Debate over campus free speech back before House
TODAY — DEBATE OVER CAMPUS FREE SPEECH BACK BEFORE HOUSE: Republican lawmakers are continuing to spotlight policies on college campuses they say restrict free speech. During a hearing today, members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hear from free speech advocates, some of whom will call on Congress to step in, and at least one who will chide conservatives for partisan rhetoric and ask lawmakers to stay out of it.
— Joseph Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, will rail against so-called speech codes, or policies that in some way restrict protected speech. He will argue that protected speech includes “overbroad” anti-harassment policies and “free speech” zones, which limit rallies, demonstrations and speeches to small or out-of-the-way parts of campus and often require permits from college officials, according to his written testimony.
— Cohn will ask House lawmakers to support a proposal from Sen. Orrin Hatch. The bill, introduced in February, is called the Free Right to Expression in Education Act, S. 2394 (115), and would ban the use of free speech zones. “There is no silver bullet that will resolve every threat to free speech on campus,” Cohn plans to tell lawmakers. “Congress can, however, take steps that will dramatically reduce such cases.”
— Also slated to testify against free speech zones is Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University and president of the First Amendment Center at the Newseum. But, unlike Cohn, Paulson says the solution is educating the public about the value of free speech, not legislation.
— “There are some who see free speech infractions and ask for Congress to do something. But with all due respect, this is not about legislation,” Paulson writes in prepared remarks. “You can’t try to zone protests off your campus if you appreciate the value of petition and assembly.”
— The issue hasn’t yielded much in the way of policy from Capitol Hill, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed last week to continue fighting campus policies that limit speech. “We must put an end to this nonsense. It is time to put a stake in its heart,” he said. The issue is also on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ radar. “Too many administrators have been complicit in creating or facilitating a culture that makes it easier for the ‘heckler’ to win,” DeVos said last week.
— But Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America — a nonprofit that works to protect free expression worldwide — will challenge the Justice Department’s approach to campus free speech, telling lawmakers the issue must not become “politicized or partisan.”
— Nossel wrote in prepared remarks that while the Justice Department has raised important concerns, “accompanying these interventions with rhetoric castigating progressive students as snowflakes, vilifying campus administrators, and wrongly suggesting that attacks on free speech target only the right, the genuine constitutional concerns that ought to be at the heart of these efforts become clouded over by ideology and divisive rhetoric.”
— The hearing starts at 10 a.m. in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Watch it live.
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FIRST LOOK: BIPARTISAN GROUP TO STUDY STUDENT DEBT: The Bipartisan Policy Center will explore the burden of student debt and low college graduation rates. The group’s new task force will be chaired by former California Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a Republican, and George Miller, a Democrat, both of whom led the Education and the Workforce Committee at different times.
— To kick off the work, the center is hosting an event at 9 a.m.Thursday focused on what federal and state officials and education institutions can do to promote greater access and affordability, featuring a keynote address by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.). Read more about the event here. One of the event moderators is our own Kimberly Hefling. Ping her with suggested questions at email@example.com.
CALIFORNIA ENACTS LAW ON LEAD EXPOSURE AT CHILDCARE CENTERS: Preschools and childcare centers in the Golden State will be required to test their tap water for lead under a new law signed over the weekend by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. The state joins seven others that have already enacted such measures, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which tracks the issue.
— The law, CA AB2370 (17R), requires centers to test for levels of lead that could be harmful to young children and find an alternative source of water if such levels are found. Preschools and childcare centers must also report those findings to parents, and laboratories conducting the tests must report elevated levels to state officials, who are required to make results available online.
— California lawmakers also appropriated $5 million to help centers pay for testing, remediation and technical assistance.
— “If our youngest children are ingesting lead at daycare, their families have a right to know,” said California Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Democrat. “This will help keep our youngest children safe and healthy.”
NELNET WITHDRAWS BID TO BECOME ONLINE STUDENT LOAN BANK: Nelnet, the student loan servicing giant, announced Tuesday it’s withdrawing its application to become an online private student loan bank. The company said it had “constructive dialogue” with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Utah banking officials since filing an application for an industrial bank charter in June.
— “Withdrawing our application is a temporary step back in what we knew could be a long process,” President Tim Tewes said in a statement. “The need for more financially secure, borrower-focused, and FDIC-insured lenders in the private student loan marketplace is increasing; we believe Nelnet is an ideal candidate to be such an institution with our financial strength, customer focus, and experience.” Michael Stratford has more.
EDUCATION DEPARTMENT TAPS FINALISTS FOR LOAN SERVICING OVERHAUL: The department has selected more than a dozen companies as finalists to develop key parts of the Trump administration’s planned overhaul of how the government collects student loans. The companies are moving ahead in the competitive bidding process the agency is using to select contractors to build and operate the new system.
— The finalists include many of the existing federal student loan servicers: Nelnet; Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which operates as FedLoan Servicing; Edfinancial Services; the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority; the Oklahoma Student Loan Authority; and the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, which operates as CornerStone.
— Other finalists include: General Dynamics Information Technology Inc.; Infosys Public Services Inc.; Accenture Federal Services; IBM Corporation; Teleperformance; and Trellis Company, which was previously known as the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation.
— Navient, one of the department’s largest existing servicers, was not listed in the announcement, but remains in the running as a potential subcontractor, according to company spokesman Paul Hartwick. “We are pleased to be progressing through the process as a member of one of the selected teams,” he said, although he declined to name which one. Michael has more.
MIDTERMS WATCH: The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association teachers unions are teaming up on a two-week television ad campaign focused on the New Mexico governor’s race, the groups announced Tuesday. Education has been a key issue in the race, including debate over poor education outcomes, teacher pay and an education funding lawsuit.
The unions’ target is Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, who is running against Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The ads question his commitment to public education and accuse him of supporting “Betsy DeVos’ plan to take money from public schools.”
— Pearce, who supports school choice options like charter schools and e-schools, says on his campaign site the state needs to “diversify funding sources to ensure stable funding streams to school districts and charter schools.” He emphasizes that he’s “committed” to ensuring that every child in New Mexico receives a quality public education.
— An AFT spokesman told Morning Education the ads are its first in the cycle. But, teachers unions have been active in campaign-related activities, including recruiting volunteers, in a vast majority of states.
ICYMI — ESSA HEARING FEATURES FIGHT OVER FUNDING GUNS IN SCHOOLS: A weekslong debate over whether school districts can use federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act to purchase guns and train staff to use them boiled over at a Senate HELP committee hearing about compliance with the K-12 education law.
— Dozens of advocates and volunteers wearing red “Moms Demand Action” shirts showed up to the hearing, with many forced into an overflow room, Caitlin Emma reports. The advocates were with Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., chapters of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, part of the gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety. Senate Democrats worked with the advocates to coordinate their appearance at the hearing.
— DeVos has said she won’t stand in the way of states or school districts that choose to use federal grants under ESSA — called Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants — to pay for guns or weapons training. She has said Congress didn’t authorize her to make such decisions. Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander stressed during the hearing that he’s “not a fan of arming teachers,” but said states have broad flexibility when it comes to spending the funds. Democrats disagree and have unsuccessfully fought for appropriations language to bar the funds from being used for guns. Read more.
REPORT ROLL CALL
— A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that just 12 percent of young parents have an associate’s degree or higher.
— Ohio students adjust to new schools after closure of online charter: WOSU.
— After her son’s death at a college fraternity event, heiress fights for answers: Bloomberg.
— In Florida Senate race, education ads offer different takes on state’s performance: South Florida Sun Sentinel.
— After three years, the fight to spend more money on Tennessee schools inches toward trial: Chalkbeat.
— L.A. charter schools wage war for students as district enrollment drops: Los Angeles Times.
— Nearly two-dozen Georgia districts petition state to use different standardized test: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.