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Trump Team Updates Education Advocates on ESSA, Choice, and Safety

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Top U.S. Department of Education officials met privately Monday with a select group of education advocates at the department to talk the Every Student Succeeds Act, the school safety commission, choice, and career and technical education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy wasn't in attendance at the meeting head at department headquarters. But the group heard from Mick Zais, the deputy secretary; Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education; Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning evaluation and policy analysis, and Scott Stump, the assistant secretary for career-and-technical education.

The meeting was by invitation only. A few groups that have been critical of the department's policies—including both nation teachers' unions, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals—weren't asked to attend, sources said. Still, other groups that have also criticized the department's processes and policies were on the invite list, sources said. 

A department spokesman took issue with the sources' characterization of the meeting. He said the department has been holding small, informal group meetings like Monday's regularly. The goal of the meeting was in part to help forge connections between the department's newly confirmed top officials—Blew, Brogan, Stump, and Zais—and the advocacy community, the spokesman said.

The Trump administration has gotten  flak from some advocacy groups in Washington for lacking transparency and for failing to seek input on its policies from the people most affected by them.

The meeting's vibe? Positive and collegial, according to one attendee.

Brogan talked about ESSA implementation. He said the department's job is "leave it the hell alone and let it work." He did not sketch out any guidance or regulations that the department would be issuing on the new law. But he did say that the feds would be reviewing programs authorized under the law to make sure taxpayers are getting a fair return on their investment.

Blew said the department will be looking at every policy proposal through two lenses: Does it help students reach their potential? Does it protect taxpayers? He reiterated the department's commitment to school choice, saying he's never seen a high-performing system that didn't have some choice and competition. And he said that, "Parents should have the right to use public dollars to send their kids to private schools."

But Blew didn't give a clear indication of where the Trump administration wants to go on school choice next. So far, Congress has rejected the department's pitch to allow some federal funding to follow students to the school of their choice and to create a new, competitive-grant program for choice, including private school choice.

Zais gave a quick update on the Federal School Safety Commission, which DeVos chairs. He said portions of the commission's report have been written and they are now in the editing stages. The report will be the product of four different agencies—the Education Department, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice. The report is expected to be released by the end of the year. 

Zais also talked about teacher shortages.The department, he said, has put together a task force to look at issues in the education workforce.

Photo: Swikar Patel for Education Week 

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