Federalism & Special Education

by Kim Braun
Late last week, the Supreme Court decided a case increasing educational requirements that schools must provide for students with disabilities. Previous rulings stipulated that, under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), special education needed only to meet a standard defined as more than the minimum education. The Supreme Court now indicates that this threshold was too low. While the court did not specify that special education achieve equivalency with regular education, it lifted the standard to an “‘appropriately ambitious’” standard where “‘every child … [has] the chance to meet challenging objectives’” (qtd. in Brown and Marimow). The court also indicated that these levels would vary depending upon the unique needs of the special education student, typically delineated in individualized education plans (IEPs).
This Supreme Court decision nicely illustrates federalism at work. The court performed its checking function on the other branches by ruling on the administration of legislation. Interest groups were also evident during the process: Autism Speaks and the National School Boards Association voiced support and opposition, respectively, for raised standards. These groups, among others, filed amicus briefs during the judicial process to advocate for their members’ perspectives during the deliberations.
Interestingly, the case connects to recent Trump nominees: the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals previously decided the case. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was not involved in the initial ruling, but used the precedent in later cases he decided on that same court. The father of a student affected by a Gorsuch ruling on the standard testified against the judge’s nomination to the highest court, relating how the decision negatively affected his child. Additionally, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ responses to questions about her plans to implement IDEA concerned several confirmation committee members, who felt that she was not adequately familiar with the legislation.
 Brown, Emma, and Ann E. Marimow. “Supreme Court sets higher bar for education of students with disabilities.” Washington Post, 22 Mar. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-sets-higher-bar-for-education-of-students-with-disabilities/2017/03/22/fcb7bc62-0f16-11e7-9d5a-a83e627dc120_story.html?utm_term=.82bb58ec726c.

Initial Reaction to Budget Proposal & What it Means to our Values/Programs

by Lisa Duelfer

This article was a preview of more recent articles and of course, the actual budget itself, but it was the first notification I had of my advocacy program, the Corporation for National and Community Service, was being cut. There are many programs being cut, or their funding being reduced, and I invite everyone to discuss all of them, however I will be focusing on CNCS.

To better frame this, earlier that week, we had submitted our proposals for what we were going to push for, and I had written a modest commentary on better benefits for a term of community service (currently corps members are issued about $160 every two weeks as a living stipend) a more enticing scholarship program (currently just above $5,000) and better recognition (currently most employers do not know about the program, and graduates are not granted additional status to apply for federal jobs). Then on Saturday I see this article and all of the sudden I am going from “let’s improve this awesome program” to “hey! Leave my Americorps alone!”

CNCS, as I will go into during my presentation, is a bipartisan program that has been expanded by every previous president since it was proposed by G.H.W. Bush and passed by Clinton. It has also been on the chopping block numerous times, again due to its lack of prestige. Previous champions of the program include southern gulf representatives and senators who saw the benefits of the program first hand, helping rebuild after Katrina. Likewise we would look to the northeast now, beseeching those whose constituents were benefited by the service of Americorps members after Sandy.

There are over 1,000,000 Americorps alums that are rallying to alert their law makers of the relevance of National Service. There are many other programs whose budget is being reduced or cut that have other champions – Earth Day there will be a “march for science,” pushing back on the EPA and National Parks issues. Recently videos of Elmo being fired and Fred Rogers saving PBS from Reagan cuts have been circulating around Facebook. How is the state budget fighting back? Who is standing up for HUD?

When reaching out to a representative about the upcoming budget, is it better to stay on a single issue like a personal special interest group, or should you make multiple please for all of your issues? What are you opinions of the current proposals for the “hard power” budget that is proposed?

Equality: “A Day Without a Woman”

by Meghan Turner
Back in January, women across the United States and the world were encouraged to march for their rights. Unfortunately, accurate records were not kept of the numbers of women that participated in this event. Women marched for things such as: reproductive rights, wage equality, misogyny and more.
March 8th marked an International Women’s Day, which was originally designated by the United Nations in 1975. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was “A Day Without A Woman”; women everywhere were encouraged not to spend money in order to show how much of an impact women make to our national economy.
Women were also encouraged to wear red to signify love and sacrifice. The point of this was to show how significant women are to the world and how they are not treated equally and fairly. Women are extremely devoted to their jobs and families but still do not receive fair compensation or respect for what they do on a daily basis.
Stores and establishments went so far as to give their female employees the day off on March 8th to show their support. Schools and universities across the United States cancelled classes in lieu of their female participating in International Women’s day. Many women, especially within the Philadelphia School District, did not come to work this past Wednesday to show their support of International Women’s Day, as well as not having a contract.
The numbers in the article still show that women are earning far less than men. In my search, I could not find any legislation that justifies why there are such disparities in pay, nor have I found any recent legislation on equal pay. When and how will this problem be resolved?

America’s Opioid Epidemic is Worsening

by Rich Tutak

When the President of the United States addresses an issue in a joint session of Congress, it is a problem that needs to be taken seriously. In 2015 over 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses, a number that unfortunately has been growing since 2000. This epidemic has impacted every type of community from the major cities to small rural towns across America. People who become addicted to opioids come from all walks of life and typically become addicted after being overly prescribed to prescription painkillers. This Economist article helps address this epidemic when first started in the early 1990s when the prescriptions drug dosage increased substantially. Once the habit becomes too hard to sustain from purchasing perceptions drugs people turn to the cheaper alternative of heroin. Within the article, there is a chart that shows the tremendous spike in heroin use from 2010 to today. Along with that states have begun to implement measures to help combat overprescribing with drug-monitoring programs, but more can still be done. If someone is overdosing, and a first responder administers a drug reversing the overdose there needs to be more done. To prevent the person from overdosing again, there need to be programs in place to help administer treatment to these patients in need of addiction treatment.

Trump & Transgender Bathroom Use

by Philip Erdman

Recently, the Trump Administration scrapped the Obama Administrative directive that ordered schools to let students who identify as transgender, use bathrooms and locker rooms per the gender they identify with. The result was an instant wave of public panic and outcry, which was to be expected.

Part of the reason for the public’s reaction was a failure to realize that the Obama Administrative directive was not the sole source of protection existing for students who identify as transgender. The directive merely instructed schools on how they were too treat a situation in which a student who identifies as transgender was using a bathroom or locker room of the opposite sex (biologically).

Protections exist for students who identify as transgender and have existed before the Obama Administrative directive was released. Some of the reasons that the directive was scrapped consist of; a rash of lawsuits nationwide speaking against the law, a possible overreach by the federal government, an appearance of blackmail (where federal funds can be withdrawn from schools who choose not to follow the directive), an apparent abuse of Title IX (by incorporating and extending the law to parties who may not have been intended to be included in the law or attaching it to circumstances that were not intended to be including: students who identify as  transgender picking which bathroom or locker room they use).

The current administration believes that the individual states should decide how these policies unfold and that the federal government should not dictate (through the power of the purse) what action(s) a school should take in these unique circumstances. The previous administration believed that allowing a student who identifies as transgender to pick which bathroom or locker room they used was inherent in Title IX and therefore, they felt justified in instructing schools on how to handle the situation. Arguments can be made for both sides, but at the end of the day it is about the separation of powers, who as jurisdiction (and how far does their jurisdiction extend), and are the directives constitutional. Sometimes we forget in the midst of our emotions that, no matter how strongly we agree or disagree with something, the Constitution is the highest law of the land and there are people who have been tasked with implementing it through their various roles and tasks.  The Supreme Court will end up hearing this case and they will either make a ruling or refer it back to a lower court.

Will Bob Casey Try to Block Trump’s Supreme Court Pick?

By Daniel Garman

Without even reading the article it can be assumed that the answer to “Will Bob Casey Try to Block Trump’s Supreme Court Pick?”, is a yes. Bob Casey has an enormous track record for opposing President Trump. Furthermore, Casey isn’t alone and uses liberals and conservatives in many fights to increase numbers and effectiveness. However, Casey seems to be in a dilemma of political views. Not only has Casey been recently unavailable for interviews and questions, but the majority of the state he represents, Pennsylvania, nominated for President Trump. Now when looking at this frankly, the whole debate of the seat is to allow democrats a way of blocking President Trump. As stated in the article, “They are still seething over Trump’s victory…”. This being the case, Casey has a very big decision to make soon as he could potentially be the difference in Gorsuch being nominated or denied. Currently, in my opinion, it is unclear which way Casey will lean; however, the article suggests that he is leaning towards supporting the state he represents. What could be the potential consequences be of Casey’s decision to either support Pennsylvania and Gorsuch or his own democratic party?

GOP Lawmaker Proposes Abolishing Department of Education

by Darshan Jha

As both the Democrats and Republicans have voiced their opinions on the policies that have been proposed by the Trump Administration, one representative from Kentucky has challenged to abolish the Department of Education. Representative Thomas Massie’s bill isn’t lengthy, but in a single page, the representative proposes to abolish the agency by the end of 2018 on December 31st.  This comes the day after the Vice President had to break the 50-50 tie to confirm Betty DeVous.

As President Reagan once tried to get rid of the agency, he was unsuccessful and many individuals believe that education policies should be left at the local and state level instead of the federal government. This isn’t the first agency that a Republican representative has tried to abolish. Representative Matt Gaetz from Florida is working on a bill that would get rid of the EPA, another agency that wasn’t flavored by President Reagan.

I believe that both of these agencies are needed, but there needs to be reform in education. I believe that we need to become a leader in education and help our youth not be in debt as they come out of college. Local and State government are having a hard time balancing their budgets due to the amount of money that is needed and therefore I think there should be a federal agency to overlook the education system. Another thing that is concerning is asking the State and Local governments to enforce Title IX, which is important for many schools in regards to sports, but also in other areas. I haven’t been able to find any articles to see if the current administration favors abolishing the Education Department, but as of now, the nomination of Secretary DeVos has been historic in many ways.