Wonkbook: A crash course on how Washington is and isn’t improving education

July 8

Welcome to Wonkbook, Wonkblog’s morning policy news primer by Puneet Kollipara (@pkollipara). To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism or ideas to Wonkbook at Washpost dot com. To read more by the Wonkblog team, click here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: $3.1 billion. That's how much consumers have received as of April from banks as part of a Federal Reserve settlement with banks over improper foreclosures.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: This map shows how much each country spends on food.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) How Washington is and isn't improving education; (2) the growing U.S. crackdown on banks abroad; (3) Obamacare's still not out of the woods; (4) the latest on the border crisis; and (5) new NSA revelations.

1. Top story: School may be out for summer, but Washington is getting to work on it

Obama administration wants better teachers for nation’s poor schools. "The Education Department is directing every state and the District to devise a plan by April 2015 to get more good teachers into their high-poverty schools....The Education Department plans to spend $4.2 million to launch a new 'technical assistance network' to help states and districts develop and implement their plans....Asked what penalties states will face if they do not comply, Duncan said he hadn’t figured that out. The initiative doesn’t address the thorny problem of how to identify an effective teacher....Low-income students tend to have teachers who have less experience and fewer credentials or sometimes no credentials at all." Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

Primary source: Education Secretary Arne Duncan's letter to state chief school officers. The Washington Post.

Chart: It’s harder to be a poor student in the U.S. than in Russia. "Poor students have a tougher time overcoming their socioeconomic odds in the U.S. than in Canada, France, Russia, and 33 other countries, according to a new global report by the OECD. Only about 20 percent of disadvantaged students in the U.S....show academic performance that's in the top 25th percentile internationally....Last year, a similar report concluded that American adults performed worse in math, reading and technology-driven problem-solving than nearly every other country in the group of developed nations. And recent testing results have shown little to no improvement. But the lackluster performance among America's underprivileged youth should be particularly troublesome." Roberto A. Ferdman in The Washington Post.

Largest U.S. teachers union wants Duncan out. Here's why. "A tipping point for some members was Duncan's statement last month in support of a California judge's ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state's public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire. Even before that, teachers' unions have clashed with the administration over other issues ranging from its support of charter schools to its push to use student test scores as part of evaluating teachers." Kimberly Hefling in the Associated Press.

Is the rewiring of schools another measure of education equality? "The thousands of miles of wiring frantically being strung throughout America's schools this summer may look like everyday Internet cables. They're actually lifelines of high-speed learning. They are part of a more than $2 billion nationwide investment to close the gap between public school haves and have-nots, both of which are increasingly dependent on high-speed Internet to teach students. The bandwidth gap has become the new equality measurement plaguing schools, education experts warn....Adding to the urgency are the Common Core standards being rolled out in many states in the upcoming school year." Michael D. Clark in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Long read: Speaking of Common Core, new twist in the debate. Stephanie Simon and Caitlin Emma in Politico.

But many schools don't have Wi-Fi. FCC wants to fix that. "A coalition of education groups is backing a proposal at the Federal Communications Commission that would funnel billions of dollars into wireless Internet for schools and libraries....The letter comes as the agency prepares to vote Friday on the new proposal from Chairman Tom Wheeler to expand the FCC’s E-Rate funding. Opposition to Wheeler’s plan could put the vote in jeopardy. The proposal would dedicate $5 billion over the next five years — on top of the annual $2.4 billion budget for the E-Rate program — to funding exclusively used to provide and upgrade Wi-Fi equipment and service in schools and libraries." Kate Tummarello in The Hill.

More colleges are dropping their SAT admission requirements. "Students spend hours cramming for the SAT and ACT each year in the hopes of earning an acceptance letter to a competitive college. But is the tide turning away from standardized exams?...Colleges with a test-optional policy span the country, including top-tier school such as Bowdoin College, Wesleyan University and American University. These decisions to eliminate standardized testing alleviate the pressure on many high school seniors to tally high scores on the SAT or ACT exams, according to some students like Emily Shlapak, a rising senior at Indian Hills High School in Oakland, N.J." Justin Peligri in USA Today.

A goof in a FAFSA form update jeopardizes aid for poor by making them look like millionaires. "The problem...stems from a decimal point. For the 2014-15 Fafsa, the government expanded several income and asset fields in the online form to accommodate higher incomes. But some lower-income filers are missing the .00 outside the box, and entering cents into the text field. When they do that, an income of $22,852.19, for example, is converted into $2,285,219. If the error isn’t caught or corrected on individual forms, the filers can lose out on Pell Grants or other need-based student aid. So far, the department has identified 165,000 individuals who made the mistake, but there may be more that it has missed." Kelly Field in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Student-loan rates just went up. Why experts are worried. "Student loan debt, which has risen 20 percent to $1.2 trillion between 2011 and 2013 — surpassing every other form of non-mortgage debt — is becoming increasingly expensive....Lauren Asher, president of The Institute on College Access and Success (TICAS), for one is worried that the increased rates may cause people to take out more risky private loans, which don't have flexible, income-based repayment and the ability for the debt to be discharged if the schools close. According to the Associated Press, the increase isn't going to hurt most borrowers. For every $10,000 borrowed, it will an additional $4 per month in payments." Jonathan Berr in CBS News.

Congress missed a chance to remedy the situation. "The new rates effective on Tuesday are lower than they would have been if Congress hadn’t passed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act 0f 2013; under prior rules, rates would have been 6.8 percent for all Stafford loans....However, because rates on Treasury notes are rising, rates for some loans are likely to exceed those under the old law in coming years, according to the Institute for College Access & Success....So the change in the law, said Lauren Asher, the organization’s president, was a 'missed opportunity,' in that it provided short-term benefits for current students at the expense of future students." Ann Carrns in The New York Times.

Rising tuition discounts and flat revenues squeeze colleges further. "By now, the picture painted in a new survey of tuition discounting, net-tuition revenue, and other enrollment trends should be drearily familiar to many in higher education. The annual survey of private, nonprofit, four-year colleges...points to yet another year when discount rates for first-time, full-time freshmen reached a record high: 44.8 percent in 2012-13 and an estimated 46.4 percent for 2013-14....Of course, the question is, What does the survey portend for higher education? According to some observers, nothing good. The problem isn’t so much the money colleges are giving away in student aid, but the revenue they are not taking in." Scott Carlson in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Despite survivors' wishes, campus sexual assault law may be two years away. "It seems as though each day, there is another survivor coming forward with a story about the crime against them being treated with either incompetence or indifference by a university....But the issue is sensitive and complex — involving not just survivors and school administrations but advocates, counselors, experts, and law enforcement. And the path to legislation seems unfocused, and is so far unfinished, threatening to push even the introduction of legislation into the fall semester. Passage of any bill could take 18 months or more after that....Still, there is a long list of concerns which legislation may be able to address." Olivia Nuzzi and Tim Mak in The Daily Beast.

ICYMI: Number of schools facing Title IX sexual-assault investigation by feds up to 67. Associated Press.

Other education reads:

Study finds math, science grads earn top dollar. Anne Flaherty in the Associated Press.

Top opinion

SUMMERS: Failure to engage on global economic issues is failure to mount a strong defense. "The US Congress is flirting with eliminating the Export Import Bank....Only by maintaining a capacity to counter foreign subsidies can we hope to maintain a level global trading system and to avoid ceding ground to mercantilists....The US, having pushed successfully for big increases in IMF resources and for important reforms in its governance, is now the lone nation blocking these measures from going into effect as Congress is unwilling to pass the relevant authorising legislation." Lawrence Summers in The Financial Times.

DALY: Our mismeasured economy. "Today's polarized debates about the role of government often boil down to a single issue: the size of government compared with the size of the overall economy, as measured in gross domestic product....But such comparisons are not very meaningful: The way we measure government’s role in the economy is limited, inaccurate and unrealistic....We make the case that, in at least four critical ways, this G.D.P. framework ignores or obscures public value in our economy, leaving us ill equipped to fashion policy to drive national success in the 21st century." Lew Daly in The New York Times.

SALAM: Immigration policy is not binary. "Immigration advocates have a frustrating tendency to insist that the immigration debate is binary. You are either for immigration or against it. They neglect the possibility that one might be for certain kinds of immigration and against others, and they routinely deploy data that fails to differentiate among immigrants by skill level or language proficiency. The reason, I suspect, is that many immigration advocates recognize that their arguments from global poverty alleviation fail to resonate with the broader public, and so they seek to yoke their case for less-skilled immigration to the much stronger case for skilled immigration by blurring the distinction between the two." Reihan Salam in National Review.

CAPEHART: Why Boehner's unprincipled lawsuit matters. "The motivation behind the litigation strikes me as less about having a principled fight over the separation of powers and more about doing serious harm to this president and his ability to get anything done. That’s why I’m convinced that Boehner’s sideshow of a lawsuit is really a dress rehearsal for impeachment. Once Boehner’s raucous caucus and their constituents realize that such litigation probably would not be resolved until long after Obama left the White House, I have no doubt they will insist he be punished while in office. If the GOP succeeds in taking the Senate in the November midterms, then impeachment becomes a scarily viable option." Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post.

FLAVELLE: The gap in conservative climate policy. "A carbon tax has just the mix of ingredients that so appeals to conservatives: It's more efficient, leaning heavily on the private sector and the profit motive; it takes the place of government regulation; and it allows for equal and offsetting tax cuts elsewhere. So Lehrer's failure to mention a carbon tax — which he's supported in the past — says as much about the state of conservative thinking on climate change as anything he actually wrote. What explains his reluctance to acknowledge the policy that best fits the parameters he himself laid out? A tempting conclusion is that the modern conservative aversion to taxes — of any sort, for any reason — has congealed to the point at which it prevents even something as conservative-friendly as a market-based approach to climate change." Christopher Flavelle in Bloomberg View.

RUBIN AND RUBIN: The case for crony capitalism. "Economics has a formal 'theory of the second best' that in simplified terms may be expressed this way: If a government intervention leads to inefficiencies in markets but can't be eliminated, an additional intervention may be the next-best alternative to eliminate the inefficiencies caused by the first. It's not the optimal solution to government-induced inefficiency, but it may be the best we can do. And it applies in many cases to what today is variously called 'corporate welfare,' 'loopholes,' or even 'crony capitalism.' The U.S. economy is rife with inefficient interventions....What some disparage as crony capitalism is in many cases an attempt to reduce the costs of these interventions." Paul H. Rubin and Joseph S. Rubin in The Wall Street Journal.

Baby interlude: Dad-doctor hug goes viral after baby's birth.

2. Where will the U.S. crack down on banks abroad next?

Next up on the U.S. crackdown: Germany. "A trail of illicit money led the American government on a hunt through the European financial system, generating criminal cases against banks in Britain, Switzerland and most recently, France. Now...state and federal authorities have begun settlement talks with Commerzbank, Germany’s second-largest lender, over the bank’s dealings with Iran and other countries blacklisted by the United States, according to people briefed on the matter. The bank, which is suspected of transferring money through its American operations on behalf of companies in Iran and Sudan, could strike a settlement deal with the state and federal authorities as soon as this summer." Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess in The New York Times.

Could the ramped up push backfire? "BNP clearly shot itself in the foot when dealing with US regulators. Yet some investors wonder if the US is going too far in using financial regulation to pursue foreign policy aims. 'The idea that regulators are impartial is no longer true — they have become politicised around the globe,' says one big US investor....Suspicions that US regulators are pursuing a political crusade may be unfair, but they are gaining credence. If the US pushes its pursuit of foreign banks too far it could backfire, driving the world to diversify away from the currency that gives Wall Street banks such an advantage." Martin Arnold in The Financial Times.

Recently confirmed DOJ criminal chief seeks more aggressive crackdown. "Leslie Caldwell, who was confirmed as chief of the DoJ’s criminal division in May, is returning after a decade spent helping defend corporations against civil and criminal investigations....Ms Caldwell is taking over the criminal division...at a time when the DoJ has fought to shore up its reputation amid criticism that it had been soft on banks and their top executives. In the last two months, Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas became the first major financial institutions in over a decade to plead guilty to felonies....The timing of the two guilty pleas was more coincidence than the signal of a new normal, Ms Caldwell said." Kara Scannell in The Financial Times.

The Fed is defending its approach to punishing banks for improper foreclosures. "The Federal Reserve...said in a report issued Monday that about 83% of borrowers have cashed checks reimbursing them for financial injury. The Fed said the settlement program, in which 13 banks agreed to compensate homeowners whose properties may have been improperly sent into foreclosure, had transferred about $3.1 billion to borrowers as of April. That agreement 'provided for payments to borrowers faster' and resulted in banks paying more than they would have under an independent review that was scrapped at the end of 2012, the Fed said in the report. Lawmakers and public advocacy groups have questioned regulators' decision to halt an independent review in favor of a settlement." Ryan Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.

White House: Obama doesn't have specific ideas in mind for further Wall St. regs. "The remarks come after Obama made remarks to the NPR Marketplace radio show on Wednesday where he said that 'further reforms' of Wall Street are needed, despite important policies put in place to safeguard the financial system under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. He also argued that there remains too much focus on making profits through big banks’ trading desks as opposed to investing in companies and the 'real' economy." Kate Davidson in Politico.

Explainer: How can Obama rein in Wall Street without going through Congress? Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

Wall St. will blame regulations for high-speed trading's risks. "A technology arms race that risks destabilizing U.S. stock markets has emerged because of regulations intended to promote competition among the exchanges, Wall Street executives will tell a Senate committee. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s rules for a national market system have come under scrutiny as lawmakers examine whether high-frequency traders have exploited changes introduced by regulators, exchanges and brokers. The SEC’s rules require exchanges and brokers to be deeply interconnected to ensure that investors receive the best available prices when they buy shares. The Senate Banking Committee’s hearing... could intensify pressure on the SEC to change rules it enacted over the past decade." Dave Michaels and Cheyenne Hopkins in Bloomberg.

Other economic/financial reads:

More companies doing deals to avoid U.S. taxes, Congress study says. Kevin Drawbaugh in Reuters.

Welcome to the everything boom, or maybe the everything bubble. Neil Irwin in The New York Times.

Hacked companies face SEC scrutiny over disclosure. Dave Michaels in Bloomberg.

How small businesses really use the Export-Import Bank. Robb Mandelbaum in The New York Times.

U.S., China to discuss yuan, monetary policy this week. Kevin Yao in Reuters.

Fourth of July interlude: This fireworks drone is awesome — and illegal.

3. Why Obamacare is still in danger

Forget Hobby Lobby. Pay attention to this other case. "A federal appeals court might be on the verge of blowing a massive hole in the foundation of Obamacare. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to rule any day now in a lawsuit that aims to block the law's insurance subsidies in more than half the country. If the challengers ultimately prevail, the Affordable Care Act's complex framework could begin to unravel as millions of people lose financial assistance. For now, the stakes are a lot higher than the odds of success — challenges to the insurance subsidies have a 0-2 record in federal courts. But the pending D.C. Circuit ruling may be the one to break that streak, according to legal experts on both sides of the issue." Sam Baker in National Journal.

GOP senator gets his day in court against Obamacare. "A federal judge will issue a decision 'in short order' on whether a Republican senator's lawsuit against the Obama administration can proceed. Lawyers on both sides of the issue argued in Green Bay, Wis., for more than two hours Monday over whether U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was harmed when the administration gave members of Congress and their staff subsidies to help pay for health insurance bought on the exchange. In an interview on the courthouse steps before the hearing, Johnson said he thinks the Obama administration overstepped its authority by offering the subsidy." Paul Srubas in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Obamacare's next threat: A September insurance-premium surprise. "Obamacare open enrollment closed March 31. The White House’s Obamacare war room did not. Most state health insurance rates for 2015 are scheduled to be approved by early fall, and most are likely to rise, timing that couldn’t be worse for Democrats already on defense in the midterms. The White House and its allies know they’ve been beaten in every previous round of Obamacare messaging, never more devastatingly than in 2010. And they know the results this November could hinge in large part on whether that happens again. So they’re trying to avoid — or at least, get ahead of — any September surprise." Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico.

Hobby Lobby: Only the beginning? "Before leaving for the summer, the justices dealt with a handful of procedural questions in other, non-Hobby Lobby lawsuits regarding the mandate that have been filed by religious nonprofits. Those actions include granting a temporary injunction that allows Wheaton College to — at least temporarily — sidestep a version of the mandate aimed at quasi-religious employers. That move has friends of the Affordable Care Act nervous. Post-Hobby Lobby, the next challenge to mandatory birth-control coverage will almost certainly come from religious nonprofits like Wheaton. And if the justices are willing to grant the college an injunction, the mandate's supporters fear that, when the cases come before them in the future, they'll grant exemptions even beyond the scope of Hobby Lobby." Sam Baker in National Journal.

Explainer: A supreme feud over birth control: Four blunt points. Paul M. Barrett in Bloomberg Businessweek.

State exchanges are having technical glitches. They're keeping some people from being covered. "In states...which are running their own online insurance exchanges, some consumers picked a private health plan and paid their premiums only to learn recently that they aren't insured. Others received a policy but then got married, had a baby or another 'life event' that required their coverage to be updated, yet have been waiting months for the change to take effect. As a result, some of these people say they have put off medical treatments or paid out of pocket....Some insurers say they will be reimbursed....There are no hard numbers on how many consumers have experienced coverage issues. Out of eight million enrollees, the number appears to be a tiny fraction." Stephanie Armour in The Wall Street Journal.

HealthCare.gov stumped 'highly educated' millennials, study shows. "Millennials who struggled to sign up for health insurance on HealthCare.gov have some simple advice for the Obama administration: Make the website more like Yelp or TurboTax. President Barack Obama famously told doubters that...the process was 'real simple.' That turned out not to be the case, of course. A study published Monday by Annals of Internal Medicine lays out some of the specific ways that HealthCare.gov — a centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — went wrong." Karen Kaplan in the Los Angeles Times.

Other health care reads:

Hookah use increasing dramatically among teens. Bonnie Miller Rubin in Chicago Tribune.

Immigration reform only looks dead. Charles Kenny in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Food science interlude: The science of cheese.

4. What's next on the border crisis?

Most children illegally crossing the border alone will be deported, White House signals. "The tougher tone came a day before Obama administration officials were expected to ask Congress to authorize new measures, including more than $2 billion in emergency funds, that would expedite the legal processing of the more than 52,000 children and 39,000 families apprehended this year. Officials said the request is separate from statutory changes that the administration is also seeking to make it easier to deport children back to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where most of the influx has originated." David Nakamura and Katie Zezima in The Washington Post.

Explainer: What little Washington is doing about the crisis at the border. Rachel Roubein in National Journal.

The question isn't whether children will be sent home, it's when. "On its face, this seems like a strong policy position: the Obama administration is declaring its intent to make sure most of these kids get deported. But that isn't necessarily what it means. Most children will almost certainly be deported, regardless — but the relevant question is whether it will happen slowly and with due process, or hastily without due process." Dara Lind in Vox.

Why Obama isn't going to the border during his Texas trip: Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. "It's certainly in part a political decision, one meant to avoid taking ownership of a difficult issue on which the White House would prefer to share blame. But it's also one that will inflame Obama's critics on both the right and left who say the administration has been too passive in response to the thousands of young border-crossers swamping U.S. detention facilities.In other words, if Obama goes to the border, he owns the problem. If he doesn't, he's blasted for a lack of leadership." James Oliphant and George E. Condon Jr. in National Journal.

Other immigration reads:

Court overrules ban on some migrant driver's licenses. Yvonne Wingett Sanchez in The Arizona Republic.

Behind the scenes of Obama's sudden immigration reversal. Major Garrett in The Atlantic.

Brain science interlude: 7 myths about the brain you thought were true.

5. What we learned from the latest NSA revelations

Officials downplay report on NSA surveillance of ordinary users. "The Obama administration on Sunday sought to play down new disclosures that the National Security Agency has swept up innocent and often personal emails from ordinary Internet users as it targets suspected terrorists in its global surveillance for potential threats. Administration officials said the agency routinely filters out the communications of Americans and information that is of no intelligence value. The statements came in response to a report by The Washington Post....The Post’s analysis of the data...suggested that roughly nine in 10 communications involved people who were not the direct targets of surveillance." David E. Sanger and Matt Apuzzo in The New York Times.

Snowden may have just undermined U.S. panel's defense of NSA programs. "While revealing on its face, Snowden's latest revelation also arrived just days after the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent watchdog agency, deemed spying under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legal and effective....Whether intentional or not, the timely Post article—the culmination of a four-month investigation of 160,000 email and instant-message conversations—serves in part as a rebuke to the privacy board's conclusions, civil-liberties groups say, and calls into question the completeness of its review, which stands in stark contrast to the board's critical review earlier this year of the spying on domestic phone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act." Dustin Volz in National Journal.

Other tech reads:

Is there a second NSA leaker? Julian Hattem in The Hill.

White House mum on German spying allegations. Anita Kumar in McClatchy Newspapers.

Animal interlude: An elephant cried when he was rescued after 50 years of suffering.

Wonkblog roundup

Grover Norquist thinks Republicans can ride Uber to power in urban areas. That’s probably a stretch. Emily Badger.

Hollywood comedies are dead because of China (and Michael Bay). Matt O'Brien.

What are drug companies paying your doctor? You can find out soon. Jason Millman.

Why cars remain so appealing even in cities with decent public transit. Emily Badger.

It’s harder to be a poor student in the U.S. than in Russia. Roberto A. Ferdman.

Et Cetera

FDA weighs role overseeing marijuana trade. Melissa Attias in Roll Call.

States look to gun-seizure law after mass killings. Dave Collins in the Associated Press.

Obama still needs Congress to show him the money. Steven T. Dennis in Roll Call.

How environmentalists drew a blueprint for Obama's EPA emissions rule. Coral Davenport in The New York Times.

West Virginia chemical spill sets off a waste dispute. Kris Maher in The Wall Street Journal.

Longer lines loom for U.S.-bound fliers on device checks. Thomas Black, Jeff Plungis and Mary Schlangenstein in Bloomberg.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail us.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.

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