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DeVos Grilled Over Federal Budget, Special Olympics

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee discussing proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Education Department in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee discussing proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Education Department in Washington.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

For the third year in a row, President Trump submitted a fiscal year 2020 budget request to Congress that included cuts to education spending. If the last two years, and well, the last several decades, are any guide, Congress will decide to increase spending instead.

One new wrinkle this year: the House, including the Education and Workforce Committee, is now controlled by Democrats. They asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to testify in favor of the 2020 budget proposal. And things got a little testy.

"This budget in my view is cruel. It is reckless," commented committee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut.

"This budget focuses on freedom for teachers, freedom for parents, freedom for all students," Secretary DeVos stated, according to Education Week.

In particular, a proposal to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics came in for censure. By Thursday, Donald Trump reversed that recommendation, saying he would support funding the program after all.

Other topics discussed: a 10-year, $50 billion federal voucher proposal, civil rights and racial disparities in school discipline, and whether private schools that receive federal funds should be able to discriminate against LGBT students.

Bipartisan bills would improve college cost communication

Three bills introduced in the House and Senate this week seek to make things easier for families puzzling over the cost of college. One would create a centralized net price calculator, a second would improve communications on federal student loans and a third would require that all colleges simplify their financial aid award letters. All three have bipartisan sponsorship.

Teachers shot with plastic pellets are fighting back

Back in January in Indiana, teachers were reportedly left with bruises after being shot with pellets during active-shooter training conducted by a local sheriff's office.

Some of the victims testified at the statehouse last week. The state teacher union is lobbying for an amendment to a current school safety bill that would prevent this from happening again.

The incident surfaces as there are increasing questions about whether active-shooter drills, which have now become ubiquitous in schools, are effective enough in terms of safety and prevention to justify the anxiety and fear they produce in some children and school personnel.

College admissions scandal

Fallout continues from the Justice Department investigation that charged wealthy parents bribed and cheated to get students into schools including Stanford and Yale. The Education Department is now investigating eight of the colleges involved, to determine if any rules were violated related to federal student aid programs.

In related news, a new research study from the Joyce Foundation points out that public universities focus recruitment efforts on wealthy students, who are charged higher tuition when they come from out of state.

And, we reported on one radical proposal being put forth by experts on the right and left: an admissions lottery.

Suicides in the wake of school shootings

This week, Parkland, Fla., mourned the suicides of 19-year-old Sydney Aiello, a survivor of last year's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as well as a current student, a 16-year-old sophomore boy at the school. And across the country, Newtown, Conn., mourned as Jeremy Richman, the father of a victim of the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, died by apparent suicide as well.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the by texting HOME to 741741.


Students on Capitol Hill to plead for climate action

A delegation of about 150 students from elementary through high school met with lawmakers this week in Washington, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, to plead for action on the climate. They included Azan Natar, 17, who was affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Izzy Ryan, 17, whose home was destroyed by Northern California wildfires.

Students from Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C., went to the Capitol to lobby for climate change. From left to right: Haneefah Persaud, 11; Morgan Hubbard, 12; Lucy Getzinger, 12; and Ellie Schaffer, 11.
Olivia Sun / NPR
Students from Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C., went to the Capitol to lobby for climate change. From left to right: Haneefah Persaud, 11; Morgan Hubbard, 12; Lucy Getzinger, 12; and Ellie Schaffer, 11.

"Unlike many other political issues, there's a clear clock," said Kai Guthrie, 16, a co-founder of Schools for Climate Action, which partnered with Young Voices for the Planet to plan Thursday's meeting. He was lobbying alongside his parents, grandparents and two sisters. Guthrie says he'd like schools to teach more than the science of climate change. "We need more focus on the political side of it, and how do we move Congress, and how do we convince the leaders of our nation to change. Because that's really the missing piece at this point."

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