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Ed. Sec. Bus Tour: From Early Education Through College

By Alyson Klein — September 12, 2016 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education John King kicked off a bus tour Monday that will go through six states and eleven cities and towns, ending in New Orleans on Friday at a charter school that has seen a significant turnaround. (Schedule here.)

“In January when I took over the department I, set out as secretary to work on three goals: equity and excellence, lifting up the teaching profession, and access, affordability and completion in higher ed,” King said at a press conference at the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, right before the start of the tour. “We will revisit each of those three in the places that we visit and also talk about the legacy of the administration, the great work that’s been accomplished over the last seven and a half years.”

For instance, he said, the bus tour would celebrate record high graduation rates (fact check on the administration’s role in making that happen here) and the increase in African-American and Latino enrollment in college.

Stops include Chattanooga, Tenn., where King will take a look at teacher leadership, and Little Rock, Ark., where he will check out expanded access to learning.

Some of the programs that King will celebrate along the way, such as Race to the Top, are now defunct. And others, such as Investing in Innovation, aren’t funded in the House budget.

Race to the Top, King said, was part of the stimulus and intended to jump-start the economy. The program that King will be going to see in Louisiana wasn’t funded through the stimulus, but through a congressional appropriation that came the year after the stimulus passed. States including Louisiana that came close to winning a share of the original $4 billion Race to the Top money but didn’t quite make it, got additional money through that separate appropriation.

“We’re going to highlight those initial investments that are now producing significant benefits,” he said.

And he’s hoping Congress will decide to fund i3’s successor, the Education Innovation and Research program, since the goal of the program is to help districts and states spend the rest of their money on strategies that get results.

“The real virtue of investments like i3 is to build an evidence base around what works,” King said. “Hopefully that will hope people spend the billions of dollars they get not just from the federal government but from state and local governments. The innovation effort is really an effort about scaling and building success. It would be a shame to retreat from that.”

ESSA Connection

King also addressed proposed regulations for school spending under the Every Student Succeeds Act, known as supplement-not-supplant. This has been the toughest part of the new law to regulate on.

King was asked, essentially, if the department saw a way to compromise with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an ESSA author who, really, really doesn’t like the department’s most recent pitch on supplement-not-supplant. Alexander says the department is overstepping its authority on the issue and proposing a solution that’s unworkable for states and districts.

But it doesn’t sound like King is changing his mind on this one. He said it isn’t the intent of ESSA that a school serving high needs kids would be getting 20 to 30 percent less than a nearby affluent school. But he said he’ll be continuing to take feedback.

The theme of the tour is “Opportunity Across America.” Along the way, students at various stops will decorate the bus, essentially illustrating what that phrase means to them. Akilah Johnson, who represented D.C. in a Google design competition was first up. (You can see the “before picture” at the top of this post. No “after picture” yet.)

Photo: Swikar Patel for Education Week.