Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ed Politics

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a likely Republican contender in the 2016 presidential election, touched lightly on education issues—particularly school choice—when he spoke at the National Urban League's annual conference in Cincinnati on Friday morning.

The speech had been previewed by some media outlets as "a major push on education reform." In reality, Paul dedicated less than one minute of his 18-minute speech to education issues, peddling policies that he's widely known for supporting: charters and vouchers.
Here's the entire education-related portion of his speech:
"They say education is the great equalizer, but all schools aren't equal. Many of the large schools in our cities are functioning with low standards. Many of the schools have become dropout factories. Some schools lack discipline and are unsafe. I saw the status quo is unacceptable. But Washington has no clue how to fix this problem. Washington has no clue how to fix education. Washington doesn't know whether you're a good teacher or a bad teacher. We should allow innovation to occur at the local level. I propose that we allow school charters, school choice, vouchers, competition. Competition breeds excellence and encourages innovation. And boy, we really need innovation. My kids went to great public schools. I went to great public schools. The president's kids go to great private schools. There are a lot of choices out there. I want to make it where all American get the option of choosing the best schools for their kids."
Paul spent the bulk of his time pushing for criminal justice reform, which he's been drumming up support for by traveling around the country with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Though he didn't give us the groundbreaking education speech we were looking forward to, the fact that he didn't break any news probably means his education platform—should he run for president—will by and large focus on policies he been espousing since he was elected to the Senate in 2010.

For starters, Paul, who sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has favored eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. His focus on limiting the role of the federal government is just one of his many tea- party-aligned political sensibilities.

Paul is an ardent champion for school choice policies. Lately, he's been teaming up with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., top Republican on the HELP Committee, to push proposals that would allow Title I dollars to follow students to the school of their choice, even a private school.

More recently, at an education roundtable at a Catholic school in Chicago in April, Paul said Title I funds, which are federal dollars allocated to public schools serving low-income students, are being sent to school district that "may not be deserving" of the investment.

He's right about there being some imbalance in Title I funding, and there are several reasons why the program's funding formula sometimes short-changes the neediest districts. We won't get into that now, but if you want a couple of great, wonky explainers, check out Alyson Klein's explainer here, and Lesli Maxwell's explainer here.

Paul is a staunch opponent of the No Child Left Behind Act, one of former president George W. Bush's biggest legislative legacies, and has used this to try to court teachers, who almost universally disliked the accountability model attached to the federal education law.

"Rand has emerged as our most effective advocate for freedom for teachers," said Alexander last summer.

The other half of Politics K-12, Alyson Klein, astutely noted in a blog post from June 2013: "Remember that quote, you may see it again on the future website of Rand Paul for America, sometime in 2016."

And every politician needs a stance on the Common Core State Standards, right?

Paul was one of 10 Republican senators to send a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, outlining their objection to federal money going to states in exchange for adopting certain academic standards, including common-core standards, or the development of assessments to go along with the common core, or any other set of standards.

Despite being a tea party darling, Paul is known for courting supporters from a variety of demographics that haven't traditionally supported Republican candidates. His speech to a crowd of about 100 people, mostly African-Americans, at the Urban League conference, highlights his out-of-the-box brand of politics and willingness to break away (and sometimes alienate himself) from his own party.
 In other political news, this from Politico's Morning Education:

Senate Democrats are reviving the same campaign issue that helped Democrats win back seats in 2006 and catalyzed the "Occupy" movement - or at least, they're trying to. Powerhouse fundraiser (and potential 2016 presidential candidate) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been making good on her promise to campaign for congressional candidates on the failed student loan refinancing bill she introduced earlier this year [http://politi.co/1s6jhAc ]. A refresher: Senate Democrats brought the bill to the floor in June knowing that Republicans would vote against it because it is paid for by taxing the wealthy. Senate Republicans blocked the bill, as expected, and Democrats vowed to bring it up again for a vote down the line.

Warren quickly hit the campaign trail for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state and Democratic opponent of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, where she raised more than $200,000 for Grimes and attended a rally hosted by the Louisville College Democrats. Warren railed [http://bit.ly/1ugnlPz ] on McConnell for his vote against the bill, casting McConnell as choosing to "to protect the billionaires" and not students. "That's what this race is all about. It's about a man who stood up and filibustered the student loan bill," Warren said. "You send us Allison Grimes instead of Mitch McConnell, and you change the world." (McConnell and his staff have repeatedly pointed out that the minority leader has helped engineer student loan deals in the past.)

The National Education Association plans to focus on loans, too. The issue moves millennials, women and minority voters, NEA Political Director Karen White said. One of their first bites at the apple: A $490,000 ad buy against Arkansas Senate candidate U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. The ad features a retired teacher and guidance counselor criticizing Cotton for taking out federal student loans, but voting against lower loan rates [http://bit.ly/1A70V3Q ]. Bonus: Watch Patriot Majority USA's student loan buy against Cotton on the same subject: http://bit.ly/WEf3SO. (Keep reading for more about unions' plans.)

Just five states - so far - have dropped the Common Core. Supporters of the standards consider it a victory: They've spent millions persuading state legislators to stick with the standards amid a firestorm of opposition. But who's winning the overall Common Core PR war? Top promoters of the standards say it's the other side - and it's time to devise a new strategy. Conservative commentators like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin took to the stage last week, simulcasting a fiery town hall meeting in 700 movie theaters across the country calling the Common Core a threat to local control of public education. About 10,000 aspiring activists have downloaded Beck's "action plan" for defeating the standards. His slogan, "We will not conform," still echoes across Twitter. On Monday, Melinda Gates tweeted a line from President Barack Obama's speech at the Young African Leaders Initiative: "Couldn't agree more: 'If you educate and empower and respect a mother, then you are educating the children.' - President Obama." Malkin responded [http://bit.ly/1znPCCR]: ".@melindagates Empower & respect moms? Yeah, tell it to mom-basher Arne Duncan! #stopcommoncore #wewillnotconform ==> http://bit.ly/1rYZwHV."
The response from Common Core backers just hasn't packed the same punch. For example, proponents recently released a pair of sedate videos featuring three former Republican governors - one of whom has been out of office for 11 years - sitting in front of a gray backdrop, eyes fixed on a point slightly off camera as they cycled through familiar talking points.

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