Donald Trump’s 2018 Budget Proposes 13.5% Reduction for Education Department

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump released details of his 2018 budget proposal that includes massive cuts to the EPA (31%) and the State Department (29%).  The Department of Education would see a 13.5 % reduction of its budget from $68.2 billion to $59 billion. The Education budget calls for a downsizing or elimination of a number of grants, including for teacher training, afterschool programs, and aid to low-income and minority college students. The cuts would be coupled with a historic investment — $1.4 billion — in charter schools, private schools and other school-choice initiatives.  The Washington Post summarized the Education budget as follows:

“The Trump administration is seeking to cut $9.2 billion — or 13.5 percent — from the Education Department’s budget, a dramatic downsizing that would reduce or eliminate grants for teacher training, after-school programs and aid to ­low-income and first-generation college students.

Along with the cuts, among the steepest the agency has ever sustained, the administration is also proposing to shift $1.4 billion toward one of President Trump’s key priorities: Expanding charter schools, private-school vouchers and other alternatives to traditional public schools. His $59 billion education budget for 2018 would include an unprecedented federal investment in such “school choice” initiatives, signaling a push to reshape K-12 education in America.

The president is proposing a $168 million increase for charter schools — 50 percent above the current level — and a new $250 million private-school choice program, which would probably provide vouchers for families to use at private or parochial schools. Vouchers are one of the most polarizing issues in education, drawing fierce resistance from Democrats and some Republicans, particularly those in rural states.

Trump also wants an additional $1 billion for Title I, a $15 billion grant program for schools with high concentrations of poor children. The new funds would be used to encourage districts to adopt a controversial form of choice: Allowing local, state and federal funds to follow children to whichever public school they choose.

That policy, known as “portability,” was rejected in the Republican-led Senate during deliberations over the main K-12 education law in 2015. Many Democrats see portability as the first step toward federal vouchers for private schools and argue that it would siphon dollars from schools with high poverty and profound needs to those in more affluent neighborhoods.

The slim budget summary released Thursday frames the new spending as the first step toward meeting Trump’s campaign pledge to invest $20 billion in school-choice initiatives. The document makes no mention of another policy Trump is expected to promote through a tax bill: a new tax credit for donations to private-school scholarships.”




U.S. Senate Democrats Ask Betsy DeVos:  Why the  Delayed Enforcement of Gainful Employment Rule!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this week that twelve Democrats in the U.S. Senate sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education over its decision last week to delay the effective date of the gainful-employment rule until July 1.  The gainful-employment rule was enacted to assist college students to understand better career-oriented academic programs. As reported:

In a letter, the senators, led by Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Patty Murray of Washington, and Elizabeth A. Warren of Massachusetts, called on Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, to explain the decision. Several senators also asked the department’s inspector general, Kathleen Tighe, to investigate the choice.

“The gainful-employment rule is a critical protection for both students and taxpayers,” the letter says. “This delay needlessly stalls important protections for students and taxpayers, and creates more uncertainty for schools.”

The rule, crafted under the Obama administration, is intended to judge career-oriented programs based on the student-loan debt of their graduates in relation to the graduates’ earnings. “Implementation of this rule is an important part of your responsibility as secretary to protect students and appropriately oversee taxpayer dollars,” the letter says.

Lynn Mahaffie, acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said last week that the decision to delay the rule was intended “to allow the department to further review the GE regulations and their implementation.”

The senators asked Ms. DeVos for a “prompt response” to their questions, but if recent history is an indicator, they may be waiting a while. In a letter to Ms. DeVos in late February, senators requested clarification of reports of a higher-education task force to be led by Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. The senators wrote that they wanted a response “no later than” March 9, but as of this writing, they had not yet received an answer.”

We have only just begun!


Trump’s 2005 Tax Return Aired on MSNBC!

Dear Commons Community,

What will surely be the major story today is an unauthorized release of Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return last night on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show.  I did not see the show but here is a review from an article in the New York Times.

WASHINGTON — President Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005, according to forms made public on Tuesday night: a rare glimpse at documents that he had refused to disclose since becoming a candidate for the nation’s highest office.

Mr. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $150 million, an effective tax rate of 25 percent, according to forms disclosed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. By claiming losses, Mr. Trump apparently saved millions of dollars in taxes that he would otherwise have owed.

The White House responded without even waiting for the show to air, issuing a statement that seemed to confirm the authenticity of the forms even as it defended Mr. Trump and assailed MSNBC for publicizing them. “Before being elected president, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world, with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required,” the statement said.

The White House described the business losses as a “large-scale depreciation for construction,” but did not elaborate. In addition to the federal income taxes in 2005, the statement said, he paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes, such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes, and this illegally published return proves just that.”

Mr. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public during the campaign broke with decades of tradition in presidential contests and emerged as a central issue. That drumbeat has continued since he entered the White House, particularly from critics who contend that his returns may shed light on various aspects of his business practices, including whether he has done business with Russian companies and banks.

Nothing in the two pages produced on Tuesday night suggested any ties with Russia. Nor did they provide much information about his businesses that was not previously known. But they showed that the vast bulk of the federal income taxes he paid in 2005, $31 million, was paid under the alternative minimum tax, which Mr. Trump wants to abolish.

That tax serves as a backstop to the ordinary income tax and is intended to prevent wealthy Americans from paying no income tax at all. Without it, Mr. Trump would have paid about $5 million in regular taxes, plus nearly $2 million in self-employment taxes, on $153 million in income in 2005.

“Trump’s return shows that he’s pushing tax changes that benefit multimillionaire heirs like him, not the middle class,” said Lily Batchelder, a tax law professor at New York University and former majority chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee. “His proposal to repeal the A.M.T. would have slashed his own tax burden by $31 million, and his income tax rate would be lower than the average rate paid by families earning $75,000 to $100,000.”

Edward Kleinbard, a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California, said, “It’s disturbing that he is pushing to eliminate the only tax that really bit him in that year.”

The White House castigated MSNBC for reporting on Mr. Trump’s taxes. “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago,” its statement said. “The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the president will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.”

Personally I don’t think this tax return tells very much.  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston suggested that President Donald Trump himself may have been the unknown source who sent two pages of his 2005 tax return to the journalist. 

“It came in the mail over the transom,” Johnston told Maddow, following the host’s roughly 25-minute build-up before discussing the documents in detail. “…Let me point out, it’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me. Donald Trump has, over the years, leaked all sorts of things.”



The Firing of Preet Bharara!

Dear Commons Community,

This past weekend, the news media was closely following Preet Bharara’s firing as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern New York District.  There were many questions regarding his dismissal.  The New York Times (see below) has a good review of his case in an editorial this morning.  The whole affair is troubling especially whether his firing had anything to do with Donald Trump’s relationship to Rupert Murdoch and Fox News which the Times refers to as the “propaganda arm of the White House”. 

New York magazine went further on the Murdoch connection referring to possible pending indictments against Fox News personnel that Bharara was pursuing and reported yesterday:

“Given that Fox News is Murdoch’s most profitable division, the prospect of indictments is a serious problem. “They’re really worried,” one source close to the network said. Another insider said that Fox News executives considered the investigation “political” because Bharara had been appointed by Barack Obama. Which is why, for Murdoch, it must be a relief that Bharara’s replacement could be an ally. According to the Times, Trump’s short list to replace Bharara includes Marc Mukasey — who just happens to be former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer.”



New York Times

Preet Bharara: A Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain the Swamp!

The Editorial Board

March 13, 2017


Most Americans had never heard of Preet Bharara, Manhattan’s federal prosecutor, before he briefly took center stage in the drama over the Trump administration’s Friday order demanding the resignations of 46 United States attorneys.

Mr. Bharara alone refused to resign. He was fired on Saturday, and immediately cast as either a martyr for justice or a sanctimonious self-promoter, depending on one’s partisan inclinations. But New Yorkers, who have had a front-row seat to his work over the last seven years, know him for his efforts to drain one of the swampiest states in the country of its rampant public corruption.

Appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama, Mr. Bharara quickly went after New York’s rancid political culture, where politicians of both parties have long treated anti-graft laws like suggestions and ethics rules like Play-Doh.

Mr. Bharara won convictions of more than a dozen lawmakers, culminating in 2015, when he brought down two of the state’s three most powerful politicians: Sheldon Silver, the Democratic former Assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, the Republican former Senate majority leader. Both men have appealed their convictions, which included charges of bribery, extortion and money laundering.

Mr. Bharara also tangled repeatedly with the other member of that entrenched trio, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo. He investigated Mr. Cuomo’s suspicious disbanding in 2014 of the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel that Mr. Cuomo had established a year earlier to address the epidemic of self-dealing in state politics. Mr. Bharara eventually decided there was not enough evidence to charge the governor with interfering in the commission’s work, but at the time of his firing, Mr. Bharara’s office was prosecuting two of Mr. Cuomo’s former advisers in a bribery and bid-rigging scandal.

Mr. Bharara was an equal-opportunity prosecutor. One of the first cases as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York involved bank-fraud charges against a top Democratic donor, Hassan Nemazee, who had ties to Senator Chuck Schumer, for whom Mr. Bharara had worked as chief counsel and who had urged Mr. Obama to hire him.

At the time of his dismissal, his office was in the final stages of a criminal investigation into the campaign fund-raising of New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio.

It’s standard practice for United States attorneys to be replaced when a new administration takes office — roughly half of those appointed by President Obama had resigned before last Friday — but Mr. Trump, as president-elect, had personally asked Mr. Bharara to stay on during a meeting at Trump Tower in November. So why fire him now?

It has been reported that Mr. Bharara’s office is investigating whether Fox News, essentially the propaganda arm of the White House, failed to properly alert its shareholders about settlements with employees who accused the channel’s former boss, Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment.

It may be a while before the full story comes out, or before the Southern District of New York sees another prosecutor as cleareyed about rooting out public corruption. In the meantime, Mr. Bharara deserves credit for leaving New York a little cleaner than he found it. “We are not trying to criminalize ordinary politics,” he said in a 2015 speech. “Just try not to steal our money.”

Citing a Severe Shortage: California to Consider Eliminating Income Tax for Teachers!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. is in the throes of the worst teacher shortage since the 1990s, according to the Learning Policy Institute, which estimates that school districts need to hire about 300,000 new teachers. California, in particular,  is losing teachers at an alarming rate and does not have enough individuals in its teacher certification programs to fill the need. As a result, two legislators are considering a proposal to eliminate income tax for teachers with the hope of attracting more people into the profession.  As reported by U.S. News and World:

“…the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, introduced by two state Senate Democrats, is the first of its kind in California and in the country. While a handful of states give retirees tax breaks on their pensions, and others, including including Maryland and New Jersey, have toyed with the idea of eliminating income tax for law enforcement officers, it doesn’t appear that any have seriously considered cutting the income tax for the teaching profession.

“There’s no other state in the country that has singled out teaching in the classroom as a profession that should not be taxed,” says Bill Lucia, president and CEO of EdVoice, a grassroots education advocacy organization in California that’s backing the proposal.

He continued: “We have a problem in California and we can’t deal with a problem that’s this serious by tinkering around the edges and putting Band-Aids on it or hiding it. We are hiding the issue. This bill is finally bringing out to the sunshine of California how serious the problem is.”

Teacher shortages are a local issue, with teachers in some parts of states competing for few slots while other parts of the same state are starved for educators. But California has borne the brunt of what’s increasingly considered a national teacher shortage crisis.

According to a survey of 211 California school districts, 75 percent reported having a shortage of qualified teachers for the 2016-17 school year, and 80 percent said the shortages have gotten worse since the 2013-14 school year, especially with regard to special education, math, science and bilingual teachers.

To counter the shortage, the state has largely relied on hiring underqualified teachers, filling slots with substitutes or asking educators to teach classes outside their subject area expertise.

Indeed, data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California Department of Education show that during this school year 155,000 students in California public schools are being taught by adults who lack the required state credentials to be full-time teachers.

For new teachers, the proposal would translate into approximately 3.4 percent salary increase annually. A first-year teacher earning $44,746 a year, for example, would be able to write-off up to $1,265, roughly 2.8 percent of their salary, in addition to offsetting the costs of additional credentials or a master’s degree that the state requires.

For veteran teachers, the proposal would be equivalent to a 4 to 6 percent salary increase annually. A year-six teacher with a salary of $59,728 would no longer be taxed $2,483, representing a 4.2 percent salary increase.

Overall, the proposal would cost $617.5 million annually, according to preliminary estimates by EdVoice – $9 million of which would help offset the cost of the additional teacher training the state requires and $608.5 million of which would provide the tax exemption for classroom teaching income.

“[The bill] addresses the immediate teacher shortage and sends a loud and clear message across the state and nation: California values teachers,” said state Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat who co-sponsored the proposal. “We will help train you and we want you to stay in the classroom.”

The costs would be offset by short- and long-term benefits. For example, if the bill results in a 50 percent decrease in teacher turnover, as EdVoice predicts it would, California school districts would save $123.5 million annually.

It’s unclear whether there’s appetite for such an expensive proposal, especially in light of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s projected budget deficit of $1.6 billion – though a recent report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office counters that estimate.

Although the likelihood of this legislation being passed is slim, it will be watched carefully as other states consider how to deal with the teacher shortage.


In Same Building:  One NYC School Lives and Another Dies!

Dear Commons Community,

In the past dozen years or so, one approach of many urban school districts has been to reorganize high-enrollment schools. A major policy of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and continued under Mayor Bill de Blasio was to reorganized a large school in one building into smaller schools or “houses”.  Some of these schools have progressed while others have not.  The New York Times has a featured story today on two schools in the same building in the South Bronx where one is succeeding while the other is getting ready to be closed.  Here is an excerpt:

“What is the distance between progress and failure?

At 1000 Teller Avenue in the South Bronx, it is two flights of stairs and a few points on the annual state exams — the gap between the New Millennium Business Academy Middle School, on the second floor, and Junior High School 145 Arturo Toscanini, on the fourth.

Both schools teach children from poor families, including large numbers of recent immigrants. Both are in the de Blasio administration’s Renewal program, which has provided nearly $400 million in social services and academic assistance to the city’s most struggling schools. At both, the percentage of children who pass the English and math exams each year is in the single digits or low double digits.

But the city’s Education Department sees New Millennium as on the rise. Its test scores have ticked up, however slightly. Enrollment is steady. The schools chancellor recently paid a visit and praised the school’s gains.

Just up the stairs, it is a different story. The Education Department said in January that J.H.S. 145 would be one of six Renewal schools that would be closed for not making sufficient progress. This school year is likely to be J.H.S. 145’s last.

At a hearing at the school in January, a parent asked the superintendent who oversees the school, Leticia Rodriguez-Rosario, why it hadn’t improved.

 “We don’t know,” Ms. Rodriguez-Rosario said. “The formula didn’t work.”

But in several visits to the building and in interviews with teachers at both schools, it became clear that decisive leadership can make or break a school’s turnaround efforts: At New Millennium, a longtime principal has united the staff in a sense of optimism and purpose. At J.H.S. 145, a rapid succession of principals, along with other blows, has sown frustration and mistrust. One sign of that mistrust: Some staff members believe that the city is closing the school primarily to give its space to a charter school that moved into the building in 2015.

“It’s very, very hard not to be a complete and utter cynic when it comes to this,” James Donohue, a longtime English teacher at the school, said. Ms. Rodriguez-Rosario’s assertion that the closing “has absolutely nothing to do with the charter school” is nonsense, he said.

Until 2004, J.H.S. 145 occupied the whole building, with more than 1,600 students, and it struggled academically. The Bloomberg administration divided the building into three schools, believing that smaller schools would perform better. The most senior teachers stayed at J.H.S. 145, while some of the more junior ones went to the two new schools, New Millennium and the Urban Science Academy, which is also in the Renewal program.

But dividing the school didn’t improve things.”

The article goes on with interviews of staff to provide insights into the two schools.  Bottom line is that there is no simple formula for “reforming” a school.  A number of things have to come together with good, stable leadership at or near the top of the list.


David Leonhardt:  To Fix Schools – Go to the Principal’s Office!

Dear Commons Community,

David Leonhardt has an article in today’s New York Times  highlighting the role of the principal in improving schools.  Using a high school in Chicago as an example, he describes and lays out a strategy for how to improve a school that starts with the principal.  Here are several excerpts:

“Virtually every public school in the country has someone in charge who’s called the principal. Yet principals have a strangely low profile in the passionate debates about education. The focus instead falls on just about everything else: curriculum (Common Core and standardized tests), school types (traditional versus charter versus private) and teachers (how to mold and keep good ones, how to get rid of bad ones). You hear far more talk about holding teachers accountable than about principals.

But principals can make a real difference. Overlooking them is a mistake — and fortunately, they’re starting to get more attention. The federal education law passed in 2015, to replace No Child Left Behind, puts a new emphasis on the development of principals. So have some innovative cities and states, including Denver, New Orleans and Massachusetts.

There is no better place to see the difference that principals can make than Chicago. I realize that may sound surprising, given the city’s alarming recent crime surge.

And yet: Chicago’s high school graduation rate has climbed faster than the national rate. The city’s teenagers now enroll in college at a rate only slightly below that in the rest of the country. Younger children have made big gains in reading and math, larger than in every other major city except Washington, which has a far better known success story. Chicago’s good news is not limited to the three R’s, either. Students are also spending more time studying art, music and theater….

The progress has multiple causes, including a longer school day and school year and more school choices for families. But the first thing many people talk about here is principals.

“The national debate is all screwed up,” Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, told me. “Principals create the environment. They create a culture of accountability. They create a sense of community. And none of us, nationally, ever debate principals.”

He added, “We ask too much of teachers.”…

Chicago has turned to a mix of principals with and without traditional backgrounds. Armando Rodriguez, who runs a new science high school in a modest neighborhood near Midway Airport, used to be an engineer at Motorola. Gregory Jones, a Chicago native, was a teacher and assistant principal, before taking over Kenwood, a neighborhood school that also accepts students from elsewhere in the city through a lottery.”

This piece is well-done!



CUNY/SUNY TeachNY Event at CCNY’s Great Hall!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, I attended the CUNY/SUNY TeachNY event at the Great Hall of City College, a cathedral-like space that seats over 1500 people.  If you have not been to the Great Hall, it is one of the more interesting rooms in New York City.  Designed by the architect, George Post, it houses a huge mural by Edwin H. Blashfield’s titled The Graduate, sixty-foot high stain-glass windows, and the polished remains of two, twenty-foot high pipe organs. 

The CUNY/SUNY TeachNY was an afternoon of discussions regarding teacher education.  It was remarkable to see CUNY Chancellor J.B. Milliken, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, and NYS Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in the same room, all giving talks about teacher education.  Topics included clinical practice, the teacher profession, and future directions. It was the sense of many of us attending that the NYS Department of Education is getting ready to roll out new initiatives aimed at strengthening teacher education programs.

It was a worthwhile afternoon in a great setting.  My congratulations to University Dean Ashleigh Thompson and all those who coordinated the day’s activities.


New Study on Adaptive Learning at U of Central Florida and Colorado Technical U!

Dear Commons Community,

Adaptive learning is moving into the mainstream of higher education.  We are moving beyond the hype of companies that market instructional software and beginning to see bonafide research on the implementation of adaptive learning at colleges and schools.  One such study:  Dziuban, Charles; Moskal, Patsy; Johnson, Constance; and Evans, Duncan (2017) “Adaptive Learning: A Tale of Two Contexts,” Current Issues in Emerging eLearning: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 3, is available as a free download at: http://scholarworks.umb.edu/ciee/vol4/iss1/3

The summary abstract reads as follows;

“This paper presents the results of student reactions to adaptive learning at two universities with considerably different contexts: a large public institution and a for-profit, professional university. A student response protocol developed by and administered at the University of Central Florida (UCF) was also distributed to students at Colorado Technical University (CTU). Demographic comparisons of the two responding sample groups indicated considerable differences in student characteristics, especially with respect to age and work status. However, a factor invariance comparison revealed that students at both universities evaluated the adaptive climate similarly though the lens of learning environment, guidance path and progression. When the factor scores for the institutions were compared, CTU students responded more favorably to the guidance component of adaptive learning while UCF students perceived that the adaptive learning system provided a more effective learning environment. Students who were clustered by whether or not they would reengage with adaptive courses, showed a positive and somewhat more ambivalent group. The authors concluded that adaptive learning with its flexibility and variable time component is a possible solution to the scarcity problem in our educational system, addressing students with too many needs and too few resources. The authors contend that adaptive learning could help to level the educational and economic playing fields in our society.”

I found the article quite useful in bringing me up to date on adaptive learning. The research procedures used in this study were first-rate.

Give it a read!