Whiteboard Notes | DeVos Returns to Capitol Hill; Kansas Legislature Passes New School Funding Formula

Congress & Administration

DeVos Testifies on Budget Proposal: On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifiedbefore a Senate appropriations subcommittee on the Trump administration’s budget proposal. Senators from both parties expressed concern about the proposal that seeks to cut 13 percent of the Department of Education’s budget. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the subcommittee, told DeVos during the hearing that "It's likely that the kinds of cuts proposed in this budget will not occur."  Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) asked DeVos about the proposed $168 billion cut to career and technical education grants. DeVos replied that the programs should be considered part of broader changes to higher education.
 
Oppenheim Nominated for Education Department Position: President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he will nominate Peter Oppenheim, an aide to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), for the Assistant Secretary of Education for Legislation and Congressional Affairs position at the U.S. Department of Education. Oppenheim is currently the Education Policy Director and Counsel for the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and has played an important role in legislation like Every Student Succeeds Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
 
Senator Calls for Hearing for New Financial Aid Chief: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) urged the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to hold a hearing on U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ eventual pick to lead the Office of Federal Student Aid. Warren, in a letter to Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), said that due to the abrupt resignation of James Runcie, she would like a hearing that addresses "the qualifications of the new FSA chief, as well as Secretary DeVos's leadership of the program, program funding, and other issues raised in Mr. Runcie's resignation announcement."
 

States, Districts, & Colleges

Kansas Legislature Agrees on New School Funding Formula: The Kansas legislature has voted to send a proposal to Governor Sam Brownback (R) that would increase public school spending by nearly $300 million over the course of two years. The legislation, which outlines a new per-pupil funding formula, comes after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the state’s education spending is unconstitutionally low. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed skepticism that the proposal will meet the court’s standards. Governor Brownback has the option to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.
 
Mississippi, Tennessee Focus on Pre-K Quality: According to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Mississippi met ten out of ten quality standard benchmarks for its state-funded preschool programs in 2015-2016. The report examined enrollment in, quality of, and funding for state preschool programs across the nation, and includes an in-depth report card for each state. The quality standard benchmarks include class size, ratio, specialized training of teachers, and annual hours of teacher in-service professional development, among others. Tennessee, which scored 9 out of 10, recentlyannounced a new application and awards process for pre-K state funding that incentivizes high quality over a high volume of students. Other states highlighted in the report for high-quality programs include Alabama, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.
 
Nevada Legislature Ends Budget Stalemate, Doesn’t Fund ESAs: The Nevada Legislature has come to a close with a budget deal that does not include funding for the state’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program. The program was at the center of a budget stalemate, and the impasse ended with a deal to add $20 million to a scholarship program in place of funding ESAs. Despite the compromise reached earlier this week, the partisan divide over funding for the program is expected to continue in the next legislative session. The ESA program, which was first passed in 2015, allows parents to use state dollars to pay for private schooling options. 
 
Wyoming Creates Plan to Support Career and Technical Education Efforts: The Wyoming Department of Education has created a service plan to support, improve, and strengthen district career and technical education programs. The plan was developed by an advisory committee that gathered data and insights from 48 school districts across the state to gauge funding and professional development needs around CTE programming. The plan’s primary objectives include facilitation of funding opportunities, professional development, technical skill attainment, partnerships, and technical assistance, among others. The Department is expected to share the plan with districts in July.