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DoE Plans More Federal Regulatory Reform in 2018

February 6, 2018

The U.S. Department of Education (DoE), led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, plans to review and reform regulations, requirements, and guidelines set during previous administrations, The Washington Examiner reports.

“That review will involve further consideration of the Obama administration's Title IX guidelines on how campuses should handle sexual assault, which DeVos rescinded … in September [2017],” the Examiner reported in January 2018. “A department source told the Washington Examiner they are working to have the draft rule out by March.”

The source said the department’s goal is “reducing overreach” and ensuring colleges “actually serve students rather than be more worried about compliance.” The DoE will also review borrower-defense regulations, rules that govern federal relief to student loan borrowers defrauded by schools.

The department has plans for K-12 reform as well. It will consider delaying the “significant disproportionality” rule that requires states to keep track of school districts that “discipline children from any racial or ethnic group at markedly higher rates than their peers.”

DoE Press Secretary Liz Hill told the Examiner the department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force in charge of scrutinizing regulations and guidance would focus particularly on Title IX’s college sexual assault provisions and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015.

“[The] Regulatory Reform Task Force will continue its scrutiny of regulations and significant guidance during 2018,” Hill said.

‘Common Core Is Dead’

DeVos also recently took aim at the Common Core State Standards, developed at the national level during the Obama administration in 2009.

“[The Obama administration] dangled billions of dollars through the ‘Race to the Top’ competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards,” DeVos said in a January speech. “With a price tag of nearly $4.5 billion, it was billed as the ‘largest-ever federal investment in school reform … Nearly every state accepted Common Core standards and applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in Race to the Top funds.

“I agree—and have always agreed—with President Trump on this: ‘Common Core is a disaster,’” DeVos said. “And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

‘Shutter the Department Entirely’

A spokesperson for United States Parents Involved in Education (USPIE), an organization working to eliminate the DoE, says DeVos has got off to a slow start in restraining federal involvement in education.

“USPIE acknowledges Secretary DeVos’s few actions to curb federal overreach in education,” USPIE said in a statement. “Reductions in federal regulations are good. We are committed to seeing the U.S. Department of Education (USED) end all USED-related programs andPiecemeal reductions of outdated items and elimination of guidance letters does not make significant progress toward that goal.

“Secretary DeVos should have demonstrated her commitment to reducing federal overreach when she, as the cabinet secretary, was tasked with approvals of state ESSA plans,” the statement said. “Rejecting plans and sending them back demanding compliance to federal preferences does not bode well for a true transition of federal control of education back to states. Additionally, the secretary’s desire to expand school choice from the federal level is increasing federal overreach—the antithesis to her claimed goal.”

‘Might Be Well-Meaning’

Aaron Garth Smith, an education policy analyst at Reason Foundation, says even well-intentioned regulations often end up being ineffective or worse.

“Federal regulations might be well-meaning, but it’s important to distinguish between their intent and actual effects,” Smith said. “In the case of school discipline, educators have their hands tied and are incentivized to make critical decisions based on arbitrary benchmarks instead of what’s best for students in a given situation. This can lead to disastrous effects on a school’s learning environment and even safety, often hurting students of color the most. Bureaucrats in DC are essentially telling educators that they know what’s best for every classroom in the U.S. based on a few numbers in a spreadsheet.

 “The Obama-era Title IX guidance was problematic on numerous fronts, beginning with the fact that it wasn’t subject to public notice and comment, making it legally dubious,” Smith said. “It’s critical that we stand up for victims of sexual assault, but campus kangaroo courts that disregard due process deliver justice for neither the victims nor the accused, and sadly there are myriad cases that illustrate this point.”

Improving Teachers’ Lives

Smith says eliminating unnecessary regulations will be good for teachers.

“Reducing federal overreach is a step toward cutting the red tape that makes educators’ lives difficult and putting the power back where it belongs: in the classroom,” Smith said. “Teachers deserve to be treated as professionals, and far-reaching regulations do nothing of the sort.”

Keeping Campaign Promises

USPIE says DeVos should focus on fulfilling Trump’s professed vision for DoE.

 “USPIE is hopeful Secretary DeVos will instead work to implement President Trump’s campaign promises to eliminate Common Core and earnestly begin to sever the federal constraints created with passage of ESSA, to truly return education to states and local districts by shutting down the federal Department of Education,” USPIE said in its statement.

Harry Painter (jharrypainter@gmail.com) writes from Brooklyn, New York. 

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Harry Painter (jharrypainter@gmail.com) writes from Brooklyn, New York.