The Biggest Education Stories Of 2017 And 2018 : NPR Ed Betsy DeVos, school choice, civil rights, student loans and for-profit colleges: A look at the year in education and the big stories we're watching next year.
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The Biggest Education Stories Of 2017 And 2018

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The Biggest Education Stories Of 2017 And 2018

The Biggest Education Stories Of 2017 And 2018

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How much has the Trump administration really changed public education? A tax bill includes a huge break for parents of private school students. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made several high-profile moves in recent months, and so we're going to talk through all of the results with Anya Kamenetz of the NPR Ed team. Hi, Anya.


INSKEEP: Having watched the administration in action for a while now, do you feel you understand their broad goals for education?

KAMENETZ: As soon as Betsy DeVos was appointed, people in the education world kind of knew what the playbook was going to be because she has a long history in Michigan and elsewhere of backing two big areas. Of course, school choice. Everyone's heard her advocacy for private schools, sometimes religious schools and for-profit schools, and, at the same time, kind of a culture war element. And that has to do, with the use of the Education Department as a little bit of a bully pulpit, which really has been its strength over the decades.

INSKEEP: OK. So a couple of things to follow up on there. Let's talk about choice first, which often gets down to money, which schools are receiving federal funds. How much progress has DeVos made in pushing money the way she'd like?

KAMENETZ: Well, until recently we didn't see big massive federal policy changes. There were some things in the budget request that came out earlier this spring that would have directed hundreds of millions of dollars to private schools and charter schools, but that was pretty much ignored by Congress. So it wasn't until this tax bill that just passed that we saw the beginnings of what may be directing more resources toward private schools. And that's something you alluded to at the top, which was the use of 529 Plans, college savings plans, which really are the province of the wealthy. Not many people have that much money to save, but 529 college savings plans can now be used for private schools. On the other side of the ledger, the change in the state and local tax deduction has a lot of public school advocates worried that it's going to be harder to fund public schools, and especially harder to fund them equitably.

INSKEEP: Now, what about the culture war?

KAMENETZ: (Laughter). Well, you know, some would say that, you know, the Obama administration's education department pursued a certain vision, and that was done oftentimes through these dear-colleague letters or guidance. And one of the most high-profile changes of the year was when DeVos walked back the transgender rights guidance, and this had to do with the ability of students to access the bathrooms of their choice.

INSKEEP: The Obama administration offered one opinion to schools, which it couldn't necessarily enforce absolutely, but it gave guidance. And now the Trump administration is giving different guidance?

KAMENETZ: Exactly. And as a result of that, actually, the case of Gavin Grimm was not heard by the Supreme Court because of this change in direction.

INSKEEP: Gavin Grimm. Remind us. That's a student...

KAMENETZ: Gavin Grimm was a student in Virginia who sued the school district for the right to use the bathroom of his gender identity.

INSKEEP: Are there other cases where the Trump administration has spoken out on issues in ways that have influenced public education across the country?

KAMENETZ: Sure. So you know, in the higher education realm, but K-12 as well, we heard a lot about the rollback of sexual assault guidance. That was also coming from the idea that Title 9 covered sexual assault victims. And Betsy DeVos has really pushed for a notion of the rights of the accused and due process rather than just emphasizing the rights of victims, and that has led to a real firestorm.

INSKEEP: Does the education world feel different then after almost a year of the Trump administration because of the things you've just described?

KAMENETZ: I think it does, for a lot of reasons, not just the reasons I've described. But, you know, when you go to schools, we have a very diverse public school population. One figure commonly cited is that 1 in 4 young students has an immigrant parent. And so surveys show, and my reporting shows, that there is a feeling of oftentimes anxiety and especially polarization because of the rhetoric of the Trump administration around minority rights, around civil rights, around immigrants' rights.

INSKEEP: So students, at least some students, are more tense.

KAMENETZ: That's right. We reported on a survey that said 79 percent of teachers nationwide said their kids were concerned about their well-being, and more than half of them were stressed and anxious compared to prior years.

INSKEEP: Anya, thanks very much. Always a pleasure.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Anya Kamenetz of the NPR Ed team.

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