CDC Releases New Guidance and FAQs for K-12 and Overnight Camps

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CDC Releases New Guidance and FAQs for K-12 and Overnight Camps

Today, the CDC released updated Operational Guidance for K-12 School and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning. Additionally, CDC released Frequently Asked Questions for K-12 and Early Care and Education (ECE) Settings: Information for School and ECE Administrators, Teachers, Staff, and Parents, Frequently Asked Questions for Directors of Overnight Camps, and the Interactive School Ventilation Tool

The operational guidance can help K-12 school and ECE program administrators support safe, in-person learning for K-12 schools, and keep ECE programs open, while managing the spread of COVID-19. Based on the COVID-19 Community Levels, this guidance provides flexibility so schools and ECE programs can adapt to changing local situations, including periods of increased community health impacts from COVID-19. 

The updated K-12 schools and early care and education (ECE) guidance includes recommendations for prevention strategies for everyday operations as well as COVID-19 specific prevention strategies to add based on the COVID-19 Community Level or when experiencing an outbreak in the school or ECE program. The updated guidance also includes considerations to inform decisions about when to add or remove prevention strategies, and which ones to prioritize.

Supporting Uvalde

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Supporting Uvalde

AASA is deeply saddened by the continued gun violence killing students in our schools. The information below comes directly from our Texas affiliate, and is the best way to offer support to the Uvalde community.

First State Bank of Uvalde has setup an account for donations. If you would like to donate to the Robb School Memorial Fund, please call us at 830-278-6231 and ask for Roxanne Hernandez, Chance Neutze or Cody Smith for any questions. 

You can also drop off donations at any of our branch locations or mail to:

PO Box 1908, Uvalde TX 78802. 

Make checks payable to Robb School Memorial Fund

 Zelle account to digitally send donations. robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com

Updated Child Tax Credit Outreach Resources

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Updated Child Tax Credit Outreach Resources

There's still time for schools to help families claim the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC)! More than 4 million kids, primarily those in households with low incomes, are at risk of missing out on the CTC, which provides up to $3,600 per child. While the tax filing deadline has passed, families with no or low incomes can continue to file to claim the CTC without penalty. In early May, a simplified online filing portal, GetCTC.org, relaunched. The portal, created by Code for America in collaboration with the U.S. government, makes it easier for families without filing obligations to claim the credit. As trusted community institutions, schools can help spread the word about the CTC. Check out these CTC outreach resources for schools (also available on this new CTC outreach website from the Coalition on Human Needs and the Partnership for America's Children), which includes webinar recordings for community partners, as well as multilingual flyers, sample text messages and emails, posters and other resources that schools can use to help communicate to families about the CTC. School staff do not have to be tax experts to help families claim the credit, and the new portal makes it easy for families to claim the money on their own. If you have any questions, are looking for additional resources or training, want support with CTC outreach in your district, or would like a unique URL for GetCTC.org to help track your outreach impact, please contact Julia Beebe with the Coalition on Human Needs: jbeebe@chn.org  

Now Open: EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Program

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Now Open: EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Program

Today, the EPA announced then opening of the $500 million Clean School Bus Rebate Program. This is the first funding opportunity under the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program will provide $250 million in rebates for zero-emission buses and $250 million for clean school buses, which are operated entirely or in part using an alternative fuel.

The program will prioritize school districts from high-need school districts and low-income areas, rural districts, and Tribal communities. EPA has created a list of school districts that will be prioritized for the program. This list does not include all eligible applicants, only those that are prioritized.

Here are the available resources to help navigate the program and application process:

The application window is open until August 19. EPA has been clear that there is no benefit to being the first in line or applying quickly. Once the window application closes, all applications will be placed in a single ordered list using a random number generator lottery process. EPA will then select applicants for funding based on prioritization.

A FAQ and additional resources are forthcoming. We will continue to update this post as more information becomes available. 

EPA Webinar: Zero-Emission and Clean School Bus Rebates Program

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EPA Webinar: Zero-Emission and Clean School Bus Rebates Program

The EPA's Clean School Bus Program will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 24 at 1 p.m. EDT about the upcoming Zero-Emission and Clean School Bus Rebates.

Authorized by the recently signed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA’s Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion over the next five years to replace school buses with low- and zero-emission school buses. The first funding opportunity under this program is the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates. EPA will offer $500 million in rebates for zero-emission and clean school buses.

Join the EPA virtually to learn:

  • Who is eligible?
  • What is the selection process?
  • What resources will be available to help?

Register here.

You can also visit https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus for additional resources, webinar recordings and presentation slides.

District ARP timeline extended for school facilities and construction projects!

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District ARP timeline extended for school facilities and construction projects!

UPDATE: We are hearing that the process for the extended liquidation of ESSER funding may not be as straightforward as we initially relayed to superintendents. While we are still awaiting formal guidance from ED, thus far ED has indicated that liquidation period extensions cannot be applied for in advance.  That is, LEAs cannot apply for liquidation period extensions before the funds expire. In the case of ARP funds, this means one must wait until close to or after September 30, 2024 to apply for a late liquidation extension. 

We understand this presents significant barriers for districts to utilize the late liquidation flexibility for school construction and HVAC upgrades as well as other contracted services. We are urging ED to quickly outline the process for applying for liquidation extensions and to do so in a way that ensures districts can confidently proceed with contracts that may have later deliverables beyond September 30, 2024. 

AASA has sounded the alarm for months that district leaders are concerned about the timeline for spending ARP funding for school facility upgrades and HVAC updates by September 2024.  

On May 19, ED sent an official response back to AASA clarifying that they will allow States and districts to apply for an additional 18 months to liquidate funding for all ESSER tranches of funding (including ARP) for school facility upgrades/HVAC work. In the context of ARP, this means that if the contract for these projects is signed by the district by September 2024, then the project would not need to be liquidated and the ARP funds completely spent until April 2026.

AASA’s Executive Director, who the Department letter was addressed to, had the following to say: “After numerous discussions with Secretary Cardona and his staff, we are thrilled that, today, they were able to expeditiously provide clarity to AASA members about the timeline they have to complete desperately needed school facilities projects and HVAC upgrades. The responsiveness of this Department to district leaders is unparalleled. We are grateful for the flexibility and clarity that Secretary Cardona is providing around school construction timelines and in particular, HVAC upgrades. Given inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages, we know that districts want to invest these funds wisely and the knowledge that they have 18 additional months to liquidate funding will hopefully provide them with the assurance needed to move forward with using ARP funds for these contracts and obligations.”

Districts do not need to individually apply for this flexibility, but states do have to apply on behalf of districts. Based on our conversations with CCSSO and other state groups, we feel confident that SEAs will not hesitate to apply for this additional spending runway on behalf of districts that need it, and the process for them to do so is a familiar and straightforward one. We do not know when the applications for late liquidation will become available for ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER III/ARP. Of note, the letter does allude to the ability of districts to potentially receive a liquidation extension beyond 18 months if there are extenuating circumstances. However, this extension does not change the obligation for districts to obligate (i.e. sign contracts) by September 2024, which is only something Congress can change.

We encourage you to read the letter and share the letter with your contractors and vendors so they understand the circumstances under which they may be permitted to deliver goods and services beyond the original ESSER timelines. It is our hope that the extended timeline will also reduce costs for these projects given supply chain challenges, inflation and labor shortages. 

AASA Joins Coalition Letter Asking Department of Labor to Stop or Delay Rulemaking on Overtime Pay

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AASA Joins Coalition Letter Asking Department of Labor to Stop or Delay Rulemaking on Overtime Pay

Today, AASA joined 94 organizations in a letter to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh urging him to abandon or at least postpone issuance of the Department of Labor’s announced proposed rulemaking altering the overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Read the full letter here

 

Child Tax Credit: Resources for Your Community

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Child Tax Credit: Resources for Your Community

The following blogpost comes from our friends at Coalition for Human Needs.

Tax season is over, but families can still claim the full 2021 Child Tax Credit (CTC) - up to $3,600 per child per family! This week, the simplified filing portal, GetCTC.org, re-launched, making it easier for families with no or low incomes to claim the CTC. Studies show that additional income like the CTC is associated with stronger educational performance, improved health, and reduced stress among kids in families with low incomes. The first half of the 2021 CTC reduced food insufficiency. Unfortunately, too many kids are at risk of missing out. School leaders can play key roles in ensuring that schools are spreading the word to families about the CTC and how to claim it. 

Join the Partnership for America's Children, Coalition on Human Needs, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Code for America for a webinar on Thursday, May 19th, 1 pm- 2:30 pm ET:  "It’s Not Too Late to Help Families Get the Expanded Child Tax Credit: GetCTC.org Navigator Training" 

Register here (https://bit.ly/may19ctc). Registrants will receive slides and the recording after the training. The webinar will focus on how community partners can help families claim the CTC through the simplified filing portal, GetCTC.org. You do NOT need to be a tax expert. We will share multilingual, ready-to-use materials that you can use to take simple actions to help families you work with claim this money.

An updated resource toolkit will be made available shortly that schools can use to easily tell families about the CTC, including sample text messages and emails, flyers and more. If you are interested in a training specifically for school leaders, want customized communications or materials for your district, are interested in setting up a unique URL for GetCTC to track your district's outreach impact, or have any questions, please email Julia Beebe with the Coalition on Human Needs & Partnership for America’s Children: jbeebe@chn.org

Summer Nutrition Waivers Available for States

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Summer Nutrition Waivers Available for States

If you follow this blog, you are well aware of the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nationwide waiver authority to provide flexibilities to school nutrition programs expires on June 30 without further Congressional action (tell Congress to take action here).

To provide some flexibility after the nationwide waivers have expired, the USDA has created a waiver checklist that allows state child nutrition agencies to opt into specific state waivers. This way, each state is not required to submit its own waiver request for each type of waiver.

The two Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option state waivers included in the checklist are 1) Parent Pick-Up: which allows parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children and 2) Non-Congregate: which allows meals to be eaten offsite. 

These state waivers can be used when congregate meal service is limited by the pandemic and expire on September 30, 2022.

In addition to the waivers included in the checklist, states can apply for four waivers that were available prior to the pandemic, which are available through April 30, 2023:

  • Offer versus serve: Sites offer the required components for a reimbursable breakfast or lunch, but the child is only required to take a certain number of items or components for the meal to be reimbursed and may take all of the components offered.
  • First Week Site Visit: States can waive the requirement to conduct a site visit during the first week of meal service.
  • Meal Service Time Restrictions: This provision offers flexibility for when meals can be served, including providing multiple meals if used in combination with the non-congregate and parent pick-up waiver.
  • Area Eligibility for Closed Enrolled Sites: Summer meal sites that only serve children enrolled in the program are allowed to use area eligibility data instead of collecting household income forms to document that at least half of the children served are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

Two waivers that many communities relied on will not be available this summer: Area Eligibility:  which allowed sites to operate in any area without meeting the requirement that 50 percent of the children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals; and Meal Pattern Requirements that provide flexibility in meeting the nutrition standards. 

For area eligibility, USDA is offering flexibility on how to document that a school meets the area eligibility requirement if a school has not collected school meal applications.

Option 1 is using the percentage of students certified for free or reduced-price school meals during the 2019–2020 school year.

Option 2 is multiplying the percentage of students in the school who are certified for free school meals without an application by 1.6. This approach is similar to the Community Eligibility Provision to qualify a site. Sites also can still use census data and other approved data to demonstrate that the site is in a low-income area.

Due to certain constraints, USDA cannot provide flexibility around meeting the nutrition standards without the nationwide waiver authority. Congress still has time to extend the waiver authority, tell them to do so using the Legislative Action Center

The Advocate May 2022: Biden Administration Focuses on Building Better Schools

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The Advocate May 2022: Biden Administration Focuses on Building Better Schools

The health of our school buildings has long been a major problem. The 2021 State of Our Schools Report from the 21st Century School Fund estimates that the U.S. is underinvesting in school buildings and grounds by $85 billion each year.

The COVID-19 pandemic focused considerable attention on the importance of ensuring we have well-ventilated schools, but air quality is merely one key aspect of healthy buildings. Over the past decade, states and federal agencies have tried to incentivize districts to address a variety of key school facilities issues such as lead in water, PCBs in light bulbs and asbestos. The Biden Administration is now shifting its focus to expand beyond these issues to the environment health of our planet and the role schools can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

On April 4, the Biden Administration announced its Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure to “upgrade our public schools with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation—delivering health and learning benefits to children and school communities, saving school districts money, and creating good union jobs.”

As part of this plan, there are new grant programs available to districts to upgrade their buildings and transportation systems. Notably absent from this announcement is any new, dedicated federal funding for school infrastructure, a major priority for AASA during the Build Back Better negotiations that fell apart last year. Instead, the Administration is tapping money that passed through the bipartisan infrastructure bill to issue competitive grants to “advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses, and resilient design” in schools. 

Specifically, in May, the EPA will roll out applications for its $5 billion electric school bus rebate program. AASA has a detailed blog post about the grant program and how districts can apply. There are already steps districts can take to prepare for the grant application as detailed here. This unprecedented influx of funding provides an opportunity for many districts to begin the process of electrifying their school bus fleets and reducing operating expenses for school transportation. In addition, there is a $500 million grant program to make public schools more energy efficient. The grant program is not expected to open until the summer and further details for this program are available here

Taken together, these grant programs represent a well-intentioned desire by the Biden Administration to help districts transition to cleaner, greener technology and improve energy efficiency. That said, it is far from the investment the federal government should be making to upgrade our school facilities and ensure equitable learning opportunities for every student. 

Based on our AASA survey data, we know many districts are planning to spend American Rescue Plan funds on upgrading HVAC systems, replacing roofs, carpets, windows and upgrading buildings. We are also aware that many are hesitant to sign or finalize contracts given supply chain issues, inflation, labor supply issues and other logistical issues. That’s why we are continuing to press Secretary Cardona to offer districts additional time to spend ARP funding on these projects and we are expecting Department of Education guidance outlining an extended timeline for liquidating ARP funds later this month. Without a standalone new federal school infrastructure program, the ARP funds are the best opportunity many superintendents have to make a dent towards the $85 billion a year we should be spending to update our facilities. 

One other funding opportunity around school facilities is through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, a $350 billion program for state and local governments included in ARP. On April 27, the Treasury Department issued guidance specifically outlining how this funding can be used to build out school infrastructure. While governors and state legislatures are in charge of how this funding is spent, superintendents should consider lobbying them to allocate some of this funding towards rebuilding crumbling school facilities. 

Virtual Data Symposium with Every Hour Counts

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Virtual Data Symposium with Every Hour Counts

Every Hour Counts is hosting a free, virtual Data Symposium on May 4 from 12-4:30 ET to help participants strategize with peers about how to collect, analyze and use data to advance racial equity and drive continuous improvement in their communities. Grounded by Every Hour Counts’ Putting Data to Work for Young People: Measurement Framework and Guide, the Symposium will feature a variety of 75-minute sessions that tap into the expertise of community leaders committed to demonstrating the value and impact of afterschool and summer experiences for youth, families and communities. Participants will learn how to invest stakeholders in a common vision and set of measures, identify and address gaps in service, improve quality, boost provider capacity, center equity, and use data to advance your mission. Register today!

See the full schedule here