While we are busy ping-ponging between Trump’s latest Twitter assaults, Roy Moore’s sexual exploits with minors, and Jared Kushner’s recurrent bouts of amnesia, something over at the Department of Education has flown under the radar that deserves attention.
One of Trump’s campaign promises that he has been relentless in keeping is rolling back regulations (a.k.a. protections) across all policy spheres. On February 24th Trump signed Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” which established a Federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people. Being the good little sycophant that she is, vapid Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has dutifully fallen in line-first in February when she reversed the guidance that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity, saying it should be left to states to decide. Then in September she did it again when she overturned the Obama administration rules that advised schools on how to investigate allegations of sexual assault, arguing those rules didn’t take into sufficient account the rights of the accused. But why stop there? On October 20th, with little fanfare, DeVos quietly rescinded 72 guidance documents which served to clarify the rights of students with disabilities.
The guidelines, which fall under the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), are purportedly being voided because they are “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective”. Although it is too soon to judge the ramifications of this action, Lindsay E. Jones, chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said she was especially concerned to see guidance documents outlining how schools could use federal money for special education removed.
“All of these (guidelines) are meant to be very useful … in helping schools and parents understand and fill in with concrete examples the way the law is meant to work when it’s being implemented in various situations,” said Jones.
The department asked for input from advocacy groups and held hearings during which, according to Jones, many disability rights groups and other education advocates pressed officials to keep all of the guidance documents in place.
Was DeVos’ move just housekeeping or was it a part of a larger plan to undermine and weaken public education as a whole? Let’s face it; the GOP has blatantly sought to abolish the Department of Education for decades. It was part of their platform in 1980 and in 1996, and part of Reagan’s budget in 1982. Here’s an excerpt from the 1996 platform:
"The Federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning."
As I’ve noted, there hasn’t been enough analysis done to determine the impact of these policy reversals. I would simply advise us to, in the words of Rachel Maddow, “Watch this space!"
Click here to read more about DeVos' impact on the Dept. of Ed.
Sadly, the attack on public education is not only coming from the direction of Betsy DeVos. Although all eyes and ears have been on the tax scam Republicans are desperate to see into law, you may have missed another low-flying missile launched from their arsenal.
Provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the tax plan contain not only freebies for the rich but something more insidious-tax schemes that could cause a flight from public education
Let’s take a closer look at two of them-one regarding higher education; the other having to do with 529 plans.
The Senate version would retain the tax benefits for undergrads and graduate students that the House bill wanted to chop. However, the Senate’s bill continues to include provisions opposed by higher ed groups, namely an excise tax on private colleges with large endowments and also eliminates some state and local tax deductions. The Senate wants to impose a 1.4% tax on investment income at some private universities, which would affect some 70 schools and raise $25 billion for the coffers of the federal government over a decade. But there is no accounting in the bill for how this will benefit ordinary Americans. The Senate version would also eliminate state and local tax deductions. This would pressure high-tax states like CA, NY, and NJ (which also happen to be blue states) to cut taxes. In turn, this could endanger state investment in public colleges and universities. The Senate’s plan is a bit less stingy than the House’s bill. It retains the exemption grad students receive on tuition waivers received when they work as research or teaching assistants, and the Senate version would keep the tax credit for student loan interest.
Another give-away to wealthy Americans in both the Senate and House bills has to do with 529 College Savings Plans. One provision gives an incentive to families to withdraw money from 529 plans to fund K-12 education up to $10 K a year for private elementary and high school tuition without paying tax on any previous growth. This could save families who already possess substantial build up in their 529’s (think $200 K plus at inception) up to $30,000 per year. The conservative leaning Heritage Foundation, a school choice advocate, praised the proposal saying it would give families more access to schools.
Below is an example of what adding private school benefits to 529 plans actually means from Ron Lieber’s Your Money column in The New York Times:
"Take a wealthy family in the highest tax bracket. It has a newborn baby, and through some combination of gifts and its own savings, it opens a 529 plan with $200,000 and never deposits another dime.
If the money grows at 6 percent annually, that family could take out the $10,000 each year, avoiding $2,380 in taxes annually. If it did that for 13 years (kindergarten through 12th grade), it would save $30,940 in taxes. Plus, according to numbers that Vanguard ran for me, it would still have enough left over after high school ($370,717) to pay for many pricey private colleges in full, as long as tuition inflation there ran no more than 3 percent annually."
The Joint Committee on Taxation says this provision will reduce federal revenue by $600 million by the year 2027. Plus current income limits of existing K-12 savings plans ($220,000 for joint filers) would be eliminated entirely. How does spending billions of federal funds to subsidize private school education for high-earning families help the middle class? (Besides, how many people do you know who start out their 529s with $200,000???)
Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the progressive Century Foundation, cites three major problems with the Senate’s proposal.
It also seems no coincidence that one of the key provisions of the tax bill, eliminating state and local deductions hurts blue states like CA, NJ, NY, etc the most. Many upper-middle class families in such states use public schools because they’re well funded, have good teachers and adequate teacher salaries, offer a rich curriculum and extensive extracurricular programs. Their taxes support their schools. If deductions are taken away they may not be willing to support future school spending. Public schools would decline in quality. Tax incentives for families who can afford it would move their children to private schools. There would be a flight from public schools, creating a vicious cycle. Remember 90% of all students are in public education. The Republican tax bill is aimed at undermining it as an institution.
Betsy DeVos has praised the tax plan, saying it will further the cause of school choice. What it will do in reality is help the rich and harm public schools which are already hurting financially. The M.O. here is fairly obvious and eerily similar to what Republicans are trying to do to destroy the Affordable Care Act: Say public schools are failing. Pass legislation to make sure they fail. Then present this manufactured evidence to show public schools failing. Wash. Rinse. Repeat! It's quite simple but very devious. Like I said before, we need to "watch this space"!
posted by Amy Levengood