: 2U, a provider of online degree programs for universities, has acquired Trilogy Education, a company that designs tech programs for people already in the workforce. The acquisition nearly doubles the number of universities with whom 2U works. [TechCrunch]
 
Startup College Raises $15M: Make School, a computer science college in San Francisco that recently received accreditation from WASC to offer a bachelor’s degree in computer science, has raised $15 million in Series B funding. Venrock led the round, joined by existing investors Learn Capital and Kapor Capital. [VentureBeat]
 
JFF’s Challenge Yields Two Winners: This week, JFF announced Cell-Ed Works and EMPath as winners of their $1 Billion Wage Gain Challenge by raising 100,000 workers’ wages by at least $10,000. The challenge called upon innovators, educators, policymakers, and employers to reach this goal by 2021 in an effort to combat wage stagnation. [JFF]