This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: School Boards in the Hot Seat, Student Borrowers Have Wages Garnished During Pandemic, and the Right Way to Teach Kids to Read
School Boards in the Hot Seat
On Monday, an opinion by New York Times editorial board member Michelle Cottle addressed the increasing volatility of some of the nation's school boards. She observed that they have long-been a "battleground for America's culture wars,” and that the issues of today frequently include mask mandates, Critical Race Theory, and transgender rights. But when protestors overrun school board meetings, she argues, children are being used as pawns in partisan battles. Indeed, Politico reports today about a nationwide trend in which the Republican party is tapping into local races to influence what students will learn for years to come; to test out campaign rhetoric; and, ultimately, to build a political pipeline of strong, new candidates for the US House of Representatives. While Democrats focus on issues at the local level, the GOP is playing a political endgame—producing more recalls of school board members this year than in any other.
We’re feeling it here in Connecticut, where this year has seen several clashes regarding masking and Critical Race Theory (CRT) during school board meetings. In Guilford, for instance, GOP nominations for Board of Education this year were swept by candidates running on a platform opposed to CRT. Recently, the Cheshire and Region 17 school board meetings each ended abruptly due to anti-masking confrontations. And police were called to school board meetings in both Bristol and Fairfield when debates over masking got out of control.
While, at the beginning of the pandemic, districts were largely responsible for local COVID mitigation strategies and determining the degree of remote learning—the state has lately imposed a mask mandate across all districts, as well as requiring them to teach in-person. Nevertheless, parents continue to speak out, putting local board members in the hot seat. As Bob Rader, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, suggested in a CT Post story at the end of August, there really should not be anything political about keeping students safe in school. He’s right. But in an arena that has been traditionally thought of as non-partisan, Democrats would also be wise to prioritize these local races.
Student Borrowers Have Wages Improperly Garnished
Even though the federal government paused student loan payments during the pandemic as part of the Cares Act, Forbes says today that about $40M of student loan debt was improperly garnished from borrowers. According to the article, this is because guarantee agencies responsible for privately-owned loans did not comply with orders from the US Department of Education (USEd). Although the Department has required those garnished wages to be refunded, the Student Borrower Protection Center says that the guarantee agencies had still not done so as of June. About 10,868 borrowers have been impacted, and USEd says it has struggled to issue these refunds because their mailing addresses are not valid. Notably, the Washington Post's coverage of this story indicates that back in May 2020, the National Student Legal Defense Network in D.C. represented borrowers who sued the Trump Administration for their original mismanagement of the moratorium on student loan repayment.