Whiteboard Notes | Trump Donates Salary to Education Dept.; Ark. Completes Broadband Upgrade for Public Schools; Tenn. Leads FAFSA Filing Rates

Congress & Administration

Trump Donates Salary to Education Department: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announcedon Wednesday that President Trump will donate his second quarter salary, worth about $100,000, to the U.S. Department of Education. According to Secretary DeVos, the donation will go towards funding a STEM- focused summer program offered by the Department. This is the second time that Trump has donated his salary; he gave the $78,333.32 he earned to the National Parks Service earlier this year.
 
Democrats Urge DeVos to Curb 'Excessive' Discipline in Schools: On Wednesday, more than 60 Democrats from both chambers of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging her to continue Department of Education efforts to curb excessive discipline in schools. Citing the fact that, “Many public schools continue to suspend and expel minority students and students with disabilities at alarmingly disproportionate rates,” the letter called on DeVos to expand investigations into schools with excessive disciplinary policies, and to advocate for positive behavioral interventions, multi-tiered systems of support, universal designs for learning, trauma-informed care, and de-escalation policies in all US schools. The letter also notes that states are obligated to reduce exclusionary discipline practices under the Every Student Succeeds Act, and calls on the Education Department to keep these practices in mind when reviewing state ESSA plans.
 
Senate Committee and House of Representatives Advance Bills to Expand GI Bill Benefits: On Monday, the House passed a bill 405-0 expanding the GI Bill educational benefits offered to veterans, and a similar bill passed through the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The two bills would eliminate, for new enlistees, the fifteen-year window for service members to use their education benefits, and expand funding for veterans to enroll in nontraditional education providers like coding bootcamps. The bill would also expand assistance programs for National Guard and Reserve troops, and dependents of fallen service members. Notably, it would also restore benefits to veterans affected by the Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech school closures earlier this year. The Senate bill has yet to be scheduled for a vote, but it already enjoys widespread bipartisan support, and if it passes will go to President Trump to be signed into law.
 

States, Districts, & Colleges

Arkansas Completes Broadband Upgrade for All Public Schools: Last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) announced the completion of a two-year initiative to provide all public schools in the state with a high-speed broadband upgrade. The initiative, called the Arkansas Public School Computer Network, ensured that the state’s public schools, charter schools, and education-service cooperatives have access to a high-speed broadband system that is 40 times faster than before. Prior to the initiative, 58 percent of the state’s districts met the federal internet access target; now, Arkansas is one of six states in the country that meets the standard in 100 percent of its districts.
 
Michigan Adopts Dashboard as New Accountability System: As outlined in its ESSA state plan, the Michigan Department of Education is working to replace the current school accountability system with a dashboard featuring data on a variety of metrics. The current system ranks schools “top to bottom,” relying on standardized test scores and graduation rates to evaluate schools. The Department of Education is still in the process of finalizing the dashboard’s categories, but the new system will feature data on a broader set of metrics, including factors beyond student achievement. These additional metrics will likely include time spent in art, music and physical education; access to library media specialists; access to advanced coursework included AP, IB and career tech classes; postsecondary persistence rates; percent of high school graduates who are proficient on the SAT; and suspension and expulsion data.
 
Tennessee Leads FAFSA Filing Rates, Focuses on Student Success: Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) announced that the state’s FAFSA filing rate ranked highest in the nation for the third consecutive year. With 73.5 percent of all high school seniors completing the form, Tennessee outpaced all other states, including Delaware (61.6 percent), New Jersey (61 percent), and Massachusetts (60.4 percent). According to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), the process for increasing FAFSA completion was data-driven, and education leaders are now looking to take a similar approach to improve postsecondary student success and graduation rates. Possible strategies include tracking student progress and using data analysis to provide struggling students with targeted supports.
 
Virginia Considers Rating System Improvements: The Virginia State Board of Education is consideringrevising the state’s accreditation system for public schools to take into consideration metrics beyond standardized test scores. Under the current system, schools are accredited based on whether a sufficient percentage of students pass the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) exams in English, writing, math, science, and history. Under the proposed changes, schools would be rated based on additional factors, including absenteeism, dropout rates, or achievement gaps. The Board of Education is currently acceptingpublic comments and expects to finalize any changes later this summer.
 
Wyoming Launches Evaluates Funding System: Facing a significant budget shortfall, the State of Wyoming has hired a Denver-based consulting firm to evaluate its education funding model in a process referred to as recalibration. On Tuesday, the firm released a plan of action to lawmakers, outlining the strategy for examining the existing model, which uses a complex formula and is unique to Wyoming. The process will include an analysis of the state’s educational standards and an exploration of three alternative funding models, among other studies. While the legislature hoped to have results by November 2017, the process will likely take until December or January to complete.