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Compass Point
A Weekly Collection of Data, Articles and Insights from the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute
A project of the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Public Policy
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs
 
Recent State and Local Education News
Virginia school district to close for ‘A Day Without a Woman’
The Washington Post
March 6, 2017

A Northern Virginia school system is canceling classes for all students Wednesday after numerous teachers requested the day off to join a national day of protest called “A Day Without a Woman,” in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home.

School officials in Alexandria announced Monday that about 300 staff members were seeking to take Wednesday off, too many to be able to open schools. The officials attributed the high number of requests to the demonstration, which was organized in conjunction with International Women’s Day and is intended to show the importance of women in the labor force. The majority of the 300 are teachers, officials said, comprising a sizable share of the 1,400 teachers in the school workforce. The system has about 15,000 students.


“This is not a decision that was made lightly. We have been closely monitoring requests for leave on March 8, including communicating with school leaders and our education association,” Alexandria Superintendent Alvin L. Crawley said in a statement on the school system’s website. “The decision is based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction. It is not based on a political stance or position.”

'Tax Credit Scholarships,' Praised By Trump, Turn Profits For Some Donors
NPR
March 7, 2017

President Trump has indicated several times now that his education agenda may feature a school choice program known as tax credit scholarships. He called it out in his first joint address to Congress last week, and followed that up with his first school visit as president this weekend: to a Catholic school in Florida which accepts several hundred students on the scholarships.

In these programs, sometimes called "neovouchers," people and companies earn tax credits by giving money to nonprofit scholarship funds. Students can use the scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools. This is important because traditional school vouchers can run afoul of constitutional challenges if they allocate public money to religiously based organizations.

These programs have been growing quickly in the last few years, with a push by groups like the American Federation for Children and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They exist in 17 states and several more are currently considering them.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Major Case on Transgender Rights
The New York Times
March 6, 2017

Prompted by the Trump administration’s reversal of the federal government’s position on transgender rights, the Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would not decide whether a transgender boy in Virginia could use the boys’ bathroom at his high school.

The decision not to take his case, which came as the court is awaiting the appointment of a ninth member, means there will be no ruling on the highly charged issue of transgender rights this term. The issue will almost certainly return to the Supreme Court, probably in a year or two.

Until then, lawsuits in the lower courts will proceed, the political climate and public opinion may shift, and the court’s composition will almost certainly change.
Monday’s development was a setback for transgender rights advocates, who had hoped the Supreme Court, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage two years ago, would aid their cause.
 
Culpeper Star-Exponent
March 1, 2017

In response to President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda, the commonwealth of Virginia Wednesday issued a memo to public schools system superintendents providing, “Guidance regarding school division responsibilities and actions under law in reference to students and immigration.”

The three-page memo from Steven Staples, the superintendent of public instruction at the Virginia Department of Education, came in response to inquiries from several school divisions, and was compiled in consultation with the attorney general’s office.

“Local school divisions have a constitutional and statutory obligation to provide education to K-12 students regardless of their immigration status, and to take active steps to guard the public education rights of students,” the memo says citing a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled undocumented students may not be presumptively excluded from a free public education.

Culpeper County Public Schools Superintendent Tony Brads said the school system here is already in compliance with the items outlined by Staples.

“The memo reinforces and reiterates what we are already doing,” Brads said. “We are unaware of any impact relative to a change in immigration status. If that did occur, we would look to the emergency contact information in order to maintain student enrollment. If no person could be responsible for the child, we would contact Social Services for assistance.”

Recent National Education News

Democrats Seek Hearings on Education Appointees
Inside Higher Ed
March 7, 2017


Democrats on the Senate education committee have requested that chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, hold additional hearings on subcabinet-level appointees at the Department of Education.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has selectively held hearings for such posts in the past, the Democrats wrote in a letter to Alexander. And they say there is a "uniquely strong case" for hearings now because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos indicated in her confirmation process that she would rely to a large degree on department staff in shaping higher education policy.

Every Student Succeeds is coming. What does that mean for New York?
The Buffalo News
March 6, 2017

Out is the old federal education policy, No Child Left Behind, which ushered in the controversial Common Core, made schools more accountable for student performance, placed a bigger emphasis on testing and sparked a widespread opt-out movement.

In is the new policy, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which still mandates high standards and accountability, but is supposed to give states more flexibility to decide how best to rate schools and fix those struggling the most. That’s a big shift from the tight control the federal government exerted over public education for more than a decade.

 

2017 School Budget Facts and Insights

This week in Compass Point we feature elements of our recently released factbook on school budgets within the commonwealth.  This factbook, like our 2016 Back-to-School edition, is intended to be a handy reference for community members, media and policymakers as localities begin reconciling the budget requests from school systems with the revenues available from tax rates set by the boards of supervisors and city councils.

Drawing on our 2016-17 Commonwealth Education Poll, the factbook provides insight for the following questions: 
  • Does the public think funding for schools is enough?
  • Does the public think funding affects the quality of students’ education?
  • Is the public willing to pay higher taxes to increase school funding?
  • What type of tax increase does the public think would be best?
Take a look at the answer to the first question excerpted below

In addition to highlighting poll findings, the facts and insights summary provides links to data mapping (see graphic example below) developed by CEPI that shows the county by county variation on such key topics as:

We're also happy to excerpt another portion of our March Education Law newsletter to share, written by CEPI Senior Fellow Dr. Richard Vacca.  This issue, which looks at religion and public education, is found next.

This also marks a move for Compass Point from a weekly e-mail to a monthly, more substantive dive into a topic (e.g. school budget facts and insights).   We'll be back in April with our next Compass Point.  If you'd like to suggest a topic for April or future months, please e-mail us at cepi@vcu.edu

We hope you have a great month of March!

Sincerely,
CEPI
Education Law Newsletter

The religion/public education controversy 2017-Emerging issues


Excerpted from the March 2017 Education Law Newsletter written by Dr. Richard Vacca.  Read the full newsletter on our website.

Smith, et al. v. Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners (6th cir. 2015)
Recently, I came across a decision handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The situation involves a challenge to a contractual arrangement between a local board of education, which had abolished its alternative school (because of budgetary problems), and a local private Christian school where the public school alternative education students were taught (secular instruction). The court’s decision’s seventeen pages reads like a restatement of religion/education jurisprudence - a treasure trove of important information.

Facts
In 2002-2003, the Jefferson County, Tennessee school system operated its own alternative school. In 2003, because of budget cuts, the Jefferson County school board voted to eliminate its own alternative school for the upcoming school year, and contracted for services with Kingswood School, Inc., a nonprofit entity licensed by the State Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. The contract called for Kingswood to provide alternative education services for Jefferson County students. State law required local school districts to provide alternative education services for students in the seventh through twelfth grades. The parties later stipulated that the “sole motivation” was to reconcile the school board’s budget.
Two teachers in the Jefferson County alternative school were notified that their positions would no longer exist because of the new contractual arrangement. They were told that the school board would make every effort to place them for the coming school year in an area of their certification. Subsequently, one of the teachers rejected two teaching positions offered and asked to be placed on a preferred employment list for administrative or principal positions. Unemployed for seven months, she ultimately accepted a school principal’s position in the system. Unemployed for two months, the second teacher, having received no teaching offers, returned to a former job at a youth center.

Beginning in the 2003-2004 school year and continuing until 2009, Jefferson County middle school and high school students attended Kingswood if they had been suspended or expelled from their public school. For the 2009-2010 school year, high school students remained at Kingswood , while middle school students returned to their respective public school.

Kingswood was responsible for hiring, firing, evaluation, and supervising staff in its alternative school. Also Kingswood was responsible for managing finances, running day-to-day operations, communicating with parents, providing report cards, and determining the term of some student’s suspensions from their respective public school. During the life of the contract with the Jefferson County school system, Kingswood also worked with four other public school systems.

Kingswood had two separate programs—a day program and a residential program. The residential program maintained a religious character and included deliberate religious instruction. The day school program, recognized by the State of Tennessee as a model program, did not feature direct religious instruction. Day students did attend, on occasion and on a voluntary basis, assemblies in Kingswood’s on-campus chapel. While the chapel contains “religious imagery” there is no evidence that the assemblies included religious content. However, day students and their parents were not entirely insulated from all signs of a religious environment. For example, a student progress form, report cards, and Easter letter sent home to parents contained a passage from the Bible. The Easter letter also had a statement about the school’s Christian environment.

The school’s annual report contained references to “religious training,” instilling in each child a “personal faith in God,” and the “saving grace of Jesus Christ.” The school’s website also contained religious references. The record showed that none of the communications appear to have targeted Jefferson County Students and were in use before the Jefferson County students arrived. And there was no indication that any Jefferson County student or parent had complained.

All classes were taught in a separate building where there were no religious symbols or messages. All Jefferson County students were enrolled exclusively in the day program and were taught by “state licensed” teachers hired by Kingswood. 
__________________

Read the rest of the newsletter on our website
Poll Spotlight - Does the public think funding for schools is enough?

Two-thirds of Virginians (66 percent) say that public schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs, while only 26 percent say schools have enough funding. These levels are virtually unchanged from the previous year, despite the significant increase in funding approved for K-12 education by last year’s General Assembly.

Certain demographic categories were more likely to think that schools don’t currently have enough funding. Parents of public school students (73 percent) were significantly more likely than respondents without a child in the public school system (64 percent) to think schools were operating below needed funding levels. Minority respondents (77 percent) were more likely to think funding for schools was not enough when compared to white respondents (62 percent). Also, Democrats (79 percent) more often said schools did not have enough compared to their Independent (58 percent) or Republican (55 percent) counterparts.


Likewise there was a difference between women (71 percent) and men (61 percent) and among the different geographic regions. Northern Virginia had the smallest portion of respondents (56 percent) who thought schools did not have enough funding, compared to 77 percent in South Central Virginia and 72 percent in the Tidewater area.

A copy of the full results of the 2016-17 Commonwealth Education Poll is available at http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.