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Morning Education: A daily overview of education policy news
Benjamin Wermund Politico
February 24, 2017

 

Morning Education
A daily overview of education policy news

By Robert Malley and Marc Lynch
Anti-Semitism a growing concern on college campuses

With help from Caitlin Emma, Kimberly Hefling, Michael Stratford and Ian Kullgren

ANTI-SEMITISM A GROWING CONCERN ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES: A few years ago, Kenneth Marcus, the former head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, could tick off a few campuses that were “hot spots” for anti-Semitism. Now, he says: “It’s really all over.” Marcus, now president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, drafted the policy OCR uses to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism. He told Morning Education that anti-Semitism is “so pervasive that in any given semester it could be virtually anywhere.” And it’s been spiking over the last year, he said. Recent incidents have drawn attention to the University of Michigan, Stanford, Texas State University and elsewhere. Lawmakers in at least three states have filed bills to define and curb anti-Semitism — and the Trump administration is under pressure to take action.

— Multiple studies have tracked the prevalence of anti-Semitism in recent years. A 2014 Trinity College poll found 54 percent of Jewish students had experienced anti-Semitism on campus. The next year, Brandeis University found that figure was closer to three-quarters of Jewish students. A study last year by the AMCHA Initiative, a group that aims to fight anti-Semitism, found a 45 percent increase in incidents during the first half of 2016 compared to the same period the year before. Jewish hate crime victims, meanwhile, outnumbered victims of all other religious groups combined in 2015, according to FBI statistics.

— The rise of the “alt-right” white nationalist movement is partially to blame — but so are extremists on the far left, Marcus said. And the latter can be harder for universities to deal with. “University administrators know they need to respond to extremist right-wing neo-Nazi propaganda,” Marcus said. “It’s harder to deal with anti-Semitism that disguises itself as anti-Israel in some respect.”

— The “single most important step” toward combating the trend is to take the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism abroad and apply it in the U.S. — at the Education and Justice departments, Marcus said. That definition includes descriptions of anti-Israel language, as well as more traditional forms of anti-Semitism. States including South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee have proposed adopting the definition locally.

— The Trump administration has faced pressure to more strongly condemn anti-Semitism after a rash of incidents across the country, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and threats against Jewish community centers. Trump earlier this week said the threats are “horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” Vice President Mike Pence visited a vandalized cemetery near St. Louis. “There’s now a real awareness that anti-Semitism has reawakened as a major problem of the year 2017,” Marcus said. “There’s more pressure to do something about it.”

HAPPY FRIDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING EDUCATION. I got my king cake fix all the way from Southeast Texas. Happy Mardi Gras. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Tips? Feedback? Send it my way: bwermund@politico.com or @BenjaminEW. Share event listings: educalendar@politicopro.com. And follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.

JUDGE TELLS TRUMP TO TAKE STANCE ON STUDENT LOAN FEES: The Education Department must determine by next week if it will continue to enforce the Obama administration’s ban on collection of some student loan fees, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta said in an order Thursday night. Mehta is overseeing a legal challenge to the Obama administration’s 2015 guidance, which specifically prohibits guaranty agencies that collect federally backed loans from imposing collection fees when a borrower defaults on his or her debt but quickly agrees to start repaying. United Student Aid Funds, a former student loan guaranty agency, has sued to block the guidance, arguing that the Higher Education Act permits them to impose such fees. Michael Stratford has more.

TRANSGENDER DECISION SKIRTS THORNIEST LEGAL ISSUES: President Donald Trump’s move to scrap an Obama directive on transgender student rights satisfied his evangelical base, but it avoided taking a stance on the thorniest moral and legal issues: whether transgender students are covered by federal education law and whether they should be protected regardless.

— The letter to schools rescinding the Obama directive took a states’ rights position, but it didn’t address the legal issue at all — whether Title IX protects against gender-identity discrimination. At the heart of conservative-led lawsuits against Barack Obama’s directive is the argument that his administration unilaterally attempted to rewrite Title IX to include gender identity under “sex-based discrimination.” But that argument wasn’t offered by the Trump administration in defense of its action on Wednesday night.

— Since the release of the administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, the Trump administration has sent mixed messages. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said: “The guidance put forward obviously sends a signal to the court on where the administration stands on this issue.” But he also said the president doesn't want to “force his issues or beliefs” on anyone. “It's a states’ rights issue,” he said. “That’s entirely what he believes.” Caitlin Emma has the story.

SCOTUS ASKS: WHAT'S NEXT? With the Supreme Court set to hear a case on transgender rights next month, the justices on Thursday asked the parties in the case — Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school senior seeking bathroom access in accordance with his gender identity, and his Virginia school district — how they want to proceed in light of the Trump administration’s move. They must tell the court by March 1. The ACLU, representing Grimm, filed a brief Thursday saying the court should provide clarity on protections provided by Title IX. Some legal experts believe Trump’s action could kick the case back to a lower court. Pros, read the ACLU brief here.

DUNCAN AND LHAMON ASK: WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF ... ? In an op-ed in The Washington Post on Thursday, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former assistant education secretary for civil rights Catherine Lhamon disputed the Trump administration's states' rights logic: "Leaving these questions to states means some students in some schools will have less protection than students in other schools." And the Obama administration alums noted, as we reported, that DeVos was said to be opposed to rescinding the order but that Trump sided with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"If DeVos can’t win on this issue, what would happen if the law-abiding children of undocumented parents, kids who have spent most of their lives in the United States, were deported like common criminals?" they continued. "Would she win if federal education funds targeted to low-income children were instead spent on higher-income children? Would she win if students with disabilities were illegally denied the educational supports they need and deserve? Would she win if students of color continued to be suspended and expelled far out of proportion to their numbers? Would she block schools from discriminating in other nefarious ways?" More.

SCHOOLS STAND UP FOR TRANSGENDER STUDENTS: A number of school districts and states have made it clear they’ll uphold transgender student rights, irrespective of where the Trump administration falls on Title IX. “All students deserve a safe and supportive school environment. California will continue to work to provide that environment for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students regardless of any misguided directives by the federal government and the Trump administration,” said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

— Rhode Island state chief Ken Wagner also refused to back down: “The rescinding of this federal guidance does not change our policy — there is no room for discrimination in our schools, and we will continue to protect all students, including transgender and gender-nonconforming students, from any type of bias.”

— And District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said the district will stick to its policy of ensuring “all students are treated equitably and with dignity.” In an email to the DCPS community, Wilson added: “We remain committed to supporting and protecting our transgender school community, as well as all of the students, families and community members of DCPS.”

‘BATHROOM BILLS’ LIKELY TO STALL: Legislative attempts to restrict which bathrooms transgender people may use have popped up in at least a dozen states, but they’ve proven to be a tough sell even in the most conservative places, The Associated Press reports. Bills in Texas and Arkansas lack support from crucial state leadership, and efforts to pass similar laws have already failed this year in Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming. The main reason, transgender-rights leaders told the AP, is the backlash and economic hit that North Carolina suffered when it passed its HB2 measure last year.

PROFS CALL OUT DEVOS OVER CPAC COMMENTS: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threw red meat to conservative college students at CPAC on Thursday, saying that “faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.” The comment didn’t play so well with many university professors. “As someone who teaches college students, this is utter and complete bulls--t relying on conservative shibboleths, not 1 iota of fact,” Brian Rosenwald, a fellow at the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and an instructor at Penn, tweeted. Robert Mann, a professor of mass communications at Louisiana State University, was just as blunt, tweeting: “Betsy DeVos is clueless.” They were two of many college professors who took to Twitter to express outrage over DeVos’ remarks.

— DeVos brought up free speech in a meeting with public university leaders just after her CPAC appearance. It was among a slew of topics that surfaced in her first meeting with the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and presidents from 11 universities. “The presidents expressed their strong belief and commitment to ensuring that campuses are open to a diverse array of perspectives and beliefs,” an APLU member who was at the meeting told Morning Education. After the meeting, DeVos tweeted: “Appreciate these university leaders meeting to discuss controlling costs, protecting students, graduation rates and workforce readiness.”

DEVOS IS THE QUESTION: Another Republican senator has faced tough questioning related to DeVos during a town hall meeting. In Louisiana, Sen. Bill Cassidy was grilled Wednesday about accepting $70,000 in campaign donations from DeVos and her family, the Hill reports. “I asked Mrs. DeVos, ‘Will you enforce the law?’ ‘Absolutely.’ ... ‘Do you support public education?' She goes: 'Absolutely,'" Cassidy told the crowd. Earlier in the week, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley took heat in his home state for supporting DeVos.

MURRAY PRESSES DEVOS ON REMARKS ABOUT ED DEPT EMPLOYEES: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), top Democrat on the Senate education committee, says she’s concerned by Secretary DeVos’ comments last week that suggested she planned to take action against Education Department employees who could be trying to “subvert” the agency’s mission. Murray said the comments could have a “chilling effect” within the department and make federal employees uncomfortable to speak out about unethical or unlawful activities. Murray wrote to DeVos on Thursday, demanding information and clarification about her comments. Read it here.

GROUPS URGE FCC TO PROTECT BROADBAND PROGRAM: Dozens of civil rights, labor and social justice organizations are urging the Federal Communications Commission to reverse a decision earlier this month which the groups say “undermined” the Lifeline program. That decision was made by the FCC’s new Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, who blocked nine companies from receiving federal funding to help connect low-income families to affordable broadband.

— “Just as Lifeline is set to catch up with the 21st century, it is once again under attack from critics using flawed logic,” the groups write in a letter to the commission. “They suggest that Lifeline is unnecessary because poor people would adopt these technologies absent a subsidy, and they retreat to the long-discredited argument that waste, fraud and abuse are rampant in the program. The dangerous assumption that poor people still may adopt [broadband] absent a subsidy fails to recognize that, for most poor people, taking on a bill for an essential communications service means forgoing food, healthcare, clothing, school supplies, and other basic necessities.” The letter.

4 DEMS HUNGRY FOR FOOD-INSECURITY STUDY: Patty Murray and a group of fellow Democratic senators are asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate food insecurity at colleges and universities, pointing to studies that show large numbers of students struggling with food access. In a letter sent Thursday, Murray (Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Ed Markey (Mass.) cite a survey in which half of community college students said they struggle to feed themselves.

— “Sacrificing food for education can undermine a student's educational goals and create barriers on their path to obtaining a certificate, degree, or credential,” the lawmakers say. “This situation raises concern and deserves greater scrutiny.”

NGA GIVES SOME LOVE TO PRE-K: Hollywood darling Jennifer Garner will be joining Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee during a National Governors Association session Saturday morning focused on early childhood education. Other speakers include Mark Shriver, president of Save the Children Action Network, and Mike Petters, president of Huntington Ingalls Industries. The NGA winter meeting starts today. View the schedule here.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS

— The Wallace Foundation announced today it has selected a new director of learning and enrichment who will oversee one of the foundation's key grant-making areas. Giselle "Gigi" Antoni, president and CEO of Big Thought in Dallas, a nonprofit organization that focuses on building partnerships that close the opportunity gap through creative out-of-school time programs, will join Wallace after May 1, said Will Miller, the foundation’s president. Antoni will succeed Nancy Devine, who is retiring.

REPORT ROLL CALL

— A new poll by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project finds more Texans oppose using tax money on private school vouchers than support the idea — by nearly 10 percentage points.

SYLLABUS

— Trump says removal of undocumented immigrants is a “military operation”: POLITICO.

— A bill that would let Wyoming school districts allow K-12 school employees to carry guns on campus has passed a Senate committee and now heads to the Senate floor: The Associated Press.

— Texas lawmakers are pushing vouchers for private schools — but many of the state’s poorest students live in areas with no private schools to use them on: The Dallas Morning News.


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Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
 
 
 
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Tammi Rossman Benjamin
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that investigates, documents and combats anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America, and was a faculty member in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of California from 1996 - 2016.
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