Curtis Whatley is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Here’s what educators, advocates, wonks and policymakers are talking about today:

News & analysis

Romney calls education “civil rights issue of our era ” and urges shift
Lamenting that millions of American children receive “a third world education,” Mitt Romney on Wednesday called for poor and disabled students to be able to use federal funds to attend any public, private or online school they choose. In an already feverish campaign contest with President Obama that has focused largely on the economy, Mr. Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, turned his attention to the issue of education. It might have seemed an unlikely choice, given how insignificantly education has figured in recent presidential elections. But the campaign has long planned to flesh out Mr. Romney’s agenda and move beyond daily tit-for-tat criticism of the president. The challenge for Mr. Romney is that many of the ideas he touched on — increasing the number of charter schools, holding teachers more accountable for student success — have already been adopted by the Obama administration, whose education policies have all but co-opted traditional Republican positions. In response to Mr. Romney’s proposals, the Obama campaign released a compilation of Republican governors’ past praise for the president’s education policies, including comments from Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Mr. Romney told donors at a private gathering in Florida last month that he would reduce the size of the Education Department or fold it into another agency. But on Wednesday he gave no hint of the cuts he would make to education spending. He said he would consolidate $4 billion in current expenditures on teacher quality across 10 federal agencies, and send the money to states as block grants. He also promised to break logjams that still hold up reforms by taking on teachers’ unions, which he called “the clearest example of a group that has lost its way.” He accused Mr. Obama of quavering before the unions because of their power within the Democratic Party. “President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for our kids,” he said. (New York Times)

Education and military rivalry: more closely linked than you think
Joel Klein, Condoleezza Rice, and other worthies have just published a book titled “U.S. Education Reform and National Security.” At first blush, this might seem like an odd angle from which to approach the topic of education. Can’t we discuss the merits of various teacher-incentive programs without bringing al Qaeda into the discussion? But the authors may be onto something. Coincidentally, a new study affirms that military threat is an underappreciated driver of investment in primary education. Increasing investment in education is often viewed through the lens of democratization. But after examining data from 137 countries, since 1830, the Harvard economists Philippe Aghion and Dorothee Rouzet, and Stockholm University’s Torsten Persson arrive at the counterintuitive conclusion that, absent the threat of war, democracies tend to invest less in education than non-democracies — yet the gap shrinks when there is a military threat. (That’s because democracies increase their investment in education, in the presence of a rivalry, to a greater degree.) What’s more, “democratic transitions are negatively associated with education investments.” Access to education, the economists’ data show, tends to increase when 1) a nation faces a strong military rival or rivals, and 2) when it has fought a war in the past 10 years. And increasing investment in primary education appears to pay off in a pragmatic, realpolitik way: It increases the likelihood of a victory in the next war. Yet such investment also increases the likelihood of war, the authors find. (WSJ)

Maryland: Md. gets new batch of laws
Bills that will alter Maryland’s estate tax, educational system and poultry industry were signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley’s signature also changed laws allowing the state comptroller to keep tax refunds of county residents with outstanding arrest warrants. Property owners are now exempt from having to pay taxes on money received when the Department of Transportation takes their land by eminent domain. Farms worth less than $5 million are now exempt from the estate tax. The State Board of Education is now required to implement assessment programs in reading, social studies and history. Under a new law, Maryland high school seniors, starting in 2017, will have to pass an assessment in government. (Capital Gazette)

Pennsylvania: Education protests dot Pa.
Police arrested more than two dozen people across the state, including 11 in Pittsburgh, during demonstrations on Wednesday against public education budget cuts. Protesters walked into the street and sat down in the Golden Triangle during the morning commute, blocking traffic on Fifth Avenue at Wood Street near the Gov. Tom Corbett’s Downtown office. Police said they arrested them and cited them for obstructing traffic upon several warnings to move. In Philadelphia, police arrested 14 people for doing the same. There also were protests in Harrisburg, Doylestown, Hollidaysburg, Bethlehem, Hazleton and Greensburg. The protesters blame Corbett for cuts in school funding this year and next, but the governor’s office says his administration added state money when federal stimulus money disappeared. “If they’re going to cut funding for education, that’s going to affect us as a country as a whole,” said Hermaine Delaney, 62, of Shadyside, the Western Pennsylvania District Leader of 32BJ Service Employees International Union. “If we don’t have a way to educate our children, how are they going to find decent jobs?” Delaney was among those cited for blocking traffic. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley defended the governor’s support for public education and noted that 40.3 percent of the state’s general budget goes there. “Claims that the governor cut $1 billion from basic education are simply untrue. The missing $1 billion was one-time-only federal stimulus funds that districts were warned against using for operating budgets,” Harley said. The Pittsburgh protesters were among a crowd of 200 demonstrators who marched from the U.S. Steelworkers Building on the Boulevard of the Allies to Corbett’s office to voice their concern. (TribLive)

North Carolina: New NC bill ties corporate break, private schools
Tens of thousands of North Carolina public school students would leave for private classrooms if they got tuition help of up to $4,000 a year funded by corporations able to donate their money instead of paying state taxes, an analysis showed for legislation introduced Wednesday. The bill introduced by House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, and others would allow corporations a tax credit worth their entire yearly state tax debt for a tuition donation to a new plan to help parents afford private schools. Corporations that give more could take it off over five years, if the legislation is passed into law. Those tax diversions would increase from $40 million next year to $98 million in 2016, according to estimates Stam said were performed by the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal analysts. But analysts estimate the $4,000 per student tuition aid would lead 16,400 students to leave costlier public schools, ultimately saving money. Taxpayers spent an average of $8,414 to educate each of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students during the current academic year. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison on Wednesday called the legislative proposal “the latest effort to dismantle public education.” “This money would be diverted away from the state’s General Fund and given to support sending children to schools that are not held accountable to taxpayers for spending or for student performance,” Harrison said in a statement. North Carolina Association of Educators lobbyist Brian Lewis said the proposal further muddies an already complicated tax system North Carolina lawmakers have tried to revamp for more than a decade. “Corporations should pay their taxes. North Carolina should use tax revenue to pay for quality public schools that provide an educated workforce,” Lewis said. “This complicated voucher scheme of allowing corporations to make donations to private schools and the state issuing vouchers to those non-accountable private schools is nothing more than a raid on the state treasury and public school classrooms.” (Winston Salem Journal)

New York: Sensing new political possibility, parent leaders prep campaigns
A handful of parent leaders are exploring their political viability for the upcoming election cycles, hoping to tap into a growing dissatisfaction with the city’s handling of the school system. Previously, the parents have held seats on their school’s parent-teacher association or served top posts on their district’s Community Education Councils. Some are seasoned organizers and have family histories steeped in New York City politics. Still others are looking beyond the five boroughs as a way to influence education policy. Two have declared for State Assembly races this fall, but most at the city level have yet to open campaign chests or secure any key endorsements. Few have connections to the political organizations that frequently power candidates into office. But they are testing the waters and, in interviews, they share a common gripe when speaking about their pursuit of a higher office. “We’ve been completely marginalized by the current administration,” said Noah Gotbaum, who said he is considering a run in the already crowded race for public advocate, a position his stepmother, Betsy Gotbaum, occupied from 2001 to 2009. (His father, Victor Gotbaum, headed DC-37, one of the city’s largest unions, for two decades until 1987.) “The DOE flat out ignores parents across the board,” said Sam Pirozzolo, a parent council president from Staten Island who is actively campaigning for State Assembly this year. It’s just one part of a larger, if uncoordinated, organizing effort by groups seeking greater influence over policy decisions once Mayor Bloomberg departs after 12 years in office. Last week, a coalition of unions and advocacy groups announced it would work to galvanize opposition to Bloomberg’s least popular policies, which include closing troubled schools and expanding the number of charter schools, in the mayoral race. (Gotham Schools)


Andrew Rotherham: Mitt Romney wades into the education debate — there is a political logic to his proposals, but a net win for President Obama
The long rumored Mitt Romney education doomsday weapon was revealed today.  And it’s basically President George W. Bush’s education policy – but without the accountability. Let’s take the major parts quickly.  The emphasis on school choice is politically smart but unlikely to have a big impact given how much it is fundamentally a state by state issue.  Mostly, this will help Romney draw contrasts with the President, which will help at the margins with independents and certainly help with his base.  In the early 1980s when Nation At Risk was being published someone told President Reagan that the report would outrage the teachers union and other vested interests.  Another presidential aide apparently responded something to the effect of ‘that’s fine, the Democrats can have them, we’ll take the parents.’ This is an extension of the logic of those politics, leave Democrats with the stakeholder adults, take everyone else. (Eduwonk)


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