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Hundreds of Comments Pour In on DeVos’ Priorities for Education Grants

By Alyson Klein — November 20, 2017 4 min read
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Remember those 11 competitive-grant priorities that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sketched out last month? In case you forgot: Expanding school choice and rewarding applicants that want to focus on STEM were on her list.

More than 1,000 people and organizations had some thoughts for DeVos and her team when it comes to these priorities, which the department will use to help decide who gets hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive grants.

DeVos had pitched giving applicants a leg-up in applying for the funds if they focus on school choice, innovation, citizenship, meeting the needs of children with disabilities, STEM, literacy, effective instruction, improving school climate, expanding economic opportunity, or helping military-connected students. She gave the education community thirty days to offer formal feedback.

She got nearly 1,500 comments from the education field. We read them—well, okay, fine, some of them—so you don’t have to.

Below are some comments from various groups.

National Coalition for Public Education

The coaliton, which is made up of 50 organizations, including both national teachers’ unions, AASA: The School Superintendents Association, the National PTA, disability rights groups, the NAACP, and others, is not at all happy with the department’s plan to give grant applications a leg-up if they focus on school choice.

“The Department should not reward states for adopting voucher programs that do not serve all students, fail to improve academic achievement, undermine public education funding, harm religious freedom and lack critical accountability for taxpayers,” the groups wrote.

Computer science fans

Dozens of commenters, including Amazon, wrote in saying, essentially, thanks for prioritizing computer science, but make it stronger. These folks say that lumping computer science in with science, technology, engineering, and math (commonly known as the STEM fields), might mean that school districts will use the money for science and math and forget all about computer science. And they see this as a trend.

“When funding is allocated broadly to STEM and computer science is simply an eligible subject, local education authorities use this funding for existing mathematics and science programs,” a number of commenters wrote. “The evidence of this is clear as STEM funding has been a priority for states and the federal government for the past 15 years, but access to rigorous K-12 computer science courses remains low.”

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers

The organization cheered the focus on choice, but suggested DeVos and company add the word “quality” in front of it.

“Upholding a commitment to quality empowers parents by ensuring they can make informed choices based on the values that are important to them and their communities,” NACSA wrote. “Quality does not need to be a “one size fits all” definition to be a universal value we can all uphold.”

The Council of Chief State School Officers

CCSSO would love to see the department steer competitive grant dollars to activities that match up with their state’s plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

When it comes to school choice, CCSSO likes that the department seems to be defining it broadly. In the department’s priority list, it’s not just vouchers and charter schools, but also personalized learning, dual enrollment, course choice, work-based learning, and more."Rather than seeking to force a single model upon the nation without respect to local context [the department] would instead embrace a number of different effective approaches to educational opportunity,” CCSSO wrote to DeVos.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

This umbrella groups, which includes the Council for Exceptional Children, the Autism Society, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the National Association of School Psychologists, wants to see a couple of new priorities. They’re proposing one on early learning, which the organizations contend helps all kids succeed, and another on “rigorous evaluation.” The groups say this would “assure federal investments are made in projects that will help develop the evidence base and fill critical gaps in knowledge” especially when comes to educating students in special education and other populations with particular needs.

Other comments suggested things like a focus on libraries or physical education. Others made their best pitch for specific programs, such as the National Writing Project.

The department now gets to go through these comments. Then officials will finalize their priorities. If you’re having trouble falling asleep tonight, you can slog through all the comments for yourself here.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the Council of the Great City Schools Annual Legislative/Policy Conference in Washington, Monday, March 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)