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Education Department Drops Fight Over School Money

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Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Education Secretary John B. King Jr. had been in a battle over Title I enforcement for some time.

LA Johnson/NPR

The U.S. Department of Education has withdrawn a proposal that could have fundamentally changed the flow of federal dollars to schools that serve low-income students.

“The law is clear that it is unacceptable to systematically underfund low-income schools and fill the hole with federal resources,” explained Dorie Turner Nolt, a spokeswoman for the education department. “While we worked tirelessly to put forward a regulation that implements that simple requirement and to incorporate the extensive feedback we received, we ultimately did not have time to publish a strong final regulation that lives up to the promise of the law.”

This brings to an end a long and bitter fight between the Education Department, led by Secretary John B. King, Jr., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, himself a former education secretary and current chairman of the Senate committee that handles education.

“This is an intolerable situation,” Alexander said of the Department’s so-called “supplement-not-supplant” proposal back in May, in a heated speech on the Senate floor. “If the regulations are not consistent with the law, I don’t believe [states] should follow them,” he said. “If the department persists, then the state should go to court to sue the department.”

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Education

Beyond The Pail: NPR Unpacks The History Of The Lunch Box

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A Spider-Man lunch box on duty at Payne Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Kat Lonsdorf/NPR

Our Tools of the Trade series is exploring some of the icons of schools and education.

It was made of shiny, bright pink plastic with a Little Mermaid sticker on the front, and I carried it with me nearly every single day. My lunch box was one of my first prized possessions, a proud statement to everyone in my kindergarten bubble: “I love Ariel.”

(Oh, and it held my sandwich too.)

That clunky container served me well through first and second grade, until the live-action version of 101 Dalmatians hit theaters, and I needed — needed — the newest red plastic box with Pongo and Perdita on the front.

I know I’m not alone here — I bet you loved your first lunch box, too.

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Education

‘I’m A Student-Debt Slave.’ How’d We Get Here?

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Most everyone knows someone adversely affected by student debt: More than 40 million Americans are shouldering a crippling $1.3 trillion in loans.

That burden is obstructing careers, families, dreams, employment and even retirement.

Uncle Sam and Wall Street have made lots of money off the crisis.

We’ve covered this issue in many ways, including the debates, the players, tips for easing debt, how debt is affecting young people’s decision making and a lot more.

But how did we get here? Who has profited most and how?

The Center for Investigative Reporting and its weekly radio show Reveal recently dug deep into these questions and profiled people who’ve been affected. I reached out to CIR reporter Lance Williams, who co-investigated the story with journalist James B. Steel. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

Let’s talk about the student lending giant Sallie Mae. You report how the decision to privatize Sallie Mae in 1997 played a huge role in helping to create this debt crisis. Explain.

Sallie Mae was a government-affiliated corporation whose board was made up in part of public officials. When it first came into existence, it was supposed to help create a market for the student debt that the feds were issuing. But after privatization, it became a full-service, for-profit corporation that really “verticalized” its involvement in the student debt industry, everything from issuing loans to running collection bureaus. The concern now is we replaced a program whose real purpose was to help people go to college with something where that’s kind of a secondary goal. The primary goal, of course, for for-profit institutions is the bottom line.

Privatization of Sallie Mae was a key victory for banking and financial industry lobbyists when the Republicans controlled Congress in the mid-’90s, yes? President Clinton tried to maintain his new direct-lending program, which made Uncle Sam the lender — not just insurer — of the loans.

Yes. President Clinton wanted to take back the issuing of federal student loans. In the dust-up over that, he was forced to accept the privatization of Sallie Mae to get what he wanted. This was the [Newt] Gingrich Contract with America-era Congress. There was widespread suspicion that government can’t do things efficiently and we need to get the private sector to roll up their sleeves and make this stuff work, and that’s what we got.

Suddenly, hedge funds, investors, lots of banks had a more direct role, not just in lending, but in the fees, services, in the collection. And Sallie Mae and other financial organizations began marketing private loans with higher interest rates and fees and with fewer relief options?

Right. All of the functions of the student loan program originally were run by government agencies, bureaucrats, I guess you could say in a dismissive way, but they were not motivated by profit. They were there to make the program run. When you privatize collections, you get really aggressive companies that come in there and work really hard to get the money back. That’s totally understandable in the corporate context. But we started this trying to help people get educated and get on with their lives. And now you’ve got thousands upon thousands of students who fall behind on their debt harassed from dawn to dusk, hassled, pushed hard, and in some cases even when they aren’t in arrears on their debt, having to deal with all kinds of crazy stuff that’s really in the name of a government program.

[Note: In 2014, Sallie Mae spun off many of its operations into a separate company called Navient Corp., which today is the largest servicer of federal student loans and serves as a loan collector on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education.]

You write that in the three-year period 2010 to 2013, when students began to shoulder more and more debt, Sallie Mae’s profits were $3.5 billion. And the former CEO of Sallie Mae, Albert Lord, was instrumental in that. In your story, Lord says, “Look, it wasn’t the private lenders that made this mess.” He blames universities and the government. And universities, and state governments in particular, are not blameless here. Budget cuts led schools to raise tuition, and the debt burden widened. Doesn’t Lord have a point?

He does. There’s been tremendous disinvestment in public higher education in our country. It peaked in the 1970s. Our reporting showed that if state legislatures had continued to support higher ed at the rate they were in 1980, they would have pumped an additional $500 billion, billion with a B, into state university systems. Interestingly, that’s just about how much outstanding debt is now held by people who attended public colleges and universities. You see the symmetry. As the states disinvest, the burden is picked up by the students, and the way they pay for it is they borrow the money.

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/07/11/484364476/im-a-student-debt-slave-howd-we-get-here

Education

Through The Looking Glass: How Children’s Books Have Grown Up

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Kindergarten students read before class starts at Walker-Jones Education Campus in Washington, D.C.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

In Sarah Parrish’s second-grade classroom, the colors are loud, but the kids are quiet.

It’s Thursday morning. Her students sit at their desks, reading to themselves. Books about Ramona and Junie B. Jones. Mystery books, fantasy books …

Marisa Sotelino has just finished Horse Diaries #3: Koda. She grins when asked about it, showing a mouthful of light green braces.

“It’s interesting to see other people, or animals’ point of view,” she explains, “because, well, you can’t be a different person.”

Nearby, a boy named Alec Mahini talks about his love for fantasy books: “It makes me feel that I’m in the adventure kind of, like the narrator.”

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Education

Don’t Wait For An Act Of Congress’: Union Chief On Politics And Testing

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Lily Eskelsen Garcia is the first Latina to run the NEA.

Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Before we can even be seated in the Midtown cafe where we meet, Lily Eskelsen Garcia has begun her barrage of plainspoken, provocative opinions. A Democratic superdelegate, she’s just come from a spot on a morning news show, where, she declared, “Hillary is winning no matter how you look at it.”

Garcia started her education career as a lunch lady. Today, as president of the National Education Association, she represents 3 million classroom teachers, plus support staff like school bus drivers, classroom aides and substitutes. The NEA has 200,000 members who work on university campuses as well, for an overall membership that makes it the largest single organization in the shrinking category of organized labor, once a stalwart of political power within the Democratic Party.

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Education

Students Across U.S. Take New SAT A) Saturday B) Sunday C) None Of The Above

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Rachel Barr, 17, of Scarborough, Maine, takes a practice SAT Test in a room with other students on February 23, 2016. The redesigned SAT is being administered to high school students for the first time Saturday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Ready your pencils.

This morning, across America, the redesigned version of the SAT — the standardized entrance exam widely used in college admissions — is being administered for the first time.

(The correct answer to our headline, therefore, is A … but under the redesigned test, there’s no penalty for guessing, so no worries if you got it wrong.)

Back in January, when the old version of the test was given by the College Board for the last time, our NPR Ed team explained the logic behind the update:

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