Preparing for a DeVos confirmation fight (Politico)

By CAITLIN EMMA

 With help from Kimberly Hefling and Michael Stratford

PREPARING FOR A DEVOS CONFIRMATION FIGHT: Democrats will seek to paint Betsy DeVos as Public School Enemy No. 1 as they ramp up a longshot effort to thwart her confirmation to be Education secretary by challenging her qualifications for the job. Already, more than a dozen Democratic senators from all wings of the party have stepped forward to say they’re troubled by at least some aspects of the billionaire philanthropist’s record on public education — a drumbeat that is expected to grow louder in the lead-up to her confirmation hearing. That hearing is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 11.

— Democrats say they will portray DeVos’ views as being outside the education mainstream, citing her history of bankrolling efforts to create state voucher programs, and her support for Michigan’s loosely-regulated charter school sector. They’re also intent on drawing attention to her lack of experience in a traditional public school setting. DeVos has never worked as a public school teacher or superintendent, nor has she sent her own kids to public schools.

— Still, those efforts are unlikely to derail DeVos' confirmation, given Republicans' 52-seat majority in the Senate. Her backers point out that her views on using public funds to enable low-income students to attend charter and private schools, including religious schools, are in line with much of the GOP establishment. Those views are also shared by President-elect Donald Trump, who proposed a $20 billion plan during the campaign that emphasized vouchers and charter schools. More from Kimberly Hefling.

— When it comes to another Trump Cabinet pick, more than 1,100 law school professors from across the country sent a letter to Congress urging the Senate to reject the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for attorney general, The Washington Post reports. The letter is signed by professors from 170 law schools in 48 states.

— The confirmation hearing for Trump’s Labor secretary pick, Andrew Puzder, has been postponed to the week of Jan. 16, Pro Labor & Employment’s Marianne LeVine reports. The Senate HELP Committee had set the date tentatively for Jan. 12, but it’s being pushed back to accommodate next week’s budget vote-a-rama, according to the aide.

GOOD WEDNESDAY MORNING, JAN. 4. Happy birthday to all the education policy wonks with January birthdays! Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of us. I’ll be celebrating mine at Momofuku CCDC eating pork buns. Talk to me at cemma@politico.com or @caitlinzemma. Send events to: educalendar@politicopro.com. And follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.

THE FUTURE OF FEDERAL EDUCATION POLICY: Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former Trump transition team member Gerard Robinson and others will come together at The Brookings Institution this afternoon to talk about education policy under the Trump administration. Douglas Harris, a professor of economics at Tulane University, will provide an overview of the federal role in education. Also participating in the panel discussion: Marty West, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Penn Hill Group Vice President Lindsay Fryer. The event starts at 2 p.m. ET. More.

PAYING FOR SUCCESS: Some advocates are hopeful that one early childhood education initiative backed by the Obama administration will survive (and maybe even thrive) under the Trump administration: the Pay for Success model. The model allows private or philanthropic funders to provide up-front capital for early learning or other social programs and the government only repays the funder if rigorous evaluations show the program achieved results. The Obama administration has used a small $2.8 million grant competition to encourage such public-private partnerships across the country. Megan Carolan, director of policy research at the Institute for Child Success, said she’s “cautiously optimistic” that such efforts will continue under the Trump administration. Pay for Success models have received bipartisan support in Congress, she said, and they align with “a lot of very traditional Republican ideas.” “Republicans haven’t wanted to invest programs that don’t show strong evidence and this is a way to do that,” Carolan said. Pay for Success models also allow states and local jurisdictions to participate in partnerships that best suit their needs, she said.

— On a related note, the organization First Five Years Fund says that early childhood education is one area where the Trump administration and Congress can make immediate and long-term impacts. The organization has outlined proposals on how the federal government can use the tax code to support early learning and care, like making the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit refundable for children under 5 years old. More.

TRUMP’S SCOTUS FRONTRUNNERS: Eight individuals have been identified by people on the Trump transition team as frontrunners to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein reports. That includes William Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “The courts have imposed results on a wide range of issues, including racial quotas, school prayer, abortion and homosexual rights. Those issues belong in Congress and the state legislature,” Pryor wrote in a 1997 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Pryor’s record as an appeals court judge has been staunchly conservative, but he surprised many legal observers in 2011 by joining a decision holding that some discrimination against transgender individuals is prohibited by constitutional doctrine forbidding sex discrimination. Read more.

— Another frontrunner is Diane Sykes of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. On the appeals court, she issued a decision compelling a state-run university to recognize a Christian legal group as an official school organization even though the group banned leaders engaged in homosexuality or "fornication."

EDU-PINION: Zenith Education Group president and CEO Peter Taylor writes in The Dallas Morning News that career education should be part of President-elect Donald Trump’s jobs plan. “Trump has said he will work to rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure by investing $1 trillion in projects to keep jobs in this country,” Taylor writes. “But one of the gaping questions for any such proposal will be whether we have the supply of skilled workers necessary to realize a meaningful return on a major investment in infrastructure.” Taylor said Zenith is ready to partner with Trump, “his administration and the private sector to invest in the intellectual infrastructure needed to create well-paying, long-term U.S. jobs.” More.

ICYMI: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted Sen. Bernie Sanders Tuesday in rolling out a tuition-free public college proposal, POLITICO New York reports. “Today, what Gov. Cuomo is proposing is a revolutionary idea for higher education, and it’s going to reverberate not only throughout the state of New York, but throughout this country,” said Sanders, who won over a lot of young supporters during his presidential bid thanks to his tuition-free college proposal. Sanders spoke before a crowd of students and elected officials at LaGuardia Community College. But the plan announced by Cuomo — seemingly mulling a presidential run in 2020 — hews closer to a counter-proposal from Hillary Clinton, who resisted Sanders’ call for zero tuition for all income levels. Read more in POLITICO New York.

— Education Secretary John B. King Jr. applauded Cuomo for his proposal: “Making college more affordable and accessible for all Americans is critical to President Obama’s goal of having the highest share of college graduates in the world and to ensuring America’s long-term economic prosperity. That’s why the President has called on Congress to make two years of community college free so that students can earn the skills needed to succeed in the workforce or the first half of a bachelor’s degree at no cost. While Congress hasn’t acted on legislation that has been introduced in both chambers, states like New York and various cities are taking important steps to make this a reality for students and families.”

— Clinton tweeted: “Delighted that @NYGovCuomo proposed free college for ppl making <125K in NY. A plan @SenSanders & I worked hard on.”

MOVERS AND SHAKERS

— Ruth Neild is stepping down as deputy director of policy and research and delegated director of the Institute of Education Sciences on January 13. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. has asked Thomas Brock to take her place while still serving as commissioner of the National Center for Education Research. Caitlin Emma has more.

— Ryan Streeter, executive director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas at Austin, is the first director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He’ll oversee research in education, politics, public opinion and more. Streeter has been deputy chief of staff for policy for Vice President-elect Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana, and special assistant for domestic policy to former President George W. Bush.

— Molly Corbett Broad, who has served as president of the American Council on Education since 2008, will be stepping down at the end of October. Michael Stratford has more.

REPORT ROLL CALL

— The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is out with a report today that examines options for tuition- and debt-free college programs. Read it here.

SYLLABUS

— Forbes is out with “30 Under 30” education leaders to learn from in 2017.

— Missouri education officials recommend full accreditation for St. Louis Public Schools: St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

— Students, feeling nickel-and-dimed, force new scrutiny of college fees: The Hechinger Report.

— Florida’s controversial "Best and Brightest" bonus program for teachers could be headed for changes in the upcoming legislative session: Tallahassee Democrat.

— Maryland teachers union, allies to seek limit on school testing: The Baltimore Sun.

— Proposal would require Virginia schools to notify parents of “sexually explicit” literature: The Washington Post.

— Study suggests parental obesity could put babies at risk for developmental delays: The Boston Globe.

— Texas State University dance team to perform at Trump's inauguration, causing unrest on campus: The Houston Chronicle.

Another year will pass, but the Pro Education team isn’t going anywhere: @caitlinzemma (cemma@politico.com), @khefling (khefling@politico.com), @mstratford (mstratford@politico.com), @mrmikevasquez (mvasquez@politico.com) and @BenjaminEW (bwermund@politico.com).