The vice president pitches gun reform to young voters

The vice president pitches gun reform to young voters

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about gun violence during a visit to John Lewis High School in Springfield, Va., Friday, June 2, 2023, on Gun Violence Awareness Day. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about gun violence during a visit to John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, Va., on June 2, 2023. | AP

THE OTHER GUN VOTERS — Vice President Kamala Harris and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona are making a direct appeal to students and educators stricken by fears of gun violence.

Harris and Cardona motored from Washington on Friday to the John R. Lewis High School gymnasium in suburban Virginia for a campaign-style rally, backed by a crowd of more than 1,100 people who mostly wore bright T-shirts affiliated with the Wear Orange campaign against gun violence.

The event showcased how gun control and young voters will play in President Joe Biden’s accelerating campaign pitches — particularly in the recent aftermath of school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, East Lansing, Mich., and Nashville, Tenn. Friday’s stop also tested some messaging Biden’s team may deploy at moderate voters.

— “It is a false choice to suggest that we have to choose between either supporting the Second Amendment or passing reasonable gun safety laws,” Harris said. “We can do both.”

The vice president and education secretary also repeated the Biden administration’s calls for a renewed assault weapons ban, more strident “red flag” laws and background checks for gun owners and purchasers. Harris reiterated her belief that the “right to be safe” is a civil right.

And as recent polling from Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows 40 percent of young Americans are concerned about being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting, Harris invoked Lewis’ civil rights legacy as she pushed high schoolers to get involved.

— “The Parkland students were in high school when they marched for their lives and inspired a national movement,” Harris said. “[Florida Democratic Rep.] Maxwell Frost was a teen when he joined the movement to end gun violence and now he is the first Gen Z member of the United States Congress.”

— “So to our young leaders, I say: We hear you, we support you, and we need you.”

IT’S MONDAY, JUNE 5. WELCOME TO WEEKLY EDUCATION. Keep your eyes peeled for transformative rulings from the Supreme Court in the waning days of its current term. As early as Thursday, the court could issue its long-awaited opinions on the fate of Biden’s student debt relief plan and the role of race in college admissions.

Reach out with tips to today’s host at [email protected] and also my colleagues Michael Stratford ([email protected]), Bianca Quilantan ([email protected]) and Mackenzie Wilkes ([email protected]). And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.

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Higher Education

Students at a college graduation

Debt relief groups argue Biden gave up one of the administration’s most important tools to protect borrowers if the Supreme Court strikes down the president’s student loan forgiveness plan. | Seth Wenig/AP Photo

FEELING BURNED — Debt ceiling drama might seem like a thing of the past in Washington. But student debt relief advocates are grousing after whirlwind negotiations culminated with Biden’s signing of a landmark deal this weekend, POLITICO’s Lauren Egan and Eli Stokols report.

Advocates were surprised to learn Biden’s debt ceiling agreement included a provision effectively requiring his administration to resume collecting federal student loan payments — which have been paused since 2020 — at the end of the summer.

At first, some advocates thought it was a mistake. That’s because they hadn’t received a heads up from the White House. Nor had the possibility of its inclusion been raised when a group of debt relief advocates met with senior administration officials at the White House just weeks earlier.

But when the text of the agreement was released — confirming that restarting payments was part of the legislation — advocates said they felt like the deal’s sacrificial lamb.

“It was a total surprise. We felt like the biggest bargaining chip of the debt ceiling,” said Natalia Abrams, president of the Student Debt Crisis Center. “The lack of discussion of this is what led to more of a feeling that we were used.”

Persis Yu, deputy executive director and managing counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center, said that “student loan borrowers got the bad end of this deal.”

Debt relief groups argue Biden gave up one of the administration’s most important tools to protect borrowers if the Supreme Court strikes down the president’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in federal loans. Extending the payment pause would have been a logical fallback option, they said. Now that’s gone, even though the administration’s plan was to soon restart payments anyway.


Students walk past an open vent for the aging HVAC system at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Miss., Jan. 12, 2023. A litany of infrastructure issues at many of the school district's aging campuses make for tough choices on spending COVID recovery funds on infrastructure or academics. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Students walk past an open vent for the aging HVAC system at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Miss., Jan. 12, 2023. A litany of infrastructure issues at many of the school district’s aging campuses make for tough choices on spending Covid recovery funds on infrastructure or academics. | AP

CHARTER AND INFRASTRUCTURE GRANTS — The Education Department is opening competitions for some notable grant programs today, including one set of charter school funding that was embroiled in controversy last year — plus separate awards meant to help improve school infrastructure.

The “Supporting America’s School Infrastructure Grant Program”, which has an estimated value of $40 million, is intended to help states support local public schools that want to improve their facilities by using government resources.

A 2020 Government Accountability Office report estimated 54 percent of local school districts needed to replace or update multiple building systems. The department’s grant proposal notes how extreme weather can impact schools that don’t have air conditioning. Sweltering temperatures forced school buildings in Pittsburgh and Grand Rapids, Mich., to close for days last week.

The department said more spending is needed to consolidate available resources and train state and local officials who are responsible for school facilities on how to access available resources for their highest-need schools’ infrastructure.

Officials are also setting aside an estimated $2 million for an organization to run a new National Center on School Infrastructure. The center is meant to serve as a clearinghouse for states and local schools and provide technical assistance to the larger school infrastructure program’s grantees.

Some charter school grants are also on tap. The department is launching applications today for an estimated $4 million worth of assistance to charter developers who want to open, replicate or expand the independently-operated schools in states but can’t access bigger tranches of federal aid. A lengthy set of regulations issued by the department last year are a factor.

The department will prioritize charter applicants whose proposals are developed both with “meaningful and ongoing engagement” from current or former teachers — and a “community-centered approach” that includes an assessment of local people and organizations the school will interact with to build local ties.

Cardona is also signaling his interest in collaborations between charter developers and existing traditional public schools. Officials are encouraging applicants to propose ideas that could include shared curriculum, transportation plans, or collaboratives for students with disabilities and English learners.


SHUT IT DOWN — As former Vice President Mike Pence prepares to launch his 2024 presidential bid this week, it’s worth noting his latest support for a conservative cause célèbre: abolishing the Education Department.

“I’m someone that believes in the 10th Amendment,” Pence said in Grand Rapids, Mich., last week during a joint appearance with former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “I believe that the powers not specifically enumerated and delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states and the American people.

— “And I’d like to see us shut down the federal Department of Education and send those resources back where states can innovate and expand educational freedom for all of our kids,” he said to applause.

You’ve heard this one before. The Trump administration floated a merger of the Education and Labor departments as part of a sweeping government overhaul in 2018. House GOP lawmakers tried to revoke the department’s authority over K-12 education as part of their “Parents’ Bill of Rights” agenda earlier this year. Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich even tried to ax the department.

Earlier this spring, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s policy recommendations for the Education Department and federal education included suggestions to break up the department and transform its funding streams into few-strings-attached block grants.

Winning congressional approval for such an undertaking, though, will not be easy.

One quick sidebar: DeVos asked Pence to outline what he would say “to the rising generation of conservatives unsure of the real, essential connection of religion and conservatism.”

“We have the freedom in this country to believe whatever we choose to believe, or believe nothing at all,” Pence replied. “But I think we have to come back to a time in the life of this country, where we are affirming the importance of faith to our communities, to our families, to our states, and to our nation. It’s the wellspring of our strength.”

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— ‘There were fists everywhere.’ Violence against teachers is on the rise: The Wall Street Journal

— Judge finds Tennessee law aimed at restricting drag shows unconstitutional: The New York Times

— Americans say teachers are underpaid, and about half of Republicans oppose book bans: NPR

— He was called a ‘coward’ after Parkland. Now this former school resource officer faces trial: The Washington Post

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