Whiteboard Notes | DeVos Backs Proposed School Choice Tax Credit; TX Looks to Expand Early Learning Programs; ClassDojo Raises $35 Million

DeVos Backs Proposed School Choice Tax Credit: On Thursday, U.S Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, and Republican lawmakers announced plans to back a proposal for a $5 billion federal tax credit for donations to scholarships for private schools and other educational programs that support school choice initiatives. The secretary appeared alongside Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL), who said they plan to introduce the tax credit through the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act. While this legislation would have to pass the Democratic-controlled House, officials from the Department of Education noted that states could choose whether or not they wanted to participate in the initiative, pointing out that many states already have programs on the books that grant tax incentives to residents who donate to scholarship programs. [NPR]
 
Ed and Labor Committee Votes on Infrastructure Bill: On Tuesdaythe House Education and Labor Committee voted to move forward legislation that would provide about $100 billion for school infrastructure, known as the Rebuild America's Schools Act. Over 10 years, the bill would provide $70 billion in grant funding for schools and $30 billion towards innovative financing mechanisms and interest free bonds to prioritize infrastructure projects at schools that serve the highest shares of students receiving free and reduced-price meals. The committee voted on party lines to report the bill to the full House for consideration. [Politics K-12, subscription required]

Democrats Reintroduce Childcare Affordability Legislation: On Tuesday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act of 2019 in their respective chambers -- a bill designed to both expand access to and improve the quality of childcare as well as early-learning programs. The bill outlines  that no family under 150 percent of state median income pays more than seven percent of their income on child care. The bill would also support universal access to high-quality preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year olds and improve compensation and training for the child care workforce. The bill currently has over 100 combined co-sponsors in the House and Senate. [CNBC]

California Considers Expanding Healthy, Environmentally-Friendly School Lunch Options:Legislation moving through the California State Legislature would provide incentives for local education agencies (LEAs) to offer students healthy, low-carbon food and drink options. The initiative, called the California Climate-Friendly Food Program, would allow LEAs to apply for funding needed to provide meals that include a plant-based food and/or a plant-based milk option. Aligned with the state’s climate change mitigation goals, the bill also intends to increase access to healthy meals for all students.
 
Maine Lawmakers Call for Next Generation Science Standards: bill that would require the Maine Department of Education to include the Next Generation Science Standards in the state’s K-12 standards and assessment system is pending in joint committee. The legislation would add science as a core area alongside existing math and English language arts priorities beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. The Next Generation Science Standards, released in 2013, were developed through collaboration between 26 states and partners such as the National Science Teachers Association.
 
Texas Looks to Expand Early Learning Programs: Two measures related to expanding access to pre-kindergarten programs in the state are moving through the Texas House and Senate. Currently, school districts in Texas are eligible to apply for funding to provide half-day pre-kindergarten to eligible students. HB 612, introduced earlier this month, would expand the program to cover full-day kindergarten starting with the 2019-2020 school year. Related, SB 292 would expand an existing pilot program that provides funding for pre-kindergarten programs to include districts within the Region 1 Education Service Centerboundary. 
Three States Include Arts As An ESSA Accountability Measure: Although achievement in music and the arts is included in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)’s definition of student success, few states have incorporated the arts into their school accountability plans. In Illinois and Connecticut, however, the arts are listed as a school quality indicator, and in Kentucky, the arts are included as measure of transition readiness. Other states seeking to incorporate arts into their ESSA plans can examine the twelve funding streams identified in this 2017 report from the Wallace Foundation. [Education Dive]
 
New Jersey Seeks to Diversify Its Teacher Pool: The New Jersey Department of Education has set a goal to significantly diversify the state’s teacher pool by 2025, in order to reflect the demographics of the state’s public school students. As part of the effort, the state is devoting $750,000 in grant money to increase teacher diversity, colleges are partnering with school districts to develop recruitment and training opportunities for teachers of color, and the state recently joined the Council of Chief State School Officers' Diverse and Learner-Ready Teachers Initiative. [NJ101.5]
Tennessee Report Highlights Equity Gap: According to a new report, only one in ten black students will complete a community college degree, and only a third of black students will graduate within six years of enrollment at Tennessee’s public universities. Earlier this week Complete Tennessee released “No Time to Wait: The State of Higher Education in Tennessee,” which examined Tennessee’s effort to increase residents’ postsecondary attainment levels. Despite more than 40 percent of Tennesseans holding a postsecondary credential, the report focused on the need for the state’s efforts to close equity achievement gaps for minority, low-income, rural, and underserved populations. [Diverse: Issues in Higher Education]
 
Program Hopes to Build Minority Faculty Pipeline: A grant-funded initiative through the University of Pennsylvania is training 90 students from Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to enter academic careers. During the five-year program, the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions will partner with three HSIs — Florida International University; the University of Texas El Paso; and California State University, Northridge — and five majority research institutions — New York University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Pennsylvania; Northwestern University; and University of California -Davis, to prepare undergraduate students for Ph.D. programs. [Diverse: Issues In Higher Education]
 
Colleges Boost Inclusion, Employment Prospects: Greater inclusion efforts across college campuses has led to improved employment among students with intellectual disabilities, according to a report by the Think College National Coordinating Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The research found that these students spent half their time in inclusive courses during the 2017-18 school year and 44% of students were employed within 90 days of completing inclusion programs. [Disability Scoop]
Technology Creates More Time for Learning and Development: LinkedIn Learning’s Tanya Staplesasserts that technology allows for shorter, more targeted upskilling, citing the 2019 Workplace Learning Report. The piece also outlines why social engagement not only blurs the historic distinction between formal and informal learning, but may also create workflow efficiencies that actually create more time for learning. [CLO Media]
 
Standardization and Technology Could Improve Credential Alignment: A piece in Inside Higher Ed discusses the communication gap between job-seekers (particularly students) and employers. In response, a U.S. Chamber led group has partnered with over 150 colleges, foundations, HR groups, associations, technical standard organizations, and major employers (e.g. Salesforce, Google, LinkedIn) to improve credential alignment and workforce data using standardization and technology. [Inside Higher Ed]
 
Automation, Not As Threatening As Predicted: Research published by the Boston University School of Law suggests that the threat of automation displacing workers is overstated. The research found that among new and tenured workers with at least three years on staff, few workers were negatively impacted by automation and only about 2% of long-term workers left their jobs a year after automation increased at their company. [HR Dive]
Intuitive Eating Gains in Popularity: A growing number of dietitians, nutritionists and therapists areembracing the concept of intuitive eating, which places less emphasis on weight and focuses more on other measures of well-being, as well as rejecting notions of "good" and "bad" foods. Intuitive eating still emphasizes good nutrition and aims to change people's relationship with food. [The Atlantic]
 
Studies Link Pollution and Academic Inequity: Pollution could be affecting students' academic performance, according to two studies of students conducted in the 1990s and 2000s in Florida. In one study, students at schools exposed to highway pollution had lower test scores and were more likely to have higher absence rates and behavioral issues. [Chalkbeat
ClassDojo Raises $35 Million Series C: ClassDojo, the company behind the world’s most-widely used communication app for pre-K–8 schools, announced today that it raised a $35 million Series C funding round. The round was co-led by GSV and SignalFire along with participation from prior investors, including General Catalyst and Uncork Capital. This brings the total raised by ClassDojo to $65 million. One in six U.S. families with a child in primary school uses ClassDojo every day. [TechCrunch]
 
ELSA Raises $7 Million to Help ELL Students Practice Pronunciation: ELSA, an app that helps English language learners practice their pronunciation, has raised $7 million in a Series A round led by Gradient Ventures, Google’s AI-focused venture fund. The company will use the funding to hire additional AI scientists and engineers to expand its AI and speech recognition capabilities which help people improve their English speaking skills. [PRweb]