Whiteboard Notes | House Passes Omnibus Spending Bill; States Consider Student Data Privacy Bills; Student Bullying Decreases

Congress Passes $1.3 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill: On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that will fund the government through the end of September, followed by the Senate's vote early Friday morning. The 2,232-page House bill provides a $3.9 billion funding boost for the U.S. Department of Education’s budget. Funding for Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant, which can be used for school counseling and mental health services, technology investments and STEM education, received a $700 million increase, bringing total funding to $1.1 billion. The spending bill proposes to raise the maximum Pell Grant by $175, increase funding for Historically black college and universities by 14-percent, and provide $140-million in additional funding for the Federal Work-Study program. Included in the spending bill is a provision that would prohibit DeVos from advancing her plan to decentralize the Department’s central budget office. 

DeVos Testifies on Department of Education Budget: On Tuesday, before the omnibus spending bill was released, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services on her agency’s proposed budget, which would reduce the Department’s budget by $3.6 billion. DeVos testified that the budget would emphasize school choice, disability support, apprenticeship programs, STEM education, and school infrastructure, and would streamline the department’s internal organization. Following her prepared remarks, committee members questioned DeVos on her commitment to gun safety, rights for LGBTQ students, addressing racial biases in schools, and reforming student loan policies.

Department of Education to Enforce CBA: The U.S. Department of Education notified the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) that it plans to enforce a collective bargaining agreement(CBA) that union members voted down. Union employees say enforcement of the CBA will result in a reduction in employee rights and security. Both sides blame the other for the failure in contract negotiations; the AFGE believes that the department is purposefully attempting to break apart the union, while the Department asserts that the union was unwilling to negotiate in a timely manner.

Melania Trump Hosts Cyberbullying Summit: First Lady Melania Trump hosted a cyberbullying summit on March 20, her first event on the issue. Those in attendance included technology leaders from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Snap, and Twitter. The meeting emphasized the role that companies, students, parents, and law enforcement all have to play in ensuring a safe environment online. The First Lady also acknowledged skepticism for her discussion of the issue, considering President Trump’s frequent Twitter usage, and emphasized her commitment to the cause.

California Considers New Funding Structure for Community Colleges: California Governor Jerry Brown (D) has proposed a new funding formula for community colleges that would tie annual dollars to student enrollment, student outcomes, and the number of students receiving financial aid. Currently, the funding structure is based solely on student enrollment, and community college leaders have expressed concern that the new plan may negatively impact their funding. However, the proposal includes a provision to help college districts keep funding steady in the years immediately following implementation of the new structure. The proposed funding formula is included in Governor’s budget -- an analysis of higher education-related budget items can be found here.

CCSSO Partners with Nine States to Diversify the Teaching Workforce: The Council of Chief State School Officers is launching a teacher diversity initiative to promote greater racial and cultural representation among teachers. Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, and New York are all involved in the initiative. These states seek to revise and remove restrictive state policies by 2020 in an effort to cultivate a diverse workforce and encourage culturally responsive teaching practices.

Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota Address Student Data Privacy: Several states, including Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, are considering student data privacy bills during this legislative session. Two bills in Illinois,SB 3099 and HB 5064, would amend the state’s Student Online Personal Protection Act to allow national assessment providers to sell or rent student data with parental consent if the information will be used to provide access to employment, educational scholarships, financial aid, or post-secondary educational opportunities. Iowa HF 2354 would allow for the same exception for national assessment providers, in addition to establishing student data privacy protections against targeted advertising, unauthorized access, and other activity. In addition to three pending bills (SF 1961HF 307, and SF 1980) based on California’s Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, Minnesota HF 1507 would expand existing student privacy protections to include data on one-to-one devices.

Texas Shares Latest Special Education Plan: This week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) made the latest draft of its Special Education Improvement Plan available for public comment. The plan comes in response to a recent federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), which found TEA out of compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In addition to serving as a plan for corrective action, the draft document includes proposed improvements for helping districts meet special education requirements. TEA is accepting public comments through April 6, and plans to send the final version to OSEP by April 18.