Category Archives: Education

Trump Budget is Criminal; Ryan & Republicans are Accomplices

Donald Trump delivers his joint address to Congress, as Mike Pence and Paul Ryan cheer him on. Trump’s 2018 budget may be unbelievably cruel and callous, but it mimics the principles that Ryan and the Republicans have been crusading for © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

It doesn’t matter that Trump’s preposterously named “A New Foundation for American Greatness” budget is “dead on arrival” according to even staunch Republican, Texas Senator John Cornyn. Much of it is the long-time wet dream of Paul Ryan and Republicans whose singular ambition has been to destroy the New Deal, Square Deal, Great Society. They would eliminate the minimum wage, child labor laws, food and product safety, Clean Air & Water protections, Social Security and Medicare and most notably Medicaid, sell off national parks and monuments to mining and oil and gas industrialists. And this is before taking into account tax “reform” that would take $2 trillion out of the national budget to put into the pockets of the wealthiest and corporations, so they have even more extra pocket change to spend on political campaigns.

Indeed, the Trump budget is everything that the Republicans have been dying to do, but didn’t dare. But Trump doesn’t care. He has shown that it really isn’t hard atall to cut the budget when you really don’t care what the numbers represent,when you have no clue and no interest.

The Trump Budget is built on “Trumponomics, as Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Mulvaney proudly exclaimed, “It’s a taxpayer-first budget, going line by line through the budget, trying to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are paying for those lines….What Trumponomics is and what this budget is a part of is an effort to get to sustained 3 percent economic growth in this country again..And by the way, we do not believe that that is something fanciful.”

Indeed, this is a “tough love” approach to force malingerers off things like food stamps – it’s not non-living wages paid by companies pocketing record profits that keep workers below the poverty line that’s the problem.

“Getting people back to work. Create an environment where people more comfortable staying at …We no longer measure compassion by the number of programs or number of people on programs. We measure success by how many get off programs and have success in lives.”

But the figures don’t actually add up.

Economists from across the spectrum say that the math that underlies the main selling point for Trump’s budget, that it will “balance the budget” in 10 years, is a crock. It doesn’t take into account the $1 trillion or so in tax cuts that will go entirely to the wealthiest and to corporations that Trump sketched out; it assumes a 3% rate of annual economic growth, which would mean 50% more economic activity, which everyone says is beyond pie-in-the-sky; and it actually double-counts $2 trillion, prompting headlines like this one from Slate, “Donald Trump’s budget is based on a hilarious accounting fraud” and “The dumb accounting error at the heart of Trump’s budget “ from Vox.

Health care a right, not a privilege? Trump’s budget projects a 28.3% DROP in spending for health services, $2 trillion less spending, over a 10-year period – despite the aging and increase in population. This includes a 27% decrease in spending for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (imagine another Ebola, Zika or Swine Flu outbreak); 25% drop in Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (even as Trumpcare will no longer include mental health or addiction), 25% less spending for research and training, including 25% cut for the National Institutes of Health (no interest in finding therapies or cures for Zika,  Alzheimers or “orphan” diseases that wouldn’t be profitable enough for Big Pharma); 40% cut for the Food & Drug Administration (let Big Pharma do what they will); 15% drop in food safety and inspection; 17% cut to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 16% cut in already strapped Occupation and Mine Safety and Health spending even as he overturned regulations.

$1.4 trillion gap in infrastructure spending to repair decaying roads, bridges airports? Trump would cut Transportation spending by 25% cut (65% cut to National Infrastructure Investments; 50% cut to air transportation which is already woefully in need of upgrades); 28% cut to Education, Training, Employment and Social Services.

His cuts to environmental protection – on top of slashing regulations that give communities a fighting chance to protect their air, water and public health – amount to Hague Tribunal level of war criminality for what he will do to the planet, let alone our communities. The allocation is cut 27.1% – $132 billion worth – including a 34% cut in Pollution control and abatement, 42% cut in Regulatory, enforcement and research programs, 37% cut in Hazardous substance superfund ($330 million less in 2018).

Trump would end funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts—“saving” over $100 million in 2018. He cuts out $129 million in funding for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement. He cuts out $233 million in 2018 for the EPA’s Research & Development (ie. climate change science). It eliminates more than 50 EPA programs, $347 million worth in 2018; and ends funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay, amounting to $427 million in 2018.

Trump would cut General Science, Space & Technology spending by 14.7%, including 18.9% cut to General Science and basic research.

International Affairs would be cut nearly in half, including 26% cut in spending for Global Health programs; 74% cut in Refugee programs; 66% percent cut in International Disaster Assistance, 83% cut in “other” development and humanitarian assistance.”

(See the New York Times, “How Trump’s Budget Would Affect Every Part of Government”).

Setting aside for a moment that Trump and his billionaire friends don’t actually pay their fare share of taxes, nor do many profitable American companies which have stashed $2 trillion in offshore accounts, the Republicans’ approach is what Hillary Clinton correctly observed, “trickle down economics on steroids.” It didn’t work with Reagan or George W. Bush. And this is even worse.

No matter: the extremity of Trump’s proposed budget, the callousness of it, will give cover to Ryan and the House Republicans and make anything they do seem “moderate”, even “compassionate.” So they cut Medicaid by $600 billion instead of $866 billion and call it a “win” for the little people; they cut the State Department by 20% instead of 30% and pat themselves on the head; they cut the EPA by 25% instead of 31%.

 

Here’s what Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) wrote: “Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says that Donald Trump’s new budget is ‘right on the target.’ That’s all you need to know about just how devastating Trump’s budget will be for working families in Massachusetts and across this country.

“It’s obscene:

  • $5 billion in cuts to public education
  • $73 billion in cuts to Social Security
  • $191 billion in cuts to food stamps
  • $610 billion in cuts to Medicaid (and that’s in addition to the $880 billion the House Republicans are slashing in their so-called “health care” bill)

“Those are just a few of the highlights. What else gets cut? Money for children’s health care, money to combat the opioid epidemic, money for medical research, money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and so much more.

“This budget is ‘right on the target’ only if the target is to sucker-punch kids, seniors, the poor and the sick. If the Republicans make good on this budget, they could deliver the final blow to America’s working families.

We don’t build a future by ripping health care away from tens of millions of people. We don’t build a future by starving education, by letting our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, and by shutting down the big pipeline of medical and scientific research in this country.

“We build a future by making the investments in ourselves and all of our people – so the next kid can get ahead, and the kid after that, and the kid after that. We’ve done this before in our country, and we can do it again.

”Budgets aren’t just about dollars and cents. Budgets are about our values, and this budget is morally bankrupt,” Warren wrote.

Trump and the Republicans would cut out all the things that have “made America great,” and a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, not to mention the main tools for spreading democracy and human rights across the globe (through capitalist investment, which is what China and Russia are now doing).

This is the midst of an actually strong economy, near “full employment” and as we keep hearing, a record stock market.

The Trump budget is the essence of everything that Trump is doing to weaken the US as an economic power, a world power, and its ability to be a moral leader, that Reaganesque “beacon on a hill” of political righteousness.

As we marked Memorial Day this past weekend, a New York Times book review of “The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost,” by Cathal J. Nolan, pointed out that “Generally, one side, usually the one with a smaller economy and population, becomes exhausted, and gives up. Talk about élan and audacity all you like, he counsels, but what wins wars is demography and economic strength.” That is to say, winning a war is more a matter of “hearts and minds” vs. “bombs and brigades” as we have been seeing in America’s longest wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Everything that Trump has done so far (putting aside the fact that he is an illegitimate occupier of the Oval Office by selling out to an adversary government), will weaken the US as an economic power, a world power, and its ability to be a moral leader, that Reaganesque “beacon on a hill” of political righteousness.

Indeed, Trump, who cozied up to the Saudis while hectoring NATO allies and the G7, on his “epic” overseas trip, came back declaring “a home run”, while Germany’s Angela Merkel told Europe,  “We can no longer depend on the US or UK. We are on our own.”

New York State, along with other “blue” states like California, already send way more income tax money to Washington than we get back while the “red” states, which so pride themselves in low state taxes and low wages get far more than they send. Like tenants with a legal fight against their landlord, I would propose that New Yorkers collect their federal income tax money in an escrow account, to pay for services that should be paid by the federal government, such as police and security protection (which Trump is threatening to cut to New York and other states that don’t cooperate in his roundup of undocumented individuals), environmental restoration, health care for those whose subsidies have been eliminated, public schools, infrastructure repair, food stamps and school lunch program.

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Trump Races to Chalk Up 100-Day ‘Successes’ by Weakening Antiquities Act, Overturning Education Reform, and Unveiling Tax Plan to Benefit Wealthy, Corporations

After his visit to Yosemite in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt pushed through the Antiquities Act of 1906 to prevent the destruction of historic or prehistoric ruins on government land © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Donald Trump is racing to the 100-day mark to do as much as he can to undo progress won over the past century, particularly eradicating every part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

On Wednesday, he signed Executive Orders weakening the Antiquities Act that has been used since Theodore Roosevelt to protect federal land for the American people.

He signed another Executive Order aimed at rolling back national education standards put into place, originally, by George W. Bush under the No Child Left Behind Act, amended with Barack Obama’s Race to the Top (which used federal financial incentives instead of threats of losing federal aid), and reformed under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act).

Also, his Treasury Secretary introduced the outline for tax “reform” which cuts taxes for the wealthiest and corporations and promises to blow a hold trillions of dollars wide in the national debt, just as previous “voodoo” “trickle-down” tax “reform” by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have done.

According to the pool report by Dave Boyer, White House correspondent for The Washington Times:

The president signed an executive order at the Interior Dept. with Vice President Pence, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and several lawmakers and governors. The order directs Interior to review larger national monuments created since 1996.

Trump said the Antiquities Act “does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up” millions of acres of land and water. He especially criticized the Obama administration for an “egregious use of power” and an “abuse of the monuments designation,” and said that it’s time “to end another egregious abuse of federal power.”

“It’s gotten worse and worse and worse. This should never have happened,” he said. “Now we’re going to free it up.”

“We’re returning power back to the people,” Mr. Trump said. “Today we’re putting the states back in charge.”

Pence called the use of the monuments designation “one of the great federal overreaches in recent decades.”

Mr. Zinke said “somewhere along the line, the act has become a tool of political advocacy.” He said the order “does not remove any monuments” or weaken any environmental protections.

[However, it is clear that the powers that Trump is taking upon himself is aimed at reversing Obama’s designation of Bears Ears in Utah.)

Here’s more of what Trump said:

“In the first 100 days, we have taken historic action to eliminate wasteful regulations.  They’re being eliminated like nobody has ever seen before.  There has never been anything like it.  Sometimes I look at some of the things I’m signing I say maybe people won’t like it, but I’m doing the right thing.  And no regular politician is going do it.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know if you folks would do — I will tell you literally some politicians have said, you’re doing the right thing.  I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do some of these things.  But we’re doing them because it’s the right thing to do.  And it’s for the good of the nation.

“We’re returning power back to the people.  We’ve eliminated job-destroying regulations on farmers, ranchers, and coal miners, on autoworkers, and so many other American workers and businesses.

“Today, I am signing a new executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power, and to give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs.

“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control — have you heard about that? — eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land.

“Today, we are putting the states back in charge.  It’s a big thing.

“I am pleased to be joined by so many members of Congress and governors who have been waiting for this moment, including Governor Herbert of Utah.  Thank you, thank you, Governor.  Governor LePage of Maine, who, by the way, has lost a lot of weight.  (Laughter.)  I knew him when he was heavy, and now I know him when he’s thin, and I like him both ways, okay?  (Laughter.)  Done a great job.  Governor Calvo of Guam.  Thank you.  Governor Torres from the Northern Mariana Islands.  Thank you, thank you, Governor.

“I also want to recognize Senator Orrin Hatch, who — believe me, he’s tough.  He would call me and call me and say, you got to do this.  Is that right, Orrin?”

SENATOR HATCH:  That’s right.

THE PRESIDENT:  You didn’t stop.  He doesn’t give up.  And he’s shocked that I’m doing it, but I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.  But I really have to point you out, you didn’t stop.

“And, Mike, the same thing.  So many people feel — Mike Lee — so many people feel so strongly about this, and so I appreciate your support and your prodding, and your never-ending prodding, I should say, because we’re now getting something done that many people thought would never ever get done, and I’m very proud to be doing it in honor of you guys, okay?  Thank you.  (Applause.)

“Altogether, the previous administration bypassed the states to place over 265 million acres — that’s a lot of land, million acres.  Think of it — 265 million acres of land and water under federal control through the abuse of the monuments designation.  That’s larger than the entire state of Texas.

“In December of last year alone, the federal government asserted this power over 1.35 million acres of land in Utah, known as Bears Ears — I’ve heard a lot about Bears Ears, and I hear it’s beautiful — over the profound objections of the citizens of Utah.  The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice.

“I’ve spoken with many state and local leaders — a number of them here today — who care very much about preserving our land, and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab.  And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place.  This should never have happened.

“That’s why today I am signing this order and directing Secretary Zinke to end these abuses and return control to the people — the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States.

“Every day, we are going to continue pushing ahead with our reform agenda to put the American people back in charge of their government and their lives.

“And again, I want to congratulate the Secretary.  I want to congratulate Orrin and Mike and all of the people that worked so hard on bringing it to this point.  And tremendously positive things are going to happen on that incredible land, the likes of which there is nothing more beautiful anywhere in the world.  But now tremendously positive things will happen.”

The signing took place in a room at Interior with a framed portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, a bust of TR and mounted heads of a buffalo and deer on the wall. Among those in attendance were Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Also Govs. Herbert of Utah and LePage of Maine.

Reversing Education Reform

Trump walked into the Roosevelt Room at 2:44 p.m., having been introduced by Vice President Pence. He was greeted by a group of about 25 people, including teachers, lawmakers and governors, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, according to Boyer’s pool report:

A bit of banter:

Mr. Trump joked with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, incoming head of the National Governors Association, about the length of Sandoval’s prepared remarks, with Trump saying he decided to stay in the room after his own comments because “I know it’s going to be a short speech” from Sandoval.

Mr. Sandoval laughed and told the president, “It just got shorter.”

A few moments later during his remarks, Mr. Sandoval said, “I’m going to skip a page.”

The president, standing to the rear of the group, called out, “Education for North Korea.”

During the event, Mr. Trump also said he was heading afterward for a “very important” briefing for senators on North Korea.

During the president’s formal remarks, he said the education executive order will help to restore local control of education. It calls for a 300-day review of Obama-era regulations and guidance for school districts and directs DeVos to modify or repeal measures deemed an overreach by Washington.

“We know that local communities do it best and know it best,” the president said. He called it “another critical step to restoring local control, which is so important.”

“Previous administrations have wrongly forced states and schools to comply with federal whims and dictates for what our kids are taught,” he said. “The time has come to empower teachers and parents to make the decisions that help their students achieve success.”

Among those in attendance were Sen. Lamar Alexander, Rep. Virginia Foxx and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Gov. Herbert of Utah and LePage of Maine, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, nominee for ambassador to China.

Mr. Trump told Mr. Branstad, “They’re looking forward to seeing you” in China.

From there, Trump honored the Teacher of the Year, who, surprise surprise, is the first to be from a charter school in the 65 years of the award.

Boyer reports no questions taken at this event.

Pool was ushered into the Oval Office around 4:45 p.m. to find the President seated at the Resolute desk, surrounded by 55 teachers from around the nation, plus First Lady Melania Trump (who is celebrating her birthday), Vice President Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The President congratulated Sydney Chaffee, winner of the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, from Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. The ninth-grade teacher is the first charter school teacher to win the award in its 65-year history, and also the first from Massachusetts.

“That is really something special,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also thanked the group for having sung “Happy Birthday” to the First Lady before your poolers arrived.

The president greeted your poolers with, “Busy day, hasn’t it been?”

He praised the teachers as “the greatest there are. You’re all great, great teachers.”

Near the conclusion of the president’s comments, as he was saying he hopes the teachers’ trip to the White House was special, one unidentified teacher began to cry, apparently tears of happiness.

“Sorry, I’m always crying,” she told the president.

The President told her, “I’ve had some of the biggest executives in the world, who have been here many times, and I say have you been to the Oval Office? No. They walk into the Oval Office and they start crying. I say ‘I promise I won’t say to your various stockholders [that they cried].”

The president did not answer a question shouted near the end about North Korea.

Meanwhile, the outline of his tax plan was unveiled which would:

  1. Slash the corporate tax rate by 60%, from 35% to 15%. This will lose $2.4 trillion over 10 years—enough to fund Medicaid and CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) serving nearly 75 million Americans for five years.
  2. Cut the tax rate paid by Wall Street money managers and real estate tycoons like Trump down to just 15%―far less than many middle-class families pay.
  3. Continue tax breaks that encourage corporations to send jobs and profits offshore. Corporations currently have $2.6 trillion in profits stashed offshore, on which they owe $750 billion in taxes.

The theory – by Republicans since Ronald Reagan – is that the deficit in tax revenues would be made up by economic growth, except that has never been the case.

In reaction, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) stated:

“At a time when we have a rigged economy designed to benefit the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations, President Trump’s new tax plan would only make that system worse. He would slash taxes for himself and his billionaire friends and significantly increase the deficit, while doing little to help rebuild the collapsing middle class. Rather than making large profitable corporations – many of which pay nothing in federal income tax – finally contribute their fair share, Trump wants to give them a huge tax break.

“At a time when Trump wants to make major cuts in education, health care, senior programs, nutrition and affordable housing, it is especially outrageous that he would propose the elimination of the Estate Tax and provide a $353 billion dollar tax giveaway to the wealthiest 0.2 percent – including a tax break of up to $4 billion to the Trump family.”

In Remarks to NASA Astronauts, Trump Reacts to “International Cooperation,” “Discovery” & “Science Education” By Pointing to Military Application of Space

Marchers at the March for Science pass Trump International Hotel, New York City, April 22, 2017 © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Only Donald Tweeter Trump could reply to a remark about how the International Space Station is “by far, the best example of international cooperation and what we can do when we work together in the history of humanity” with a statement about the “tremendous military application in space.  We’re rebuilding our military like never before.”

Following the astronauts’ inspiration message to the thousands of students participating in the video chat with Peggy Whitson, the commander on the international space station, who just hit a milestone as the American with the most time in space, and a discussion of all the scientific and medical achievements gained from the space station, Trump said:

So well said.  And I have to say, there’s tremendous military application in space.  We’re rebuilding our military like never before.  We’re ordering equipment, and we’re going to have the strongest military that we’ve ever had, the strongest military that the world has ever seen, and there’s been no time where we need it more.  And I’m sure that every student watching wants to know, what is next for Americans in space.”

Then, after being told that a Mars mission is planned for the 2030s, Trump, again showing how clueless and uncaring he is about actual facts, says it would take place during his first term, or “at worst” his second term (apparently he intends to pull an Erdogan).

Here is the White House transcript which speaks volumes about the so-called Commander-in-Chief – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

10:00 A.M. EDT

NASA: White House, this is Mission Control, Houston.  Please call Station for a voice check.

THE PRESIDENT:  Do you hear me?

CMDR. WHITSON:  Yes, sir.  We have you loud and clear.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s what we like — great American equipment that works.  And this isn’t easy.  (Laughter.)

I want to say it’s very exciting to be here today — very, very exciting — and to speak to you live with three brave American astronauts.  These are our finest.  These are great, great Americans, great people.  Two join us from orbit aboard the International Space Station:  Commander Peggy Whitson and Colonel Jack Fischer.  And Peggy Whitson has been setting records, and we’re going to talk about that very soon.

I’m here in the Oval Office, along with my daughter Ivanka and astronaut Kate Rubins, who recently returned from space and from the Space Station.  Together, we are being joined by students all across America, thousands and thousands of students who are learning — they’re learning about space, learning about a lot of other things — and they’re watching this conversation from the classroom.  And, all over, we have astronauts and we have everybody, who are flying right now, 17,000 miles per hour.  That’s about as fast as I’ve ever heard.  I wouldn’t want to be flying 17,000 miles an hour.  But that’s what you do.

Peggy, Jack, and Kate, I know that America’s students are thrilled to hear from you.  But first, I want to say that this is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight.  Today, Commander Whitson, you have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut — 534 days and counting.  That’s an incredible record to break.  And on behalf of our nation and, frankly, on behalf of the world, I’d like to congratulate you.  That is really something.  And I’d like to know, how does it feel to have broken such a big and important record?

CMDR. WHITSON:  Well, it’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it’s an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible.  And so it’s a very exciting time to be at NASA.  We are all very much looking forward, as directed by your new NASA bill — we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s.  And so we actually, physically, have hardware on the ground that’s being built for the SLS rocket that’s going to take us there.  And, of course, the hardware being built now is going to be for the test flights that will eventually get us there.

But it’s a very exciting time, and I’m so proud of the team.

THE PRESIDENT:  Great.  And what are we learning from having you spending your time up there?  I know so much research is done; I’m getting a glimpse of some of it right here in the Oval Office.  What are we learning by being in space?

CMDR. WHITSON:  Well, I think probably the International Space Station is providing a key bridge from us living on Earth to going somewhere into deep space.  So on those Mars missions, we need to better understand how microgravity is really affecting our body, and we need to understand it in great detail.  So, many of the studies are looking at the human body.  We’re also looking at things that involve operations of a space vehicles on these long-duration missions and the technological advancements that will be required.

For instance, on a multiyear Mars mission, we’re going to need to be able to close the life support system, and that means we, right now, for instance, are taking solar power that we collect, and using it to break apart water into oxygen and hydrogen.  The oxygen, we breathe, of course.  We use the hydrogen, combine it back with the CO2 that we take out of the air, and make more water.  But water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drinkable.  And it’s really not as bad as it sounds.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s good.  I’m glad to hear that.  (Laughter.)  Better you than me.  I will say, Colonel Fischer, you just arrived, and how was your trip?  Complicated?  Easy?  How did it go?

COL. FISCHER:  Oh, sir, it was awesome.  It made even my beloved F-22 feel a little bit underpowered.  I launched in a Russian vehicle with my Russian friend, Fyodor Yurchikhin, from Kazakhstan.  Got the immediate perspective change as we got to orbit, and I saw that frail, thin blue line of life around the Earth.  Six hours later, we’re docked at the station.  The next day, I install an experiment in the Japanese module that’s going to be looking at new drugs and how we can make those drugs for muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, multi-drug-resistant bacteria — all sorts of things.  A couple hours later, I watched our crewmate, Thomas Pesquet, a Frenchman, drive a Canadian robotic arm to capture a spaceship from Virginia, carrying 3.5 tons of cargo and science that’s going to keep us busy for the next few months, and dock that to the station.

Sir, it’s amazing.  Oh, and then, you know, now I’m talking to the President of the United States while hanging from a wall.  It’s amazing.  The International Space Station is, by far, the best example of international cooperation and what we can do when we work together in the history of humanity.  And I am so proud to be a part of it.  And it’s just cool.  (Laughter.)  Like, yesterday, I had — well, there you go — there’s our resident space ninja doing the gravity demonstration.  And yesterday morning, I had my coffee in floaty ball form, and, sir, it was delicious.  So, it’s awesome.

THE PRESIDENT:  Tell me, Mars — what do you see a timing for actually sending humans to Mars?  Is there a schedule?  And when would you see that happening?

CMDR. WHITSON:  Well, I think as your bill directed, it will be approximately in the 2030s.  As I mentioned, we actually are building hardware to test the new heavy launch vehicle, and this vehicle will take us further than we’ve ever been away from this planet.  Unfortunately, spaceflight takes a lot of time and money, so getting there will require some international cooperation to get it to be a planet-wide approach in order to make it successful, just because it is a very expensive endeavor.  But it so worthwhile doing.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term.  So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay? 

CMDR. WHITSON:  (Laughter.)  We’ll do our best.

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, you will.  And I have great respect for you folks.  It’s amazing what you do.  And I just want to introduce another great one.  Kate Rubins is with us today, and she has been so impressive with research and so many other things having to do with NASA.  And, Kate, I understand you’re the first person to sequence DNA in space.  Can you tell us about that?

RUBINS:  Yeah.  So that was actually just this last summer, and it’s a real example of what we can do with technology and innovation.  We’ve got a sequencer down to the size of your cellphone, and we were actually able to fly that onboard the space station and sequence DNA.  It’s not just the technology demonstration, but we can actually use that to do things like detect microbes on the space station, look at astronaut health.  We can easily use that in Earth-based settings, too, to look for disease outbreaks and to do rural healthcare as well.

TRUMP:  That’s fantastic.  That is really great.  I saw some of the work, and it’s incredible.  You know, I’ve been dealing with politicians so much, I’m so much more impressed with these people.  You have no idea. 

Now, speaking of another impressive person — Ivanka, you’ve been very much interested in this program.  Tell us something about it.

MS. TRUMP:  Hi, Dr. Whitson.  First of all, congratulations on your incredible milestone today.  You may know that my father recently signed the Inspire Women Act to encourage female participation in STEM fields across all aerospace areas, and really with a focus on NASA.  So encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM careers is a major priority for this administration.

And today we are sitting with an amazing example of that — Dr. Rubins, and you, Dr. Whitson.  So I would love to hear from you, what was the impetus for you to get involved in the sciences?

RUBINS:  Yeah, so when I around fifteen, I actually went to a conference, and that was very inspiring for me.  It was sort of the beginning of recombinant DNA and understanding biology.  And so just that exposure to scientists and the kinds of things that you can do with science and technology innovation.

MS. TRUMP:  Amazing.  Dr. Whitson?

CMDR. WHITSON:  For me, it was actually the Apollo program was my inspiration, and that was when it became a dream to become an astronaut.  But I don’t really think it became a goal until I graduated from high school, when the first female astronauts were selected.  And seeing those role models, and with the encouragement of my parents and various mentors in college and graduate school, and when I started working at Rice, that’s what made it possible, I think, to become an astronaut.  And it took me a lot longer to become an astronaut than I ever really wanted it to take, but I do think I’m better at my job because of the journey.

MS. TRUMP:  You’re an incredible inspiration to us all.  So I would also like to ask you one more question.  I’m incredibly curious, as I’m sure all the students across the country are, to know what a day in the life in space is like.  Could you share what a typical day looks like, what the challenges are, just any special moments?

CMDR. WHITSON:  Well, a typical day, we wake up and look at the messages from the ground, because we have a huge ground team that’s working overnight to prepare changes or the details of the tests that we’re going to be performing over the course of the day.  So first thing I do is check out that, see what’s changed.

But on any given day, it can be so dramatically different.  On one day, we might be focusing on science.  On another day, we might be repairing the carbon dioxide removal system.  On another day, soon Jack and I are going to do a spacewalk.  We talked about, last Saturday, we did robotics operations.  I love the diversity of the different activities that we do.  Plus, you know, we have over 200 investigations ongoing onboard the space station, and I just think that’s a phenomenal part of the day.

Of course, there’s also just the living and, onboard the space station, it’s such a unique and novel environment.  Nothing that we’re used to on the ground.  And it’s so special to just be in zero gravity.  So Jack is the new guy here, and I think he can probably give you a better perspective on what that’s like.

COL. FISCHER:  Well, you know, everything here — my dad always said that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.  And we work really hard up here, but it’s not really work, it’s just fun.  It’s like playing fort almost, only you’re changing the world while you do it.

And then on the off time, the other morning I was working out, and on our machine that we work out on, right below it is the Cupola window.  And so when you’re on the device where you do crunches, every time you come up, you see out the window.  And it’s awesome because you kind of go, crunch, “Oh, my gosh, that’s beautiful!  I got to do that again.”  Crunch, “Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful.”  It’s awesome.  Everything we do here is fun, and it feels so great to know that we’re making a difference on the ground and for the future of humanity as well.  So it’s an incredible, incredible job.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re making a great difference, I have to say.  And this is a very exciting time for our country, and you see what’s happening with our country in terms of jobs, in terms of business, and there’s such excitement and such enthusiasm.  Many American entrepreneurs are racing into space.  I have many friends that are so excited about space.  They want to get involved in space from the standpoint of entrepreneurship and business. 

Tell us about the opportunities that could exist for the next generation of scientists and engineers.  Is that something that you think a student — because you have so many students, hundreds of thousands watching — is that something that you think that students should be focusing, or should they be thinking about other subjects?  What do you think are the opportunities for young students wanting to be involved in space?

A few of the New York City public school students pleading that the government not cut funding for science education, at the March for Science, New York City, April 22, 2017 © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

COL. FISCHER:  Sir, absolutely.  I think that this is probably the most exciting in space exploration, certainly in my lifetime.  We are about to just have an explosion of activity.  There is so much involvement on the space station with commercial industries and commercial partners.  We have an entire program to manage the science.  NASA has done a wonderful job of seeding a new industry with the Commercial Crew Program and the Commercial Cargo Program so that we can build the infrastructure we need for the future exploration.

One thing I love about American entrepreneurs is, once you get them going, you better stand out of their way because they’re going to start chucking.  And we’re about to that point.  NASA is taking on that expensive, hard, complex task of going further and deeper into space with the wonderful new rocket, Space Launch System and Orion.  And then, as soon as we break open that door, this incredible infrastructure that we’ve been building is going to be right there to pick up the baton and continue into the stars.

I would say to all the students that are watching, the time to get excited is now.  If you aren’t studying science and math, you might want to think about that because our future in the stars starts now, and you can be a part of that if, like Dr. Whitson, you can find that passion and work really hard.  And we’re going to find a permanent foothold in the stars for humanity if you do that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you.  So well said.  And I have to say, there’s tremendous military application in space.  We’re rebuilding our military like never before.  We’re ordering equipment, and we’re going to have the strongest military that we’ve ever had, the strongest military that the world has ever seen, and there’s been no time where we need it more.  And I’m sure that every student watching wants to know, what is next for Americans in space. 

I’m very proud that I just signed a bill committing NASA to the aim of sending America astronauts to Mars.  So we’ll do that.  I think we’ll do it a lot sooner than we’re even thinking.  So which one of you is ready to go to Mars?  Are you ready?  And I think you’re ready.  I know you’re ready, right?  We just discussed that.  She’d like to go to Mars very quickly.  Who’s ready to go to Mars up there?

CMDR. WHITSON:  We are absolutely ready to go to Mars.  It’s going to be a fantastic journey getting there, and very exciting times, and all of us would be happy to go.  But I want all the young people out there to recognize that the real steps are going to be taken in a few years.  And so by studying math, science, engineering, any kind of technology, you’re going to have a part in that, and that will be very exciting.

THE PRESIDENT:  I just want to thank you very much.  And, Dr. Whitson, I just — congratulations.  Amazing.  What an amazing thing that you’ve done.  Everybody here — I know you’re family — but everybody here is incredibly proud of the record you just broke.  I hope that every young American watching today finds, in your example, a reason to love space and think about space because many great things are going to come out, tremendous discoveries in medicine and so many other fields.

So thank you very much.  I want to say God bless you, God bless America.  We are very, very proud of you, and very proud of your bravery.  Thank you very much.

 

END                10:19 A.M. EDT

Many Cheers But One Big Jeer for NYS Governor Cuomo: Local Control

NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo takes aim at local control and public schools © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo takes aim at local control and public schools © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

There is much to cheer in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, one of which he delivered at SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island. His agenda for infrastructure, mass transportation improvements, water quality, affirming women’s reproductive rights,  support for immigrants and refugees, free tuition at public colleges for those who qualify, and how he couples the need for aggressive climate action with vigorous sustainable economic development, giving his blessing leading to LIPA’s landmark decision for a 90 megawatt off-shore windfarm to supply the East End, the first utility-scale project in America and making Long Island a leader in a new American industry, put Cuomo in line another New York Governor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which FDR brought to the White House as the New Deal (and it is clear Cuomo is jockeying for an eventual run for president).

The one jeer? His renewed assault on local control, which he casts as the culprit for unceasingly high property taxes, which is a not-really-veiled attack on public education.

Each year, Cuomo has used a different mechanism to make the property tax cap – which limits the amount a municipality can raise through property taxes to 2% or the CPI, whichever is less – an offer that can’t be refused. This year, Cuomo has unveiled a “groundbreaking” proposal which mandates the county executive “to develop localized plans that find real, recurring property tax savings by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services and proposing coordinated services to enhance purchasing power, such as jointly purchasing and coordinating use of expensive transportation or emergency equipment. Taxpayers will then vote on these cost-saving plans in a referendum in the November 2017 general election.” If the referendum fails, well then, the plan would need to be reworked and resubmitted in November 2018. (Notably, New York City is exempted.)

But the argument begins with a flawed argument that we spend 2.5 times on property taxes than state income taxes. Doesn’t that spending differential reflect how much we pay for the services we actually receive locally? Plowing snow. Repairing roads. Treating sewage. Picking up garbage. Delivering water. Maintaining police, fire and emergency services. Keeping street lights on. And yes, public education.

Though people like to charge that Long Island pays the highest property taxes in the country, that isn’t true. Nor do New Yorkers pay the highest taxes in the nation, When all taxes are tallied –real estate, income, sales taxes and fees, New York comes in 6th (behind Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Rhode Island).  Nor are the taxes out of line to the incomes earned and home values. But most importantly, for the quality of municipal services including public schools, we want in our community.

Question for Cuomo: before you forcibly consolidate local governments, how much money would be saved by the exercise and how would consolidation actually work? North Hempstead already promotes intermunicipal cooperation; the school districts already participate in joint purchasing and shared services (BOCES) wherever practicable. Indeed, Great Neck public schools now earn a tidy sum in revenue from other districts for tuition paid into programs such as SEAL (rather than paying out $1 million in tuition). If there is waste and duplication, voters can show their ire at the ballot box or make their better-government suggestions known at public meetings.

But the real target of Cuomo’s assault on local governments and property taxes is public education, since 60-65% of the property tax bill goes to fund schools.

Talk about wasteful duplication. If he were so concerned, Cuomo wouldn’t be pushing for a second tier public school system – for-profit charter schools – without the same financial or academic accountability or subject to the same state mandates, to divert money from public schools.

Indeed, Long Islanders wouldn’t pay so much in property taxes if we weren’t so shortchanged in state aid for our public schools – though Long Island has 17% of NY’s student population, we only receive 12% of  state aid. It is a lot more obvious when you compare the percentage of school budgets funded by state aid: New York City, where property taxes are low and just about everybody gets some sort of tax holiday, gets 50% of its school budget paid by the state; in comparison less than 5% of Great Neck’s school budget comes from the state. Also, new enterprises, like Avalon Bay residential development, are getting a PILOT by Nassau County’s IDA, reducing the taxes they contribute to the school district as well as Village of Great Neck; the difference is made up by homeowners.

Governor Cuomo has made property taxes, and particularly school taxes, the enemy, falsely claiming that the taxes inhibit growth. But the services that are funded through property taxes contribute to economic growth and activity (an educated workforce, lighted roadways) as well as quality of life.

“Economic theory expects people to consider taxes when deciding where to live, but most studies show taxes only tangentially influence these decisions,” explains Stephanie Hunter McMahon, professor of law at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, in a WalletHub report. “Taxes are, therefore, more influential for what they do or do not provide rather than the rate itself…these taxes are really payments for the goods and services state and local governments provide to the taxpayer and other members of the community.”

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

White House Issues Report on Continuing Need to Rethink School Discipline

President Obama discusses education, education reform, pro-growth agenda at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY, Oct 25, 2013.
President Obama discusses education, education reform, pro-growth agenda at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY, Oct 25, 2013 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Public schools in some instances have been accused of being part of a “schools to prison” pipeline. Indeed, many schools today operate more like prisons than places to promote a lifelong love of learning and instill the tools for independent thinking, problem solving and creative strategies. –  Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

The White House has just released a new capstone report with updates about projects launched and local progress made in response to the Administration’s Rethink Discipline efforts. Rethink Discipline was launched as part of President Barack Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper initiative and aims to support all students and promote a welcome and safe climate in schools. The full report is available HERE.

The White House will also convene stakeholders and leaders to discuss the progress made and the work ahead to encourage and support local leaders as they work to implement supportive school discipline practices. Today’s meeting in the Roosevelt Room will include remarks by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force Broderick Johnson, Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz and Secretary of Education John King.

As noted in a joint Department of Education and Department Health and Human Services Policy Statement, suspension and expulsion can contribute to  a number of adverse outcomes for childhood development in areas such as personal health, interactions with the criminal justice system, and education.

The 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection reveals that out-of-school suspensions decreased by nearly 20 percent compared to the 2011-12 school year. However, 2.8 million students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2013-14 school year, representing approximately 6% of all students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools.

The application of exclusionary discipline practices is especially significant for students of color and students with disabilities, who, in general, are disciplined more often than their classmates.  As stated in the Department of Education’s First Look brief about 2013-14 CRDC data, in preschool, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white children. In K-12, black students are 3.8 times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions compared to white students. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities.

Addressing these disparities and rethinking discipline have remained top priorities of the Administration, which has focused attention on the importance of school disciplinary approaches that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments in which students can thrive. 

Announcements made as part of this comprehensive effort include:

  • Supportive School Discipline Initiative: In 2011, the Departments of Education and Justice announced the launch of a collaborative project to support the use of school discipline practices that foster safe, supportive, and productive learning environments while keeping students in school. A cornerstone of this Initiative is the School Discipline Consensus Project, managed by the Council of State Governments and supported by various philanthropic organizations. The Consensus Project brought together practitioners from various fields to develop consensus recommendations to dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
  • Joint Federal Policy and Legal Guidance: Education and Justice jointly released a School Climate and Discipline Guidance Package in 2014 to provide schools with a roadmap to reduce the usage of exclusionary discipline practices and clarify schools’ civil rights obligation to not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the administration of school discipline.
  • #RethinkDiscipline Convening and Public Awareness Campaign: The Departments of Education and Justice launched Rethink Discipline at the White House in July of 2015, convening school district teams, including superintendents, some law enforcement practitioners, and justice officials from across the country and sparking a national dialogue around punitive school discipline policies and practices that exclude students from classroom instruction and targeted supports.
  • Rethink School Discipline – Resource Guide for Superintendent Action: As a part of Rethink Discipline, the Department of Education developed a resource guide with a set of potential action items to help school leaders implement safe, supportive school climate and discipline by engaging stakeholders, assessing the results and history of existing school climate and discipline systems and practices; implementing reform; and monitoring progress.
  • Support for State and Local Educational Leaders and Partners from Other Systems: In 2015, the Department of Justice launched the National Resource Center for School Justice Partnerships to advance school discipline reform efforts and serve as a dynamic resource hub for schools, law enforcement agencies, and others to support school discipline reform efforts at the local level.
  • Fostering Safe and Supportive Learning Environments: In 2016, the Department of Education released the ED School Climate Surveys and the Quick Guide on Making School Climate Improvements to help foster and sustain safe and more nurturing environments that are conducive to learning for all students.
  • Addressing Implicit Bias and Discipline Disparities in Early Childhood Settings: In 2016, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services announced a new investment of $1 million in the Pyramid Equity Project to establish national models for addressing issues of implicit bias, and uneven implementation of discipline, including expulsions and suspensions, in early learning programs.
  • Providing Guidance to Schools on Ensuring Equity and Providing Behavioral Supports to Students with Disabilities: In 2016, the Department of Education announced the release of a significant guidance document in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter, which emphasized the requirement that schools provide positive behavioral supports to students with disabilities who need them. It also clarified that the repeated use of disciplinary actions may suggest that many children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports. Also included was a Summary for Stakeholders.
  • Transforming School Climate: In the 2016 Investing in Innovation Program, the Department supports innovative approaches to creating a supporting school climate. This priority builds on the #RethinkDiscipline campaign to increase awareness about the detrimental impacts of exclusionary discipline, the Department’s investment in School Climate Transformation Grants to help states and districts strengthen behavioral supports for students, and a school discipline guidance package to clarify schools’ obligation not to discriminate on the basis of race in discipline.
  • Best Practices and Procedures for School Resource Officers: In September of 2016, U.S. Departments of Education and U.S. Justice released new tools to assist states, districts and schools in the implementation of best practices for the appropriate use of school resource officers (SROs). The release is the result of collaborative work between both Departments to define the best use of law enforcement officers when utilized within a school environment. The Departments also jointly released the Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics. These resources are designed to help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies in alignment with common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights.
  • Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools: Last month, ED sent a letter urging state leaders to end the use of corporal punishment in schools, a practice repeatedly linked to harmful short-term and long-term outcomes for students. The letter from the Secretary was sent to governors and chief state school officers and provided links to resources that can be promoted by those state leaders and adopted by district and school leaders.

White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Outgoing US Congressman Steve Israel with Great Neck (marking its 200th anniversary as a public school district) and Long Island educators, in front of Great Neck South Middle School, appeals for the Department of Education to change its rules regarding over-testing. The White House has just announced new steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Common Core has become one of those boogeymen memes that elicits hysterical knee-jerk reaction against Big Government intrusion into parental authority and local control over schools. However, what is deliberately set aside is that Common Core was developed at the state level. The point of Common Core was to lift standards for public education. Instead, it has been overtaken by the Accountability Movement which uses testing as a weapon against teacher unions and by the Privatized Education Corporatists as a tool to overturn public education in favor of taxpayer funding of for-profit, privatized charter schools and unconstitutional public funding of parochial schools.  The result was over-testing, creating unnecessary stress among public school students (private school students don’t have to take the tests), but a windfall for private testing and tutoring companies. In these waning days of the Obama Administration, which has worked so hard to improve public education for all, the White House has announced new, rational steps to create “better, fairer and fewer tests” in schools. . – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

 FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Steps to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests in Schools

“When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself. To be curious about the world. To take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential. …

I’ve heard from parents who worry that too much testing is keeping their kids from learning some of life’s most important lessons. I’ve heard from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”

– President Barack Obama, October 2015

When done well, assessments give parents, teachers, and students critical information on whether all students in a community are progressing each year toward college and career readiness. When used appropriately, they also serve as an essential protection to promote equity.  In too many schools, however, redundant or low-quality assessments are being administered without a clear purpose.  These ineffective assessments can consume valuable class time and can take the joy out of learning.

That is why last October, President Obama announced his Testing Action Plan and asked the U.S. Department of Education to work aggressively with states and school districts to make sure that tests students take are worthwhile; high-quality; time-limited; fair and transparent to students and families; and one of multiple sources used to understand how students, educators and schools are progressing.  Since then, the Obama Administration has acted to assist states and school districts in ensuring that the tests they are giving are better, fairer and fewer.

The White House and the Department of Education, on December 7, brought state and district leaders together with educators, parents, technologists, developers and philanthropic leaders to discuss the impact of the Testing Action Plan and what more can be done to ensure that tests are better, fairer, and fewer. As part of the event, the Department of Education announced additional resources and guidance for states and school districts aligned with the Testing Action Plan, including nearly $8 million in grants to the Maryland State Department of Education and the Nebraska Department of Education to develop new and innovative ways to measure science achievement that can serve as models for other states.

New Federal Resources to Help States and School Districts Improve Testing

The White House and the Department of Education are announcing new efforts designed to help states and school districts improve their assessments and help them evaluate the totality of their assessments in order to eliminate unnecessary or low-quality tests.  Today’s announcements include:

o   The Innovations in Science Map, Assessment, and Report Technologies (I-SMART) Project, led by the Maryland State Department of Education and in partnership with Missouri, New York, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, will produce innovative science assessments aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards to support comprehensive alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  It will contain multiple measures of student progress over time, develop a science learning map that includes multiple pathways for students to learn science content and reach challenging grade-level expectations, and also deliver score reports that improve the information about student performance that is shared with educators and families.

o   The Strengthening Claims-Based Interpretations and Uses of Local and Large-Scale Science Assessments (SCILLSS) project, led by the Nebraska Department of Education in partnership with Montana and Wyoming, aims to improve the quality of statewide science assessments.  The project will leverage existing tools and expertise to generate more resources to strengthen states’ ability to create and evaluate quality science assessments.  The project will also engage state and local educators to clarify the interpretations and uses of assessments scores and to create tools to improve the usefulness of student performance results.

  • Regulations to Create Better, Fairer, and Fewer Assessments under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):  The Department of Education is releasing two final regulations designed to give states and school districts clarity and flexibility as they implement the assessment provisions under Title I of the ESSA.  These regulations seek to clarify the statutory requirement that states administer high-quality, annual assessments to all students by ensuring that these assessments are worth taking and provide meaningful data about student success and equity for all students, while also encouraging states and districts to continue to push the field of assessment forward through innovation.

o   Creating Better, Fairer, and Fewer Tests:  The final regulation for state assessment systems under Title I, Part A — which are the result of consensus reached when the Department of Education conducted negotiated rulemaking with a diverse group of stakeholders earlier this year — willensure states continue to administer tests that are valid, reliable, and fair measures of student achievement for all students, including by setting clear parameters for meaningfully including students with disabilities and English language learners in state tests and supporting them with appropriate test accommodations.  The final regulation also allows states to take advantage of a range of innovative approaches to improve assessment and reduce overall burden, such as implementing computer-adaptive assessments and allowing a district to offer a locally selected, nationally recognized high school tests in place of the annual statewide high school assessment.  Taken together, this regulation will help states and districts implement ESSA to create better, fairer and fewer tests.

o   Producing a New Generation of Innovative Assessments:  The final regulation under Title I, Part B establishes the parameters under which states may take advantage of a new innovative assessment demonstration authority under the ESSA to create, try out, and scale up alternatives to traditional end-of-year large-scale assessments.  This demonstration authority, initially available to up to seven states, allows states to rethink assessment systems and pilot new, innovative approaches to measuring student achievement for use in their accountability systems.  States with demonstration authority will be allowed to phase-in and use a new innovative assessment system in a subset of their districts, while maintaining their existing system in the rest of their districts, and use the results from both systems for accountability and reporting purposes under the law during the pilot phase.  States may also apply for flexibility as a consortium, providing a built-in community of practice to share and work through common challenges as they scale their new innovative assessments statewide.

  • Guidance to States on How to Use Federal Resources to Create Better, Fairer and Fewer Tests:  The Department of Education is also releasing non-regulatory guidance for states and school districts, which highlights flexibility in ESSA for how states and districts can use federal funds to support the President’s Testing Action Plan. The guidance outlines how states and districts can use federal funding under the ESSA to ensure high-quality assessments for all students; reduce testing time; eliminate redundant, duplicative assessment; and provide clear, transparent and actionable information on assessments to students, families, and educators.  This ESSA guidance applies starting in fiscal year 2017 (i.e., the 2017-2018 school year) and updates previous guidance ED released earlier this year.
  • Profiles of Districts that are Taking Action to Improve Assessments:  The Department of Education is releasing profiles highlighting the steps taken by two districts, Eminence Independent Schools (KY) and Vancouver Public Schools (WA), to reduce and improve assessments. Eminence saw dramatic improvements in student achievement after implementing a learner-centric education model that focuses on differentiated instruction, personalized learning, continuous growth, and the use of formative assessments and alternative means to assess student progress.  Vancouver Public Schools conducted an audit of its district-required assessments in 2015 and eliminated 105 administrations of district-required assessments allowing the district to return an average of 900 minutes back into the classroom across grades 3 – 8. These profiles build on a report the Department released in April, highlighting the work of leading states and districts to improve assessment and ensure class time is preserved.
  • Information on Technology-Delivered Assessments Supported by the Institute of Education Sciences:  The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) is releasing ablog that highlights some of the technology-delivered assessments funded through IES.  Since its inception in 2002, three IES programs, including the Research Programs at the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and at the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), and the ED/IES SBIRprogram have made over 200 awards supporting the development of new technology-delivered assessments.  The awards were made to a mix of academic researchers, entrepreneurial firms, and larger education organizations. All of the projects included a rigorous research and development process with studies to validate that assessments are measuring what is intended and pilots to test the promise of the technologies for improving student learning outcomes.  Later this month IES will release a more detailed report highlighting the technology-delivered assessments and innovations in the assessment field funded through three research programs.

Donald Trump Pushes School Choice Proposal; Hillary Clinton Campaign Slams as Attack on Public Education

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses New York State Conservative Party © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump unveiled proposals to expand school choice © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Donald Trump, in a speech in Cleveland on Sept. 8, unveiled four basic proposals as the underpinning of an education program that would stress school choice, a longstanding objective of the right wing, which is used to dismantle public schools in favor of privatized schools (such as charter schools), as a means of diverting public tax dollars into private and parochial schools as well as home-schooling, and a tool to dismantle teachers unions.

PROPOSAL: Trump says his first budget will immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by repriortizing existing federal dollars. Specifically, Trump’s plan would use $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty. Individual states will be given the option as to how these funds will be used.

PROPOSAL:  Trump will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty. That means that we want every disadvantaged child to be able to choose the local public, private, charter or magnet school that is best for them and their family. Each state will develop its own formula, but the dollars should follow the student.

PROPOSAL: To achieve this long-term goal of school choice, Trump make this a shared national mission – to bring hope to every child in every city in this land. Mr. Trump will use the pulpit of the presidency to campaign for this in all 50 states and will call upon the American people to elect officials at the city, state and federal level who support school choice.

PROPOSAL:  Trump will also support merit-pay for teachers, so that great teachers are rewarded instead of the failed tenure system that currently exists, which rewards bad teachers and punishes good ones.

“Our campaign represents the long-awaited chance to break with the bitter failures of the past, and to embrace a New American Future,” Trump stated.

“There is no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly.

“The Democratic Party has trapped millions of African-American and Hispanic youth in failing government schools that deny them the opportunity to join the ladder of American success.

“It is time to break-up that monopoly.

“I want every single inner city child in America who is today trapped in a failing school to have the freedom – the civil right – to attend the school of their choice. This includes private schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools which must be included in any definition of school choice.

“Our government spends more than enough money to easily pay for this initiative – with billions left over. It’s simply a matter of putting students first, not the education bureaucracy.

“Let’s run through the numbers.

“At the state and federal level, the United States spends more than $620 billion on K-12 education each year. That’s an average of about $12,296 for every student enrolled in our elementary and secondary public schools.

“The federal government pays for about 10 percent—$64 billion, to be precise—of the K-12 costs. That $64 billion makes up about half of the total spending of the U.S. Department of Education.

“The other roughly $570 billion spent on K-12 education comes from the states.

“We spend more per student than almost any other major country in the world. Yet, our students perform near the bottom of the pack for major large advanced countries.

“Our largest cities spend some of the largest amounts of money on public schools.

“New York City spends $20,226 dollars per pupil.

“Baltimore spends $15,287 dollars per student.

“Chicago spends $11,976 dollars per student, and in Los Angeles it is $10,602.

“Just imagine if each student in these school systems was given a scholarship for this amount of money – allowing them and their family to choose the public or private school of their choice.

“Not only would this empower families, but it would create a massive education market that is competitive and produces better outcomes.

“These schools would then cater to the needs of the individual student and family – not the needs of the Teachers’ Union. There is no more important job than a teacher, and teachers will benefit greatly from these reforms.

“The current government monopoly, while great for the bureaucrats, has utterly failed too many students.

“According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, only 1 in 6 African-American students in the eighth grade are considered proficient in math and reading.

“Failing schools then contribute to failing economies.”

Trump declared, “As your President, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice. I understand many stale old politicians will resist. But it’s time for our country to start thinking big once again. We spend too much time quibbling over the smallest words, when we should spend our time dreaming about the great adventures that lie ahead.”

And in Charlotte last month, he said, “On education, we are going to give students choice, and allow charter schools to thrive…. overturn tenure…. my opponent wants to deny students choice and opportunity all to get a little more money from the education bureaucracy. She doesn’t care how many young dreams are dashed and destroyed, and they are destroyed, young people are destroyed before they even start. We are going to work closely with African American parents and children, wither the parents’ students, everybody in the African American community, in the inner cities, and what a big difference that will make.

But this is all a spiel and a scam – like his Trump University – to divert tax dollars into for-profit education companies, and into parochial schools (contradicting the Constitutional separation of church and state), and for good measure, undermine the Teachers Union, which has strongly backed Democratic candidates. That’s what is meant by the “education bureaucracy” and that’s why it has been so, so key to Republicans to end teacher tenure (and at the same time, make teachers subject to whim of firing when they get to expensive, or when they teach Evolution and refuse to teach Creationism as science).

This is his spiel, but how would his Education proposal work in real life? After all, it was George w. Bush, who as Texas Governor opposed President Bill Clinton’s effort to introduce national standards, but who as president, overturned public education with his No child Left Behind/Accountability federal control of public education, even promoting public shaming of teachers and public schools which did not meet the arbitrary and unfairly imposed testing regimen designed so that every public school and every public school teacher would fail.

HFA Statement in Response to Trump’s Education Speech Today in Cleveland

In response to Trump’s dangerous education proposals announced during his speech today in Cleveland, HFA Senior Policy Advisor Maya Harris offered the following statement:

“It’s no surprise that Donald Trump—whose only experience when it comes to education is his fraudulent ‘Trump University’—offered education policies that would prove disastrous for our public schools, our educators, and most importantly, our kids. Let’s be clear: Trump’s proposal to apparently gut nearly 30 percent of the federal education budget and turn it into private school vouchers would decimate public schools across America and deprive our most vulnerable students of the education they deserve.

“Hillary Clinton believes that the public school system is one of the pillars of our democracy. As president she will fight to strengthen our public schools to ensure every student receives a world-class education, regardless of their ZIP code.”

Donald Trump’s proposal, explained:

TRUMP: “[U]se $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty.”

EXPLAINER: A more extreme version of past Republican proposals, Trump’s plan would apparently eliminate the targeting of federal dollars to schools and districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students. Instead, he would turn over all $15.4 billion in Title I funding to states, and allow money to follow students outside of the public school system to private or parochial schools.

  • Trump’s proposal could strip funding from up to 56,000 public schools serving more than 21 million children. By allowing funding to leave America’s 56,000 Title I schools, Trump’s proposal will put crucial funding at risk for nearly 21 million American students.
  • Trump’s proposal might only serve 1.4 million students, while stripping funding from the other 10.5 million low-income students in America. Trump’s proposal would serve no-where near 11 million students. The average cost of a K-12 private school is $13,640 per student, per year. Since thevast majority of states do not support private school vouchers, Trump’s proposal would have to carry the full cost of attendance. As a result, Trump’s proposal might only serve 1.4 million students, while taking away funding that serves America’s low-income schools.
  • Trump’s proposal could have a devastating impact on student achievement. Research shows that students who attend schools using vouchersoften do worse than those who stayed in their neighborhood public schools.
  • To fund his $20 billion voucher program, Trump would have to cut all Title I funding and $5 billion dollars in additional federal education programs. Trump would need to “repurpose” roughly $5 billion in annual education funding which currently supports programming such as preschool, Pell grants, and crucial resources to help low income students, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.

Obama Addresses Rutgers University Commencement: ‘You’ve got the tools to lead us’

President Obama gets standing ovation after addressing the 250th anniversary Rutgers University Commencement © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama gets standing ovation after addressing the 250th anniversary Rutgers University Commencement © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It’s commencement season. Speakers typically offer bromides to the newly minted graduates, about to take their first independent steps into an uncertain future, outside the protected confines of these lofty institutions. But President Obama’s commencement speech at Rutgers University was not like that. It was a sober reflection formed from the wisdom and experience of nearly eight years at the pinnacle of power – his own valedictory address. It was meaningful and important and real. And in the end, optimistic.

Rutgers was the perfect place for his address – not just because it was celebrating its 250th anniversary of its founding in 1766 – but that it has become one of the largest universities in the country, with 67,000 students (15,000 graduating on this day, alone) and arguably, the most diverse and more importantly, inclusive. These students left their own neighborhoods that formed the boundaries of a world view and entered this United Nations of ethnicities and backgrounds and found they could live together, learn from each other, create a new community.

Indeed, Rutgers is the worst nightmare for the brand of Know Nothingism, nativism, America Firstism that has taken hold of presidential politics.

“You’re not only better educated, you’ve been more exposed to the world, more exposed to other cultures,” he said. “You’re more diverse.  You’re more environmentally conscious.  You have a healthy skepticism for conventional wisdom…. You’ll look at things with fresher eyes, unencumbered by the biases and blind spots and inertia… So you’ve got the tools to lead us.”

Obama’s speech was a lesson in civics, in democracy, in personal responsibility. He called for critical thinking, participation, civil discourse. Fitting for a university founded before the Revolutionary War, he evoked the Founding Fathers, steeped in the Enlightenment, “rational thought and experimentation, and the capacity of informed citizens to master our own fates.”

President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016.
President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016.

Obama was warmly welcomed to Rutgers – indeed, the school lobbied him for three years to come, and he was the first sitting president to visit the university – and his speech was frequently interrupted with applause and cheers.

Here are highlights from his address:

Today, you join a long line of Scarlet Knights whose energy and intellect have lifted this university to heights its founders could not have imagined.  Two hundred and fifty years ago, when America was still just an idea, a charter from the Royal Governor — Ben Franklin’s son — established Queen’s College.  A few years later, a handful of students gathered in a converted tavern for the first class.  And from that first class in a pub, Rutgers has evolved into one of the finest research institutions in America.  (Applause.)

This is a place where you 3D-print prosthetic hands for children, and devise rooftop wind arrays that can power entire office buildings with clean, renewable energy.  Every day, tens of thousands of students come here, to this intellectual melting pot, where ideas and cultures flow together among what might just be America’s most diverse student body.  (Applause.)  Here in New Brunswick, you can debate philosophy with a classmate from South Asia in one class, and then strike up a conversation on the EE Bus with a first-generation Latina student from Jersey City, before sitting down for your psych group project with a veteran who’s going to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  (Applause.)

America converges here.  And in so many ways, the history of Rutgers mirrors the evolution of America — the course by which we became bigger, stronger, and richer and more dynamic, and a more inclusive nation. 

But America’s progress has never been smooth or steady.  Progress doesn’t travel in a straight line.  It zigs and zags in fits and starts.  Progress in America has been hard and contentious, and sometimes bloody.  It remains uneven and at times, for every two steps forward, it feels like we take one step back.

But progress is bumpy.  It always has been.  But because of dreamers and innovators and strivers and activists, progress has been this nation’s hallmark.  I’m fond of quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  (Applause.)  It bends towards justice.  I believe that.  But I also believe that the arc of our nation, the arc of the world does not bend towards justice, or freedom, or equality, or prosperity on its own.  It depends on us, on the choices we make, particularly at certain inflection points in history; particularly when big changes are happening and everything seems up for grabs. 

And, Class of 2016, you are graduating at such an inflection point.  Since the start of this new millennium, you’ve already witnessed horrific terrorist attacks, and war, and a Great Recession.  You’ve seen economic and technological and cultural shifts that are profoundly altering how we work and how we communicate, how we live, how we form families.  The pace of change is not subsiding; it is accelerating.  And these changes offer not only great opportunity, but also great peril. 

Fortunately, your generation has everything it takes to lead this country toward a brighter future.  I’m confident that you can make the right choices — away from fear and division and paralysis, and toward cooperation and innovation and hope.  (Applause.)  Now, partly, I’m confident because, on average, you’re smarter and better educated than my generation..You’re not only better educated, you’ve been more exposed to the world, more exposed to other cultures.  You’re more diverse.  You’re more environmentally conscious.  You have a healthy skepticism for conventional wisdom.  

So you’ve got the tools to lead us.  And precisely because I have so much confidence in you, I’m not going to spend the remainder of my time telling you exactly how you’re going to make the world better.  You’ll figure it out.  You’ll look at things with fresher eyes, unencumbered by the biases and blind spots and inertia and general crankiness of your parents and grandparents and old heads like me.  But I do have a couple of suggestions that you may find useful as you go out there and conquer the world.

President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Point number one:  When you hear someone longing for the “good old days,” take it with a grain of salt.  (Laughter and applause.)  Take it with a grain of salt.  We live in a great nation and we are rightly proud of our history.  We are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the courage of generations who came before.  But I guess it’s part of human nature, especially in times of change and uncertainty, to want to look backwards and long for some imaginary past when everything worked, and the economy hummed, and all politicians were wise, and every kid was well-mannered, and America pretty much did whatever it wanted around the world. 

Guess what.  It ain’t so.  (Laughter.)  The “good old days” weren’t that great.  Yes, there have been some stretches in our history where the economy grew much faster, or when government ran more smoothly.  There were moments when, immediately after World War II, for example, or the end of the Cold War, when the world bent more easily to our will.  But those are sporadic, those moments, those episodes.  In fact, by almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.  (Applause.)

And by the way, I’m not — set aside 150 years ago, pre-Civil War — there’s a whole bunch of stuff there we could talk about.  Set aside life in the ‘50s, when women and people of color were systematically excluded from big chunks of American life.  Since I graduated, in 1983 — which isn’t that long ago — (laughter) — I’m just saying.  Since I graduated, crime rates, teenage pregnancy, the share of Americans living in poverty — they’re all down.  The share of Americans with college educations have gone way up.  Our life expectancy has, as well.  Blacks and Latinos have risen up the ranks in business and politics.  (Applause.)  More women are in the workforce.  (Applause.)  They’re earning more money — although it’s long past time that we passed laws to make sure that women are getting the same pay for the same work as men.  (Applause.)

Meanwhile, in the eight years since most of you started high school, we’re also better off.  You and your fellow graduates are entering the job market with better prospects than any time since 2007.  Twenty million more Americans know the financial security of health insurance.  We’re less dependent on foreign oil.  We’ve doubled the production of clean energy.  We have cut the high school dropout rate.  We’ve cut the deficit by two-thirds.  Marriage equality is the law of the land.  (Big applause.)    

And just as America is better, the world is better than when I graduated.  Since I graduated, an Iron Curtain fell, apartheid ended.  There’s more democracy.  We virtually eliminated certain diseases like polio.  We’ve cut extreme poverty drastically.  We’ve cut infant mortality by an enormous amount.  (Applause.)   

Now, I say all these things not to make you complacent.  We’ve got a bunch of big problems to solve.  But I say it to point out that change has been a constant in our history.  And the reason America is better is because we didn’t look backwards we didn’t fear the future.  We seized the future and made it our own.  And that’s exactly why it’s always been young people like you that have brought about big change — because you don’t fear the future. 

That leads me to my second point:  The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s becoming more connected every day.  Building walls won’t change that.  (Applause.)

Look, as President, my first responsibility is always the security and prosperity of the United States.  And as citizens, we all rightly put our country first.  But if the past two decades have taught us anything, it’s that the biggest challenges we face cannot be solved in isolation.  (Applause.)  When overseas states start falling apart, they become breeding grounds for terrorists and ideologies of nihilism and despair that ultimately can reach our shores.  When developing countries don’t have functioning health systems, epidemics like Zika or Ebola can spread and threaten Americans, too.  And a wall won’t stop that. (Applause.)

President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

If we want to close loopholes that allow large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, we’ve got to have the cooperation of other countries in a global financial system to help enforce financial laws.  The point is, to help ourselves we’ve got to help others — (applause) — not pull up the drawbridge and try to keep the world out.  (Applause.)

And engagement does not just mean deploying our military.  There are times where we must take military action to protect ourselves and our allies, and we are in awe of and we are grateful for the men and women who make up the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  But I worry if we think that the entire burden of our engagement with the world is up to the 1 percent who serve in our military, and the rest of us can just sit back and do nothing.  They can’t shoulder the entire burden.  And engagement means using all the levers of our national power, and rallying the world to take on our shared challenges. 

You look at something like trade, for example.  We live in an age of global supply chains, and cargo ships that crisscross oceans, and online commerce that can render borders obsolete.  And a lot of folks have legitimate concerns with the way globalization has progressed — that’s one of the changes that’s been taking place — jobs shipped overseas, trade deals that sometimes put workers and businesses at a disadvantage.  But the answer isn’t to stop trading with other countries.  In this global economy, that’s not even possible.  The answer is to do trade the right way, by negotiating with other countries so that they raise their labor standards and their environmental standards; and we make sure they don’t impose unfair tariffs on American goods or steal American intellectual property.  That’s how we make sure that international rules are consistent with our values — including human rights.  And ultimately, that’s how we help raise wages here in America.  That’s how we help our workers compete on a level playing field.  

Building walls won’t do that. (Applause.)  It won’t boost our economy, and it won’t enhance our security either.  Isolating or disparaging Muslims, suggesting that they should be treated differently when it comes to entering this country — (applause) — that is not just a betrayal of our values — (applause) — that’s not just a betrayal of who we are, it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism.   Suggesting that we can build an endless wall along our borders, and blame our challenges on immigrants — that doesn’t just run counter to our history as the world’s melting pot; it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe.  That’s how we became America.  Why would we want to stop it now?  (Big cheers, applause.)   

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Can’t do it.  (Laughter.)

Journalist Bill Moyers receives honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Rutgers President Robert Barchi © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Journalist Bill Moyers receives honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Rutgers President Robert Barchi © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Which brings me to my third point:  Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science — these are good things.  (Applause.)  These are qualities you want in people making policy.  These are qualities you want to continue to cultivate in yourselves as citizens.  (Applause.)  That might seem obvious. (Laughter.)  That’s why we honor Bill Moyers or Dr. Burnell.  We traditionally have valued those things.  But if you were listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from.  (Applause.)  So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be.  In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue.  (Applause.)  It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about.  (Applause.)  That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is.  (Laughter.)  That’s not challenging political correctness.  That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.  (Applause.)  And yet, we’ve become confused about this.    

Look, our nation’s Founders — Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson — they were born of the Enlightenment.  They sought to escape superstition, and sectarianism, and tribalism, and no-nothingness.  (Applause.)  They believed in rational thought and experimentation, and the capacity of informed citizens to master our own fates.  That is embedded in our constitutional design.  That spirit informed our inventors and our explorers, the Edisons and the Wright Brothers, and the George Washington Carvers and the Grace Hoppers, and the Norman Borlaugs and the Steve Jobses.  That’s what built this country. 

And today, in every phone in one of your pockets — (laughter) — we have access to more information than at any time in human history, at a touch of a button.  But, ironically, the flood of information hasn’t made us more discerning of the truth. In some ways, it’s just made us more confident in our ignorance. (Applause.)  We assume whatever is on the web must be true.  We search for sites that just reinforce our own predispositions. Opinions masquerade as facts.  The wildest conspiracy theories are taken for gospel. 

Now, understand, I am sure you’ve learned during your years of college — and if not, you will learn soon — that there are a whole lot of folks who are book smart and have no common sense.  (Applause.)  That’s the truth.  You’ll meet them if you haven’t already.  (Laughter.)  So the fact that they’ve got a fancy degree — you got to talk to them to see whether they know what they’re talking about.  (Laughter.)  Qualities like kindness and compassion, honesty, hard work — they often matter more than technical skills or know-how.  (Applause.)

But when our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they’re not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, while actual experts are dismissed as elitists, then we’ve got a problem.  (Applause.)

You know, it’s interesting that if we get sick, we actually want to make sure the doctors have gone to medical school, they know what they’re talking about.  (Applause.)  If we get on a plane, we say we really want a pilot to be able to pilot the plane.  (Laughter.)  And yet, in our public lives, we certainly think, “I don’t want somebody who’s done it before.”  (Laughter and applause.)  The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and science — that is the path to decline.  It calls to mind the words of Carl Sagan, who graduated high school here in New Jersey — (applause) — he said:  “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depths of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.”

The debate around climate change is a perfect example of this….climate change is not something subject to political spin.  There is evidence.  There are facts.  We can see it happening right now.  (Applause.)  If we don’t act, if we don’t follow through on the progress we made in Paris, the progress we’ve been making here at home, your generation will feel the brunt of this catastrophe. So it’s up to you to insist upon and shape an informed debate…

Look, I’m not suggesting that cold analysis and hard data are ultimately more important in life than passion, or faith, or love, or loyalty.  I am suggesting that those highest expressions of our humanity can only flourish when our economy functions well, and proposed budgets add up, and our environment is protected.  And to accomplish those things, to make collective decisions on behalf of a common good, we have to use our heads.  We have to agree that facts and evidence matter.  And we got to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to know what the heck they’re talking about.  (Applause.) ..

President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama gives the commencement address at Rutgers University, May 15, 2016 © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Point four:  Have faith in democracy.  Look, I know it’s not always pretty.   Really, I know.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been living it.  But it’s how, bit by bit, generation by generation, we have made progress in this nation.  That’s how we banned child labor.  That’s how we cleaned up our air and our water.  That’s how we passed programs like Social Security and Medicare that lifted millions of seniors out of poverty.  (Applause.)

None of these changes happened overnight.  They didn’t happen because some charismatic leader got everybody suddenly to agree on everything.  It didn’t happen because some massive political revolution occurred.  It actually happened over the course of years of advocacy, and organizing, and alliance-building, and deal-making, and the changing of public opinion.  It happened because ordinary Americans who cared participated in the political process.  

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Because of you!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s nice.  I mean, I helped, but — (applause.)

Look, if you want to change this country for the better, you better start participating.  I’ll give you an example on a lot of people’s minds right now — and that’s the growing inequality in our economy.  Over much of the last century, we’ve unleashed the strongest economic engine the world has ever seen, but over the past few decades, our economy has become more and more unequal.  The top 10 percent of earners now take in half of all income in the U.S.  In the past, it used to be a top CEO made 20 or 30 times the income of the average worker.  Today, it’s 300 times more.  And wages aren’t rising fast enough for millions of hardworking families.  

Now, if we want to reverse those trends, there are a bunch of policies that would make a real difference.  We can raise the minimum wage.  (Applause.)  We can modernize our infrastructure. We can invest in early childhood education.  We can make college more affordable.  (Applause.)  We can close tax loopholes on hedge fund managers and take that money and give tax breaks to help families with child care or retirement.  And if we did these things, then we’d help to restore the sense that hard work is rewarded and we could build an economy that truly works for everybody.  (Applause.)  

Now, the reason some of these things have not happened, even though the majority of people approve of them, is really simple. It’s not because I wasn’t proposing them.  It wasn’t because the facts and the evidence showed they wouldn’t work.  It was because a huge chunk of Americans, especially young people, do not vote. 

In 2014, voter turnout was the lowest since World War II.  Fewer than one in five young people showed up to vote — 2014.  And the four who stayed home determined the course of this country just as much as the single one who voted.  Because apathy has consequences.  It determines who our Congress is.  It determines what policies they prioritize.  It even, for example, determines whether a really highly qualified Supreme Court nominee receives the courtesy of a hearing and a vote in the United States Senate.  (Applause.)    

And, yes, big money in politics is a huge problem.  We’ve got to reduce its influence.  Yes, special interests and lobbyists have disproportionate access to the corridors of power. But, contrary to what we hear sometimes from both the left as well as the right, the system isn’t as rigged as you think, and it certainly is not as hopeless as you think.  Politicians care about being elected, and they especially care about being reelected.  And if you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want.  And if you opt out, or stop paying attention, you won’t.  It’s that simple. (Applause.)  It’s not that complicated.

Now, one of the reasons that people don’t vote is because they don’t see the changes they were looking for right away.  Well, guess what — none of the great strides in our history happened right away.  It took Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP decades to win Brown v. Board of Education; and then another decade after that to secure the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  (Applause.)  And it took more time after that for it to start working.  It took a proud daughter of New Jersey, Alice Paul, years of organizing marches and hunger strikes and protests, and drafting hundreds of pieces of legislation, and writing letters and giving speeches, and working with congressional leaders before she and other suffragettes finally helped win women the right to vote.  (Applause.)

Each stage along the way required compromise.  Sometimes you took half a loaf.  You forged allies.  Sometimes you lost on an issue, and then you came back to fight another day.  That’s how democracy works.  So you’ve got to be committed to participating not just if you get immediate gratification, but you got to be a citizen full-time, all the time.    

And if participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing and advocacy, it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you.  I know a couple years ago, folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement.  Now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration.  But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say — I believe that’s misguided.  (Applause.)  I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other.  (Applause.)  I believe that’s misguided.

If you disagree with somebody, bring them in — (applause)— and ask them tough questions.  Hold their feet to the fire.  Make them defend their positions.  (Applause.)  If somebody has got a bad or offensive idea, prove it wrong.  Engage it.  Debate it.  Stand up for what you believe in.  (Applause.)  Don’t be scared to take somebody on.  Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities.  Go at them if they’re not making any sense. Use your logic and reason and words.  And by doing so, you’ll strengthen your own position, and you’ll hone your arguments.  And maybe you’ll learn something and realize you don’t know everything.  And you may have a new understanding not only about what your opponents believe but maybe what you believe.  Either way, you win.  And more importantly, our democracy wins.  (Applause.) 

President Obama greets Rutgers University class president Matthew Panconi at the 250th anniversary commencement © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama greets Rutgers University class president Matthew Panconi at the 250th anniversary commencement © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

So, anyway, all right.  That’s it, Class of 2016 — (laughter) — a few suggestions on how you can change the world. Except maybe I’ve got one last suggestion.  (Applause.)  Just one.  And that is, gear yourself for the long haul.  Whatever path you choose — business, nonprofits, government, education, health care, the arts — whatever it is, you’re going to have some setbacks.  You will deal occasionally with foolish people.  You will be frustrated.  You’ll have a boss that’s not great.  You won’t always get everything you want — at least not as fast as you want it.  So you have to stick with it.  You have to be persistent.  And success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success.  I always tell my daughters, you know, better is good.  It may not be perfect, it may not be great, but it’s good.  That’s how progress happens — in societies and in our own lives. 

So don’t lose hope if sometimes you hit a roadblock.  Don’t lose hope in the face of naysayers.  And certainly don’t let resistance make you cynical.  Cynicism is so easy, and cynics don’t accomplish much. 

Is it any wonder that I am optimistic?  Throughout our history, a new generation of Americans has reached up and bent the arc of history in the direction of more freedom, and more opportunity, and more justice.  And, Class of 2016, it is your turn now — (applause) — to shape our nation’s destiny, as well as your own.  

So get to work.  Make sure the next 250 years are better than the last.  (Applause.)

Good luck.  God bless you.  God bless this country we love.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

See slideshow of Rutgers University’s 250th anniversary commencement

_________________

News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. For editorial feature and photo information, emaileditor@news-photos-features.com. ‘Like’ us onfacebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Obama Administration Launches New $100 Million Competition to Expand Tuition-Free Community College Programs

Exuberant optimism of High School graduation. The Obama Administration is taking steps to ease access to community college, recognizing that most decent-paying jobs today require a degree © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Exuberant optimism of High School graduation. The Obama Administration is taking steps to ease access to community college, recognizing that most decent-paying jobs today require a degree © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Every American, whether they’re young or just young at heart, should be able to earn the skills and education necessary to compete and win in the 21st century economy.” – President Barack Obama

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both made college affordability an issue of their campaigns, while the Republican candidates have ignored the issue entirely. And with the media’s obsessive focus on the presidential contest, and the Republican-controlled Congress’ insistence on obstructing any positive action President Obama might take, Americans are generally unaware of what Obama has been doing to make college affordable and ease the student debt crisis. The White House just issued a Fact Sheet on efforts to break down financial barriers to obtaining a college degree:

The Obama Administration announced a new $100 million investment for America’s Promise Job-Driven Training grants (America’s Promise Grants) to connect more Americans to education and in-demand jobs, in addition to 27 new free community college programs that have launched in states, communities and community colleges designed to make access to higher education available regardless of the ability to pay.

Details of the various programs were outlined by Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden at the Community College of Philadelphia, which modeled a free community college program after the President’s America’s College Promise plan this time last year.

The Obama Administration has focused on America’s more than 1,100 community colleges because they are “the backbone of the nation’s postsecondary education and training system. They serve over 7 million undergraduates, including many older, low- or moderate-income, minority, first-generation, and rural Americans an opportunity to earn a quality, affordable degree or credential that meet the demands of a competitive global economy,” the White House stated.

“That is why President Obama has challenged communities to take action to grow the momentum for America’s College Promise, a plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and the skills needed in the workforce at no cost. And, in order to help communities accept this challenge, he is calling on Congress take action on the America’s College Promise Act, introduced by Senator Baldwin and Congressman Scott, which would expand access to higher education for our nation’s students.

“Companies are choosing to grow in the U.S. in part because we have the most educated, creative, and adaptable workforce. Over the last six years, American businesses have created over 14 million new jobs. Of the new jobs the economy is expected to generate over the next ten years, around half will require postsecondary education or training. The President’s Job-Driven Training agenda has made federally supported education and training programs more responsive to employer needs. As part of this approach, community and technical colleges are playing a critical role in helping Americans get the skills to get good jobs. The $100 million America’s Promise Grants will help communities catalyze new and strengthen existing partnerships and programs to offer more Americans access to the knowledge and skills they need to pursue their educational and career goals, particularly in high-growth sectors like technology, manufacturing, and health care.”

These investments build on the Obama Administration’s record of investing in students and the workforce. Since 2009, the Obama Administration has invested more than $70 billion dollars in support of community colleges including over $66 billion in over 19 million Pell scholarships to help students and families pay for college; $2 billion in Job-Driven Training Community College Grants to strengthen education and training programs that lead to in-demand employment and provide a ticket to the middle class at nearly half of the nation’s community colleges; and $1.6 billion in Title III and Title V to strengthen institutions’ capacity for providing students an affordable, high-quality education. These critical investments have helped transform the role of community colleges as leading providers of high-quality, affordable, pathways for all Americans to work hard in pursuit of skills employers seek and of knowledge.

Highlights  from the recent announcements:

  • $100 Million America’s Promise Grants. Early this summer, the Administration will launch an H-1B funded grant competition by the Department of Labor to create and expand innovative regional and sector partnerships between community colleges and other training providers, employers, and the public workforce system to create more dynamic, tuition-free education and training programs for in-demand middle and high-skilled jobs across the country. Built off the model of shared responsibility for educating this nation’s students and workforce, America’s Promise Grants continue to build on the Administration’s investments to strengthen education, training, and employer engagement.
  • More than $70 million in New Investments Building Progress on America’s College Promise for 40,000 Americans. Since the launch of America’s College Promise, state and local elected officials, community college leaders, non-profits, business, and philanthropy have come together across the country to expand free community college programs. Since President Obama announced America’s College Promise, at least 27 new free community college programs have launched in states, communities, and individual community colleges. Collectively, these new programs add over $70 million in new public and private investments to serve nearly 40,000 students at community colleges.
  • $100 Million for America’s Promise Grants:

Vice President Biden announced a commitment to make $100 million available through the Department of Labor to expand high quality education and training programs that give Americans the skills most in-demand from regional employers for middle- to high-skilled jobs. Grants will be awarded to pilot and scale innovative tuition-free partnerships between employers, economic development, workforce development boards, community and technical colleges and systems, training programs, K-12 education systems, and community-based organizations that will strengthen the pipeline of Americans ready for in-demand jobs, bridge students’ educational opportunities and employer needs, attract more jobs from overseas, and create more pathways for Americans to reach the middle class through the following activities:

o   Increase opportunities for all Americans. With the rising costs of higher education, post-secondary education may feel out of reach for many Americans. Grantees will develop strategies to increase tuition-free opportunities for unemployed, underemployed, and low-income workers to enter skilled occupations and industries. Grantees will use and align existing resources to help sustain and scale up programs.

o   Expand employer engagementThese regional partnerships from employers to support program design and delivery and identify skills and competencies needed to meet businesses’ needs. Employer partners will offer innovative ways for skills attainment through work-based learning and customized ‘upskilling’ strategies to move low-skilled individuals up a career pathway with registered apprenticeship, paid-work experience, and paid internship opportunities.

o   Strengthen education and training performance. Grantees will reduce the need for remediation, and increase skills development through evidence-based interventions. Grantees are encouraged to use evidence-based designs that can increase the employability, employment, earnings, and educational outcomes of students, while supporting employers’ economic growth.

  • More than $70 million in New Investments Building Progress on America’s College Promise for 40,000 Americans.

In his 2015 State of the Union, the President announced a vision for America’s College Promise to make two years of community college free, letting responsible students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree or earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost by creating a new partnership with states. The program would require everyone to do their part: community colleges must strengthen their programs and increase the number of students who graduate, states must invest more in higher education and training, and students must take responsibility for their education, earn good grades, and stay on track to graduate.

Since then, state and local elected officials, community college leaders, non-profits, business, and philanthropy from across the political spectrum and from all corners of the country are taking action, including through a new PSA from the Heads Up America campaign. At least 27 new free community college programs launched in states, communities, and individual community colleges since the President’s 2015 State of the Union address. Collectively, those new programs add over $70 million in new public and private investments to serve nearly 40,000 students at community colleges.

  • Statewide programs include: Oregon, Minnesota and Rhode Island.
  • Local efforts span at least 12 states and include: College of the Siskiyous (CA), Community College of Philadelphia (PA), Dabney Lancaster Community College (VA), Detroit (MI), Gateway Technical College (WI), Harper College (IL), Ivy Tech (IN), Lone Star College (TX), Los Angeles (CA), Manistee County Commitment Scholarship (MI), Milwaukee Area Technical College (WI), Madison Area Technical College (WI), Mid-north Promise (IN), Mohave Community College (AZ), Oakland (CA), Richmond County (NC), Salt Lake Community College (UT), San Diego Community College District (CA), Santa Barbara City College (CA), Scotland County (NC), Sinclair Community College (OH), Wichita Area Technical College (KS), Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WI), and Vance-Granville Community College (NC).

Additionally, a number of new legislative proposals have been made to expand free community college programs. At the Federal level, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (VA) proposed America’s College Promise Act of 2015 for the country’s community and technical colleges – including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions –while 17 other states have proposed legislation to make community college free state-wide. Additionally, survey data from the American Association of Community Colleges shows that a quarter of community college presidents believe it is likely that their institutions will offer a tuition-free (or nearly free) program within the next two years, which would double the number of available tuition-free options.

States and communities are demonstrating that there is a range of thoughtful and effective ways to design a tuition-free Promise program customized to address local and state knowledge and skills needs, funding opportunities, and shared community goals. Nearly all these announced programs have features that ensure hard-working students have a fair shot and stay on track to graduate successfully. Key designs include:

o   Supporting responsible high school graduates by requiring participants to have graduated from high school and maintain at least a minimum grade point average (GPA). America’s College Promise designates a 2.5 GPA requirement, which is comparable to many of these programs.

o   Promoting more credit accumulation through full-time or at least part-time enrollment to ensure that students are making progress towards completion, which can increase the likelihood of completing on time and save students tuition.

o   Requiring FAFSA completion to help students access federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid. Over 39 percent of community college students do not complete the FAFSA, even though they are likely to qualify for some form of aid. These provisions help ensure students receive the financial support they need to pursue their education and stay on track to complete a degree or credential. Tennessee Promise’s FAFSA requirement helped lead to the greatest year over year increase at the state level, and helped Tennessee lead the country in FAFSA completion.

o   Ensuring credits fully transfer so that students are more likely to cut down on redundant courses, reduce remediation, and stay on track to earn half of the credit they need for a four-year degree on-time if they choose to transfer.

Building on the Obama Administration’s Investments in Community College to Strengthen Education and Job-Driven Training

  • Increasing Investments in Scholarships for Students. This Administration has invested over $66 billion in community colleges, providing over 19 million Pell scholarships to students attending community colleges; this funding to community colleges represents over one-third of all Pell grants. To continue improving and expanding these important investments, the Administration will soon announce selected pilot sites who for the first time will offer up to $20 million in Federal Pell Grants for over 10,000 high school students to pay for college courses typically provided by community colleges and put themselves on a fast-track to college completion before even setting foot on campus. Evidence shows that dual enrollment programs help high school students earn better grades and increase their likelihood of college enrollment, persistence and completion. In addition, to further strengthen community colleges, particularly for traditional underrepresented students, this Administration has invested $1.6 billion in Title III and Title V programs.
  • $2 Billion for 2,300 In-Demand Education and Training Programs at Community Colleges in all 50 States. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program, provided more than half of our nation’s community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher education with funds to partner with nearly 2,500 employers to expand and improve education and career training programs that help job seekers get the skills they need for in-demand jobs in industries such as information technology, health care, energy, and advanced manufacturing. To date, nearly 300,000 participants have enrolled in these programs, earning 160,000 credentials. 40 states received grants that supported state-wide systematic change by including all or most community colleges in the state. Select examples of successful partnerships, which have reached more than 4,500 individuals, include:

o   Motlow State Community College (MSCC) (TN). MSCC received $3.3 million and partnered with Bridgestone Tire Company to develop a new mechatronics training facility on-site at Bridgestone in Smyrna, TN.  In addition to contributing to curriculum development, Bridgestone has contributed over $4 million towards renovations and equipment.

o   Piedmont Technical College (PTC) (SC). As part of a consortium consisting of 10 of the 16 public, two-year colleges in South Carolina and funded at nearly $20 million, PTC partnered with 37 employers to redesign a new advanced manufacturing certificate program.  Sixteen of the partnering companies and local county organizations collectively contributed $1.4 million to create the PTC Center for Advanced Manufacturing to support the program.

o   Alpena Community College (ACC) (MI): ACC received $2.8 million to implement the Sustainable Solutions for Northeast Michigan: Green Jobs and Clean Energy project to build a statewide energy partnership network, which included the Michigan National Guard and DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, the two largest energy employers in Michigan as well as the state workforce development board. This partnership network designed and implemented a “Gas Energy Bootcamp,” targeting unemployed people and returning veterans. Program completers had a 96 percent employment rate.

  • Launch of New Health Career Pathways Initiative:  Business-Led Effort to Expand Career Pathways in Healthcare Industry.  One of the key goals of the America’s Promise grants and other federal funding is to spur longer-term, industry led efforts to prepare more people from all backgrounds for in-demand jobs. Today, leading healthcare employers are building on a career pathways framework developed with a $19.6 million Job-Driven Training Community College Department of Labor grant to better match up training with their needs at a more national scale.

o   Business-Led Task Force on Core Skills and Career Pathways.  The Advisory Board Company will convene employers to agree on common ways to describe and measure the skills needed for healthcare jobs to focus training on in-demand skills and help workers to translate the skills they already have to move between roles and employers.  Initial members include: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Sutter Health, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, Mercy Health West Michigan/Trinity Health, and Fairview Health Services

o   Partnership with Communities to Adopt Common Skills and Career Pathways for Healthcare Workers.  Brought together by Hope Street Group, seven founding “Health Career Pathway Communities” composed of 15 healthcare systems, 11 community colleges and systems, 7 workforce boards, and 12 community-based organizations will adopt common skill and career pathways and support more than 1,000 disadvantaged Americans with training and placement into healthcare jobs with paid internships, career counseling, etc.  HPCs include: Grand Rapids and Muskegon, MI; Denver, CO; Minneapolis, MN; Charlotte, NC; Bronx, Westchester and Hudson Valley, NY; New York City, NY; and Sacramento, CA.

  • Scaling Up What Works Across Federal Programs with A Job-Driven Checklist Applied To Billions Of Training Dollars. In July 2014, the Administration laid out a Job-Driven Checklist of seven elements that matter most to get Americans into better jobs (e.g., strong employer engagement, work-based learning, better use of labor market information, accountability for employment outcomes). Since then, agencies have awarded over 15 competitive job-training grants that total more than $1.5 billion, with an additional 12 competitive grants of more than $800 million to be awarded over the remainder of 2016 that incorporate the job-driven training elements.  More details on progress can be found here.
  • Expanding “learn and earn” training opportunities through apprenticeships:In September 2015, the Department of Labor awarded $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants to 46 public-private partnerships that will help train more than 34,000 new apprentices in high-growth industries like health care, IT, and advanced manufacturing while scaling up proven programs. Earlier this month, DOL announced the newest investments for expanding apprenticeship through the $90 million ApprenticeshipUSA grants which will fund state, industry, and non-profit efforts to expand apprenticeship and increase the diversity of industries and workers in apprenticeship.  Since the President’s 2014 State of the Union call to action, the US has added more than 75,000 new apprenticeship opportunities, the largest increase in nearly a decade.

Budget Proposals to Connect More Americans to Training for In-Demand Jobs 

  • Expand Innovative Tuition-Free Training Programs at Community Colleges. Building on the TAACCCT program,the President’s Budget request includes $75 million for a new American Technical Training Fund, which are competitive grants that support the development, operation, and expansion of innovative, evidence-based, short-term, or accelerated job training programs that enable students, particularly from low-income backgrounds, to access tuition-free education and training leading to career pathways for jobs in high-demand fields. Projects would emphasize strong employer partnerships, work-based learning opportunities, accelerated training, and flexible scheduling.
  • Strengthening Partnerships between Businesses and Community Colleges to Grow the Middle Class. The Administration has proposed a new tax credit to incentivize employers to strengthen community and technical colleges through contributions like designing curriculum, donating instructors and equipment, and creating job-based learning opportunities. Employers can earn a one-time $5,000 tax credit for hiring a qualifying community college student graduate full-time. Altogether, this could help half a million students access the training and jobs they need to succeed over the course of five years.
  • Helping More Americans Complete College Affordably. Along with Continuing To Index The Pell Grant To Ensure It Keeps Pace With Inflation, the Administration is calling for significant new investments in the federal Pell Grant program—the cornerstone of college affordability – with two new Pell proposals that will help students accelerate progress towards their degrees and increase their likelihood of on-time completion. These two proposals include Pell for Accelerated Completion, which would allow full-time students to take courses in a third semester, and On-Track Pell Bonus, which offers $300 for students to take 15-credits, which would accelerate progress towards a degree. In fiscal year 2017, these changes would mean an additional $2 billion in Pell Grants for students working toward their degrees.
  • $3 Billion Talent Compact to Keep and Attract Jobs to the U.S. The President’s Budget proposes competitive funding to create over 50 “Talent Hotspots.” These would consist of employers, training programs, and workforce leaders that prioritize one sector and make a commitment to recruit and train the workforce to help businesses grow and attract more jobs from overseas. This proposal would produce a pipeline of about half a million skilled workers over five years.

See also: White House Announces New Actions to Help More Americans Manage Student Debt

White House Announces New Actions to Help More Americans Manage Student Debt

The Obama Administration is implementing programs to ease the student debt crisis © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Obama Administration is implementing programs to ease the student debt crisis © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The issue of student debt has been a key one on the Democratic side of the presidential campaign (not the Republicans who like to accentuate the stress without actually doing anything about it), but the Obama Administration has been taking what actions it can – in face of Republican obstruction in Congress to accomplish anything that would improve the lives of working Americans- to help Americans manage their student debt. The White House issued a Fact Sheet detailing these actions.

Higher education is one of the most important investment individuals can make for themselves and for our country. Today, 11 of the 15 fastest-growing occupations require a postsecondary education. That’s why the President has made historic investments to help millions of Americans afford college by doubling investments in grant and scholarship aid through Pell grants and tax credits, keeping interest rates low on federal student loans, and creating better options to help borrowers manage debt after college like the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) plan.

As detailed in a new post on student debt trends and state-by-state data being released by the Council of Economic Advisers, these efforts are paying off. More students are graduating college than ever before. More than four of five Direct Loan recipients with loans in repayment are current on their loans. Delinquencies, defaults, and hardship deferments are all trending downward, with nearly three million borrowers successfully accessing a pathway out of default through loan rehabilitation since 2010. And more students are taking action on their student debt when they need support, with nearly five million Direct Loan borrowers taking advantage of repayment options like the President’s PAYE plan, which caps monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of income, up from 700,000 enrolled in 2011.

Many students access student loans to help finance their education; typically, that investment pays off, with bachelor’s degree recipients earning $1 million more in their lifetime and associate’s degree recipients earning $360,000 more, compared to their high school counterparts. But for some, burdensome student loan debt can present a challenge as they seek to start a career, raise a family, purchase a home, start a business, or save for retirement.

Guaranteeing strong consumer protections and building a system of high-quality customer service are important components of a federal student loan system that expands college opportunity and provides reassurance to American families that pursuing a college degree and responsibly borrowing to pay for college will not threaten their future financial security.

The White House has just announced new actions while highlighting the progress already made to help ensure the more than 40 million Americans with student loan debt understand their repayment options and access high-quality customer service, strong consumer protections, and targeted support to repay their student debt successfully.

New Actions on Student Debt 

Over the past few years, the Administration has stepped up efforts to ensure that flexible repayment options are available to support Americans with federal student debt. Today’s actions build on that progress and provide a roadmap to guide and support borrowers as they seek to manage and repay their debt successfully:

  • New Goal to Enroll 2 million More Borrowers in Plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE).The President’s PAYE and related income-driven repayment plans are available to help borrowers who may be struggling to manage their debt effectively. Yet, too many borrowers still do not know about this important option. Leveraging key improvements in loan servicing and customer service, better tools and resources, targeted outreach to borrowers, and partnerships with key external organizations under the Student Debt Challenge, the Administration is announcing a new goal to enroll two million more borrowers in plans like PAYE by this time next year. 
  • Launch of StudentLoans.gov/Repay. To help borrowers easily navigate the complexity of student loan repayment options, the U.S. Digital Service and the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid have launchedStudentLoans.gov/Repay to help drive students to their best repayment option in five steps or less. Built mobile-first, and using human-centered design,StudentLoans.gov/Repay was designed to make repayment information as easy to understand as possible. 
  • Strengthening Consumer Protections through New Standards for Student Loan Servicing. The Department of Education and Department of the Treasury – after consulting with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and their work with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other state attorneys’ general – have developed clear student loan borrower rights and protections in three key areas: (1) providing accurate and actionable information about account features, borrower protections, and loan terms; (2) establishing a clear set of expectations for minimum requirements for communication and services provided by student loan servicers, including adequate and timely customer service; and (3) holding servicers accountable for fixing errors, being responsive to borrowers, and resolving problems by ensuring that borrowers, federal and state agencies and regulators, and law enforcement officials have access to appropriate channels of recourse when violations of federal or state consumer financial laws occur. The Department of Education will ensure all borrowers with federal Direct Loans can rely on high-quality service in line with these standards and protections. The Department of Education will implement this effort as part of its new vision for servicing student loans.    
  • Better Information to Help Borrowers Take Action on their Debt: CFPB Prototype Student Loan Payback Playbook. The CFPB is seeking comment on a new set of student loan servicing disclosures—a student loan Payback Playbook – that provides borrowers personalized information to better understand their repayment options and find a monthly payment they can afford. To help borrowers choose the best repayment plan with the most up-to-date information based on their circumstances, borrowers would see a plain language Playbook on their monthly bill, in regular email communications from their student loan servicer, or when they log into their student loan account. The Department of Education, working with the CFPB, will be finalizing and implementing these disclosures for federal loans borrowers. 
  • Ensuring Effective Student Loan Counseling. The Department of Education will work to improve the timing and content of current loan counseling efforts, including statutorily required entrance and exit counseling, to help students make better borrowing decisions, increase college completion, promote successful loan repayment, and reduce delinquencies and defaults. Specifically, the Department will upgrade and redesign its Entrance and Exit Counseling tools on StudentLoans.gov – which serves 6.5 million students a year – based on user analytics and direct input from more than 500 borrowers, financial aid administrators, policymakers, and higher education organizations. The Department is also developing a loan counseling experiment to rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of different counseling tools and the impact of offering borrowers more frequent information and guidance beyond the statutorily required one-time entrance and one-time exit counseling.
  • Leveraging Research to Drive Better Student Outcomes. The Department of Education will pilot Advancing Insights through Data (AID), a research partnership program that will offer other federal agencies and affiliated researchers data access to conduct research that can inform and advance policies and practices that support students’ postsecondary success and strengthen repayment outcomes for borrowers. Starting with Federal Reserve Board researchers this fall, the program will allow experts to apply to securely access and match administrative student aid data files with other survey and administrative data, while ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of students and families. AID builds on the Administration’s recent efforts to leverage government data in ways that can improve service delivery, promote transparency, and strengthen accountability, particularly through the College Scorecard, which includes the most comprehensive, reliable data ever published on students’ post-college earnings and repayment outcomes. The Department is also exploring future opportunities for new research partnerships.
  • Modernizing Credit Reporting for Student Loans To Ensure Fair Treatment Of BorrowersThe Department of Education and the Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the CFPB, are working collaboratively with the credit reporting industry to develop guidance for servicers, lenders, and others who furnish data to the credit bureaus to determine how best to report student loan data so that it is fair, consistent, and accurately reflects repayment activity. This effort is another critical part of the Department’s new vision for servicing student loans.
  • Over 40 new student debt challenge takers.Earlier this month, the White House issued a call to action for colleges, universities, non-profits, businesses, state and local governments, and other employers to help more borrowers better understand their options, and to take action to enroll those borrowers in PAYE and related plans so they can manage their monthly payments and avoid delinquency and default. There is a growing list of commitments from organizations working to inform their employees and members about PAYE and related plans, train human resources (HR) staff on the importance of helping borrowers understand their student loan repayment options and the steps individuals must take to enroll, and use digital platforms to highlight PAYE and related plans. In the few short weeks since the Debt Challenge was launched, there have been over 40 commitment makers, and the Administration is encouraging more colleges, businesses, non-profits to take action. As of April 26, the list of commitments includes:

o   ACCESS College Foundation

o   AFSCME

o   Achieving the Dream

o   American Student Assistance

o   American Sustainable Business Council

o   California State University, Long Beach

o   California Association of Nonprofits

o   The Century Foundation

o   College Advising Corps

o   College Forward

o   College Greenlight

o   Dyersburg State Community College

o   Florida International University

o   Friendship Public Charter School

o   Indiana University

o   Iowa State University

o   Jobs for the Future

o   Lake Area Technical Institute

o   Lone Star College

o   Marcus Foster Education Institute

o   Marks and Associates

o   Montana State University Bozeman

o   Morgan State University

o   National Housing Resource Center

o   Natixis Global Asset Management

o   New Haven Promise

o   Operation HOPE, Inc.

o   Parkway School District

o   Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District

o   Rutgers University – Newark

o   Tennessee Technological University

o   University of Pittsburgh

o   University of Memphis

o   University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville

o   The Institute for College Access and Success

o   The State University of New York

o   University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

o   University of Northern Iowa

o   United Tribes Technical College

o   Valencia College

o   Young Invincibles