Who Is In Charge

Romney, Obama link education to economy

During their second duel of this campaign, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday night framed the issue of education as an economic one.

Image of voter putting ballot in ballot box.The first question at the town-hall style debate at Hofstra University, in Hempstead N.Y., came from a college student who asked what the candidates were going to do to make sure a good-paying job awaited him upon graduation.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had a two-prong answer: Make it easier for students to afford college, and make sure there are good jobs once they graduate.

Romney said he would keep the Pell Grant program “growing.” This elevates a position he has made before to a much smaller audience, and continues to divert attention from the budget his running mate authored. House Budget Committee Chairman and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has proposed to trim eligibility, focusing it on the neediest students.

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Romney’s remarks were similar to those he made in a Univision forum in September, when he said he wanted to grow grants at the rate of inflation. (Note: There’s a $7 billion Pell shortfall that still needs to be closed, according to the New America Foundation.)

Obama, for his part, said one of the keys to economic success is for “everybody to get a great education.” He said he has worked hard to create more community college slots for worker retraining. He touted his administration’s success in removing banks as the federal college loan middlemen, which he said has freed up money for Pell.

Obama also used the Pell topic to appeal to the much-coveted women’s vote. “We’ve expanded Pell grants, including for millions of young women,” he said.

Little New Ground

The debate offered little new in the way of insights into both candidates’ education platforms. But it came on the heels of three other substantive debates in which education played a prominent role—including the first meeting between the two presidential candidates, and subsequent debates between advisers for the two.

In their first debate earlier this month, Obama and Romney both raised education as a key issue in moving the economy forward. Romney surprised education policy wonks by declaring he would not cut education funding even as he seeks to rein in the federal deficit.

On Monday, adviser Jon Schnur, for the Obama campaign, and Phil Handy, an adviser for Romney, squared off at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where we learned that the waivers granted by the Obama administration under the No Child Left Behind Act would be in serious jeopardy if Romney is elected.

And earlier Tuesday, education advisers Martin West (for Team Romney) and Schnur clashed at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where they talked about the Common Core State Standards, waivers, and other hot education topics.

In contrast, in the vice-presidential debate last week, education barely came up.

DREAM Act Gets Focus

During Tuesday night’s debate, when the topic turned to immigration, Romney appeared to flip-flop on the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented young people a path to citizenship. During the GOP primary season, he said that although he supported a path for servicemen and women, he would veto the broad legislation. At Tuesday’s debate, he said such young people “should have a pathway to becoming a permanent resident.”

Obama reiterated his longstanding support for the DREAM Act.

Education did come up one other time at this debate: When one voter asked what the candidates would do about assault weapons. In one of the biggest pivots of the night, Romney said good schools could perhaps bring down violence, and he touted Massachusetts No. 1 ranking for schools. Later, in a closing statement, Romney brought up that he was able to give “100 percent” of his students a “bright opportunity” for the future, clearly in reference to his recorded comments that 47 percent of voters would never vote for him.

Obama also seized on the assault-weapons question to allude to the common core standards (although not by name), and his school turnaround program that he said has resulted in “gains in math and science.”

“If our young people have opportunities, then they’re less likely to engage in these violent acts,” Obama said.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”