Education Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed (Sept. 9, 2019)

September 06, 2019 12 min read
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Pass a law, and schools will comply—at least some will some of the time.

Take Texas. It passed a law in 2017 barring schools from suspending early-elementary students except under extreme circumstances. Those circumstances include such major violations as assaults or bringing a weapon or drugs to school.

The rate of suspensions for young students in Texas had fallen by nearly a third from the 2015-16 school year to the 2017-18 school year, says advocacy group Texans Care for Children.

Public schools meted out more than 101,000 in- and out-of-school suspensions to students in grades pre-K-2 in 2015-16. That figure dropped by 31 percent for 2017-18, after the law was enacted, to 70,197. That’s still a lot of suspensions, though the large majority were served in school.

Not surprisingly, youngsters in foster care, black children, and those in special education were most likely to be suspended.

Dallas was among the first Texas districts to pass a policy restricting suspensions in pre-K-2.

For the 2018-19 school year, Dallas reported no out-of-school suspensions for pre-K-2 and less than 10 in-school suspensions for such grades.

In contrast, the Killeen district alone accounted for 54 percent of Texas’ out-of-school suspensions for pre-K and 44 percent of in-school suspensions for that grade in 2017-18, the Texans Care report found.

Eric Penrod, the deputy superintendent of the Killeen district, said it likely had not put enough emphasis on alternative discipline methods in earlier years. Killeen has since allotted about $1.5 million to address mental health and other needs, including using certified clinical psychologists to help teachers recognize students’ needs.

States’ Top Lawyers Go After Vaping Company for Marketing Ploys

Being big isn’t always best.

E-cigarette giant Juul Labs, which has captured nearly three-quarters of the market since it launched four years ago, faces a mounting number of state and federal investigations into its marketing and sales practices.

Attorneys general in Illinois and the District of Columbia are examining how Juul’s blockbuster vaping device became so popular with underage teenagers.

Parents, politicians, and public-health advocates have accused Juul of fueling the vaping craze among high schoolers. Attorneys general in Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts also have announced investigations of Juul related to concerns over underage use of its products. And North Carolina’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against Juul in May, asking a court to limit the company’s sales and marketing in the state.

The Trump administration has gotten into the act as well. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration “will continue using every regulatory and enforcement power we have to stop the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.”

All this is occurring while public-health officials look into mysterious respiratory ailments that have struck more than 200 people nationwide after they vaped.

Juul’s top executives have disputed allegations that they’ve marketed their products to teenagers, declaring that they’ve taken unprecedented steps to combat underage use of e-cigarettes. The company has shut down its Facebook and Instagram pages and pulled several of its flavored products out of retail stores. Other states, meanwhile, are taking a different tack to prevent youths from using e-cigarettes, focusing on educating young people to the dangers. Indiana, for one, has set aside $2.1 million for such a campaign.

It’s a struggle, state officials acknowledge. A Kansas survey of 2,000 high school students in 2017 found that 32.2 percent had tried vaping.

Vaping is attractive to teenagers because the small devices aren’t easily detectable. Said Mark Thompson, a consultant at the Kansas education department: “They could actually vape in the classroom because you’re not going to pick up on the odor, and if you can control where the vape goes, then it’s almost unnoticeable.”

School Building Aid Falls to the Wayside

Anyone who has visited lots of schools knows many of them aren’t pretty. Maybe the floors are cracked. Perhaps the toilets and sinks don’t work right. Roofs leak. The interior hasn’t seen a paint job in decades. Multipurpose rooms are used for purposes no one initially thought of. Computers haven’t been updated in a decade. In the winter, cold seeps through spaces around windows and doors. And in summer, heat penetrates the structures.

In recent days, the Baltimore Teachers Union trekked to schools in temperatures nearing 100 degrees to deliver fans to classrooms without air conditioning.

A new analysis shows what students, teachers, administrators, and other staff already know all too well: States aren’t spending to build, upgrade, and equip school buildings. In fact, the analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows spending has fallen—sharply—over the past decade.

Thirty-eight states cut school capital spending as a share of their overall economy between 2008 and 2017, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“State capital funding for schools was down 31 percent in that time period,” Michael Leachman, the senior director of state fiscal research at the progressive think tank, wrote in a blog post. “That’s the equivalent of a $20 billion cut.”

In Wake of 2017 Law, Texas Sees Suspensions Of Young Students Fall, But Far From Bottom

Pass a law, and schools will comply—at least some will some of the time.

Take Texas. It passed a law in 2017 barring schools from suspending early-elementary students except under extreme circumstances. Those circumstances include such major violations as assaults or bringing a weapon or drugs to school.

The rate of suspensions for young students in Texas had fallen by nearly a third from the 2015-16 school year to the 2017-18 school year, says advocacy group Texans Care for Children.

Public schools meted out more than 101,000 in- and out-of-school suspensions to students in grades pre-K-2 in 2015-16. That figure dropped by 31 percent for 2017-18, after the law was enacted, to 70,197. That’s still a lot of suspensions, though the large majority were served in school.

Not surprisingly, youngsters in foster care, black children, and those in special education were most likely to be suspended.

Dallas was among the first Texas districts to pass a policy restricting suspensions in pre-K-2.

For the 2018-19 school year, Dallas reported no out-of-school suspensions for pre-K-2 and less than 10 in-school suspensions for such grades.

In contrast, the Killeen district alone accounted for 54 percent of Texas’ out-of-school suspensions for pre-K and 44 percent of in-school suspensions for that grade in 2017-18, the Texans Care report found.

Eric Penrod, the deputy superintendent of the Killeen district, said it likely had not put enough emphasis on alternative discipline methods in earlier years. Killeen has since allotted about $1.5 million to address mental health and other needs, including using certified clinical psychologists to help teachers recognize students’ needs.

Public Schools Are Partial Winners in U.S. Trade War

Is the Trump administration’s trade war helping or hurting the country? The jury is still out, but K-12 public schools, it turns out, are seeing some benefits—in the form of free food.

American farmers have been caught in the middle of the volley of tariffs between the United States, China, and other countries. The federal government has bought more than $1 billion in agricultural goods from farmers in order to help offset the hits they’ve taken as a result of trade negotiations that have turned punitive. Most of that food, in turn, is going to programs that help low-income families and communities, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Still, through December, $27 million in free apples, oranges, canned kidney beans, potatoes, and pork will continue to be distributed to schools, the USDA says.

While it’s a small slice of the $1 billion in agricultural goods the agency is giving away through its trade mitigation programs, it’s likely welcome relief for some schools whose meal programs run on tight stand-alone budgets separate from other district expenses.

Nonetheless, the $27 million that states are getting in food for their schools is only a fraction of the nearly $100 million the USDA had offered to states.

Factors such as warehouse capacity and existing procurement contracts could be why the uptake was low. School menus are also often planned far in advance and may have already been decided on.

The USDA said all states were offered free food, with most going to the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

For the USDA to buy agricultural goods to help farmers is not necessarily a new policy—farmers often need help to offset big changes in supply and demand from year to year—but the federal effort has stepped up considerably since the trade war began.

This year has seen some ups and downs for schools, at least when it comes to providing meals for their students. School nutrition advocates were worried at the beginning of this year that funding for the National School Lunch Program, which helps feed 30 million children, was in danger of lapsing during the government shutdown.

Artificial Intelligence Takes Up Schools’ Sentry Duties

Artificial intelligence is transforming surveillance cameras from passive sentries into active observers that can identify people, suspicious behavior, and guns, amassing large amounts of data that help them learn over time to recognize mannerisms, gait, and dress—many of the things school officials believe they need to protect their students and staff. If the cameras have a previously captured image of someone who is banned from a building, the system can immediately alert officials if the person returns.

Paul Hildreth demonstrates. The emergency-operations coordinator for the Fulton County, Ga., district peers at a display of dozens of images from security cameras surveying his district and settles on one showing a woman in a bright yellow shirt walking a hallway. A mouse click instructs the AI-equipped system to find other images of the woman, and it immediately stitches them into a video narrative of where she was currently, where she had been, and where she was going. No threat there, but the demonstration shows what’s possible with AI-powered cameras.

“What we’re really looking for are those things that help us to identify things either before they occur or maybe right as they occur so that we can react a little faster,” Hildreth said.

A year after an expelled student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Broward County installed cameras from Canada-based Avigilon throughout the district. Hildreth’s district will spend $16.5 million to put the cameras in its roughly 100 buildings in coming years.

No one’s tracking how many schools have AI-equipped cameras. But schools are their largest market in the United States, estimated at $450 million in 2018, according to London-based IHS Markit, a data- and information-services company.

The power of the systems has sparked privacy concerns.

Shannon Flounnory, the executive director for safety and security for the Fulton County district, said no privacy concerns have been heard there.

“The events of Parkland kind of changed the game.”

Is the Trump administration’s trade war helping or hurting the country? The jury is still out, but K-12 public schools, it turns out, are seeing some benefits—in the form of free food.

American farmers have been caught in the middle of the volley of tariffs between the United States, China, and other countries. The federal government has bought more than $1 billion in agricultural goods from farmers in order to help offset the hits they’ve taken as a result of trade negotiations that have turned punitive. Most of that food, in turn, is going to programs that help low-income families and communities, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Still, through December, $27 million in free apples, oranges, canned kidney beans, potatoes, and pork will continue to be distributed to schools, the USDA says.

While it’s a small slice of the $1 billion in agricultural goods the agency is giving away through its trade mitigation programs, it’s likely welcome relief for some schools whose meal programs run on tight stand-alone budgets separate from other district expenses.

Nonetheless, the $27 million that states are getting in food for their schools is only a fraction of the nearly $100 million the USDA had offered to states.

Factors such as warehouse capacity and existing procurement contracts could be why the uptake was low. School menus are also often planned far in advance and may have already been decided on.

The USDA said all states were offered free food, with most going to the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

For the USDA to buy agricultural goods to help farmers is not necessarily a new policy—farmers often need help to offset big changes in supply and demand from year to year—but the federal effort has stepped up considerably since the trade war began.

This year has seen some ups and downs for schools, at least when it comes to providing meals for their students. School nutrition advocates were worried at the beginning of this year that funding for the National School Lunch Program, which helps feed 30 million children, was in danger of lapsing during the government shutdown.

Anyone who has visited lots of schools knows many of them aren’t pretty. Maybe the floors are cracked. Perhaps the toilets and sinks don’t work right. Roofs leak. The interior hasn’t seen a paint job in decades. Multipurpose rooms are used for purposes no one initially thought of. Computers haven’t been updated in a decade. In the winter, cold seeps through spaces around windows and doors. And in summer, heat penetrates the structures.

In recent days, the Baltimore Teachers Union trekked to schools in temperatures nearing 100 degrees to deliver fans to classrooms without air conditioning.

A new analysis shows what students, teachers, administrators, and other staff already know all too well: States aren’t spending to build, upgrade, and equip school buildings. In fact, the analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows spending has fallen—sharply—over the past decade.

Thirty-eight states cut school capital spending as a share of their overall economy between 2008 and 2017, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“State capital funding for schools was down 31 percent in that time period,” Michael Leachman, the senior director of state fiscal research at the progressive think tank, wrote in a blog post. “That’s the equivalent of a $20 billion cut.”

Briefly Stated contributors: Associated Press, Evie Blad, Arianna Prothero, and Tribune News Service. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2019 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated


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