Commentary & Community

Indiana Likely to Expand School Choice Program

School choice may be coming for more Indiana families.


Legislators are considering a bill that would expand eligibility in the state's voucher plan. Under current rules, families of four with a household income of $96,000 are eligible for state reimbursement of some of their private school tuition expenses. Families of four with household incomes of $46,000 can receive full reimbursement, with higher-income families receiving partial assistance.


Under a bill passed by the state house, these income limits would increase. Families of 4 with a household income of roughly $145,000 would be eligible to participate in the program. Those who make $96,000 would be eligible for full tuition reimbursement.


This plan is coupled with increased state funding for public schools, but this has not alleviated the concerns of critics who say vouchers drain money from the traditional school system. They argue that legislators should focus on improving schools used by the majority of students instead of trying to subsidize private schools. 


Supporters of the voucher plan contend that the voucher program allows parents who are not satisfied with their children's education to seek other options. They argue that education money should follow the child, not be focused on school buildings. 


The state senate is currently considering this legislation, but some senators are concerned about its price. They are currently attempting to work out a deal to expand the program while also containing costs.


Do you support school vouchers?



Tennessee Legislators Urge Schools to Punish Kneeling Athletes

Some Tennessee legislators are upset that student athletes are kneeling during the national anthem. They want the state's universities to punish those students who do, prompting concerns about the athletes' First Amendment rights.


Last week, students from East Tennessee State University kneeled during the national anthem before a game at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. These students said they did so to protest racial inequality, but legislators say that the action was disrespectful. 


This week, every Republican senator in the Tennessee legislature signed a letter asking the state's university presidents to adopt policies that would prevent such actions. They argued that the students were representing their schools and the people of Tennessee, so the school should ensure they do not kneel during the national anthem. 


Lawyers, however, contend that any action to restrict the ability of students to protest would run afoul of the First Amendment. As public schools, state universities are restricted by the Constitution in how they infringe upon the free speech rights of students.


Given the constitutional issues, it is unlikely that any of Tennessee's universities will act in ways that will restrict student protests. It remains to be seen how legislators will react if no action occurs.


Do you think that schools should punish students who kneel for the national anthem?

Biden Dismisses Large Student Loan Debt Forgiveness

President Joe Biden this week shot down talk of him issuing an executive order on large-scale student loan debt forgiveness.


Some Democratic members of Congress have urged him to issue an executive order that eliminates $50,000 in student loan debt for each individual. On Tuesday he said he would not do that. Instead, he said he was open to forgiving $10,000 in student loan debt. This has prompted a backlash by more liberal members of the Democratic Party. 


President Biden argues that higher levels of debt relief would benefit wealthier Americans. He said that he would rather spend money on government programs like early childhood education than on forgiving debt of high-income earners.


Supporters of this debt forgiveness contend that student loans are crushing Americans and that even those who earn higher incomes deserve relief. They contend that this will free up money to stimulate the economy and help provide relief to working Americans. 


The idea of a unilateral executive action to forgive student loan debt is one that is growing in popularity among Democratic politicians and activists. Sen. Elizabeth Warren ran for president touting this idea. However, some legal experts argue that such action would not be legal. Others are worried that such forgiveness will imperil federal lending for future student loans.


While President Biden supports forgiving $10,000 in student loan debt, it is unclear if he will issue an executive order to do so or instead support legislation in Congress to accomplish this.


Do you think President Biden should issue an executive order to forgive student loan debt?

Iowa Enacts In-Person Schooling Bill

Iowa parents will soon be able to send their children to school five days a week. New legislation requires school districts to offer this option starting next week.


In January, Gov. Kim Reynolds called on the legislature to pass legislation that would give parents the option of sending their children to school if they wished. This was in response to Iowa school districts offering only online schooling, something that many parents opposed. Legislators quickly responded, with the Republican majority passing a bill to do this. Gov. Reynolds signed the bill on January 29. It will go into effect on February 15.


Gov. Reynolds and those supporting this legislation contend that online-only and hybrid schooling is hurting students. They argue that students' education and mental health is suffering. They say that parents should have the option to send their children to school if they think it is safe. Some teachers oppose this, arguing that in-person schooling puts them at risk. They say that students should not return to school until the coronavirus pandemic is better contained.


The situation in Iowa is part of a larger national debate over how children should be educated during the pandemic. On one side are some parents who are frustrated with online-only schooling or hybrid education models. On the other side are teachers and their unions who think in-person schooling is too dangerous. In some cases elected officials have ordered schools open but teachers have called out sick, forcing students to continue in-home education.


Do you think that parents should have the option of sending their children to school in-person?




Biden Urged to Forgive Student Loan Debt

When they ran for president, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren make forgiving student loan debt a major piece of their campaign platforms. Now they, along with other members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, are urging Joe Biden to cancel student debt once he becomes president.


Under Warren's plan, the president would immediately begin canceling up to $50,000 in debt for 42 million Americans. This would cover about 95% of those who have borrowed money from the federal government. Others have suggested other ideas, such as focusing on borrowers who have incomes under $100,000. 


While student loan debt forgiveness is not a new idea, those supporting it now argue that it would help stimulate the economy. They contend that borrowers would see an immediate economic boost from seeing their debt wiped away. Historically, debt forgiveness proponents argue that student loan debt is crushing middle class families and holding them back from achieving the American Dream.


Critics say these views are wrong. They note that any student loan debt plan will be an expensive taxpayer giveaway to people who can afford to pay the money they borrowed, since they have an education that should lead to higher-paid work. They point out that people with higher incomes will benefit far more than those with lower incomes. In addition, they dismiss the economic stimulus arguments, contending that this idea would be one of the least efficient ways to provide more money to the economy.


Sen. Warren has promoted the idea that the Secretary of Education can unilaterally forgive student loan debt. Others disagree, saying that such a move requires an act of Congress. 


Do you support the federal government forgiving student loan debt?

Teachers Union Objection Causes DC Schools to Remain Online

Children were set to return to D.C. public schools for in-person learning next week. However, an objection from the district's teachers' union has caused these plans to be put on hold.


Under the initial plan, some elementary school students were scheduled to return to their classrooms beginning with the new school term's beginning on November 9. The school district was negotiating with the teachers' union to determine the safety procedures that would be put in place for such a re-opening. The D.C. school chancellor said that regardless of negotiations, he was planning to allow limited in-person schooling.


The teachers' union objected to this plan, however. Among other things, it urged its members to call in sick to school on November 9. Enough of these members did so to make re-opening an impossibility. 


The teachers' union has consistently opposed in-person schooling, saying it puts teachers' health at risk. The D.C. school system and some parents say that with proper precautions, schools can safely accommodate at least some students. They contend that children's social and academic skills are suffering from schooling that takes place solely online.


The district's school chancellor says that in spite of this month's cancellation, the system will offer in-person schooling at some point, but has not set a firm date to do so.


Do you think that children should be at school in person?

Arizona Voters Could Raise Taxes to Fund Schools

Activists have placed a proposition on the Arizona ballot this year asking voters to decide if they want to raise income taxes in order to fund more education activities.


Proposition 208 would impose a new 3.5% income tax on individual taxpayers who make $250,000 or households that make $500,000. The current tax rate on those incomes is 4.5%, so passage of this proposition would mean these taxpayers would have a total tax rate of 8%.


The revenue generated from this tax increase would be distributed as follows:

  • 50% to school districts and charter schools to hire new classroom personnel and increase wages
  • 25% to school districts and charter schools to hire support personnel and increase their wages
  • 12% for career and technical programs
  • 10% for teacher mentoring and retention
  • 3% for a teacher academy fund to provide incentives for students to become teachers


Supporters of Proposition 208 argue that it is only fair for wealthier Arizonans to pay higher taxes in order to pay for education services. They contend that the state’s economy will improve with a better-educated workforce. Opponents, counter that it’s unfair to single out a small slice of the population to pay for a program that the general public will benefit from. They also argue that this massive tax increase on high-income residents could lead some to leave the state.


In 2018, supporters of higher taxes for school funding tried to place a similar initiative on the ballot. State courts struck it down, however, saying that its language was misleading. This year, activists collected enough signatures to place Proposition 208 before voters. 


Do you support increasing taxes on those making $250,000 to raise revenue for public schools?

California Parents Sue for In-Person Schooling

Governor Gavin Newsom has prohibited schools in some California counties from opening for in-person classes. Some parents are now suing him to overturn his order.


In July, Gov. Newsom ordered that schools in counties with rising coronavirus cases must meet online. This order covered 32 of the state’s 58 counties. The largest California cities are included. His order also included criteria that schools would have to meet before reopening for students.


Some parents are frustrated with this order, arguing that it will lead to academic decline for their children. They are now suing the governor, saying that he should give parents the choice about whether to send children to school in person or online. They also contend that the path to reopening school buildings should allow more regional variation, and not be a “one size fits all” dictate.


Gov. Newsom argues that closing schools in high-risk areas will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He says that it is not safe to open school buildings to masses of students, and points to other states where schools have been open and the virus has spread. The state’s teachers’ union supports the governor’s decision.


Whether or not to open schools for in-person learning has been a large controversy across the nation. Governors and local school districts are struggling with how to balance children’s education needs with the desire to stop the spread of the coronavirus.


Do you think that schools should be open for in-person learning?


Supreme Court Rules States Can’t Discriminate Against Religious Schools

On a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that if states pay private school tuition, they cannot refuse to pay tuition at religious private schools.


In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a Montana parent who was using a state-funded scholarship program to pay for tuition at a private religious school. However, this arrangement ended when the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program violated a constitutional ban on state money going to religious schools. The parent sued, saying that this ruling violated the First Amendment by singling out religious schools for discrimination.


The Supreme Court agreed that Montana’s prohibition on state aid to private schools did indeed amount to religious discrimination. Many states have similar prohibitions, known as “Blaine Amendments.” They originated in the late 1900s, when there was growing concern about Catholic private schools. The high court held that Montana is not obligated to pay for private school tuition, but if it does it cannot allow funding to go to some private schools but not religious schools.


The four dissenting justices pointed out that the Montana Supreme Court had ended that state’s program, so it was treating all schools equally. Some also said that the court’s majority was overturning hundreds of years of precedent by allowing state money to go to religious education.


Thirty-seven states had constitutional prohibitions on government money going towards religious education that could potentially be affected by this decision.

Do you think it is constitutional for states to fund secular private schools but not religious private schools?

Education Department Suspends Standardized Tests, Postpones Loans

The federal Department of Education today announced two moves in response to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic: federal standardized test mandates will not apply this year and federal student loan borrowers will be able to postpone their payments temporarily.


Under the federal elementary and secondary education legislation, the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” schools must measure student progress in certain grades every year. This is to meet accountability measures in that law.


With schools being canceled, however, officials at the federal Department of Education decided that it made little sense to impose that requirement this year. Many states and school districts have closed schools in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Some of these closures are only scheduled to last for weeks, while others are on an indefinite break.


Higher education students who have taken federal loans will also get a break. Over the next 60 days, they can now request that their lenders postpone their payments. Everyone with a federal student loan will have their interest frozen.


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that people should not be worrying about paying student loans right now, but should be concentrating on being safe.


Do you support postponing student loan repayments during the coronavirus outbreak?

Trump Pushes for School Choice in State of the Union Speech

Proponents of school choice received a boost from President Trump during his State of the Union Address.


In his speech, the president attacked Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for vetoing an expansion of that state’s program that gives tax credits to taxpayers who donate to school scholarships. These scholarships can be used to pay for private school tuition or other education expenses. President Trump invited a Pennsylvania student and her mother to be his guest at the speech, and he argued that Gov. Wolf was trying to deny her a better education.


President Trump used this as an example of why Congress should pass national legislation that would provide tax credits for school choice scholarships. Supporters of this idea argue that it will help students escape failing public schools. They say that children from lower-income families should have the opportunity to go to private schools just as children from higher-income families do. Opponents counter that school choice is a way to undermine public schools that are open to all children. They argue that subsidizing private school tuition would, among other things, lead to less racial integration in schools.


School choice programs have expanded at the state level over the past two decades. Besides approval of a private school subsidy program for Washington, D.C., there has been little movement on this issue at the national level, however.


It is unlikely that the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would pass school choice legislation.


Do you support national legislation that would provide tax credits for taxpayers who contribute to education scholarship funds?

High Court Considers Religious School Funding

Thirty-seven states have constitutional prohibitions on government money going towards religious education. Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether those amendments are discrimination against religion or whether they are essential to preserving the separation of church and state.


The case originates in Montana, and is being brought by a parent who was using a state-funded scholarship program to pay for tuition at a private religious school. The parent’s children had suffered bullying and other problems at their public school, and so she used a state scholarship program to pay for private school.


Under Montana’s scholarship program, individuals could donate money to the fund and the state would give them a tax credit of up to $150. Parents could apply to use the money in the fund to pay for tuition at any private school in the state, including religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement violated a constitutional ban on state money going to religious schools.


Many states have similar prohibitions, known as “Blaine Amendments.” They originated in the late 1900s, when there was growing concern about Catholic private schools. Opponents of these provisions argue that they are motivated by religious bigotry. They say that it is unconstitutional to allow funding to go to some private schools but not religious schools. There have been recent Supreme Court cases that have followed this line of reasoning in other areas, but have never directly ruled on the constitutionality of the Blaine Amendment.


Supporters of the prohibition on money going to religious schools say that taxpayer dollars should not be used to support religious education. They also argue that this will divert money from public schools, leading to worse education for the majority of students.


Do you think that states should be able to prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to religious schools?

Warren Pledges to Unilaterally Eliminate Federal Student Loan Debt

Elizabeth Warren says that American’s student debt load is a crisis, and she wants to get rid of it. She has recently said that, if elected, she plans on using her authority to start canceling student debt on her first day in office. She said that there is no need for Congress to approve such a move.


Under her plan, upon taking office she would immediately begin canceling up to $50,000 in debt for 42 million Americans. This would cover about 95% of those who have borrowed money from the federal government.


This is not new territory for Warren. She has previously announced a higher education plan that has as its centerpiece the forgiveness of student loan debt. Much of the forgiveness focuses on borrowers who have incomes under $100,000 a year. Under that proposal, however, Warren would seek legislation from Congress to eliminate debt. Her recent announcement relies upon a legal theory that the Secretary of Education already has the authority to begin such debt forgiveness.


According to Warren, this student loan debt is crushing middle class families and holding them back from achieving the American Dream. Her plan is costly, but she says she will finance it by imposing a tax on the highest income earners. Critics argue that her proposal is an expensive taxpayer giveaway to people who can afford to pay the money they borrowed, since they have an education that should lead to higher-paid work.


If Warren is elected president and attempted to eliminate these loans without congressional authorization, it is likely she would face a legal challenge.

Do you support Elizabeth Warren’s plan to end federal student debt without congressional approval?

California Will Let College Athletes Get Paid


Some student athletes bring in big money to the colleges for which they play. Now California is on the verge of letting them benefit financially from their athletic prowess.


Under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, college athletes could receive compensation through endorsement deals, sponsorships, or autograph signings. Schools are not forced to share their sports income with these athletes, but they could no longer punish them for independent deals. However, students would be prohibited from signing a deal that conflicts with any contract signed by their schools.


The National College Athletics Association (NCAA) has long fought any attempts to give compensation to college athletes. Its stance is that these are amateur athletes, and compensation destroys that status. The organization specifically objects to the California statute, saying that it will give an unfair advantage to schools in that state when it comes to athlete recruitment. According to the NCAA, top high school athletes will want to go to California over other states since they can strike compensation deals there.


Many former student athletes have been pushing for changes to the system that bars college athletes from sharing in the money that their activity generates. They note that some sports are huge revenue generator for schools, but that the athletes playing the games do not share in the revenue. They say it is only fair for athletes to be able to make money off of their skills.


The new legislation will go into effect in 2023.


Do you think that college athletes should receive compensation?

Tuition-Free College May Be Coming to New Mexico

If you live in New Mexico and want to go to college, the state’s governor wants you to be able to do so without facing tuition payments.


Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced today that she is proposing legislation allowing state residents could attend the state’s 29 two- and four-year institutions tuition-free. This program would be open to any New Mexico resident, regardless of household income. The price tag could run between $25 and $35 million each year.


To be eligible, a student must graduate from a New Mexico high school or pass a GED test. The students must also maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college. While the program would cover college tuition, it would not pay for other educational expenses such as housing or books.


The governor and supporters of this plan tout it as a way to provide more people with the possibility of higher education. They also note that this will mean that those attending these state schools will no longer face the burdens of student debt. Opponents counter that this is a government giveaway to the wealthy, since federal Pell Grants already provide help for lower-income students to attend college.


Tuition-free higher education is something that more Democratic politicians are embracing. Many of the candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination are proposing ideas that would reduce or end tuition at some colleges and universities or forgive student loan debt.


The New Mexico plan must still be approved by the state legislature to go into effect.

Do you support making public colleges and universities tuition-free?



Sanders Proposed Canceling Student Loan Debt

In his second campaign for the presidency, Sen. Bernie Sanders thinks he has an issue that will attract the votes of millennial voters – student loan debt forgiveness.


Under legislation that Sen. Sanders plans to introduce, nearly all individuals who have taken out student loans would see their debt wiped out. His plan includes:

  • Complete forgiveness of outstanding debt for any student loans made, guaranteed, or insured by the federal government;
  • Federal purchase and forgiveness of outstanding private loan debt upon application by the person who incurred the debt;
  • Providing new student loans through the federal government and capping these loans’ interest rates at 1.88%;
  • The elimination of tuition at public colleges; and
  • New subsidies for low-income students attending private colleges.


Under this plan, there would be no limits on eligibility based on family income. To pay for this $2.2 trillion plan, Sen. Sanders proposed a new tax on Wall Street transactions.


Sen. Sanders says that his plan will be Wall Street bailing out the average American. He argues that debt-free education should be something that every American is entitled to have. Opponents note that his plan would benefit the rich as well as the average American, and would be extremely expensive.


Do you think that the federal government should forgive all student loan debt, regardless of the income of the borrowers? Should public universities and colleges be tuition-free?

Biden Calls for More Federal Education Funding


Joe Biden is running for president, and he thinks that his path to the White House runs through the schoolhouse.


Speaking before the American Federation of Teachers yesterday, the former vice president laid out his education plan. The cornerstone of his proposal is a big increase in federal spending.


Currently, the federal government’s main education program is known as Title I. This sends federal money to low-income school districts. Under Biden’s plan, Title I spending would be tripled. He would earmark this money for teacher raises, pre-kindergarten expansion, and advanced courses (such as AP classes). He is also proposing more funding for school psychologists and efforts to diversify schools.


This plan represents a break from past federal education efforts, which aimed to tie funding to accountability measures. Under the Biden proposal, funds would flow regardless of test scores or other attempts to link the money to improved education outcomes.


Critics argue that this is simply a federal giveaway of taxpayer dollars without leveraging the money so states improve education. Supporters argue that poorer school districts need this money to catch up to their wealthier counterparts.


With his campaign just beginning, Biden is not proposing a bold new reform idea. Instead, he is appealing to a Democratic constituency -- teachers -- with a proposal that would provide more federal funding for them.


Do you think the federal government should increase education spending? Should federal dollars be tied to improved educational outcomes?

Armed Teachers Now Allowed in Florida

Yesterday Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation allowing school districts to arm teachers. In a state where the Parkland school shooting took place last year, this legislation has both strong supporters and detractors.


I the wake of the Parkland shooting, Florida enacted a law that allowed some school personnel to be armed. These personnel would undergo a background check and training. School boards would have to authorize this program in their district. Classroom teachers were excluded from this law.


Under this bill, school teachers would also be authorized to carry guns in the classroom. They must pass a psychological evaluation and a background check, then take training with the police.


The bill was controversial, with Republicans in the legislature pushing for it and Democrats opposing it. Those in favor of the bill noted that it was voluntary, so no teacher would be forced to carry a gun. They also pointed out that in many rural areas, it could take the police a long time to get to a school. Opponents of the bill said that it would make schools less safe with the potential for accidents.


Of the state’s 67 school districts, 25 have authorized some of their personnel to be armed. It is unclear how many will now permit teachers to do so, too.


Do you think that school teachers should be armed?

Warren Proposes Wiping out Student Debt with Wealth Tax

Senator Elizabeth Warren is trying to separate herself from a crowded field of Democratic candidates for president. Today she announced a plan that pairs two ideas that cause excitement for progressive activists: canceling student loan debt and a tax on wealthier Americans.


Under Sen. Warren’s plan, she would take revenue from her proposed annual tax on those who have more than $50 million in wealth and cancel student loans for millions of Americans. She calls for forgiveness of up to $50,000 of debt for people in households with an income under $100,000, and a partial cancelation of debt for those in households with incomes up to $250,000.


In addition, Sen. Warren has also proposed other reforms that she said would make college more affordable. These include elimination of tuition and fees at two-year and four-year institutions, expanding what federal Pell Grants can pay for, increase aid to historically black colleges and universities, and ban colleges from considering an applicant’s criminal history or citizenship status.


Supporter of Sen. Warren’s plan argue that student loan debt is overwhelming for many people. They say that this debt harms the economy by limiting the decisions that graduates can make. Opponents counter that those with debt should have the skills necessary to repay the debt, so taxpayers should not shoulder the burden. They also note that canceling this debt would disproportionately benefit the middle class and wealthier Americans.


Do you support canceling student loan debt? Should the government forbid colleges and universities from charging tuition?

Tuition-Free Community College Debated in Michigan

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants state taxpayers to fund community college tuition for the state’s high school graduates. But critics are pushing back, citing the plan’s high cost, among other things.


Gov. Whitmer unveiled the “Michigan Opportunity Scholarship” plan as part of her state budget last month. This scholarship would pay for high school graduates to attend community college full time without paying tuition or fees. It would also provide money for students who attend four-year colleges and universities in the state.


Proponents of this idea contend that it will help increase higher education rates. They say that today’s workforce requires higher education, so it makes sense for taxpayers to provide funding for students to obtain that education. Opponents note that this plan would cost up to $100 million a year. They also contend that this program would benefit middle income and higher-income Michiganders, who can already afford community college tuition. Lower-income students already qualify for Pell Grants, which cover community college tuition.


The fate of this idea now rests with legislators.


Do you think that state governments should pay for students’ community college tuition and fees?

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