DeVos says Washington will not mandate ‘school choice’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pictured. | AP Photo

States can choose not to participate in the Trump administration’s plans to expand school choice, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, but “that would be a terrible mistake on their part.” | AP Photo

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised Monday night that the Trump administration would propose “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history,” but said that states, rather than Washington, D.C., would make the decisions.

“When it comes to education, no solution, not even ones we like, should be dictated or run from Washington, D.C.,” she said.

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DeVos, though, offered scant details about the Trump administration’s vision for school choice.

Her speech at an Indianapolis summit hosted by the American Federation for Children, the school choice advocacy group she had formerly chaired, came just hours before the Trump administration releases a budget that proposes cuts to many traditional education programs, while making a $1 billion investment in promoting public school choice that has already drawn conservative criticism for expanding the federal government’s footprint in education.

States can choose not to participate in the Trump administration’s plans to expand school choice, she said. But “that would be a terrible mistake on their part,” she added. “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it.”

DeVos also avoided getting into detail on the Trump administration’s budget proposal, which proposes a new grant program that would encourage the flow of local, state and federal dollars to follow students moving from public school to public school. And she didn’t mention an additional $250 million to study and expand vouchers.

She said the aim of the Trump administration proposal is “to empower states and give leaders like [Indiana] Gov. Eric Holcomb the flexibility and opportunity to enhance the choices Indiana provides for Indiana students.”

“We won’t accomplish our goals by creating a new federal bureaucracy or by bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money,” she said. “We should have zero interest in substituting the current big government approach for our own big government approach.”

But some conservative think tanks that typically champion school choice, like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, see both proposals as an undue expansion of the federal role in education policy. Conservatives have long criticized the Obama administration for encouraging states to adopt higher academic standards and more rigorous exams in exchange for billions of dollars in competitive grant funding under the controversial Race to the Top program.

On the left, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten agreed.

“DeVos is taking a page from her Democratic predecessor Arne Duncan and proposing her own version of the Obama administration’s much-criticized Race to the Top,” she said. “While Duncan tied federal funds to the promotion of Common Core and testing, DeVos is tying federal funds to her own voucher and privatization projects. She is doing so, however, not by adding money but through a reverse Robin Hood strategy of robbing schools of investments that work for kids, like after-school programs, to pay for her pet privatization and voucher programs.”

In her speech, DeVos didn’t mention a federal education tax credit proposal, which the administration has purportedly been considering as a way to channel public money to private-school scholarships to enable working-class families to pay the tuition. AFC Chairman Bill Oberndorf was clear about his organization’s support for such a proposal.

“We look forward to more details about the school choice proposals and, ultimately, hope to see a federal education tax credit included in broader tax reform later this year,” he said.

It’s unclear if the Trump administration will ultimately get behind an education tax credit proposal. And there are a number of unanswered questions about how such a plan would work, such as whether the proposal would be housed under the Education or Treasury Department, whether there would be a cap on the amount of federal tax credits available, and what the income eligibility requirements would look like for families who hope to take advantage of the scholarships.

It could be part of a larger tax reform bill and pass through the budget reconciliation process with only 51 votes in the Senate. But if the Trump administration pursues the proposal as part of a larger tax overhaul, it could face some resistance from lawmakers who aren’t looking to over-complicate the tax code.

DeVos is following her speech with a scheduled visit Tuesday morning to Providence Cristo Rey High School — a small, Catholic private school in Indianapolis where nearly every student receives a voucher through the state’s voucher program.

Between DeVos’ speech, the budget release Tuesday and her scheduled budget testimony on the Hill on Wednesday, the administration’s proposals to expand school choice are drawing intense criticism from traditional public school advocates this week. Before DeVos took the stage Monday, traditional public school advocates were protesting in Indianapolis.

The National Education Association encouraged its members to inundate DeVos with emails rejecting vouchers, and about 1,000 people sent emails in the first hour, a spokeswoman for the teachers’ union said.

“It couldn’t be clearer: Betsy DeVos’ goal as Secretary of Education is to slash funding for public schools, using voucher schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools,” NEA, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, said in its message online.

The American Federation of Teachers introduced a Snapchat filter branding photos with “Trump and DeVos need to fully fund education!”

DHS monitors Manchester bombing, increases U.S. security

Emergency response vehicles arrive at the scene of a suspected terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, northwest England on May 23.

Emergency response vehicles arrive at the scene of a suspected terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, northwest England on May 23. | Getty

The Department of Homeland Security is closely monitoring news out of the United Kingdom after an explosion outside a concert arena left 19 dead and dozens more injured.

The agency is also working with foreign counterparts to get additional information about the cause of the incident, agency spokesman David Lapan said Monday night.

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Police investigators in northern England are still investigating the explosion, which happened right after a concert; terrorism is suspected. As a precaution, DHS warned that the public may see heightened U.S. security at similar public venues where there are large crowds — so-called “soft target” areas that terrorists increasingly pinpoint.

“At this time we have no information to indicate a specific threat involving music venues in the United States,” Lapan said. “However, the public may experience increased security around public places and events as officials take additional precautions.”

The agency also is encouraging U.S. citizens in the the Manchester area where the explosion happened to contact the U.S. embassy in London for assistance, if necessary, and follow State Department guidance.

“We stand ready to assist our friends and allies in the U.K. in all ways necessary as they investigate and recover from this incident,” Lapan said.

The explosion comes as DHS continues to mull whether to extend a ban on carrying large electronics on U.S.-bound flights to at least some airports in Europe and possibly elsewhere. The agency is meeting with officials from the U.K. and the European Union this week in Washington to discuss the issue.

DHS ‘monitoring the situation’ at England’s Manchester Arena

Emergency response vehicles are parked at the scene of a suspected terrorist in Manchester, England.

Emergency response vehicles are parked at the scene of a suspected terrorist attack during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, northwest England on May 23. | Getty

The Department of Homeland Security on Monday night said they are “monitoring the situation” following a deadly explosion at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in the United Kingdom.

DHS said they are working “with our foreign counterparts to obtain additional information about the cause of the reported explosion as well as the extent of injuries and fatalities.” The agency did not call the bombing a terrorist attack.

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Greater Manchester Police released a statement following the incident confirming 19 people have died and around 50 others were injured, as well as saying the blast is “currently being treated as a terrorist incident until police know otherwise.”

The blast happened outside the singer’s sold out concert.

DHS urged citizens who are in the area to “heed direction from local authorities and maintain security awareness” as well as to contact the U.S. Embassy in London if assistance is needed.

In addition, the statement said there is no information of “a specific credible threat involving music venues” in the U.S. Increased security around public places and events may be taken as addition precautions, the statement said.

“We stand ready to assist our friends and allies in the U.K. in all ways necessary as they investigate and recover from this incident,” according to the statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this incident. “

Bernie backers rage over Calif. Democratic Party chair race

Eric Bauman is pictured.

Eric Bauman won the chairmanship of the California Democratic Party over the weekend. | AP Photo

Audit underway after accusations of ballot stuffing, floor protests.

SAN FRANCISCO — Supporters of the losing candidate in a bitterly disputed election to serve as chair of the California Democratic Party say they’ll begin a detailed audit of the votes on Monday.

The move comes after protests, allegations of ballot stuffing and bitter disputes after votes at a weekend party convention.

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Longtime party operative Eric Bauman won the chairmanship of the California Democratic Party over the weekend — but his victory was marred by complaints of ballot-stuffing and floor protests. Backers of the Kimberly Ellis, a favorite of the “Berniecrat,” activist wing of the party — say efforts to scrutinize the votes will begin immediately.

The unprecedented effort to examine the documentation of the disputed state party’s election results was announced by outgoing California Democratic Party chair John Burton at the close of a raucous state Democratic convention this weekend.

Ellis, the former director of Emerge America, a women’s political organization, lost the election by a narrow margin of 62 votes out of 3,000 cast. Her loss immediately set off protests from hundreds of her backers, many of whom charged that there were irregularities that included allowing voters to cast proxy ballots without proper ID.

Some Democratic insiders are already worried the dispute has potential to do long-term damage, creating a rift in the state party as it heads into crucial 2018 elections, where as many as nine GOP House seats could be at stake in California.

“This is our Tea Party moment,’’ said one leading Democratic strategist. “And it’s not going away.”

Republicans have already seized on the protests. State party chairman Jim Brulte said the issue underscores “the complete hypocrisy of the Democrats when it comes to election integrity.”

“Democrats think voter identification laws are important for their party elections, but don’t think they are good enough for the California voters,” Bruite said in a statement. “It should be clear to the people of California that the Democrats are willing to put the elections of our state officials at risk while protecting their own Party elections.”

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Bauman, said he welcomes the review process and will not interfere in it.

“This has never been a secret ballot election. The party’s going to make all records available for review,’’ Maviglio said. “The ballots were counted with representative of all candidates in the room in a very public process, and they’re allowed to inspect everything available,’’ he said.

He said Bauman is convinced “the results of the election will speak for themselves.”

Ellis backers say they’re so convinced the audit will find the outcome in their favor that, if necessary, they will use the manpower and money necessary to contact every one of the nearly 3,000 delegates who cast votes in the race to sign legal affidavits regarding their vote.

“We raised half a million dollars for this election,” said Ellis’ strategist Joe Macaluso, “and we’ll have the volunteers and donations to support the effort.”

The race between Bauman, a longtime party operative, and Ellis, a relative newcomer, was cast as one between the left and the far left of the party, between “new school” and “old school’’ wings — Berniecrat activists and more traditional Democrats.

Macaluso, a lead strategist for the Ellis, said that going into the election during the Democratic Convention in Sacramento, the Ellis campaign had carefully tracked its voters and it determined that 97 percent of those who said they would support her turned up to vote for her.

When the razor-thin outcome was announced, Ellis supporters demanded recounts and a re-vote from the floor — only to be told by Burton there were no provisions for such a move. But Burton did promise Ellis would be given full access to the ballots, now in the possession of the party’s executive director, Chris Myers, for examination.

Macaluso said Ellis will not concede the election until the audit is finished, a process that’s expected to be done quickly, and that she will abide by the results.

“Kimberly says we need to assume the best in everyone, but until we look at it, we won’t be able to validate the election,’’ he said. “But nobody has more of a vested interest in making sure there is no question about the fairness of this election than Eric Bauman. So of all people who should want this to be done cleanly – it’s him.”

Trump’s budget hits his own voters hardest

Donald Trump, whose populist message and promises to help American workers propelled him to the White House, is set to issue a budget proposal on Tuesday that instead takes aim at the social safety net on which many of his supporters rely.

Rather than breaking with Washington precedent, Trump’s spending blueprint follows established conservative orthodoxy, cutting taxes on the wealthy, boosting defense spending and taking a hatchet to programs for the poor and disabled – potentially hurting many of the rural and low-income Americans that voted him into office.

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The budget proposal underscores the wide gulf between campaigning and governing, even for a president who promised to rewrite the presidential rulebook.

The president’s budget plan calls for more than $1 trillion in cuts to wide-ranging social programs with millions of beneficiaries, from farm subsidies to federal student aid. That includes a $600 billion cut to Medicaid over 10 years, despite Trump’s repeated promises on the campaign trail not to cut the program. The budget also takes an ax to the federal food stamp program and Social Security Disability Insurance.

Trump also proposes some of the deepest cuts to agriculture subsidies since Ronald Reagan, squeezing out nearly $50 billion over 10 years.

Trump’s budget would drastically cut domestic programs controlled by Congress, slashing $1.7 trillion over 10 years. At the end of the decade, the U.S. would spend nearly twice the amount on military spending as other domestic programs. Domestic discretionary spending would be capped to $429 billion per year, below 2004 levels, while military spending soars to $722 billion.

The annual budget proposal – which has no chance of becoming law as proposed even though Republicans control Congress because GOP lawmakers write their own budget – serves as a starting point for negotiations and as a messaging document for the president and his party.

“There’s a certain philosophy wrapped up in the budget and that is — we are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, one of the budget’s chief architects, told reporters on Monday. “We’re not going to measure our success by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help.”

Mulvaney rejected accusations that Trump’s budget unfairly targets the poor, arguing instead that it amounts to a broad rethink of the country’s welfare system.

“We need folks to work. We need people to go to work. If you’re on food stamps, and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be, we need you to work,” he added. “There’s a dignity to work, and there’s a necessity to work.”

Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman and founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has long sought dramatic cuts to Medicaid and other programs.

Mulvaney said the budget does not touch “mainline” or “core” Social Security, but it does cut Social Security’s disability insurance. The White House is also leaning on anti-fraud program programs to save billions of dollars in Medicare.

The White House plans to heavily promote its commitment to both Social Security and Medicare, though its attempt to eliminate the federal deficit while largely preserving those entitlement programs — which together make up the bulk of federal spending — will leave behind a path of destruction for other safety net programs.

Trump’s budget would tighten the belt on programs for low-income families ranging from cash assistance to the child tax credit. Nearly $200 billion in cuts will come directly from the federal food stamp program, which helps feed 44 million people each year.

Trump would also slash $72 billion by tightening the rules for programs for people with disabilities — programs that Trump’s advisers have described as riddled with fraud and abuse. A federal watchdog, however, found last year that 17 anti-fraud programs already exist.

In an administration document outlining budget talking points, the White House pitched its proposal as a way to replace “dependency with dignity of work.” The internal guidance, which POLITICO obtained early Monday, highlights an estimated $193 billion in savings by further limiting who can receive food stamps. The administration estimates $40 billion in savings over 10 years by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides a break to households making up to about $53,000 per year, depending on family size and filing status.

“If I had sort of a subtitle for this budget, it would be the ‘Taxpayer First’ budget,” Mulvaney said Monday. “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes. So often in Washington I think we look only on the recipient side — how does the budget affect those who either receive or don’t receive benefits?”

Democrats, who have opposed cuts announced in drafts released earlier this year, reiterated their objections ahead of the budget’s release.

“Candidate Trump campaigned as a populist, said he wanted to help the working people, but since he has taken office he has governed like a hard-right conservative — pushing policies that help the uber wealthy at the expense of the middle class,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Sunday night.

“It’s a complete about-face,” said Seth Hanlon, a former economic adviser to Barack Obama. “It’s a betrayal of a lot of people who put their faith in him.”

But even some Republicans — both inside and outside Congress — say they’re worried about the sheer magnitude of the proposed cuts.

“I’m deeply concerned about the severity of the domestic cuts,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a long-time member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told POLITICO on Friday.

Rogers has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s proposed cuts to programs that benefit rural regions like his home state, like the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“I think we do need healthcare reform. I think we do need welfare reform. But the kinds of reductions that he’s talking about go exactly against the states that brought [Trump] to the dance, so to speak,” said G. William Hoagland, a former long-time Republican Senate budget aide.

He added, “The argument can be made that there are certainly programs that are not achieving their goals. That doesn’t mean we should take the money away and forget about it.”

The White House says it expected a “mixed” reaction from Hill Republicans, according to a senior administration official. The defense hikes and tax cuts are sure to be popular, but many of the cuts could make more moderate Republicans skittish. “It’s more than a messaging document and it begins the negotiations,” the official said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected to deliver their rebuttal to the White House’s budget proposal in mid-June, about two months behind schedule.

While the congressional document is also in many ways a wish list, it serves to set the spending levels that lawmakers must abide by the following year. The delay of that document means appropriators will face a time crunch ahead of the September deadline to fund the government or avert a shutdown.

The Trump administration is relying on more than aggressive cuts to mandatory programs to achieve its goal of eliminating the deficit within 10 years – a gold standard of budget-writing.

The White House is also making a rosy assumption of 3 percent economic growth – nearly double the 1.9 percent rate estimated by Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper – to help offset its ambitious spending plans. That includes $200 billion for new infrastructure projects as well as $19 billion for paid family leave.

The budget blueprint also assumes that Trump’s tax reform plan, which is still in the early stages of being written, will go into effect. Officials said that plan is expected to deliver a boost to the economy without adding to its bottom line, but produced no details beyond a one-page document released in April.

Trump’s proposed budgets for federal departments and agencies next year are mostly unchanged from the so-called “skinny budget” the administration released earlier this year, despite the public outcry from some disgruntled Cabinet members

A half-dozen agencies got slight boosts in their budgets, however, including those in the departments of Agriculture, Interior and Labor. The State Department, which faced some of the harshest cuts in Trump’s first budget draft, is slated for a $2.6 billion bump compared to the March numbers.

Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this story.