Now Open: EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Program

 Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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!

 Permanent link

District ARP timeline extended for school facilities and construction projects!

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.

Today, 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

 Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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

Introducing the GRAD Partnership

 Permanent link

Introducing the GRAD Partnership

States, districts, and schools need to act to get the right supports to the right students to enable them to succeed in school. Next-generation student success systems, also known as early warning/on-track systems, should be a key part of the solution. These systems help schools rapidly identify student needs and respond in proactive and preventative ways to put all students on a path to postsecondary success.     

  

The GRAD Partnership, a collaboration of nine organizations, will work with state departments of education, school districts, and community partners to implement high-quality student success systems—moving them from a new concept to an everyday school practice.  

  

The GRAD Partnership is hosting a virtual event on May 17 at 2:00 p.m. ET to share how you can work with them to provide all students with the learning experiences, social-emotional development, and supportive environment they need to thrive. Hear from districts that are effectively using student success systems to help their students graduate ready for their next steps. Register here

 

Schools, school districts, and state departments of education either seeking to improve existing early warning/on-track systems or implement them for the first time will learn how they can get the technical assistance they need to implement next generation student support systems and participate in learning communities with others engaged in the work. Community partners will learn how they can be advocates for high quality student support systems and support schools in their implementation. 

 

GRAD Partnership is a collaboration among American Institutes for Research, BARR Center, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, Talent Development Secondary, the University of Chicago Network for College Success, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Rural Schools Collaborative, and the Schott Foundation.  

EPA Announces Details for Electric School Bus Rebates

 Permanent link

EPA Announces Details for Electric School Bus Rebates

Today, the EPA held a webinar on their new $5 billion electric school bus program. In case you missed the presentation, you can find the slides and content here.

EPA is opening the funding with rebates for districts because it’s the quickest way to spend the money and get districts the buses. The rebate program is designed to be straightforward. It is for bus replacement and infrastructure only. When compared to a grant proposal, it is straightforward and short and the EPA says the online application that is simple and easy to complete. The application should be posted in early May and the application window will be 3 months long. Districts that are interested in the grant process should immediately register for an account with SAM.gov so they can receive a notice when the grant process opens and other TA that will be associated with the grant. Grants will be awarded in the fall and districts will have until April 2023 to submit purchase orders for EPA to refund.

Districts are among several entities that are eligible and can also partner with eligible contractors. Private school bus fleets can’t apply directly, but districts can partner with a private fleet that owns and operates their buses to replace buses that serve a district as long as they have an active contract. The company would need to continue serving the district for a minimum of 5 years from day of delivery.

Rebates for districts will be prioritized for districts that meet one or more criteria: they are a high needs school district in low-income areas (defined as having at least 20% SAIPE data from 2020); they are rural districts with NCES locale codes 43 and 42, or they are tribal school districts. 

Buses eligible for replacement must be 2010 or older diesel-powered school buses that will be scrapped if selected for funding. If a fleet has no eligible 2010 or older diesel school buses and is requesting zero-emission school buses up for replacement the fleet can either: scrap 2010 or older buses, scrap/sell/donate 2011 or newer internal combustion engine buses.

Buses eligible for replacement must have a gross vehicle rating of 10,001 lb or more; be operational at time of application submission; be owned by fleet receiving bus and must have provided bus service for district for at least 3 days/week during SY20-21 (note: this requirement exempts COVID-related school closures).

New replacement buses must have a battery electric, CNG or propane drivetrain; be EPA certified vehicle model year 2021 or newer; have a GWR 10,001 lb or more and not be ordered prior to receiving official notification of selection for EPA funding. The replacement bus must serve school district for 5 years; must meet federal safety standards; not be funded with other federal funds and be made available for inspection by EPA.

A class 7 or higher sized electric replacement bus that serves a prioritized district would be eligible for a $375,000 rebate. Applicants for a non-prioritized district would be $250,000 rebate. Prioritized districts can get a rebate of $20k for infrastructure cost/per bus. $13,000 for non-prioritized districts. Start reaching out to your electric utility right now if you are interested in this electric school bus infrastructure piece.

AASA Joins Groups in Letter Supporting Biden Admin New Public Charge Rule

 Permanent link

AASA Joins Groups in Letter Supporting Biden Admin New Public Charge Rule

After the Biden Administration announced it would take steps to rectify the harm to children in immigrant families created by the Trump Administration’s previous public charge rule, AASA joined 110 children’s advocacy and child-serving organizations in support of the Biden Administration’s new proposed rule on public charge. The new proposed rule corrects the gravest errors of the 2019 rule and would be a critical step to securing the health and wellbeing of millions of children in immigrant families.

The 2019 rule’s harm on children was largely due to its inclusion of non-cash benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing and health insurance, all of which can significantly improve children’s health and ability to learn, and we support DHS removing these benefits from a public charge consideration. We support the proposed rule’s narrow definition of what constitutes “receipt” of countable public benefits, which explicitly excludes adults who have applied for benefits on behalf of their children or whose children are currently receiving benefits. Making it clear that it is safe to apply for and receive health care, nutrition assistance and other assistance on behalf of children without public charge consequences, will help DHS achieve its goal of establishing a rule that does not cause undue fear or confusion and that mitigates the documented chilling effect that has harmed millions of children.

Finally, we recommend that DHS establish a presumption that children are not a public charge and that the use of benefits by a child does not indicate their likelihood to be a future public charge.

 

AASA Asks Congress to Invest in $3 Billion Title II, Part A

 Permanent link

AASA Asks Congress to Invest in $3 Billion Title II, Part A

On April 21, AASA joined 51 education organizations in asking Congress to invest in retaining and recruiting teachers, principals and other school leaders by providing $3 billion in FY23 appropriations for the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program – Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

These investments help bolster the infrastructure districts rely on to recruit high-quality educators and provide them with job-embedded practice, mentoring, and coaching opportunities that sustain them in their careers.

Title II, Part A is a critical support for the growth and development of educators’ instructional practice to improve their teaching and ultimately boost student learning. Unfortunately, the program remains severely underfunded and demand for services provided by it has only increased. A larger investment in Title II, Part A will help accelerate student learning, provide support through professional learning to keep educators in the profession, and recruit new individuals into the educator workforce. Read the full letter here

President Biden, USDA Forest Service Announce more than $238 Million to Support Rural Schools, Roads, Other Services

 Permanent link

President Biden, USDA Forest Service Announce more than $238 Million to Support Rural Schools, Roads, Other Services

President Biden and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced the SRS funding to invest more than $238 million to support public schools, roads, and other municipal services through the Secure Rural Schools Program, which will deliver SRS payments to 742 eligible counties in 41 states and Puerto Rico. The program was reauthorized for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The bill was signed by President Biden and became Public Law 117-58 on November 15, 2021. USDA National Forest Service has completed all necessary reviews and is releasing the FY 2021 funds.

“The Secure Rural Schools program is one of many ways USDA supports rural communities and provides a consistent source of funding in areas near national forests,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said. “In addition to funding for schools and counties, the program also reimburses counties for emergency services on national forests and is instrumental in the development of community wildfire protection plans.”

Section 41202: Extension of Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act:

The bipartisan Infrastructure bill includes a 3-year, FY 2021, FY 2022, FY2023, extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS). SRS is authorized and funded for FY 2021, 2022, and 2023. The infrastructure bill, P.L. 117-58, provides that for Fiscal Year 2021 and each fiscal year thereafter the amount is equal to the full funding amount of FY 2017. Five percent reductions are not continued. The bill’s SRS provisions also includes regional pilots for Montana and Arizona.

You can read the full announcement from the USDA National Forest Service, including a list of states receiving funding, here.

Webinar Series on the Community Eligibility Provision

 Permanent link

Webinar Series on the Community Eligibility Provision

AASA is co-hosting a series of webinars with Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and 12 education organizations to support districts interested in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP allows high-poverty schools and districts to provide breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP): Overcoming the Loss of School Meal Application Data

Thursday, April 21, 3 pm ET

Community eligibility eliminates the need to collect school meal applications, which have long been used for a wide range of education and funding purposes. Join us for this webinar to learn how schools across the country have been able to successfully overcome the loss of this data in order to offer free meals to all of their students. Register here.

Making CEP Work with Low ISPs and Partial District Implementation

Thursday, May 5, 3pm ET

The pandemic has highlighted the value of offering school meals at no charge to all students. Community Eligibility provides an excellent opportunity for high poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students beyond the 2021-2022 school year. The community eligibility reimbursement formula determines what percent of meals are reimbursed at the free and paid rates. Thousands of schools and districts across the country have experienced the benefits of community eligibility by participating with ISPs below 60 percent and by having individual schools participate within a district. Join this webinar to learn about the strategies and resources available for making community eligibility work with low ISPs and/or partial district implementation. Register here.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP): Implementing in States that Require Alternative Forms

Thursday, May 19, 3pm ET

Community eligibility eliminates the need to collect school meal applications, but there are some states that require schools to collect alternative forms to receive state education funding. Join us for this webinar to learn about successful strategies to collect the forms and implement community eligibility. Register here.

Get Your CEP Questions Answered

Thursday, June 9, 3pm ET

More details to come. We will update this post with more information as it is available. 

U.S. Dept of Education Announces ARP Summit on April 27

 Permanent link

U.S. Dept of Education Announces ARP Summit on April 27

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, we’d like to invite you to join us at the From Recovery to Thriving: How the American Rescue Plan is Supporting America’s Students summit. We will host this virtual event on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Department, in partnership with the National Public Education Support Fund, will bring together education leaders, advocates and philanthropic partners to discuss how to help students and schools recover from the pandemic. The opening panel and learning sessions will create opportunities to support school districts and states in utilizing their federal funds to deepen and scale strategies to address learning recovery, mental health support and labor shortages beyond the three years of ARP funding so students can recover and thrive in the future.

  • 4:00 p.m.: Opening Panel: “From Recovery to Thriving: How the Education Ecosystem Can Support America’s Students”
  • 5:00 p.m.: Learning Recovery Concurrent Sessions
  • 6:00 p.m.: Labor Shortages Concurrent Sessions
  • 7:00 p.m.: Mental Health and Well-Being & Social and Emotional Learning Concurrent Sessions

If you are interested in joining the summit, please register here. Upon completing your registration, you will receive an email with your registration details from Special.Events@ed.gov.

AASA-Endorsed HERE Act Introduced

 Permanent link

AASA-Endorsed HERE Act Introduced

On Thursday, April 7, Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the Hispanic Educational Resources and Empowerment (HERE) Act. The bipartisan, bicameral bill creates a new grant program to support partnerships and collaboration between Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and school districts with high enrollments of Hispanic and Latino students. Among the activities allowed for the partnerships is the creation of Grow Your Own programs to encourage students to pursue careers in education and provide pathways into the teacher workforce.

The inclusion of Grow Your Own programs in the HERE Act will not only help to address the overall teacher shortages but also increase diversity among the teacher workforce by investing in Hispanic-serving institutions. AASA is excited to endorse the HERE Act and support programs aimed at building a diverse, high-quality pipeline of future educators. Read the full press release here

The Advocate April 2022: Child Nutrition Waivers

 Permanent link

The Advocate April 2022: Child Nutrition Waivers

At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress granted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to provide waivers for child nutrition programs to allow critical flexibilities for program operators to continue operations and feed children despite school closures and supply chain challenges.

Without Congressional action, these waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022. Although schools remain open, districts continue to need these flexibilities to ensure students receive the healthy meals they need as programs face challenges caused by the pandemic.

Advocates were hopeful that Congress would include an extension of the USDA waiver authority in the FY22 omnibus bill but that did not come to fruition. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was the greatest opponent to the inclusion of the waivers, with the position that they were meant as pandemic relief and no longer necessary. Additionally, the Biden Administration was not adamant that having the waivers extended was a priority while Congressional Democrats were willing to sacrifice the waivers to get the omnibus passed.

However, standalone bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would extend the waivers through SY22-23 and we continue to urge Congress to do the right thing and take action on this important issue. In the House, the Keeping School Meals Flexible Act (H.R. 6613) was introduced by Reps. Spanberger (D-VA) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA). In the Senate, the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act (S.3979) was introduced by Sens. Stabenow (D-MI) and Murkowski (R-AK).

The expiration of the waivers on June 30, 2022, will be detrimental to school meal programs and their ability to serve students. Here’s what the end of waivers means:  

One of the most significant impacts for school meal programs will be financial. The current Summer Food Service Reimbursement Rates waiver allows schools to be reimbursed with the Summer Food Service Program rate which is higher than the normal rate. When this waiver expires on June 30, 2022, school meal programs will receive substantially less reimbursements while the cost of food, labor and supplies continues to increase. Returning to the normal reimbursement rate will increase meal program losses and cut into education budgets, impeding efforts to meet the needs of students.

Additionally, in recognition of the significant challenges that school meal programs were facing to get the necessary food to meet the meal pattern requirements of the NSLP and SBP, USDA provided flexibility around these requirements, including sodium, whole-grain, milk variety, vegetable subgroups and planned menus for specific age/grade groups. When these waivers end, schools must meet all of these requirements in order to receive reimbursement from the Federal government despite ongoing challenges of getting the foods necessary to be in compliance. Food companies and distributors have streamlined offerings and reduced the geographic areas they serve, leaving many meal programs without access to foods that meet highly specialized meal pattern requirements.

The waivers also provided flexibilities to the requirement that meals be served in a congregate setting and allowed parents and guardians to pick up meals. Districts were granted the ability to quickly pivot programs and ensure students were still receiving meals even when schools were closed, or students had to quarantine. Across the country we saw schools jump into action to ensure their students continued to be fed even when they couldn’t come to school. Districts delivered meals to families or provided to-go meals that could be picked up by guardians. When this waiver ends, schools will no longer be able to provide meals to students outside of school, even if schools close or a student must quarantine due to COVID-19. Meal programs will no longer have the regulatory flexibility they need to serve all their students safely and quickly adapt operations.

And finally, the Seamless Summer Option allowed schools to provide free meals to all students. Schools will now have to gather Free and Reduced Priced Lunch applications for the first time in two years. We have already heard from our members that they are experiencing difficulties in getting this paperwork, meaning students may lose access to meals unnecessarily.  

We urge Congress to extend the waiver authority through SY22-23 and provide schools and community-based organizations with the security necessary to plan for the summer and following school year. Without the extension, millions of children will lose access to the healthy meals they need to learn and grow. If you would like to take action on this and tell your Members of Congress to support the extension of waivers, draft language and contact information can be found on the AASA Advocacy App (see how here). While we remain hopeful that the waivers will be extended, districts should prepare for a SY22-23 without the flexibilities that were provided over the past two years. 

White House Announces Actions for Bolstering Clean School Infrastructure and Transportation to Support Student Learning and Health

 Permanent link

White House Announces Actions for Bolstering Clean School Infrastructure and Transportation to Support Student Learning and Health

Today, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden-Harris 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. The action plan activates the entire federal government in leveraging investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan to advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses and resilient design. Of particular interest, the plan includes an amazing toolkit listing all the financial resources in various federal agencies that districts can utilize to make improvements to school infrastructure and transportation.

The Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure will:

  • Invest in More Efficient, Energy-Saving School Buildings: The Department of Energy (DOE) is launching a $500 million grant program for schools that will lower energy costs, improve air quality and prioritize schools most in need, enabling schools to focus more resources on student learning.
  • Improve Classroom Air Quality through the American Rescue Plan: The Administration is supporting states, school districts and local communities in leveraging American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief resources to address school infrastructure needs—like repairing, upgrading or replacing of ventilation systems; purchasing air filters and portable air cleaning devices; and fixing doors and windows so that schools can stay open for in-person learning.

Expand Clean and Safe School Transportation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with support from the Department of Energy (DOE), is releasing new online resources to help school districts and other eligible recipients prepare for the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—with the first opportunity to fund clean and electric buses opening later this spring.

  • Help Schools Access Resources and Best Practices: The new toolkit will further support school participation in the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which the Administration recently launched to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and improve indoor air quality in buildings of all kinds, including schools. The Department of Energy is also announcing the inaugural honorees of the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which provides technical assistance to school districts seeking to implement high-impact indoor air quality and efficiency improvements that will reduce energy bills and improve student and teacher health.

Spread the Word about Changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

 Permanent link

Spread the Word about Changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Last year, the Department of Education (USED) issued a Limited Time Waiver to improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and help those who qualify get closer to forgiveness. So far, more than 70,000 individuals have already received full forgiveness due to these changes. Anyone who has federal student loans and is employed full-time by a school district qualifies for the program.

However, action may be needed in order to take advantage of the waiver before it expires on October 31, 2022. AASA has created a template for district leaders to share with their staff that explains the new changes to the program and outlines what they must do to participate.

The PSLF program provides full forgiveness to those employed in public service careers after 10 years of service and 120 qualifying payments. According to a 2021 NEA report, nearly half of all educators have student loans averaging $58,000. PSLF is a great opportunity to relieve educators of a significant financial burden and show appreciation for their service to students across the country. 

AASA Leads Amicus in Key School Prayer Case Before SCOTUS

 Permanent link

AASA Leads Amicus in Key School Prayer Case Before SCOTUS

AASA, along with our friends at the National Associations of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, filed an amicus brief in a pivotal Supreme Court case that will be heard later this month called Kennedy v Bremerton.

For more than seven years, Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, delivered prayers to students on the 50-yard line immediately after games. When the Bremerton School District learned what Kennedy was doing, it sought to accommodate his religious beliefs by offering him time and space to pray before and after games where students would not feel coerced to participate. But Kennedy refused, insisting instead that he must be allowed to continue having the midfield prayers with students at games. After he announced to the media his plan to continue having the prayers, community members stormed the field to join him after the game, knocking over some students in the process. The School District was thus left with no choice but to place him on paid administrative leave. And instead of reapplying to be a coach the next year, Kennedy sued the School District in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Kennedy lost at the district and appellate levels and the case is being heard in a few weeks by the Supreme Court, which surprised many by taking up the case.

The decision to hear the case has led many to speculate that the Court will side with the Kennedy, which would open the door to numerous first amendment issues for district leaders relating to when prayer is and is not acceptable by a school employee and how to draw a line that protects the employee’s religious freedom but protects students from religious coercion and proselytizing. As soon as the case is argued, we will provide an update as well as when a decision is made.

AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update with Sasha Pudelski

 Permanent link

AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update with Sasha Pudelski

We had a blast at yesterday's AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update with Sasha Pudelski. We were pleased to be able to walk you through the latest funding and policy changes included in the FY22 omnibus, answer questions about ARP implementation and what superintendents need to understand about upcoming ESSER data collection requests from USED, and discuss legislative bills this year to reauthorize the Child Nutrition law and improve teacher shortages.

You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentation here.

We are happy to share some related resources:

The next AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update will be June 30 at 2 p.m. EDT. AASA members can register by clicking here.

AASA Releases Fourth Installment of the Learning Recovery and Redesign Guidance: Using ARP to Support Homeless Students

 Permanent link

AASA Releases Fourth Installment of the Learning Recovery and Redesign Guidance: Using ARP to Support Homeless Students

This week, AASA has released the fourth installment of the AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign tools.

This actionable checklist, developed in partnership with SchoolHouse Connection, is designed to help district leaders take full advantage of new and existing federal resources to meet the significant needs—greatly exacerbated by the pandemic—of students experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

The resource includes:
  • Ideas for better collaborating with your district’s homeless education liaison
  • Tips for assessing current strategies in supporting this student population
  • Planning tools to help you meet the specific needs of your students experiencing homelessness
As more states are set to distribute to school districts new federal funds targeted at supporting students experiencing homelessness (specifically, ARP-HCY part II funds), it is imperative that schools accept them. This checklist will help them make effective use of these additional dollars.

The checklist is available here. If you have already declined your district’s share of ARP-HCY funds for whatever reason, the checklist items mostly apply to other resources you can still use to support these students!

The full list of tools is available here.

New EPA Rebate Program for School Buses

 Permanent link

New EPA Rebate Program for School Buses

Want some new clean school buses? Here’s your chance to get them! As part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law in 2021, the EPA was granted $5 billion over 5 years to encourage the electrification of school bus fleets. The EPA is in the process of beginning to roll out the $1b that is available to districts, contractors, and tribes over the next few months and they released a quick PowerPoint presentation that details the basics of the rebate program.

First, the program funding is divided into two halves: zero-emission buses and alternative-fueled buses. Districts can apply for rebates for either program as long as they are replacing current diesel-fueled school buses. 

Second, the application process will prioritize bus rebates for districts in high needs school districts and rural and low-income areas. 

Third, they plan to open the application window in late April and districts will have 3 months to apply for rebates, but there are steps you can take now to get your application ready for the portal. Details are here: https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus/prepare-clean-school-bus-funding.

FY23 Appropriations Process: Off to A Strong Start! President Biden’s Budget Continues Support for Education Investments

 Permanent link

FY23 Appropriations Process: Off to A Strong Start! President Biden’s Budget Continues Support for Education Investments

The ink on the final FY22 budget is barely dry, and we are already off and running with all the FY23 budget fun. ICYMI: check out the blog with all our details on the final FY22 budget.

Federal fiscal year 2023 (FY23) will run from October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023. The federal education dollars in FY23 will largely be in your K12 schools for the 23-24 school year. If Congress were to complete its appropriations process on time and in normal order, it would be completed before October 1. Congress hasn’t completed its budget on time and in normal order since the mid 1990s; when this happens, we either have a federal shutdown or—more common—Congress utilizes a series of continuing resolutions (CRs) to buy themselves more time to complete the funding work. It is widely anticipated that Congress will adopt a CR—freeing members up to be home to campaign in the midterm elections—and leaving the real question to be: will the CR be into the lame duck and the fiscal work concluded by the current Congress, or will they punt into the new year and new Congress, which could feasibly include a change in chamber leadership? Luckily, we don’t need to answer that in today’s blog post, and can instead just give a quick overview of what is in President’ Biden’s FY23 budget proposal.

First, now seems an excellent time to share one of my favorite all time quotes from President Biden, something he attributes to HIS dad: “Don’t tell me what you value.  Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” If that’s the case, we are pleased to see that President Biden continues to value and prioritize investments in education, schools, children and equity.

What do you need to know?

  • First, this is an initial step in a very drawn-out appropriations process. We may or may not get standalone budgets from the House and Senate, and they may or may not align with the President’s budget in terms of dollar amount and/or priorities. 
  • In recent years, the President’s budget has been dead on arrival, with the Senate and House initial proposals playing a larger role in shaping what final investments looked like. That was not the case in FY22, and we will have to see if the Democrats in the House and Senate remain in closer alignment with this proposal.
  • Because of the timing of this year’s budget, the proposal was based on a final FY22 package that assumed a year-long CR (so, level funding) based on FY21 actual levels. We know that the final FY22 budget included the largest increase in education in a decade, meaning that the president’s budget—when compared to actual FY22 levels—appears to call for cuts to 34 programs. Please note that is not the intent of the President’s Budget (he does not propose to cut or consolidate any programs), and we are waiting to see how/if USED will address/reissue budgetary documents.
  • You can access the USED summary book here.
  • Funding Levels
    • The budget includes $88.327 billion in funding for the Department of Education, a $11.9 billion or 15.6% increase over FY2022.
    • The largest increases in the USED budget request are proposed for the core programs -- Title I, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Pell Grants. Additionally, FY23 increases can be largely attributed to initiatives to address the health and well-being of students; Education, Innovation, and Research (EIR) Grants; postsecondary supports; efforts to enhance institutional capacity at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs); and student loan servicing.
    • The FY23 budget request proposes $20.5 billion in discretionary funding for Title I, which is an increase of $3 billion or 17.1% above FY22. 
      • Additionally, $16 billion in mandatory funding is requested in FY23 for Title I. The combined total level (discretionary + mandatory) requested is $36.5 billion; however, mandatory funding for Title I is unlikely to advance through the annual appropriations process. 
      • The FY23 request also proposes to reserve $100 million for direct grants to States to implement voluntary School Funding Equity Commissions and to local educational agencies (LEAs) to implement voluntary resource equity reviews.
       
    • The FY23 budget request includes $2.92 billion increase for Special Education Grants to States to a total of $16.26 billion. The budget request also includes increases for IDEA Preschool Grants ($93,071,000 above FY2022) and IDEA Grants for Infants and Families ($435,694,000 above FY2022).
     

At the end of the day, the big take away is that the President clearly wants to prioritize investments in education, and we want to remain hopeful that final FY23 numbers will align more closely to FY23 proposals than FY22 finals compared to proposed. You need not pay obsessive attention to program funding levels until we get a bit further in the process, until we start to see what the House and Senate are looking at as it relates to 302b allocations. That’s about 4 steps (and a few months) away. Hold tight, and stay tuned to AASA advocacy (on twitter, the AASA Advocacy App and on the blog).

 

DOT FMCSA Extends ‘Under the Hood’ Waiver to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

 Permanent link

DOT FMCSA Extends ‘Under the Hood’ Waiver to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

Earlier this year, USED partnered with USDOT to provide temporary relief for the ‘under the hood’ requirement to help address the school bus drive shortage. (Details on the blog!) The relief came via a 90-day waiver—set to extend at the end of the month. The plan all along was to grant two consecutive 90-day waivers, and that second waiver has now been announced. It means the flexibility will remain in place for the duration of the current school year, through June 30, 2022. AASA remains grateful to USED and USDOT for their immediate responsiveness to the November letter from more than a dozen K12 education and transportation groups.

Biden Administration Commits to Improving School Health Program Delivery

 Permanent link

Biden Administration Commits to Improving School Health Program Delivery

On Thursday, U.S. Secretaries Cardona and Becerra sent a letter to Governors formally describing a new effort by both agencies to work together to develop and align resources to ensure children have the physical and behavioral health services and supports that they need to build resilience and thrive. Specifically, in the coming months, the Departments plan to provide additional technical assistance, resources and support that will (1) provide guidance on the federal funding available for school-based physical and behavioral health services, including how Medicaid can support the delivery of these services; (2) help reduce federal administrative burden for states and localities, including local educational agencies, and barriers to the provision of school-based physical and behavioral health services; and (3) improve and strengthen access to physical and behavioral health services.

For several years, AASA has focused on improving coordination between HHS and ED. This letter to Governors is in direct response to much of our advocacy. In particular, the specific mention of reducing the administrative on districts in meeting Medicaid is of particular significance as this was one of our leading recommendations to the Biden Administration before they took office.

UPDATE: DOT Guidance Allows 3rd Party Administration of Knowledge Test

 Permanent link

UPDATE: DOT Guidance Allows 3rd Party Administration of Knowledge Test

In November, AASA partnered with 12 other organizations in penning a letter to US DOT identifying a handful of policy changes that could help address the bus driver shortage. The letter was focused on relief for the school bus driver shortage. In response to that letter, US DOT announced a flexibility in early February that would allow for third party administration of the knowledge test, one of the exact asks we had made in our November letter. While we initially thought this was a waiver flexibility, it was, in fact, a change made to the guidance, and means it will remain a baseline practice moving forward. We remain appreciative of FMCSA for their willingness to hear from and respond to the field. Read our initial response to the guidance change from February.

USED Letter to Educators and Parents Regarding New CDC Recommendations and Their Impact on Children with Disabilities

 Permanent link

USED Letter to Educators and Parents Regarding New CDC Recommendations and Their Impact on Children with Disabilities

U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote a letter to educators and parents regarding new CDC recommendations and the recommendations’ impact on children with disabilities. This letter addresses the needs of students with disabilities as we move into a new phase in our response to the pandemic. The letter addresses the CDC’s February 2022 framework for identifying COVID-19 Community Levels and encourages schools to lead with equity and inclusion to ensure all students have access to in-person learning alongside their peers.

The letter states that to comply with their Federal non-discrimination obligations under Section 504, school districts must make reasonable modifications when necessary to ensure equal access for their students with disabilities, absent a showing that the modifications would constitute a fundamental alteration or undue administrative burden to the program. In addition, if a parent or other member of the IEP or Section 504 team believes that particular COVID-19 prevention strategies are necessary for the provision of FAPE to the student, the team must consider whether, and to what extent, such measures are necessary, based on student-specific information, which may include medical or health records, diagnostic or other evaluative data, or information documented by medical or health professionals. If the IEP or Section 504 team determines that COVID-19 prevention and risk reduction measures are necessary in order for a student with a disability to receive FAPE – where the prevention measures constitute special education, related services, supplementary aids and services under IDEA, related aids and services under Section 504, or program modifications and supports for school personnel – the team must include these in the child’s IEP or Section 504 Plan. 
 
Furthermore, the letter states that federal civil rights laws “stipulate that schools must consider the health and safety needs of their students in order to safely attend in-person. This includes expectations around masking in schools on a case-by-case basis in order to comply with schools’ obligation to make reasonable modifications for particular students with disabilities under federal law.”

In adopting practical, layered strategies to serve all students, schools must refrain from placing all students with disabilities, or all students with disabilities at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, in a segregated setting away from their peers without disabilities as the only means to deliver FAPE safely. However, schools may consider whether providing smaller cohorts of group instruction with peers without disabilities can minimize a student’s health risks while maintaining the obligation to provide FAPE in the LRE based on the individual needs of the student with a disability. Similarly, schools should be cautious about singling out or identifying students with disabilities as the cause of any perceived burden to avoid stigma and the risk of bullying and must take steps to address any bullying that does occur.

 

AASA, ASBO Respond to USDA Transitional Standards on Milk, Sodium and Whole Grains

 Permanent link

AASA, ASBO Respond to USDA Transitional Standards on Milk, Sodium and Whole Grains

On March 23, AASA and ASBO International responded to the USDA’s Transitional Nutritional Standards for Milk, Sodium and Whole Grains which were announced on February 4. 

The transitional standards include:

  • Allowing local operators of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) to offer flavored, low-fat milk (1 percent fat) for students in grades K through 12 and for sale as a competitive beverage.
  • Beginning in SY 2022-2023, at least 80 percent of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menus must be whole grain-rich.
  • Establishes Sodium Target 1 as the sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast in SY2022-2023. For SY2023-2024, schools must meet Sodium Target 1A which requires a 10% reduction in sodium for school lunch only.

In our comments, we express support for the milk and sodium standards as they are reasonable and achievable. However, we do not support the 80% whole-grain requirement as some whole-grain products are not as appealing to students which leads to unnecessary food waste and reduced participation in the program. Additionally, given Congress’s failure to extend the COVID-19 waivers, we conveyed our concern that districts will not be able to meet any of the nutritional standards amidst the significant challenges they are facing due to the supply chain disruption and will not receive federal reimbursement as a result. We encouraged the USDA to use the full scope of its authority to ensure that school districts are not penalized for being unable to meet these nutritional standards and are able to continue to receive federal reimbursements for the meals they serve.

Read our full comments here

AASA 2022 State Leadership Conference: April 29-30, 2022

 Permanent link

AASA 2022 State Leadership Conference: April 29-30, 2022

We are looking forward to this year’s State Leadership Conference. Here’s everything you need to know:

WHO: The meeting is open to AASA state affiliate executive directors and their officers/elected officials.

WHAT: Each spring, we convene the executive directors of our 49 state affiliates and their elected member officers for a meeting focused on their professional development and networking. The goal of the conference is twofold: to highlight and strengthen the mutually beneficial relationship between AASA and our state affiliates, and to provide professional development and networking for state association leaders.

WHERE: San Antonio River Marriott Center, 101 Bowie Street, San Antonio TX

WHEN: April 29-30, 2022

WHY/HOW: 

  • The Schedule (all times are in Central):
    • FRIDAY April 29
      • 8 a.m. BREAKFAST
      • 8:50 a.m. Opening/Welcome
      • 9 a.m. SCOTUS, Regulations and Schools (Maree Sneed)
      • 10 a.m. ASE Business Meeting
      • 10 a.m. State Leaders and AASA
      • 11:30 a.m. BREAK
      • 11:40 a.m. Learning 2025 Commission (Bill Daggett)
      • 12:30 p.m. LUNCH
      • 1:15 p.m. Word from Sponsor
      • 1:20 p.m. Education and Midterm Election Polling (Celinda Lake)
      • 2:20 p.m. Telehealth, Mental Health and Schools (Gina Nicola, MindBeacon)
      • 3:20 p.m. BREAK
      • 3:30 p.m. State Policy, Censorship and Schools (Jonathan Friedman)
       
    • SATURDAY April 30
      • 8 a.m. Breakfast
      • 8:50 a.m. Opening/Welcome
      • 9 a.m. Teacher and Personnel Retention (Dr. Keppler)
      • 10 a.m. AASA Supt of the Year Presentation (Curtis Cain)
      • 10:45 a.m. BREAK
      • 11 a.m. National Superintendent Database (Rachel White)
     
  • Other Detail: AASA will cover ½ of the transportation costs for a maximum of three (3) people per association. This includes ½ of airfare, the cost of getting to/from the airport (including personal car mileage), airport parking, and the cost from the airport to the conference hotel (and back). This does NOT include rental cars, parking for rental cars, or taxi use to go to dinner or out on the town while in San Antonio. Attendees flying out can safely book flights at 1:30 p.m. or later.

 

 

The Biden Administration Announces the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge

 Permanent link

The Biden Administration Announces the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge

Last week, the Biden administration, in conjunction with the EPA, released a call to action titled the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which highlights a range of recommendations and resources available for improving ventilation and indoor air quality, which can help to better protect the health of building occupants and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. The call to action included guidance principles and best practices to assist building owners and school administrators with reducing risks from airborne viruses and other contaminants indoors.

Key actions outlined in the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge include:

  • Create a clean indoor air action plan,
  • Optimize fresh air ventilation,
  • Enhance air filtration and cleaning, and
  • Conduct community engagement, communication and education.

While the recommended actions cannot completely eliminate risks, they will reduce them. Infectious diseases like COVID-19 can spread through the inhalation of airborne particles and aerosols. In addition to other layered prevention strategies, like vaccination, wearing masks and physical distancing to reduce the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, actions to improve ventilation, filtration and other proven air cleaning strategies can reduce the risk of exposure to particles, aerosols, and other contaminants, and improve indoor air quality and the health of building occupants.

Under each of these recommendation areas, EPA’s best practices guide lays out clear-cut actions building owners and school administrators can implement. The best practices guide is designed to serve as a menu of improvements to choose from. The guide includes quick steps that all organizations can take right away as a starting place, as well as resources to help plan for longer-term investments and improvements. 

You can check out the White House fact sheet here. The EPA press release can be found here. The EPA guidelines are here.

 

AASA Joins Statement Call for Congress to Extend Child Nutrition Waivers

 Permanent link

AASA Joins Statement Call for Congress to Extend Child Nutrition Waivers

On March 9, AASA joined 26 education, anti-hunger, public health and industry organizations in a statement expressing our disappointment that Congress failed to include an extension of the child nutrition waivers in the omnibus package. Without these extensions, millions of children will face a hunger cliff when they lose access to school, summer, afterschool, and child care meals on July 1, with Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations and children in rural communities being hit the hardest. Read the full statement here.

Guest Post: Burnt Out! Teachers Identify Need for More Flexible and On-Demand Professional Learning

 Permanent link

Guest Post: Burnt Out! Teachers Identify Need for More Flexible and On-Demand Professional Learning

This guest blog post comes from our friends at D2L, a global learning innovation company.

Many U.S. school districts are facing a crisis: How do we balance teacher burnout with the ongoing need to build teacher capacity for learning recovery and beyond? New research helps answer that question.

As AASA has identified, education leaders face an imperative of student-centered redesign toward equity, and this must include enabling teachers in every classroom. The good news is that the emergency pivot to virtual schooling in many districts opened educators to new methods, and this provides a unique opportunity to redesign professional learning to be more timely and flexible and (re)build teacher capacity.

To better understand these educator experiences and interests, AASA partner D2L recently commissioned a national survey of some 1,000 district administrators and teachers. 

The recently released research identified growing teacher interest in professional learning that is ongoing, on-demand, online and targeted. However, teachers reported that they currently have limited access to frequent and personalized learning at their districts, which likely helps explain why only 20% of teachers identified strong satisfaction with their district-provided professional learning opportunities.

Other key findings include the following professional learning views:

  • Frequent, Ongoing. While 94% of surveyed educators agree that ongoing professional learning is important to a teacher’s effectiveness, only 36% expect their district to provide such timely professional learning. 82% were satisfied if they expected that professional learning will be made available to them more frequently than once a month — “on a more regular, ongoing basis,” but that satisfaction drops to 43% for those who expected availability only “once or twice each semester.” 
  • Online, On-Demand.71% identified interest in professional learning that is online, on-demand with 55% indicating their interest increased from pre-pandemic. In contrast, only 18% indicated strong current interest in online live professional learning.
  • Personalized. While 91% identified interest in personalized professional learning, there remains a gap as only 20% of respondents reported increased availability for targeted professional learning and 24% reported decreased or no availability since before the pandemic.
  • Time Flexible. 82% of district administrators cited “teacher time as a barrier to online professional learning,” compared to only 48% of teachers identifying time challenges, suggesting that teachers may be more willing to commit their time to flexible learning options than administrators expect.

What does this mean for school districts? Changes in practice during the pandemic have provided an opportunity to grow innovative professional learning methods and formats. These emerging practices are of increasing teacher interest and often better aligned to effective research-based practice including coherence, embedding in instruction, sustained duration, professional learning community, and feedback and reflection. 

These findings can also inform changes to our policies, programs, and partnerships needed to modernize teacher professional learning at this critical time in our K-12 public schools. 

For additional survey findings, research alignment and district recommendations, review the full research report “How the Pandemic Has (Re)Shaped K-12 Teacher Professional Learning” or contact D2L Senior Director Mark Schneiderman. D2L is a learning technology partner supporting our collective mission to reach every learner, including through D2L’s Brightspace learning management system as a hub to personalize both student and educator learning. 

 

Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) Expands Distance Learning Program to Underserved Rural Communities

 Permanent link

Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) Expands Distance Learning Program to Underserved Rural Communities

The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) is expanding its distance learning program to support cross-disciplinary teaching of American art, culture and history to underserved rural communities across the United States. Through their new three-year initiative (Rural Engagement in Art, Culture and History or REACH), they will be holding various programs while continually assessing the needs of rural constituents to determine how SAAM could help meet those needs.

REACH is kicking off with a Summer Institute for Teachers consisting of 3 virtual workshops and 2 on-site (July 25 - 26) workshops in SAAM’s main building in Washington, DC. Attendees will receive $1,500 scholarships to support their learning. Priority will be given to educators from rural and underserved areas of the country.

Through interactive sessions with museum professionals, educators will gain skills and comfort in using American art to make interdisciplinary connections, foster critical thinking skills and develop visual literacy. They will walk away with a tool kit of practical strategies for integrating art into curriculum, as well as lesson ideas developed by the cohort that they can immediately put to use in the classroom.

The deadline for applying is April 1. Check out more information and apply here.

AASA Summary and Response to FY22 Omnibus

 Permanent link

AASA Summary and Response to FY22 Omnibus

Earlier today Congress released its final FY22 appropriations omnibus package. Read our memo for a full overview and analysis.

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech issued the following statement in response to today’s bill: “The FY22 omnibus bill as it relates to education is, at best, a mixed bag. We commend Democratic leaders for going to bat for the increases that were realized; it is clear they heard the message from the field and pushed for prioritizing education funding. At the same time, the bill misses the mark on what could have been, especially in the context of what had been proposed across the administration, House, and Senate. 

We are deeply troubled by the lack of an extension for the school nutrition waivers, a seeming failure to acknowledge that student hunger needs will continue into the 2022-23 school year, and a willingness to undo all the good that has been done--all the meals that have been fed--under this initially bipartisan proposal. Complicating the meals piece even further, the end of these commonsense flexibilities comes at the exact time that schools are seeing increased prices and supply chain issues. 

Specific to the IDEA funding level, this is a cut in comparison to current ARP levels. This omnibus was the first time in my career at AASA that Congress had a true opportunity to redirect itself forward on the IDEA glidepath. We applaud them for the small increases included in today’s bill, while also holding them accountable for once again leaving IDEA severely underfunded.  The proposed level puts schools on an IDEA funding cliff and all but ensures that ARP IDEA dollars will go to one time expenditures instead of sustainable quality investments. We did this once under ARRA, and we had reasonable hope that Congress would prioritize this ARP funding level, given both the chronic underfunding of IDEA and the lessons learned from ARRA. 

This significant shift away from proposed funding levels for K12 education is the second time in less than a year that the nation’s public schools were cut as part of broader negotiations. Last fall, K12 schools saw the proposed infrastructure funding for schools pushed out of the Build Back Better negotiations. Today’s bill shows, once again, the disconnect between education funding proposals and education funding realities. What we fund is what we value, and AASA urges Congress to do better when it comes to truly and meaningfully funding education. Our nation's public school system leaders expected better, and our nation's schools and students deserved more. At the end of the day, though, our nation's public school system can and will make this work, ensuring that school doors remain open and ready to educate all who walk through.”

 

IDEA Funding Coalition Co-Chairs Respond to FY22 Omnibus

 Permanent link

IDEA Funding Coalition Co-Chairs Respond to FY22 Omnibus

AASA is proud to co-chair the IDEA Full Funding Coalition with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the Council for Exceptional Children.

The following statement was released by the co-chairs of the IDEA Full Funding Coalition, a group of national and state organizations committed to full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

“The final FY22 omnibus is a missed opportunity for Congress to self-correct on its chronic underfunding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As co-chairs of the IDEA Full Funding Coalition, we are disappointed to see that, once again, supporting infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and honoring this statutory commitment remains outside the scope of Congressional priorities.” 

Lindsay Kubatzky, National Center for Learning Disabilities; Noelle Ellerson Ng, AASA, The School Superintendents Association; Kuna Tavalin, Council for Exceptional Children

Advocacy Win on Synthetic Nicotine e-Cigarettes

 Permanent link

Advocacy Win on Synthetic Nicotine e-Cigarettes

The use of synthetic nicotine in various products including e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches is becoming more popular among children and youth. Public health groups have been warning that disposable, synthetic nicotine e-cigarettes such as Puff Bar have grown in popularity among teens while skirting FDA oversight since the FDA does not have explicit authority to regulate lab-made nicotine. The need for FDA to step in and regular synthetic nicotine is urgent; CDC data shows more than a quarter of middle and high school e-cigarette users reported using Puff Bar as their usual brand.

AASA joined our partners at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in urging Congress to include language in the omnibus spending package that would give the FDA the authority to regulate products that contain nicotine but aren’t derived from tobacco, such as synthetic nicotine.

And happily, we were successful! The FY22 omnibus now contains this important regulatory authority for FDA. We are hopeful that this action will mean fewer synthetic products targeted at children enter the market and that Puff Bar and other nicotine products that target children and youth, will be prohibited from doing so in the future. 

You can find the letter here.

Spread The Word: Child Tax Credit Outreach Resources

 Permanent link

Spread The Word: Child Tax Credit Outreach Resources

We are happy to share the resources and information below in coordination with our friends at the Coalition on Human Needs:

Schools can help families claim thousands of dollars this tax season. Join AASA and partner organizations for a Child Tax Credit school outreach push in the final weeks before the tax filing deadline on April 18! Check this link for ideas of easy actions - like sending mass messages to families or sending home flyers - your district can take to help families claim the CTC, for which 90 percent of American kids are eligible. At this link, you'll find the ready-to-use resources you need to take action now! You'll also find background information and registrations for 30-minute upcoming info sessions if you'd like to learn more.

If the above hyperlink does not work, click here: https://bit.ly/ctcschools

 

Biden Administration Releases National COVID Preparedness Plan

 Permanent link

Biden Administration Releases National COVID Preparedness Plan

Today, the Biden administration released a new National COVID Preparedness Plan to keep America moving forward safely and back to normal routines. The plan focuses on three key goals: 

  • Protection against COVID-19,
  • Preparing for new variants, and
  • Preventing economic and educational shutdowns

First, on protection. Unlike at the start of the pandemic, there are multiple tools to protect against COVID, including vaccines, treatments, tests and masks. 

  • Vaccines: The US now has over 215 million people fully vaccinated. This plan lays out a system to get kids under 5 vaccinated as soon as it’s authorized. 
  • Treatments: The existence of anti-viral pills to treat COVID has cut the chances of an infected person going to the hospital by 90%. This plan announces a “Test to Treat” initiative where people can get tested at a pharmacy clinic – and if they’re positive – receive treatment pills on the spot.
  • Tests: The administration has sent nearly 70 million households free tests. Under this plan, starting next week Americans can order additional free at-home tests on COVIDtests.gov

Second, the administration is preparing for new variants. 

  • Early Warnings: The US has better monitoring systems for hotspots and variants of concern, with an ability to catch them earlier, faster, and with greater precision.
  • Faster Approvals: If needed, the administration has processes in place to produce, authorize and start delivery of new vaccines within 100 days.
  • New Stockpiles: With support from Congress, the US has new stockpiles of tests, masks, treatment pills and PPE ready to deploy when needed  

Third, preventing economic and educational shutdowns.

  • The administration will work to give schools and businesses the tools they need to prevent economic and educational shutdowns, such as paid leave for those who have to miss work due to COVID-19.
  • Ventilation: The administration will release a set of clear recommendations and actions all buildings can take to improve indoor ventilation and air filtration to keep students and staff safe.

Throughout this plan, the administration will ensure they are protecting the most vulnerable populations, including the immuno-compromised and those with disabilities. The immuno-compromised have access to a fourth booster and priority access to new treatments.

The administration is also launching a comprehensive response to prevent, treat, and better understand Long-COVID and to address mental health issues.

Executing this plan will require additional congressional funding. Soon, the administration will send Congress a request for additional funding, which is expected to pass quickly.

 

U.S. Innovation and Competition Act & the America Competes Act

 Permanent link

U.S. Innovation and Competition Act & the America Competes Act

If you tuned into the State of the Union on Tuesday night, you probably heard the President speak about the “Innovation Act.” He was referring to the Senate’s bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) which was approved last June. On February 2, the House passed The America COMPETES Act, which is their response to USICA. The House and Senate will now begin to reconcile the two different bills with the goal to move a final legislative package soon.

Most notably for K-12 education, both proposals include two grant programs:

Improving access to elementary and secondary computer science education grants—A competitive grant program for school districts to increase equitable access to computer science education and computational thinking skills. State education agencies (SEAs) will apply for the grants then subgrant them to school districts. Priority will be given to districts with high percentages of students from low-income families and who partner with HBCUs or minority-serving institutions.  Funds can be used to:

 1) develop and implement a data-driven plan to provide equitable access to computer science education and the development of computational thinking skills, particularly for students from groups that are underrepresented in computer science fields;

2) support and diversify the computer science educator workforce;

3) implement evidence-based instructional practices; and

4) expose students to computer science career pathways through the development of extracurricular opportunities, career exploration and advising opportunities, and high-quality work-based learning opportunities

Postsecondary STEM Pathway Grants for SEAs, two or more school districts and the state’s public higher education system to support the development and implementation of postsecondary STEM pathways. These pathways would consist of a sequence of high school courses focused on STEM education that provide at least 12 credit hours—or the equivalent coursework—toward a recognized postsecondary credential, and may include advanced coursework, a dual or concurrent enrollment program, or an early college high school program. The public higher education system is included in the grant to ensure that the pathways created provide credits that fully transfer to all institutions in the system.

Both proposals also include investments in research on preK-12 STEM education and workforce development in rural areas and engaging rural educators to enhance STEM knowledge.

Two additional provisions that were included in the House’s version that AASA was pleased to see: 1) the creation of short-term Pell Grants for qualified job-training programs and 2) the College Transparency Act—which establishes a secure, privacy-protected system to provide prospective students with customizable information such as how likely they are to graduate from a particular school or program and how much their future earnings potential will be. This information is disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender to identify inequities in students’ success, and allows prospective students and families to shop for programs that meet their needs. Unfortunately, these programs are not included in the Senate version, so it is unclear whether they will be included in the final package.  

The Advocate March 2022: The Legislative Agenda

 Permanent link

The Advocate March 2022: The Legislative Agenda

At the start of each year, the governing bodies representing AASA, The School Superintendents Association, gather to determine federal policy positions for the organization.

In January 2022, AASA’s Executive Committee had the unique opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Roberto Rodríguez, and Acting Assistant Secretary Katherine Neas, who oversees the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).  Both sides engaged in a robust conversation about alleviating the teacher shortage and the need to streamline federal data collection. 

These annual conversations with key federal education officials as well as legislators and staff on Capitol Hill help ensure that AASA’s Legislative Agenda continues to reflect the most important federal education policy and funding issues each year. It is also an opportunity for informal conversations with AASA’s Advocacy Team, so they can gain clarity on our positions on a host of policy issues that are likely to arise. 

This year’s conversation focused on what AASA’s position should be pertaining to the extension of universal school meals policies as well as what policy levers exist for reducing bus driver shortages. At the end of the three-day meeting, the Executive Committee voted to approve the Legislative Agenda. 

In February, prior to the annual National Conference on Education, the AASA Governing Board meets to review the Legislative Agenda and debate potential edits, add clarifying language and eventually adopt the agenda. These conversations among Governing Board members reveal the diversity of AASA’s membership and serve as an important function of why the finally adopted agenda is so extensive, specific and nuanced. 

The guiding principle of AASA’s 2022 Legislative Agenda stems from the important role the federal government stands to play in creating equitable learning opportunities for all students. This starts with equitable policy and resources, both of which should remain available to all students, schools and states. It also includes the protection and preservation of federal education funding when compared with other federal investments. 

Of note, this year’s agenda calls out a specific need for federal policy and funding to support districts’ efforts to provide mental health services for students, staff and families. It also delves into the critical supports for equitable federal funding mechanisms, including key federal programs such as Title I and IDEA, as well as a robust conversation to revise and strengthen the efficacy of poverty indicators within federal education programs. In addition, it highlights the importance of having federal education policy address the educator shortage and the acknowledgement that schools need a pipeline of high-quality educators to operate, function and provide equitable education to students including support for existing and innovative instructional models. 

We encourage you to review the 2022 Legislative Agenda and to contact us if you have specific questions or concerns. 

Unlike other education associations, we provide our advocacy positions as being completely driven by our members. While it’s not always easy or popular to relay the complexity of some positions, we are respected by all federal policy entities we engage with for truly representing the views of the field we are proud to represent.

Conversation with Secretary Cardona and CDC about New Guidance

 Permanent link

Conversation with Secretary Cardona and CDC about New Guidance

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated framework for how we understand and respond to the risks and impacts of COVID-19 in our communities. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and representatives from the CDC and the White House will be having a call on Thursday, March 3 at 11 a.m. ET to hear the latest data and CDC recommendations. 

If you are a chief, superintendent, or their designate and are interested in joining the call, please contact Kat Sturdevant (ksturdevant@aasa.org). After you register, you will receive a Zoom link to join the meeting and you can submit any questions you would like to have answered during the conversation.

Thank you for all you continue to do on behalf of students and staff, and we hope to see you Thursday!

New LPI Blog on The Federal Role in Tackling Teacher Shortages

 Permanent link

New LPI Blog on The Federal Role in Tackling Teacher Shortages

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) has released a great new blog: “The Federal Role in Tackling Teacher Shortages”. The piece discusses existing federal tools – created in a bipartisan manner – to support the teacher workforce, such as comprehensive educator preparation programs and service-related grant and loan programs, could be deployed to help tackle teacher shortages. 

The blog concludes with a discussion of how pending federal funding and social safety net bills could mark the start of deeper federal investment in the teacher pipeline. It is the final piece of a three-part series “Solving Teacher Shortages”. Most notably for superintendents, part one focused on What Can State and Districts Do

ICYMI: AASA Advocacy Federal Policy Update at NCE (Recap)

 Permanent link

ICYMI: AASA Advocacy Federal Policy Update at NCE (Recap)

We had a blast at NCE 2022 and appreciate everyone who came by our Advocacy and Governance sessions.

In case you missed our Federal Policy Update, check out our presentation here.

To check our our Legislative Priorities for this year, you can read our 2022 Legislative Agenda.

As always, for the best news, stories and events in the Education Policy sphere, you can download our AASA Advocacy App, FREE on the App Store and Google Play.

AASA_Advocacy_App 

NAPT and AASA to hold K12 School Transportation Cybersecurity Training and Exercise Program

 Permanent link

NAPT and AASA to hold K12 School Transportation Cybersecurity Training and Exercise Program

 

NAPT_AASA_dualheader

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), in conjunction with AASA, the School Superintendents Association, are pleased to invite you to save the date for the K12 School Transportation Cybersecurity Training and Exercise Program on Monday, April 4, 2022 on the WebEx platform.

This event is intended to bring together K-12 security stakeholders to discuss and improve Prevention, Protection, and Response/Recovery activities related to Cybersecurity issues impacting schools and the pupil transportation industry. The workshop will discuss the following topics:

Prevention (Intelligence and Information Sharing)

1. Review plans and capabilities that support the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence about cybersecurity threats to the school transportation infrastructure.

Protection (Cyber Protective Measures)

2. Develop guidance for how school transportation infrastructure stakeholders, school system officials, and security stakeholders implement cyber protective measures.

Response and Recovery (Operational Coordination)

3. Review how school transportation infrastructure stakeholders, first responders, and other school system officials coordinate and communicate following a cyber-related attack.

We will have federal and industry representatives participating from all parts of the United States. The networking and valuable security discussions offer a great opportunity for all involved to help achieve our mission to prevent and protect against terrorist activities as it relates to Cybersecurity and schools.

Key Details

  • Date: Monday, April 4, 2022
  • Time: 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. EST
  • Location: WebEx platform
  • Register: Here!

 

CDC Revises COVID Masking Guidance for Schools, Clarifies Mask Mandate on Buses

 Permanent link

CDC Revises COVID Masking Guidance for Schools, Clarifies Mask Mandate on Buses

In an announcement out this afternoon, the CDC announced revised guidance that eases mask guidance for upwards of 70% of the population. As an overview, areas with a high COVID-19 community level (about 30% of the US population), masks would still be recommended. For the remaining 70% of communities, areas with low or medium community level, masks are no longer recommended for the general public.

Notable to the guidance, schools are no longer considered in a unique category when it comes to masking recommendations. That is, under the new guidelines, universal masking in schools is now only recommended in areas with a high level.  

The other big point of information is specific to masking on buses: in the revised guidance, CDC clarifies that the TSA mask mandate for public transportation does not apply to public or private schools, including early care and education/child care programs. CDC is making this change to align with updated guidance that no longer recommends universal indoor mask wearing in K-12 schools and early education settings in areas with a low or medium COVID-19 Community Level. School systems at their discretion may choose to require that people wear masks on buses or vans.

CDC Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Interval Guidance and Compiled School Resources

 Permanent link

CDC Updates COVID-19 Vaccination Interval Guidance and Compiled School Resources

On February 24, the CDC updated its COVID-19 vaccination guidance with additional information to help vaccine providers determine the optimal interval between the first and second dose of an mRNA vaccine series, based on the individual patient. This information has been shared with CDC’s partners including all 64 jurisdictions and local health departments.

The CDC also pulled together a compiled list of COVID-19 Prevention Resources and Guidance for Schools that includes the latest CDC guidance, test to stay talking points and program information, resources from partners, and links to three recent webinars. The document titled “School Resources” includes all relevant links for CDC resources and other resources from CDC partners. Please feel free to share the following with your districts:

 

CALL-TO- ACTION: Tell Congress to Extend USDA’s Waiver Authority

 Permanent link

CALL-TO- ACTION: Tell Congress to Extend USDA’s Waiver Authority

Early in the pandemic, Congress gave the USDA the authority to issue child nutrition waivers so that schools and local organizations could adapt their meal programs and provide meals to children in ways that work best for their communities. However, USDA’s waiver authority is currently set to expire on June 30, meaning it will not be able to renew any of the existing waivers for the summer or SY22-23. Congress must extend this authority to maintain the critical flexibilities that districts need to ensure children still have access to school meals and to address the ongoing challenges caused by the supply chain disruptions.

Contact your members of Congress today and urge them to extend USDA’s waiver authority! It’s easy using the AASA AdvocacyApp:

1. Go to the Documents section of the app for the text of the email to send to your members of Congress.

2. Cut/paste the email and send to your members of Congress. To find the email addresses of your members go to the “Congressional Outreach” section of the app and click on the email listed for the education staffer. Consider personalizing your outreach to that person with the text and include any specific experiences you are having that detail why the waivers are critical for your district.  

CISA School Safety Task Force releases the K-12 School Security Guide Suite

 Permanent link

CISA School Safety Task Force releases the K-12 School Security Guide Suite

On February 22, the the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) School Safety Task Force released the K-12 School Security Guide Suite, a set of products designed to inform safety and physical security planning for the range of kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools across the United States. 

Developed in partnership with the RAND Corporation, the K-12 School Security Guide Suite is comprised of the CISA K-12 School Security Guide (3rd Edition) and accompanying School Security Assessment Tool (SSAT). The Guide and SSAT provide a comprehensive doctrine and methodology to assist schools in conducting more robust vulnerability assessments and implementing layered physical security elements across K–12 districts and campuses. Both products are available on CISA.gov and are designed to support school communities in strengthening their protection and mitigation capabilities against the range of targeted violence and crime-related threats they might face.

Dr. David Mussington, executive director of CISA, developed this guide to demonstrate "...how taking a systems-based approach to school physical security planning can help schools create safe and secure learning environments – without requiring school staff to become security experts or compromising the broader educational mission."

The guide suite includes systems-based approaches to layered school security such as planning processes with elements and strategies of security and well as creating a physical grounds perimeter with building exterior and interior layers for systems. These layers are meant to detect, delay and respond to threats. One of the key themes stressed in the guide suite is that these approaches are not one size fits all and may be adjusted for each unique school system. 

The release of the K-12 School Security Guide Suite marks an important milestone in CISA’s continued efforts to advance safe, secure, and resilient schools, and to keep our Nation’s students safe. We hope you find these products to be useful, actionable, and valuable in supporting your school safety efforts, while at the same time preserving the broader educational mission of your institutions.

Check out the guide suite as well as the K-12 School Security Assessment Tools (with guides!) here.

USED Releases Final Non-Regulatory Guidance on Within-District Allocations under Title I, Part A (Title I) of the ESEA

 Permanent link

USED Releases Final Non-Regulatory Guidance on Within-District Allocations under Title I, Part A (Title I) of the ESEA

On February 14, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released final non-regulatory guidance on within-district allocations under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It addresses required and authorized reservations of Title I funds by a local educational agency (LEA) and then outlines how an LEA, with the Title I funds that remain after the reservations, identifies eligible Title I school attendance areas and allocates Title I funds to public schools.

USED created the document to enable users to access information on within-district Title I allocations in a single document rather than in multiple documents.

WEBINAR RECORDING: Planting Seeds During Recovery to Grow Your Long-Term Vision

 Permanent link

WEBINAR RECORDING: Planting Seeds During Recovery to Grow Your Long-Term Vision

Earlier this week, AASA hosted the webinar “Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds: Planting Seeds During Recovery to Grow Your Long-Term Vision”. We were pleased to be joined by Peter Finch, superintendent of West Valley (Wash.) School District #208, who shared how his district is aligning its recovery efforts with its work to shift toward the Learning 2025 vision. Additionally, Valerie Truesdale, AASA assistant executive director, gave an overview of the Learning 2025 framework, and Dan Gordon and Ellie Cash of EducationCounsel introduced a self-assessment tool to think through how to continuously improve district ARP ESSER plans. You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentation here.  We are happy to share some related resources:

  • AASA Learning Recovery and Redesign Installments

Visit AASA’s webinars page for more great content, including upcoming and recorded webinars.

AASA, NHSA Urge the Administration to Provide Clear Guidance Regarding Head Start Vaccine Mandate

 Permanent link

AASA, NHSA Urge the Administration to Provide Clear Guidance Regarding Head Start Vaccine Mandate

On February 8, AASA and the National Head Start Association (NHSA) sent a letter to Secretaries Cardona (USED) and Becerra (HHS) asking for clear guidance on the Head Start Interim Final Rule with Comments (IFC) on vaccines and masking to ensure Head Start programs and public school system leaders can continue to operate Head Start programs and ensure that Head Start children and their families safely retain access to critical services.

School districts are essential partners that often directly deliver services to Head Start children and families. They need clarity on how the mandates will apply in locations where the IFC conflicts with state and/or local regulations or guidance in a manner which does not isolate or negatively impact children. Read the full letter here

AASA Responds to OCR Mandatory Civil Rights Data Collection

 Permanent link

AASA Responds to OCR Mandatory Civil Rights Data Collection

Today, AASA posted our response to Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Civil Rights Data Collection for 2021-2022 school year. This data collection will hit districts in January 2023. Currently, districts are reporting data for the 2020-2021 Civil Rights Data Collection. This is the first time OCR has required back-to-back collections. Here is an excerpt of our comments:

"If there was ever a moment in time for the U.S. Department of Education to recognize the hardship of increased data collection it would be now. Instead, by ignoring or simply dismissing the reality of district personnel and their workloads during the third year of a global pandemic, the 2021-2022 collection proposes to increase the CRDC collection by 47.5 percent when compared to the 2020-2021 collection. Moreover, the Department of Education sets a record over the past decade in the number of hours required to comply with the collection. Even if these estimates, while low, are accurate, the burden a decade ago on districts was estimated to be 8.1 hours per elementary school and 14.9 hours per secondary school.  For the 2021-2022 collection the burden for elementary schools is estimated to be 13.7 hours per school survey and for secondary schools, the burden is estimated to be 22.6 hours per school survey.

Each year we see enormous shifts in the data that is revised and collected. This year the whiplash in data elements is particularly clear as we have an unprecedented CRDC collection happening in back-to-back years. It is our view that either OCR is required to collect this information because to do so would be to leave it clueless as to whether a student’s civil rights are being infringed upon on a permanent basis (as the student’s civil rights are not immutable) or OCR is collecting considerable amounts of 'nice-to-know' rather than 'need-to-know' data with little regard for the burden these reporting requirements place on LEAs and school personnel. If it is the latter, which AASA suspects, then it is highly questionable to place this burden on district personnel during a pandemic when it comes at the direct cost of removing key instructional staff to perform data collection duties."

You can read our full comments here.

 

AASA Leads Letter on IDEA Funding in FY22, Opposes CR

 Permanent link

AASA Leads Letter on IDEA Funding in FY22, Opposes CR

AASA is proud to be a co-chair of the IDEA Full Funding Coalition. In that role, we were proud to sign on to a letter to Capitol Hill expressing support for the proposed increase to IDEA in FY22, and opposing a year-long CR, as it would eliminate any possibility of a funding increase. You can read the full letter here.  

AASA, NAPT Commend FMCSA for Flexibility in 3rd Party Administration of CDL Tests

 Permanent link

AASA, NAPT Commend FMCSA for Flexibility in 3rd Party Administration of CDL Tests

Earlier today, AASA and NAPT expressed gratitude to the FMCSA for recently released guidance that grants flexibility to allow for 3rd party administration of CDL tests. The joint statement reads:

“On behalf of the National Association for Pupil Transportation and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, I write to express our collective appreciation for FMCSA’s amended regulatory guidance that will allow third party testers to administer the commercial driver’s license (CDL) knowledge test for all classes and endorsements. Our organizations collectively represent the transportation and education professionals responsible for ensuring students arrive safely to school each day. We know that yellow school buses are a critical link in our education system, providing not just the safest way to and from school, but predictability to the school day for students and their families, teachers and school administrators.  Covid-19 circumstances are continuing to impact both schools and pupil transportation operations, exacerbated by a pre-existing national shortage of school bus drivers.  Accordingly, NAPT and AASA are pleased the FMCSA acted expeditiously on still another of our November 2021 requests to consider regulatory flexibility for several commercial driver license (CDL) requirements for drivers.  This latest proposal combines with other actions we believe will provide needed relief for challenging national circumstances while preserving the exemplary safety performance that defines school transportation in the U.S.”

House Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Extend USDA Waiver Authority

 Permanent link

House Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Extend USDA Waiver Authority

On February 7, the bipartisan Keeping School Meals Flexible Act was introduced by Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and John Katko (R-NY). The bill would extend USDA’s authority to establish, grant, or extend child nutrition waivers through the upcoming school year, ending on June 30, 2023. All 12 waivers currently in place and USDA’s waiver authority are set to expire on June 30, 2022.

AASA has endorsed the bill and hopes Congress moves swiftly to act on this important issue. The current USDA waivers have given school districts across the country the critical flexibility necessary to continue to provide healthy meals to students, while navigating supply chain issues, school closures, and more. Extending the waivers for the 2022-2023 school year will provide an important safety net to schools as operations gradually return to normal.  

Webinar: Lessons from the Field: Staying in School in Person in 2022- Test to Stay and Other Strategies

 Permanent link

Webinar: Lessons from the Field: Staying in School in Person in 2022- Test to Stay and Other Strategies

The U.S. Department of Education is hosting a webinar series to support educational settings in safely sustaining in-person instruction. The series features lessons learned and best practices from faculty, staff, schools, districts, institutions of higher education, early childhood education providers, and other places of educational instruction, describing approaches to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools, the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) invites you to join the next webinar, Staying in School in Person in 2022: Test to Stay and Other Strategies.

Featured speakers and panelists include:

  • Hayley Meadvin: Senior Advisor, Office of the Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • Miguella Mark-Carew: Field Epidemiologist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Neha Cramer: Guidance and Technical Assistance Lead, STLT Support Task Force, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Kristine Orr: Superintendent, South Glen Falls School District (NY)
  • Kristen Howard: Epidemiologist, Saratoga County Public Health Services (NY)

The webinar will be held on Wednesday, February 9 at 3 p.m. EST. Register here.

You can find related testing resources from USED for your district here.

 

USDA Releases Transitional Standards Milk, Whole Grains and Sodium - Final Rule

 Permanent link

USDA Releases Transitional Standards Milk, Whole Grains and Sodium - Final Rule

On February 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced transitional standards on milk, whole grains and sodium that will be in place for School Years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.

The transitional standards include:

  • Allowing local operators of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) to offer flavored, low-fat milk (1 percent fat) for students in grades K through 12 and for sale as a competitive beverage.
  • Beginning in SY 2022-2023, at least 80 percent of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menus must be whole grain-rich.
  • Establishes Sodium Target 1 as the sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast in SY2022-2023. For SY2023-2024, schools must meet Sodium Target 1A which requires a 10% reduction in sodium for school lunch only.

All other school nutrition standards – including fruit and vegetable requirements and overall calorie ranges – remain the same as the 2012 standards. More details here.

These transitional standards are in place while USDA works with stakeholders to strengthen meal standards through a new rulemaking for the longer term. The longer-term standards will be based on a comprehensive review of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and effective starting in school year 2024-2025.

While we are pleased to see continued flexibility for school meal programs, we anticipate the longer- term standards will include more stringent requirements that will result in reduced participation in school meal programs and unnecessary food waste. AASA recognizes the importance of promoting healthy eating habits around sodium, enriched whole grains, and dairy intake, but it is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them.

Some Background: AASA opposed the reauthorization of the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act largely because while the bill included an increased meal reimbursement rate, LEAs had to adopt the higher meal standards to get the reimbursement, and all analyses demonstrated that adopting the higher nutritional regulations cost at least nearly double the proposed increase, setting schools up to be in the red. The bill became law, though, and AASA and other organizations worked with the administration, Congress and the USDA to craft implementation documents (including guidance and regulations) that brought more levity to the proposal, including the more common-sense requirements around whole grain, milk fat, and sodium. You’ll recall that the HHFKA required 100% whole grains, only allowed for the sale of flavored non-fat milk and included a sodium target level 3. Left to implement these standards, AASA worked with USDA and Congress to make them manageable for districts and were able to get reasonable flexibilities, which remained in effect through the pandemic. Specific to today’s announcement, we had recommended 50% whole grain, maintaining Sodium Target 1 and allowing for the sale of 1% flavored milk. We are pleased to see the majority of our asks included in these transitional standards.

NOTE: Due to COVID-19, USDA has provided various flexibilities in the school meal programs to ensure schools could continue to serve meals during the public health emergency and related supply chain disruptions. USDA has encouraged schools to meet the meal standards as closely as possible, but schools are not being penalized if they are unable to fully meet the requirements at this time. 

All Things Advocacy and Governance at NCE

 Permanent link

All Things Advocacy and Governance at NCE

The AASA Advocacy Team is excited for the 2022 National Conference on Education in Nashville! Here’s what we have planned:

Wednesday, February 15

Governing Board Meeting

9:00a.m. ET, Location: Broadway EF

Thursday, February 16

A Discussion on Monitoring Civil Rights Compliance in Districts

10:15—11:15a.m. ET, Location: Room 205B

Suzanne Goldberg, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, will present on recent federal K-12 civil rights actions by the U.S. Department of Education. After the presentation, participants will have a chance to hear about and discuss the recent changes to the Civil Rights Data Collection, which Suzanne leads. This is a great opportunity for superintendents to engage directly with key staff at the U.S. Department of Education about a variety of civil rights issues impacting students and district leaders.

Federal Relations Luncheon: The Fight for the Future of Public EducationAdditional ticket required  

12:00—1:30p.m. ET, Location: Room 104, Convention Center

Derek W. Black, a legal scholar and author of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, will discuss how today's current schooling trends—the declining commitment to properly fund public education and the well-financed political agenda to expand vouchers and undermine the operations of public schools—threatens not just public education but American democracy itself.

Taking Stock of ESSER Spending

3:00—4:00p.m. ET, Location: Room 204, Convention Center  

In this session Dr. Marguerite Roza, Director of Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, will share the six potential mistakes districts may be making right now, opportunities and pitfalls reporting ESSER spending, and how to demonstrate money is well spent in your district.

Friday, February 18

An Update on Federal Regulations, Guidance and Court Cases

8:00—9:00a.m. ET, Location: Room 204

The top education legal team in the country will walk you through the latest Supreme Court cases impacting education and how they impact your districts, as well as the latest federal guidance and regulations you should understand and follow.

President Elect Candidate Forum

11:15a.m.—12:15p.m. ET, Location: Room 204

The candidates for AASA President-Elect will have the opportunity to respond to questions from the chair of the AASA Election Committee as well as members attending the National Conference on Education.

AASA Federal Education Policy Update

12:45—1:45p.m. ET, Location: Room 205A

AASA’s entire Advocacy Team will be presenting the latest and greatest information from Washington, D.C. beginning with funding and legislative updates from Congress and moving on to recent regulations and guidance issued by USED as well as the various federal policy issues percolating at USDA, DOT, EPA and many other federal agencies. This is a must-attend session for those who are concerned about federal education matters and who want to stay engaged with AASA’s advocacy work.

Addressing the Decline of Vaccination Rates of U.S. Students: What Supts Can Do

2:30—3:30p.m. ET, Location: Room 205B

Understand the implications of declines in childhood vaccination rates resulting from the pandemic and how districts can build and sustain cross-institutional partnerships to develop and sustain school and district-based vaccination clinics for students during and beyond the pandemic. Participants will learn the best ways to increase parent and staff understand of lowered student vaccination rates and strategies for promoting parental consent for vaccinations. The session will feature two superintendents who have provided students with vaccination opportunities for years prior to the pandemic and who believe holding school-based vaccination clinics are essential to achieving health and educational equity for students.

Making the Most of your ESSER Funds: Reflecting on your Plans for Recovery and Redesign

3:45—4:45p.m. ET, Location: Room 203

How can districts ensure they are using ESSER funds to meet immediate needs and, at the same time, redesign toward a more student-centered, equity-focused and future-driven approach? Join AASA and EducationCounsel for an introduction to new guidance and resources tailored to this challenge and aligned with AASA’s Learning 2025 framework. Dr. Andi Fourlis, superintendent of Mesa (Ariz.) Public Schools, will share her district’s current approach and plans for continuously improving their recovery and redesign plans. 

Follow the goings-on of the advocacy team and the conference’s policy sessions on the AASA blog and by following @AASAdvocacy and the Advocacy Team: @Noellerson, @SPudelski, @K_Sturdevant and @TaraEThomas1 on Twitter.

The Advocate February 2022: Legislative Limbo- How Low Will It Go?

 Permanent link

The Advocate February 2022: Legislative Limbo- How Low Will It Go?

As we head into February—fresh on the heels of a Punxsutawney Phil who saw his shadow, bringing us six more weeks of winter—we find Congress also looking at an extension, albeit one of the federal budget, which is past due. And the annual appropriations cycle isn’t the only thing in limbo: when it comes to things to watch in Congress this month, it’s a hat trick: annual appropriations, school meal waivers, and Head Start vaccine mandate.

  • Annual Appropriations: Federal fiscal year 2022 (FY22) started on October 1, 2021. FY22 dollars will be in schools for the 2022-23 school year. And while FY22 started on Oct 1, Congress did not complete its funding work on time. When the funding is completed on time, we either get a federal shutdown, or Congress buys itself more time via a continuing resolution, which just extends the timeline and buys Congress more time to complete its funding works. We are in our second CR of FY22, and the current one expires on February 18. In terms of where we stand on FY22 appropriations specifics, the potential, as it relates to education and the things we prioritize, is very good: The President, House and Senate have all proposed budgets that prioritize education and include significant increases for critical formula programs like Title I and IDEA. Democratic majorities remain in both chambers, and while almost everything in this town is currently hyperpolitical and partisan, one thing that can consistently be bipartisan is the annual appropriations work. Where it gets complicated is actually the timing: when we get this far into the fiscal year, it is increasingly likely Congress chooses to do a year-long CR, which would level fund the federal government for the full year. While year-long CRs were a safer thing under the previous administration to help protect against education cuts, we are opposed to a year-long CR in this scenario. A year-long CR would mean level funding, which would mean no increase for Title I and IDEA. We need clear messaging to Capitol Hill to finish the appropriations process in normal order, and to include the proposed education increases. And, as soon as that dust settles, Congress will pivot to the FY23 budget process, which usually kicks off in February.
  • Head Start: We are waiting additional clarify from HHS detailing how Head Start will be impacted by the vaccine mandate for employers.  On November 30, 2021, HHS implemented an interim rule establishing a COVID-19 vaccine and masking mandate for Head Start programs. The masking requirement took effect immediately while the vaccine mandate required Head Start teachers, staff, and contractors working directly with children to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 31, 2022. 24 states challenged the rule, and on January 1, 2022, a federal district judge blocked the vaccine requirement for Head Start employees in the states that signed onto the lawsuit. (AK, AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, OH, OK, SC, SD, TN, UT, WV, and WY. ) TX filed a separate law suit, meaning that 25 states are exempt from the vaccine mandate in Head Start programs, but the remaining 50 states are subject to the provision. We are awaiting further clarification on what that implementation will look like. AASA is currently partnering with our friends at the National Head Start Association to pen a joint letter asking the administration and Congress to act expeditiously to revise implementation guidance for their vaccine mandate to eliminate conflicts between inter-governmental policies. We’ll post the final letter to the blog once it is delivered!
  • School Meal Flexibilities: AASA is committed to extending the school meal flexibilities in place under COVID through the 2022-23 school year. The current flexibilities last through the 2021-22 school year; anticipating continued disruptions due to COVID, and the fact that child hunger won’t end just because the pandemic may subside or become endemic, it is critical Congress take action to extend the flexibilities, either in an appropriations bill, a revised version of the Build Back Better package, or (less likely) a school meal reauthorization. 

And if those issues don’t capture your attention, or you’re wondering what else we might be working on at the federal level, here’s a quick run down of other policies we are supporting:

  • Extension of ARP Timeline to Support Infrastructure Work: AASA is spearheading an effort—an uphill effort, at that—to push the Congress and administration to extend the timeline on ARP ESSER dollars to support infrastructure projects through September 2026. Read the related op-ed as it appeared in the Washington Post.
  • Regional Calls with USED: AASA is pleased to be working with USED to facilitate ongoing, rotating regional calls for school superintendents to speak directly with USED Secretary Miguel Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten. You can check out the anticipated schedule of upcoming calls here.
  • Title I Funding Formula: While this has a next-to-zero chance of getting over the finish line (or anywhere near it) this year, AASA is pleased to be reunited in our effort with Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) to revise and update the Title I funding formula to better target the dollars based on concentration of need.
  • Medicaid Claiming in Schools: We continue to work with the Biden Administration to push them to streamline the paperwork burden schools have to navigate to realize the full funding they’re due for the Medicaid services they provide to students. 

We’ll also be in Nashville this month for the National Conference on Education; join us on Friday February 18 at 12:45 p.m. CT for our in-person advocacy update. We hope to see you there.

 

Regional Calls with USED: A Recap

 Permanent link

Regional Calls with USED: A Recap

This year, AASA is pleased to be working with USED to facilitate ongoing, rotating regional calls for school superintendents to speak directly with USED Secretary Miguel Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten. You can check out the anticipated schedule of upcoming calls here. USED followed up with a variety of resources mentioned during the call, that we are happy to share here:

  1. COVID-19 Testing  
  2. Staffing Shortages  
  3. American Rescue Plan (ARP)
    • We encourage you to share the ways you are using ARP funds throughout your school communities. The Department recently launched #ARPStars, a social media campaign highlighting schools, states, and educators – in their own words – doing everything they can to fight COVID-19 and give students, teachers, and families the tools they need to succeed. Check out their first few posts. Share your projects, use the hashtag and they will lift up the posts! 
     

USED Upcoming Regional Calls with Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten for Superintendents

 Permanent link

USED Upcoming Regional Calls with Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten for Superintendents

UPDATED 3/11

We have been working with USED to set up and support a series of regional conversations for public school superintendents with Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten. These calls will be grouped by AASA region, and AASA will email all superintendent and district administrators in each state, ahead of their scheduled call. We are also working with our state affiliates to ensure as robust a dissemination of this information as possible. Feel free to check back to the blog; we’ll be updating the dates/times/state rosters for these calls as they get locked in.

If you don’t see an email with call information ahead of your state call, reach out to Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 

The tentative schedule for calls is the following:

DATE REGION TIME
     
Friday, March 11 Region 1 & 2 (AZ, CA, CO, HI, NV, NM, UT) 10:00 - 11:00 a.m. HT/12:00 - 1:00 p.m. PT/1:00 - 2:00 p.m. MT
Friday, March 18 Region 2 & 3 (AR, IA, KS, NE, ND, OK, SD, TX) 1:00 - 2:00 MT/2:00 - 3:00 p.m. CT/3:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Friday, March 25 Region 6 & 7 (NJ, PA, WV, CT, NY, RI) 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Friday, April 1 Region 2 (AZ, CO, NM, UT) 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. MT
Friday, April 8 Region 3 (IA, ND, NE, SD) 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. CT
Friday, April 15 Region 5 (NC, TN, SC, VA) 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. CT/3:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Friday, April 22 Region 6 (DC, DE, MD) 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET
Friday, April 29 Region 7 (MA, ME, NH, VT) 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET


The Zoom info will be sent to you prior to the call. We look forward to these calls, and hope you can dial in. 

AASA Joins Letter to the President on Supporting COVID-Bereaved Children and Families

 Permanent link

AASA Joins Letter to the President on Supporting COVID-Bereaved Children and Families

Today, AASA joined over 90 health, education and community organizations in asking for the Biden Administration's leadership to support children who have lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19. The letter addressed the staggering loss as the nation continues to battle the ongoing pandemic, where roughly one in 450 children in America has lost a parent or caregiver as of November 17, 2021.

The letter, led by COVID Collaborative, recommended the administration to issue an Executive Order to shape a comprehensive response to support children and families who have experienced loss through states, tribal governments and localities, drawing on or expanding existing programs and COVID relief funds. Through helping lift our bereaved children and families, our nation can begin to heal the heavy burden of pain and loss.

FCC Commits Another $240 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Support to Connect Students, Schools and Libraries

 Permanent link

FCC Commits Another $240 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Support to Connect Students, Schools and Libraries

Today, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced the commitment of $240 million in its eighth wave of the Emergency Connectivity Fund program support. This funding is critical to keeping students connected for coursework and online educational resources, benefiting 12 million students across the nation and helping to close the homework gap.

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech serves on the USAC Board, which oversees the administration of the E-Rate and ECF programs. As part of the USAC Board meeting this week, Dan was reappointed as chair of the schools and libraries subcommittee. Coming out of this week's meeting, he is committed to working with USAC and FCC leadership to ensure quick release of the remaining ECF funds so schools can put them to immediate use.

AASA Signs Letter Asking for Transparency in OT Rule

 Permanent link

AASA Signs Letter Asking for Transparency in OT Rule

AASA joined more than 100 employer organizations in signing a letter to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh urging the Department of Labor (DOL) to hold stakeholder meetings prior to the development and issuance of its anticipated proposed rulemaking on the “white collar” exemptions to the overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In the letter the organizations explain, “This will be a significant rulemaking with respect to cost, difficulty in implementation and impact on the workforce, particularly given the current acute labor shortages. Our organizations urge DOL to follow past precedents and hold meetings with the regulated community to obtain input on the potential impact of any changes to the overtime exemption requirements.”

DOL would benefit from stakeholder input on the current economic situation and the potential impact new overtime regulations could have on the workforce and economy. Past administrations have held such meetings, and the employer organizations strongly urge the Biden DOL to follow suit. Given the vast increases in remote work and concerns around historic increases in inflation, it is particularly important for DOL to gather input before issuing a proposed regulation.

USED Shares Resources for Using ARP Funds to Address State & Local Personnel Shortages

 Permanent link

USED Shares Resources for Using ARP Funds to Address State & Local Personnel Shortages

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education held a two-part webinar to share valuable resources to help districts address the state and local teacher and staff labor shortages. In a Dear Colleague letter from Secretary Cardona in December 2021, the Department urged the use of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to help address the shortages, minimize in-person learning disruptions and meet students' needs. The letter detailed best practices for districts to allocate those funds accordingly.

  • The first part of the webinar focused on addressing teacher labor shortages. The recording can be found here. The presentation can be found here.
  • The second part of the webinar focused on addressing staff labor shortages. The recording can be found here. The presentation can be found here.

The following accompanying resources can be accessed to better help your district allocate those funds:

In the conclusion of the Dear Colleague letter, USED strongly encouraged the use funding under ARP to respond to the urgent needs resulting from the pandemic while beginning to plan for the investments needed to ensure that every  student has access to the qualified educators and staff they need.

The Federal School Safety Clearinghouse Will Launch New Grants Finder Tool for K-12 School Districts

 Permanent link

The Federal School Safety Clearinghouse Will Launch New Grants Finder Tool for K-12 School Districts

Last week, the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse team announced the launch of a new Grants Finder Tool coming in February. The new feature – part of their continued mission to promote and enhance school safety across the nation – will feature federally available school safety-related grant programs and is designed as a decision-making support tool to help schools and districts determine the eligibility and applicability of funding opportunities for their specific needs, challenges, and characteristics.

The new SchoolSafety.gov Grants Finder Tool was developed to help the K-12 community more easily find, apply for and ultimately receive school safety-related funding. The tool will simplify and streamline the federal funding search process for K-12 schools and districts by housing school safety-related grants in one centralized location, as well as providing school personnel with a variety of ways to search for and access grant opportunities from across the federal government.   

The Grants Finder Tool will offer several easy-to-use features to assist stakeholders in finding funding opportunities, no matter their level of expertise or familiarity with federal grant programs, including options to take a quiz, search pre-populated lists or filter grants by specific criteria such as funding agency, application deadline, application level of effort, intended use and school safety topic. Through the tool, individuals will also have the ability sign up for email alerts notifying them when new grant opportunities are added to the site and to stay informed when the latest federal funding opportunities become available.  

The SchoolSafety.gov team developed the Grants Finder Tool to address a direct need of the K-12 school community and with a user-first approach in mind. Direct feedback from a series of user tests – conducted with key stakeholder groups comprising K-12 schools and districts – was considered and implemented into the final design to ensure the tool best meets the needs, challenges, and priorities of the community. 

If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding the Grants Finder Tool, please contact the School Safety team at SchoolSafety@hq.dhs.gov.

AASA leads Letter to ED Asking for School Construction Extension

 Permanent link

AASA leads Letter to ED Asking for School Construction Extension

Today, AASA led a letter signed by thirty national education, school facilities and environmental groups to the U.S. Department of Education requesting that they provide additional timeline flexibilities to districts that are struggling to find contractors and supplies for critical school facility work related to the pandemic. Under the American Rescue Plan (ARP),  districts have until December 2024 to liquidate all their funding, but many small and medium-size districts are struggling to even get estimates for projects they need to do to improve air-quality and learning environments.

The inability to obligate ARP funding for construction projects has to do with larger economic issues outside of districts’ control such as supply chain issues, labor shortages, chip shortages, increased competition for engineers and contractors, and inflation. Given the importance of air quality and social distancing during the pandemic, it is of paramount importance that districts have the time they need to use ARP funding to protect and promote student and educator health and well-being. We hope the Department considers every tool it has to provide flexibility to districts that aim to use federal relief funds for these projects and upgrades.

USED Hosting Regional Calls with Secretary Cardona for Superintendents

 Permanent link

USED Hosting Regional Calls with Secretary Cardona for Superintendents

We are working with USED to set up and support a series of regional conversations for public school superintendents with Secretary Cardona and Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten. These calls will be grouped by AASA region, and AASA will email all superintendent and district administrators in each state, ahead of their scheduled call. We are also working with our state affiliates to ensure as robust a dissemination of this information as possible. Feel free to check back to the blog; we’ll be updating the dates/times/state rosters for these calls as they get locked in.

If you don’t see an email with call information ahead of your state call, reach out to Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 

The next call will include 3 states from AASA Region 3: Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and is scheduled for Friday, February 4 from 1:00 PM to 1:45 PM CT/2:00 to 2:45 PM ET. We’ll be sending that call information on Monday, be on the lookout! 

We look forward to these calls, and hope you can dial in. 

 

How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit

 Permanent link

How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit

The Coalition on Human Needs and the Partnership for America's Children held a great resource webinar:  "How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit." They were joined by Superintendent Almi Abeyta and Daniel Mojica from Chelsea (Mass.) Public Schools, Deb Stein from Partnership for America’s Children and Sarah McKitterick from the Shah Foundation, who shared best practices and resources for helping families claim this critical benefit and a district’s experience conducting CTC outreach to families.

You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentations here. You can read our earlier blog post about the Child Tax Credit here.

We are happy to share some related resources: 

Please contact Julia Beebe, Child Tax Credit outreach coordinator, Coalition on Human Needs, with any questions.

Visit AASA’s webinars page for more great content, including upcoming and recorded webinars.

The Child Tax Credit Day of Action is February 8! Check out their resources here.

 

COVID-19 Testing in K-12: A “How To” Webinar

 Permanent link

COVID-19 Testing in K-12: A “How To” Webinar

Join the U.S. Department of Education for a webinar to help schools and districts start or strengthen their school-based COVID-19 testing program, with participants including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The Rockefeller Foundation and others.
 
This will be an opportunity to ask questions and hear directly technical experts and school and district leaders who are regularly testing, including around:
  1. Why is testing in schools important?
  2. What should I know before I start?
  3. What are some resources that can help me get started?
  4. What is Test to Stay and how are other schools doing it?
USED will offer this webinar on Fridays, January 21, 28 and February 4 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. EST. There will be a Q&A session for 20 minutes afterwards for those with additional questions. 
 
Register for the webinar here.
 
Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions and released additional resources to increase COVID-19 testing in schools:
 
 

Updated Guidance on Implementing ESEA Programs Without Complete NSLP Data

 Permanent link

Updated Guidance on Implementing ESEA Programs Without Complete NSLP Data

The Department of Education released an updated fact sheet on implementing ESEA programs without complete National School Lunch Program (NSLP) data from SY20-21 and SY21-22. The guidance provides some additional options for state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) to calculate eligibility and allocations that are usually based on NSLP data.

Most notable for district leaders are alternate measures to use for Title I allocations within LEAs. To the extent that NSLP data from SY20-21 and SY21-22 are not available, for SY22-23 LEAs may use:

  • Medicaid or TANF data or a composite of data from these two sources from SY20-21 for SY21-22 within-LEA allocations or from SY21-22 for SY22-23 within-LEA allocations;
  • The best available NSLP data, which may be from SY19-20;
  • NSLP data from SY20-21 or SY21-22 that may be accessible (e.g., counts of children identified through direct certification, which may be adjusted by 1.6 for within LEA allocations to account for the lack of household applications);
  • A combination of the best available NSLP data from SYs 19-20, 20-21, and 21-22;
  • A composite of the NSLP, Medicaid, and TANF data listed in the previous bullets; or
  • Data from a poverty survey conducted by the SEA or LEA that replicate NSLP, Medicaid, or TANF data.

The guidance also includes other measures that SEAs may use to calculate children from low-income families for the Rural and Low-Income School Program, Title I and II allocations for specials LEAs, Title I allocations for small LEAs and reporting and accountability.  

Additionally, the document clarifies that under waivers issued by USDA for school year 2021-2022, the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Component of Child and Adult Care Food Program may operate simultaneously with the SSO during the regular school year. 

It’s Easier Than You May Think to Use ESSER Money for Personnel

 Permanent link

It’s Easier Than You May Think to Use ESSER Money for Personnel

We are sharing a memo from our friends at CCSSO that is intended to clarify district confusion about the ability to use ESSER funding for employee compensation, including the requirements to abide by time distribution records or time and effort records. This memo provides examples of when these records are and are not required.

For example, if an employee spends part of its time coordinating COVID-19 testing and another part of its time fundraising, ESSER can only pay for the time spend on COVID-19 testing and could charge that time to ESSER funding. The LEA would need time distribution records to verify ESSER was only charged for the time spent on allowable activities. According to ED, however, such situations involving a combination of allowable and unallowable activities will be rare. Instead, most employees compensated with ESSER funds will work on activities that could all be charged to ESSER should the LEA choose to. When an employee works entirely on allowable ESSER activities – that is, when ESSER could pay for all of the activities an employee works on – SEAs and LEAs do not need to distinguish between activities and ED guidance states no time distribution records are required.

If superintendents were worried about the required paperwork associated with charging employee time to ESSER, we hope this memo, which was approved by USED, reassures you that it may not be as administratively challenging as you think.

New GAO Report Finds School Districts in Socially Vulnerable Communities Faced Heightened Challenges after Recent Natural Disasters

 Permanent link

New GAO Report Finds School Districts in Socially Vulnerable Communities Faced Heightened Challenges after Recent Natural Disasters

Today, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that found chronic underinvestment in school facilities has left schools vulnerable to natural disasters, prolonging closures and putting states on the hook for billions of dollars. According to the report, school districts serving high proportions of children and families who are low income, people of color, English learners or living with disabilities are the most impacted by natural disasters and often do not have sufficient resources to prepare facilities for disasters or repair facilities damaged by disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance program and the Department of Education's Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations program may provide assistance to lessen the financial burden and provide emotional, academic, financial and physical lifting to get schools back on track. However, the report also found that, due to deferred maintenance, many low-income school districts could lose out on that federal disaster recovery assistance, which can be partially withheld from districts to account for the state of facilities before a natural disaster. 

Read the highlights from the report here. The full report is available here.

A Note for Superintendents, From Secretary Cardona

 Permanent link

A Note for Superintendents, From Secretary Cardona

The following note was sent to superintendents following a call with Sec. Cardona on January 7.

 Dear Superintendents,

Thank you all for joining my conversation with the Surgeon General, CDC, and White House. An hour out of your day, on the first week back after break, is asking a lot and is not lost on me. I continue to be grateful for your commitment to solving these challenging issues and keeping students and staff safe – and hopefully in the classroom in-person.

We know needs and concerns are changing rapidly, and everyone is working tirelessly to respond, balancing what we’ve learned, the latest science, students’ academic needs, and everyone’s mental health and safety concerns.

The Department will continue to host conversations with you and your colleagues. As was mentioned on the call, we’re beginning virtual regional roundtables shortly and want to ensure there is always an open line of communication. We continue to hear about the impacts of educators and other school staff shortages due to COVID-19. We are committed to supporting you in addressing these shortages and urge you to use resources from the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) to ensure that students have access to the teachers and other critical staff they need to support their success during this critical period.

Since we spoke, Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions to increase COVID-19 testing in schools by:

  • Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools;
  • Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month;
  • Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites;
  • Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds; and
  • New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools

In the days since, the Administration has released a number of additional resources for schools seeking COVID-19 tests, and I wanted to make sure they were easily at your fingertips:

If I could make just one ask of everyone, it’d be to host a vaccination clinic for students, staff, and families (first shots and boosters!) in January. We know the vaccine is safe and effective and our best defense against COVID. Additionally, following the CDC’s guidance, those who are vaccinated do not need to participate in Test to Stay if a close contact tests positive. Instead, if they’re asymptomatic, students and staff can safely remain masked in school in-person. This eases the testing burden and allows everyone to safely remain in school.

Thank you for everything you’re doing. It’s not easy, but your dedication is inspiring.  

White House Announces Increased investment in COVID-19 Testing at K12 Schools

 Permanent link

White House Announces Increased investment in COVID-19 Testing at K12 Schools

Today, the White House announced it will be expanding its investments in COVID-19 testing at K12 schools by:

  • Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools. 
  • Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month
  • Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites.
  • Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds. 
  • New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools.

In a Dear Colleague letter, Secretary Cardona outlined new and existing resources from the federal government that can help you access tests and implement testing programs in your schools. The letter recommended:

  • Using your state's COVID-19 testing program(s) and resources, funded by the CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program,
  • Accessing free lab-based testing through the CDC Operation Expanded Testing (OpET) program,
  • Connecting with school COVID-19 testing vendors, and
  • Partnering with a community COVID-19 testing site near your school that your students and staff can use.

In response to today’s announcement about expanded support for COVID-19 testing in schools, Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued the following statement:

“We applaud this announcement. School superintendents across the nation have been working tirelessly this school year to ensure as robust of an in-person educational opportunity as possible in the current COVID environment, and today’s news is a critical expansion of one of the mitigation strategies schools and system leaders are increasingly relying on: Testing.

“The plan relies on a blended approach of testing supports: Distributing 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month; providing 5 million additional PCR tests for free to schools each month; organizing surge testing units to support expanded testing needs in communities; working with states and outside organizations to connect schools with testing providers; and distributing additional training, resources and materials related to last month’s Test to Stay policy update.

“These resources are a welcome opportunity for school system leaders working to expand and strengthen the role of testing in their schools’ COVID mitigation work.” 

Full details in the White House press release. You can find Sec. Cardona's full Dear Colleague letter here. Find the AASA press release here.

AASA Releases Survey Findings on School-Based Vaccination Clinics

 Permanent link

AASA Releases Survey Findings on School-Based Vaccination Clinics

During the first two weeks of December, AASA surveyed hundreds of superintendents across the U.S. to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 clinics for students in school districts. The data sought to gauge the interest of district leaders in continuing to host COVID-19 clinics and clinics for other vaccine-preventable diseases, and identifying the challenges of doing so.

Today, we are excited to release that data as two colorful infographics that we encourage you to share with your community; COVID-19 Clinics in K-12 Schools and School-Based Vaccination Programs During and Beyond the Pandemic.

Among the key findings:

  • 53% of districts respondents indicated they were currently offering COVID vaccine clinics for kids ages 5-11
  • 68% of districts respondents hosted vaccination clinics for students ages 12-17.
  • 50% of districts hosted vaccination clinics for students ages 5-11 and 12-17. 
  • 52% of district partnered with local health agencies to host vaccination clinics. 
  • 40% of superintendents indicated they would continue to hold additional or on going COVID-19 clinics for students. 

Superintendents have a critical role to play in complying with state childhood vaccination requirements, expanding the availability of required childhood vaccinations and enabling vulnerable students the opportunity to be vaccinated in school. With the introduction of this data, we hope it helps your district to implement these school-based clinics.

USDA Announces Adjustment to School Meal Reimbursement Rate

 Permanent link

USDA Announces Adjustment to School Meal Reimbursement Rate

On January 7, USDA announced an adjustment to school meal reimbursement rates that that will allow schools to receive 22% more for school lunches than they would under normal conditions. This move will put an estimated $750 million more into school meal programs across the nation this year, making sure federal reimbursements keep pace with food and operational costs.

School lunch reimbursement rates usually do not increase during the school year. However, this year, due to the pandemic, USDA allowed schools to benefit from the highest rates available, which are normally reserved for the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). By law, these summer rates adjust for inflation annually in January.

At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, the SFSP lunch reimbursement rate for participating schools was already 15% higher than the standard reimbursement for a free lunch. Now, because of higher food costs and other circumstances, schools will receive an additional 25 cents per lunch. This increase beings the total reimbursement rate to 22% higher than the normal rate. 

ICYMI: COVID and Staying in School Manual

 Permanent link

ICYMI: COVID and Staying in School Manual

Over the holiday break, USED released a new resource “2022: Staying in School In Person”. The document outlines four key strategies keep students and staff safe, healthy and ready for in-person learning, including:

1. Help Students Get Vaccinated

Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and the best way to help school communities remain in school, in-person during the pandemic. USED provides resources on how to host school-based vaccination clinics and recommends hosting family vaccine clinics and encouraging all eligible school staff, parents and family members to get vaccinated and a booster shot.

2. Implement Test to Stay and Provide Screening Testing

The document identifies the key factors in successful Test To Stay programs including frequent testing of close contacts after exposure – repeated at least twice during a seven-day period post-exposure. USED has partnered with the CDC and the Rockefeller Foundation to help districts accelerate school-based testing for students and staff. As part of this effort, the Rockefeller Foundation published a testing how-to start-up guide for schools and the CDC launched a directory and website to make it easy for schools to identify testing providers within their state.

3. Collaborate with Local Health Departments

Vaccination rates and community spread vary across states and impact decisions at a local level. Collaborating with local health departments is crucial in ensuring a coordinated and supported response to COVID in your school. At the foundation of this relationship should be meaningful, regular and consistent interactions with your local, county and state health departments so that schools are best equipped to respond to new data, pivot in response to evolving information and reassess any changed policies as needed.

4. Monitor Community Spread

The CDC has stated that although outbreaks in schools can occur, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than—or at least similar to—levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place in schools. Implementing mitigation strategies at all levels of community transmission is important to keep in-school transmission low. When there are higher levels of community transmission, it is particularly important to strengthen strategies like screening testing to identify cases early.

USED Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

 Permanent link

USED Announces Joint Temporary Action with U.S. Department of Transportation to Help Address School Bus Driver Labor Shortage

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Education to address the school bus driver shortage. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency within US DOT responsible for regulating the trucking industry, is giving states the option of waiving the portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components. All other components of the written and road test will remain. Drivers receiving a CDL under this temporary waiver are permitted to operate intrastate school buses only; they are not authorized to operate trucks, motorcoaches, or any other type of commercial motor vehicle requiring a CDL.  

The FMCSA waiver, which became effective Jan. 3, 2022, expires March 31, 2022. USED and US DOT hope this will alleviate some of the labor shortage challenges schools are facing to safely keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning. 

In case you missed it, AASA led a letter with 12 other national organizations in November 2021 to US DOT identifying a handful of policy changes that could help address the bus driver shortage. While this change was not one of our asks, it does represent a low-hanging fruit provision, that in coordination with longer-lasting and more substantive relief is a good first step towards providing relief. In late November, US DOT also provided flexibility to allow 3rd parties to administer both the skills and knowledge portions of the CDL, in response to our letter. Together, these are two clear indicators that US DOT is committed to supporting schools.

District Court Judge Blocks Head Start Vaccine Mandate in 24 States

 Permanent link

Federal District Court Judge Blocks Head Start Vaccine Mandate in 24 States

On Saturday, January 1, a federal district court blocked the Biden administration’s mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in all Head Start programs. The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of Monroe, Louisiana, in a challenge brought by 24 states, also blocks the mandate’s requirement that Head Start students age 2 or older wear masks while indoors or in close contact with others.

The injunction only applies to the 24 states involved in the case: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia.

It is unclear at this time whether the Biden Administration will appeal this decision. We will continue to update this post with any developments.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases on January 7 regarding the Biden Administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations, including OSHA’s temporary rule requiring private employers with 100 or more workers to implement a vaccine mandate. The OSHA case may reveal how Supreme Court justices think about federal vaccine efforts, which may affect the Head Start mandates. 

USDA Distributes $1.5 Billion to Strengthen School Meal Programs Amidst Supply Chain Disruptions

 Permanent link

USDA Distributes $1.5 Billion to Strengthen School Meal Programs Amidst Supply Chain Disruptions

On December 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it is providing up to $1.5 billion to states and school districts to help school meal operators deal with the challenges of supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The funding will be made available through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation and funneled through the states for different purposes:

 

  • $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance Funds for schools to purchase food for their programs
  • $300 million in USDA Food Purchases for states to distribute to schools
  • $200 million through the new Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program that will be used for cooperative agreements to purchase local foods for schools.

 

Find a state by state breakdown of funds here.

Supply Chain Assistance Funds—The $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance Funds will go to states for cash payments to school districts to use to purchase food for their school meal programs. Supply Chain Assistance funding can be used by school districts to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed domestic food such as fresh fruit, milk, cheese, frozen vegetables and ground meat. Each state will allocate the funds to schools based on student enrollment, with a minimum amount per district to ensure that small schools aren’t left behind.

To strengthen local food supply chains, states have the option of using up to 10% of the Supply Chain Assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distributing these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.

USDA Foods Purchases—USDA will purchase about $300 million in 100% domestically grown and produced food products, known as USDA Foods, for states to distribute to schools to offset the impact of disruptions to their normal supply chains. Conducting market research and working with USDA’s qualified small to large vendors, USDA has identified a large list of available products. States will be able to order these additional foods within the coming weeks, with deliveries to occur as soon as possible.

Local Foods for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program—USDA will award up to $200 million to states for food assistance purchases of domestic local foods for distribution to schools. This program will strengthen the food system for schools by helping to build a fair, competitive, and resilient local food chain and expanding local and regional markets with an emphasis on purchasing from historically underserved producers and processors. 

USED Releases FAQ on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems

 Permanent link

USED Releases FAQ on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems

The Department of Education (USED) has released a FAQ on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems. The guidance, which is being published to invite public comments, is intended to support State educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and schools as they implement accountability and school improvement requirements under section 1111 of the ESEA using data from the 2021-2022 school year. USED notes that SEAs may have to adjust their accountability systems due to the pandemic and, therefore, SEAs will have the option to amend their existing accountability systems with a streamlined COVID-19 State Plan Addendum.

The document is posted for stakeholder review and comment through January 16, 2022. Substantive comments about the content of the draft, including feedback on any additional topics that should be included, should be sent to OESE.Feedback@ed.gov. USED will consider comments in making revisions but will not provide responses to individual comments.

Biden Administration Releases Resources on Test to Stay, Vaccines and Boosters

 Permanent link

Biden Administration Releases Resources on Test to Stay, Vaccines and Boosters

Setting up testing for COVID-19 in schools is one of the most important things schools can do to contain the spread of COVID-19 amongst students and staff. Now, schools have a new tool they can use to keep learning in-person even if cases arise: test to stay.

Test to stay combines two important prevention strategies – contact tracing (identifying those who were exposed to COVID-19) and serial testing (repeated testing following exposure) at school – to contain spread of the virus while keeping kids safely in school. CDC studied test to stay approaches, and found that – when implemented along with other layered prevention strategies – test to stay limited transmission of COVID-19 in school buildings, while also saving valuable in-person learning time for students.

CDC emphasized some key actions for schools in implementing test to stay programs. These include frequent testing of close contacts after exposure – repeated at least twice during a seven-day period post-exposure; consistently wearing masks while in school; robust contact tracing to ensure that all close contacts are properly identified and notified of their exposure, and get tested; staying home and isolating for anyone who tests positive; and continued implementation of layered prevention strategies as described in the CDC K-12 guidance.

The American Rescue Plan provided $130 billion for K-12 schools to implement mitigation strategies like test to stay, and an additional $10 billion dedicated specifically to school-based COVID-19 testing. Schools can work with their state and local health departments to get started on test to stay right away.

CDC resources on test to stay:

For parents, the message is consistent and clear: get your kids vaccinated.

The most important takeaway for parents remains the same: getting your child vaccinated is the best way to protect them from serious illness, and to keep them safely learning in school all school year long. Vaccination is still the most important defense in keeping our schools safe from COVID. The benefits are clear. If your child is vaccinated:

  • They don’t have to quarantine after exposure to the virus, as long as they are not symptomatic.
  • They do not need to participate in screening testing.
  • They help keep kids safely in school and schools safely open, and help avoid activities they love – like playing sports and participating in extracurriculars – from getting canceled.
  • And most importantly, they are protected from serious illness.

Already, nearly 6 million kids have gotten the extra protection of a vaccine. And we have 35,000 sites designed specifically for kids, and thousands of schools nationwide have set up school-located vaccine clinics to provide direct access to the COVID shot for families. So over the holidays, even more parents can take their kids to get vaccinated, or they can visit a new family site to get a child vaccinated and get a booster themselves.

For school staff and all eligible adults: get boosted.

Everyone eligible for a booster shot should get one right away – this includes our educators and school staff. Boosters provide an improved level of protection against infected with COVID-19. We know that vaccines remain effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. As we continue to work to stay ahead of the virus, the best thing you can do right now is to go get your booster shot today.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance recommending that every adult get a booster. Everyone ages 16 and older can now get a COVID-19 vaccine booster. You can get your booster:

  • 6 months after your 2nd dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; or
  • 2 months after your single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

Boosters are free and readily available at over 80,000 locations coast to coast. You have 3 ways to find free vaccines near you:

  • Go to vaccines.gov
  • Text your ZIP code to 438829
  • Call 1-800-232-0233

Secretary Cardona Urges Educational Leaders to Use ARP Funds to Address Teacher Shortages

 Permanent link

Secretary Cardona Urges Educational Leaders to Use ARP Funds to Address Teacher Shortages

On December 16, Secretary Cardona sent a Dear Colleague letter to educational leaders urging them to use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to address the severe teacher and staff shortages that schools are facing. In the letter, Cardona outlined evidence-based strategies, highlighted resources and shared examples of how districts are already using ARP funds to attract and retain teachers and staff. 

The recommendations include: 

1. Increase Educator and Staff Compensation 

Many school leaders are increasing compensation by offering hiring and retention bonuses, working towards permanent salary increases, or providing premium pay to help keep educators in the profession. For other critical staff, like bus drivers, some districts have increased pay and covered the cost of required training. 

This section also highlighted the practice of hiring retired teachers, social workers and psychologists to help meet the needs of students. The IRS recently released FAQs clarifying that, in some instances, retirees can return to work and still receive their pensions. States can also provide temporary changes to their pension program to allow for this. 

2. Build and Maintain a Cadre of High-Quality Substitute Teachers 

Secretary Cardona also recommends using ARP funds to recruit and train high-quality substitute teachers. To create some stability and certainty, substitute teachers could be assigned to a school for an entire school year. This strategy would help substitute teachers be more prepared to step into the classroom and support continuity for students when educators need to take time off. These substitute teachers can also co-lead small group learning and provide support during release time for educators to allow for teacher professional development. 

3. Support Educator and Staff Well-Bring, Including Improved Working Conditions

Stress is the most common reason educators have cited for leaving. Surveys show educator well-being is tied to feeling supported, valued, and heard by school and district leaders, as well as peers. Key strategies include: 

  • Building intentional systems that support educator and staff well-being. Prioritizing communication and collaboration between staff and leadership create a sense of connectedness that is crucial to supporting educators and keeping them in the profession.
  • Increasing the availability of qualified adults and personnel to support educators, students and staff. Districts can partner with institutions of higher education, community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to provide additional supports to educators and students through the use of teaching candidates and well-trained volunteers. 
  • Implementing flexible and creative scheduling to support students for full-week in-person learning while providing planning and collaboration for teachers. Districts could hold entire days focused on a single core academic subject; offer all “special” subjects (e.g., music, art, physical education) on the same day so grade-level teams can plan together; and hold shorter learning cycles, with more frequent breaks, some of which educators can use for planning.

4. Make Investments in the Educator Pipeline

The final recommendation in the letter outlined strategies to support the preparation and development of new educators and encourage them to work in high-need schools, including: 

  • Providing loan forgiveness, grants, or service scholarship programs that significantly underwrite the cost of postsecondary education in exchange for a commitment to teach in a high-need field or school for a minimum amount of time. 
  • Developing and implementing high-quality comprehensive teacher residency programs that provide extensive clinical experience, which have been shown to increase teacher retention and effectiveness; and 
  • Developing and implementing professional development programs and mentoring models, particularly for newer teachers, that emphasize building effective instructional strategies and provide time for ongoing collaboration.

Read the full letter here

Guest Blog Post: How School Districts Can Help Families Claim the Expanded Child Tax Credit

 Permanent link

Guest Blog Post: How School Districts Can Help Families Claim the Expanded Child Tax Credit

December 15, 2021

Today’s guest blog post comes from Coalition on Human Needs and the Partnership for America’s Children.

Many families need some extra breathing room as they navigate the expenses associated with raising kids. In November, the families of 61 million children received more than $15 billion of relief through expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments. Most received those payments automatically. However, more than four million children live in families that have so little earned income that they are not required to file tax returns; these families may have missed out on CTC payments because they were required to take steps to claim the credit.

During the coming months, superintendents and school districts can play critical roles in ensuring that families receive the full amount of the expanded CTC for both 2021, and depending on federal legislation, 2022. Simple steps can make a big difference. To learn more, read below and join us for the webinar, “How School Leaders Can Help Connect Families to the Expanded Child Tax Credit,” on January 20 at 1 p.m. ET. Representatives from the Partnership for America's Children, Coalition on Human Needs and the Shah Family Foundation will share best practices and resources to help your districts help families claim this critical benefit. You’ll also hear directly from a school leader whose district conducted CTC outreach. Register for the webinar here.

The American Rescue Plan Act expanded the CTC for 2021. Almost 90 percent of children in the U.S. are eligible, and the expansion is expected to reduce the number of kids experiencing poverty by more than 40 percent. In October alone, expanded CTC payments kept 3.6 million kids out of poverty. The expansion is especially critical for Black and Latinx children, who disproportionately missed out on the CTC before its expansion. Many studies have shown that additional income, like the expanded CTC, is associated with better outcomes for kids in families with low incomes, including stronger educational performance, improved health, and reduced stress. 

The law expanded the CTC by increasing the amount per child that families receive (to $3,600 for kids under six and $3,000 for kids from six to 17) and making 17-year-olds eligible. A family in your district with kids aged five, seven and nine will receive $9,600 through the 2021 CTC. Critically, the CTC was also made fully refundable, meaning that families with no or very low incomes can still claim the full amount of the credit. Half the credit was made payable in advance payments in 2021.

While most families have automatically received payments, more than 4 million kids are at risk of missing out on the expanded CTC, because the IRS does not have their caregivers’ information. These “non-filers” are disproportionately immigrants, people of color, and those with no or very low incomes. And every family must file a tax return in 2022 to get the second half of the credit. If Congress passes the Build Back Better Act with its current version of the CTC provision, families will also be able to get the expanded credit for 2022, in monthly advance payments.

Schools are uniquely positioned to reach families, and with your leadership, can provide accessible resources and support in claiming the CTC. When schools took simple steps this year like texting families and conducting automated phone calls, significant numbers of families claimed the credit. A few minutes encouraging families to apply and telling them where to get expert advice can make a big difference for your students.

For now, one of the best way to help families receive the full 2021 CTC is by directing them to https://www.getyourrefund.org/k12 (English) or https://www.getyourrefund.org/es/k12 (Spanish), where they can sign up to be alerted when free tax assistance becomes available.. Next spring, an online filing portal may launch to simplify the process of claiming the CTC for individuals who are not required to file full tax returns. 

If you have any questions or need resources prior to the January 20th webinar, please contact Julia Beebe, Child Tax Credit Outreach Coordinator with the Coalition on Human Needs and Partnership for America’s Children: JBeebe@chn.org

Sources:

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0482

https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/build-back-betters-child-tax-credit-changes-would-protect-millions-from

https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/monthly-poverty-october-2021

https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/if-congress-fails-to-act-monthly-child-tax-credit-payments-will-stop-child

 

Guest Blog Post: AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign

 Permanent link

Guest Blog Post: AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign

Today’s guest blog post comes from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech and is a second piece in our series of work related to supporting superintendents in their effort to invest and leverage American Rescue Plan dollars.

Across the country, superintendents, district staff, school leaders, educators, and all other support staff are working tirelessly to meet students where they’re at and support the communities most in need. As you recover to ensure you’re meeting the needs of each student, this moment also provides a unique opportunity to redesign school systems toward a more student-centered, equity-focused, and future-driven approach to public education.

AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign Priorities is the second installment of the AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign Guidance. While the first guidance focused on how to approach planning, this second one is designed to help district leaders reflect on what is in your recovery plans and your American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds spending choices. With the SY22-23 budget cycle upon us, district leaders should make time to reflect and revise as needed, especially in light of changed circumstances and new information gained during the first half of the current school year. 

The Priorities are organized according to the three main sections of our Learning 2025 Framework

 

  • Culture: Systemic redesign of educational system happens with an intentional, relationships-based culture.
  • Social-Emotional, Cognitive Growth: Systemic redesign of educational system encompasses the re-engineering of instruction around the needs and interests of each individual learner.
  • Learning Accelerators: Systemic redesign of educational system embraces levers for accelerating progress toward student-centered, equity-focused, future-driven education.

 

Each section includes guidance around the eleven components and how to effectively leverage ESSER funds to advance that area, along with links to high-quality, evidence-backed resources designed with district leaders in mind. These user-friendly pieces were selected to be actionable and implemented over both the short- and long-term. 

To make the most of these resources, we’ve created a Priorities Self-Assessment (Tool II), which districts can use to reflect on how their current plans and ESSER investments are helping advance toward any of the Learning 2025 components. As was true with the first installment of the Learning Recovery & Redesign Guidance and its four Guiding Principles — Plant Seeds, Center Equity, Use & Build Knowledge, and Sustain Strategically — these new tools and resources are universal enough that they apply in every district’s context. This is so for rural, urban, and suburban communities as well as for different individual district priorities. 

Whether on your own or with district teams, Board members, or other stakeholders, we encourage you to use all of the Learning Recovery & Redesign self-assessment tools to reflect on your decisions and work to date in order to increase the impact of your spending moving forward. 

This and additional, forthcoming resources have been developed in collaboration with the AASA American Rescue Plan Committee, the AASA Learning 2025 Network, and our partners at EducationCounsel. We will continue to support districts in meeting unprecedented needs in the face of unprecedented challenges. 

Please click here to provide your feedback on these resources and especially to suggest what else would be most helpful to you and your teams.

AASA Holds Second Webinar in Series for Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds

 Permanent link

AASA Holds Second Webinar in Series for Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds

Yesterday, held the second installment of a series of webinars helping school administrators take advantage of optimized spending of their ESSER funds. This installment of the series, Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds: Targeted Changes in FY23 Budgeting to Optimize ESSER Impact, was lead by Katie Roy and Jonathan Travers from Education Resource Strategies, who shared six recommended adaptations identified through FY23 budget development process and provided examples/illustrations from a variety of districts to show the specific changes leading districts are making this year.

You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentation here.

The AASA American Rescue Plan Committee and our partners at the EducationCouncil have created accompanying resources to assist with learning recovery and redesign for schools districts:

Please let us know what would be most helpful by filling out the feedback form here.

You can access recording of the first webinar, Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds: Reflecting on Recovery & Redesign Plans Before Finalizing SY22-23 Budgets, hosted on November 16, here and access the presentationhere.

GAO Report Finds a Rise in Violent Crimes and Hate Speech in Schools Pre-COVID

 Permanent link

GAO Report Finds a Rise in Violent Crimes and Hate Speech in Schools Pre-COVID

Violent crimes and hate speech motivated by race, national origin and sexual orientation had been on the rise in nearly every school prior to the pandemic, according to a report recently published by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). The study surveyed 4,800 school administrators and found that annually in school years 2014-15, 2016-17 and 2018-19, one in five students between the ages of 12-18 encountered bullying related to their race, national origin, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

In response to the surge of violent crimes, nearly every school district has adopted or increased social emotional learning (SEL) programs, according to GAO. An additional 18,000 schools adopted SEL programs between 2015-16 and 2017-18, and the use of school resource officers had increased by 2,000 schools. Staff training played a critical role in improving school climate and safety.

At the same time, rising awareness of racism and sexism in schools and society in general might be leading more people to report some incidents stemming from them, said James A. Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn. He wrote to EdWeek, “We could take any reported increase in hate crimes at face value and as a bellwether for the state of our society right now, or we could say that hate crimes have always been under-reported and these data represent a course correction that includes changes in public perception.”

This study does not address the school years affected by COVID but provides an accurate baseline for pre-pandemic school climate. Looking at long-term data, a joint report from USED and DOJ in 2019 shows that school climate and safety has significantly improved over past decades, including decreases in theft, assaults and other violent offenses.

You can find the full report from GAO here.

Biden Administration Announces Upcoming COVID-19 Plans for Family Vaccinations, Schools and the Omicron Variant

 Permanent link

Biden Administration Announces Upcoming COVID-19 Plans for Family Vaccinations, Schools and the Omicron Variant

Today, President Biden spoke at the National Institutes of Health to deliver remarks on their plan to continue the fight against COVID-19 as we enter the winter months and face the Omicron variant.

Firstly, the administration announced a new effort to launch family vaccination clinics across the country. These clinics will be held at community health centers, schools and other trusted locations, and some will be mobile to reach further into hard-to-reach communities and "vaccine deserts." The President also declared new steps to ensure that the nearly 100 million eligible Americans who have not yet gotten their booster shot, get one as soon as possible in accordance with guidance released by the CDC earlier this week. Families can text their zip code to 438829 to find an available vaccine location near them or visit vaccines.gov.

Second, Medicaid and CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) will start paying health care providers to talk to families about the importance of getting their kids vaccinated. Together, these programs cover 82 million people and nearly half of all children in the country and can be counted on as trusted sources of information for families.

Finally, the President announced that the CDC will be releasing new findings and guidance in the weeks ahead on “test to stay” and quarantining policies to keep kids in the classroom and a new Safe School Checklist detailing a set of actions that every school can take to get their staff and students vaccinated – including hosting school-located vaccination clinics, hosting community-based and family vaccination clinics and events, implementing vaccination requirements for school staff and getting eligible vaccinated school staff booster shots. President Biden stressed that the best tool to stop transmission and keep our schools open is to vaccinate everyone who is eligible.

The administration also released a new School Communities Toolkit with resources for school district leaders, teachers, parent leaders and school supporters that want to help increase confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in their school communities, answer questions, and outline school guidance.

You can read the full release here.

The Advocate December 2021: Data, Data, Everywhere

 Permanent link

The Advocate December 2021: Data, Data, Everywhere

When it comes to federal education programs, a common element of these programs includes some portion of data reporting, whether to help illustrate how and where dollars were invest, what the dollars were invest in or who was involved. Ultimately, the data collected—whether via state education agencies, local education agencies or a combination of the two—at best, the data illustrate what a program was able to accomplish, provides a mechanism for transparency, reporting and evaluation, and informs future decisions related to the program. At worst, the data collection is cumbersome, clunky, disjointed from the realities of school processes and can be weaponized to fuel harmful narratives, often devoid of context, about schools and public education.

The infusion of funding via the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds (three rounds of federal funding for schools as part of Congress’ response to the COVID pandemic) is coming with two extensive rounds of data collection—one about ESSER in general and one focused on the Maintenance of Equity provision. These data collections are in addition to another extensive data collection, the USED’s Office of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which is actually being administered in back-to-back years for the first time in recent memory. You can read what’s in store for districts regarding data collection in the CRDC here.

The superintendents we represent and the public school systems and students they serve have endured a year and a half unlike any other in their careers or lifetimes. Faced with the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it up-ended everything considered normal meant educational leadership was vital. Related to this, the school superintendents remain grateful for the assistance provided to support local education agencies via the three appropriations of ESSER funds. School superintendents are putting ESSER funds to use in myriad ways focused on equity; learning recovery; safe reopening; COVID mitigation; and addressing community, family and student needs, among others. The important work of investing these dollars responsibly works in tandem with the effort to ensure detailed information on how and where those dollars are spent is collected and available to support evaluation of the policies and funding available from Congress, as well as the efficacy, equity and efficiency of the programs, supports and services schools access. 

We appreciate USED’s willingness to receive and incorporate some changes to their proposed data collections. Even with those tweaks, though, the collections remain problematic for state and local education agencies (SEAs/LEAs) alike. While the ESSER data collection largely rests at the state level, the reality of implementation means that the responsibility will be shared by state and local education agencies (SEAs, LEAs) alike. State data collection does not happen in a vacuum and the scope of data collection—that is, the extent to which the data collection requires LEA-level detail—means that the data collection form has a direct impact on LEAs. It is important these data collections avoid unnecessary burden, complication or overreach. 

AASA’s advocacy team has engaged with USED on three major data collections in recent months, working to strike a balance between a well-intentioned federal focus on transparency with the reality of how data is available and collected, and ensuring data is valid, reliable and can actually be useful as intended. You can read our more detailed comments on ESSER and Maintenance of Equity, and continue to follow for updates via the AASA Advocacy blog and app.

HHS Releases Interim Final Rule on Vaccine Mandate for Head Start Programs

 Permanent link

HHS Releases Interim Final Rule on Vaccine Mandate for Head Start Programs

On November 30, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an interim final rule for vaccine and masking requirements for all Head Start programs. Effective immediately, all individuals ages 2 and older must wear a mask at all times. Exceptions to masking include when children are napping and individuals with disabilities who cannot safely wear a mask. Programs must make masks available to children.

By January 31, 2022, all Head Start staff, contractors whose activities involve contact with or providing direct services to children and families, and volunteers working in classrooms or directly with children must be vaccinated for COVID–19. Staff is defined as “paid adults who have responsibilities related to children and their families who are enrolled in programs.’’ The rule goes further to clarify that staff refers to all staff who work with enrolled Head Start children and families in any capacity regardless of funding source.

Although an individual is not considered fully vaccinated until 14 days (2 weeks) after the final dose, individuals impacted under the rule who have received the final dose of a primary vaccination series by January 31, 2022 are considered to have met the vaccination requirement, even if they have not yet completed the 14-day waiting period.

There are the usual exceptions to the vaccine mandate which include individuals who cannot get the vaccine due to a medical condition or disability and are who have a sincerely held religious belief that contradicts with getting the vaccine. Staff who cannot get vaccinated must undergo weekly testing.

The rule clarifies that the purchasing of masks and the costs associated with regular testing are allowable uses of Head Start and American Rescue Plan Funds.  

Additional requirements for Head Start programs under the rule:

Record-Keeping/Documentation: Head Start programs but maintain documentation of all staff vaccination statuses and exemptions. The CDC provides a staff vaccination tracking tool that is free to use.

Develop Processes:

  • Head Start programs must establish a process for reviewing and reaching determinations regarding exemption requests (e.g., disability, medical conditions, sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances). Programs must have a process for collecting and evaluating such requests, including the tracking and secure documentation of information provided by those staff who have requested exemption, the program’s decision on the request, and any accommodations that are provided. Requests for exemptions based on an applicable federal law must be documented and evaluated in accordance with applicable Federal law and each program’s policies and procedures. Recommended Resource: What You Should Know About COVID–19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws
  • Programs must also develop a written testing protocol for those with exemptions. Programs should consult with their Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC) and local public health officials, along with recommendations from their agency’s legal counsel and Human Resources department. Programs are encouraged to review CDC and FDA guidance about selecting COVID-19 tests and developing related protocols.

 

AASA Statement on Inclusion of $300 Million for the Emergency Connectivity Fund in the Build Back Better Act

 Permanent link

AASA Statement on Inclusion of $300 Million for the Emergency Connectivity Fund in the Build Back Better Act

On November 29, AASA joined 46 education and library organizations in a statement on the inclusion of $300 million for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in the Build Back Better Act. While we welcome this investment, more funds are needed to ensure that the approximately 6 million home broadband connections, created and funded through ECF dollars, do not go dark when ECF funding runs out. The statement calls on Congress and the Administration to provide additional funding so that the ECF program can continue its important work of keeping our nation’s K-12 students, educators, and library patrons connected to learning.

See full statement and the list of signatories here.

Share YOUR Emergency Connectivity Fund - Homework Gap Success Story!

 Permanent link

Share YOUR Emergency Connectivity Fund - Homework Gap Success Story!

Are you using the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) to provide devices and internet service to your students at home? AASA is proud to be collaborating with Common Sense to highlight your story!

As you know, the ECF was created to help educators provide connectivity to their students during the pandemic, but students’ need for connectivity will not disappear when the pandemic ends. By sharing your stories, you’ll help us highlight this ongoing need. 

Please share your stories here: https://forms.gle/j7otwTAqRApkZ2JDA, or connect with us directly by emailing dgarner@commonsense.org. Thank you!

If you have a great story or anecdote that would you like help in crafting as a quick blog post or update you can use with your community or elected officials, just let us know by contacting Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 

ED Announces Data Items for New CRDC Collection

 Permanent link

ED Announces Data Items for New CRDC Collection

Districts - brace yourselves. The new Civil Rights Data Collection will likely be hitting your inboxes in January for the first time in 3 years. And that’s not all: for the first time ever you will have to report data two years in a row. The first data collection, which was created right as Secretary DeVos came into office is going to have some interesting new requests which include information like bullying on the basis of religion, data on the number and type of sexual assaults, and other data points that were of interest to the DeVos Administration. In contrast, the Cardona Administration announced this week that it has proposed a very different set of data (including throwing out some of the DeVos era data requests and reinstating ones that the DeVos Administration removed) for districts to collect in 2022.

At a practical level, the back and forth in the number and scope of requests renders some of the data collected for the first time (as well as skipped) fairly invalid. As we are fond of saying "garbage in—means garbage out". But more significantly, the basis for this data collection by OCR is that it’s essential for monitoring compliance with key civil rights laws. But with this massive data request it seems that the data necessary to monitor compliance truly varies by who is leading the agency and their desire to have data that backs up policies they have enacted or plan to enact. This is both unfortunate and inappropriate since these decisions place a significant burden on overwhelmed district personnel.

While the 2020-2021 collection under the DeVos Administration reduced the total number of data points reported by 22%, the Cardona Administration will increase the data collection burden by 47.5% for the 2022 collection. AASA wants to make sure that students' civil rights are protected, but we are beginning to strongly question whether this collection achieves that goal or whether it is time to take a more aggressive approach in determining what is statutorily collected by CRDC every year and what is being done with the data they are collecting. 

Guest Blog Post: AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign Guidance

 Permanent link

Guest Blog Post: AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign Guidance

Today’s guest blog post comes from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech.

School districts across the nation are facing an unprecedented challenge in School Year 2021-22: how to effectively and equitably recover from the impacts of COVID-19 while still navigating an ongoing pandemic. At the same time, this moment also presents unprecedented opportunities: how to best use the mandate for change and significant new federal resources to also redesign toward a more student-centered, equity-focused, and future-driven approach to public education.

To help our members at this critical time, we are excited to share the first installments of the AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign Guidance, which identifies four Guiding Principles that should show up across your plans and that can inform any revisions you make. This and additional, forthcoming resources have been developed in collaboration with the AASA American Rescue Plan Committee, the AASA Learning 2025 Network, and our partners at EducationCounsel

Specifically, school district recovery and redesign plans should:

  1. Plant SeedsAs you address immediate needs (“fill holes”), you should seek ways to also begin or accelerate shifts toward your long-term vision (“plant seeds”). 
  2. Center EquityEnsure all students get the support they need to thrive, especially those most impacted by the pandemic, and redesign any systems that create or perpetuate inequities. 
  3. Use & Build KnowledgeTo maximize your chances of success, start with what is known and then learn and improve as you go.
  4. Sustain Strategically — Plan carefully for the end of these supplementary funds or risk going over a “fiscal cliff.”

Clicking on each of those links will open a corresponding two-page Self-Assessment Tool that you, your teams, and/or other stakeholders can use to pause, reflect, and identify ways to improve. Especially with summer 2022 and SY22-23 planning around the corner, this is the time to reflect on your initial plans. Ask yourself:

  • Are your initial plans responsive to what you now know about student and staff needs? 
  • Are they still feasible given your community’s current conditions, including the state of the pandemic, your local labor market, and other contextual factors that have become clearer over the past several months? 
  • What tweaks to your plans can help you make the most of your federal recovery funds?

We dug into these Guiding Principles and Self-Assessment Tools during an introductory webinar that you can view by clicking here. We hope these initial resources help guide your thinking about how to make the most of your available resources. Please also share any feedback and ideas for what other supports are most needed by clicking here.  

Republicans in Congress Introduce Parents' Bill of Rights Act

 Permanent link

Republicans in Congress Introduce Parents' Bill of Rights Act

On November 16, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Parents' Bill of Rights Act which, according to his statement, would: prohibit nondisclosure agreements concerning curriculum; let parents make copies of classroom material; require schools to have parents opt their children into field trips, assemblies, and other extracurricular activities; and in general require more transparency from school boards and educators concerning things like student records and safety.

The bill would implement cuts in federal funding for districts that repeatedly violate the requirements and allow parents to take legal action against the districts. It is important to note that many aspects of the bill, like school board meetings and financial contracts between districts and external groups, are already subject to existing law that govern open meetings and public records.

On November 17, Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee introduced a House version of the bill which goes further and requires schools to publicly post curriculum and provide a list of all reading materials available in the school library to parents. Additionally, it requires schools to hold at least two parent/teacher conferences a year with each teacher and get parental consent for any medical examinations or screenings (with the exemption of hearing, vision and scoliosis screenings).

The legislation is not likely to gain traction in Congress but we expect to see similar versions of this bill introduced in state legislatures as the debate over curriculum continues and intensifies.  

Sen. Van Hollen and Rep. Huffman Reintroduce IDEA Full Funding Act

 Permanent link

Sen. Van Hollen and Rep. Huffman Reintroduce IDEA Full Funding Act

Yesterday, the House and Senate both reintroduced the IDEA Full Funding Act, spearheaded by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). Sen. Van Hollen has helped lead legislation to fully fund IDEA since his time in the House of Representatives and has remained committed to its continuance. Congress first funded IDEA in 1975 to ensure that all children, regardless of (dis)ability, would have access to equitable educational opportunities and  committed to covering 40 percent of the additional cost associated with educating students with special needs.

In the 1997 reauthorization, the 40 percent of excess cost was changed to 40 percent of the National Average Per Pupil Expenditure (NAPPE) for every child enrolled in special education. While special education funding has received significant increases over the past 18 years, funding has leveled off and even been cut in recent years. The closest the federal government has come to reaching its 40 percent commitment was 18 percent in 2005. Prior to the pandemic, in fact, the federal share of IDEA had fallen to below 13 percent, leaving state and local education agencies on the hook for covering the chronic and pervasive federal shortfall. According to the National Education Association, the IDEA shortfall last year nationwide was $23.58 billion.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) includes a $2.5 billion increase for IDEA, bringing the federal share to 15.5 percent. This is a sizeable increase, but even still is not 40 percent of the 40 percent committed by Congress. By enacting the IDEA Full Funding Act, Congress is placed on a 10-year glide path to reach the full 40 percent commitment and thus ensure equitable education for all students. 

Fully funding IDEA is the top federal priority for AASA. Dan Domenech, Executive Director of AASA, joined over 97 national education organizations in support of the legislation, stating, "The IDEA Full Funding Act is a critical first step and the most significant thing Congress can do to honor their commitment to support not only students with disabilities, but all students in K-12 schools."

Read the press release by Sen. Van Hollen here. The full text for the IDEA Full Funding Act can be found here.

 

OSHA Webinar for K12 Stakeholders on Newly Released Vaccine ETS

 Permanent link

OSHA Webinar for K12 Stakeholders on Newly Released Vaccine ETS

The Fifth Circuit Court has placed a temporary stay on the OSHA rule which enjoins the agency from taking any action to enforce it at this time. We will update this post with any developments.

On Friday, November 12, OSHA hosted a webinar for K12 education stakeholders on its newly released Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) related to the vaccine mandate. Access the recording here.

As a reminder, the ETS only to public sector employers in 28 states. Check here to see whether school districts in your state will be impacted by this rule. Employers must comply with many of the requirements within 30 days and begin required testing within 60 days of the November 5, 2021, effective date.

If your school district is impacted, here are the highlights from the webinar:

Required Policy

OSHA’s ETS requires employers who have at least 100 employees to institute either a mandatory vaccine policy or a weekly testing and mask policy. The mandatory vaccine policy allows for some exceptions, including individuals with a medical delay necessary, medical contraindications, and those legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal civil rights laws because they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement.

Policies must be in writing and communicated to employees. OSHA has sample templates for both policies (mandatory vaccines sample/ vaccination or testing sample).

Some exceptions for employees who are not covered by this rule: Employees not reporting to the workplace with other coworkers or customers, working from home, or working exclusively outdoors. If they come in sporadically, they would be covered when they come in—therefore tested within 7 days prior to entering the workplace.

Determining Vaccination Status

Employers must require each vaccinated employee to provide acceptable proof of vaccination status, including whether they are fully or partially vaccinated.

Acceptable proof of vaccination status is:

  • The record of vaccination from a healthcare provider or pharmacy;
  • A copy of the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card;
  • A copy of medical records documenting the vaccination;
  • A copy of immunization records from a public health, state, or tribal immunization information system; or
  • A copy of any other official documentation that contains the type of vaccine administered, date(s) of administration, and the name of the health care professional(s) or clinic site(s) administering the vaccine(s).
  • If an employee is unable to produce acceptable proof of vaccination, a signed and dated statement by the employee can be accepted.

Record-Keeping/Reporting

Employers must maintain a record of each employee’s vaccination status and keep acceptable proof of vaccination for each employee, along with a roster of each employee’s vaccination status. Employers that have already determined vaccination status prior to the ETS through another form, or proof and retained records, do not have to re-determine the vaccination status of individuals whose fully vaccinated status has been previously documented. In addition, the employer must maintain a record of each test result provided by each employee.

These records and roster are considered employee medical records and must be maintained as such records. They must not be disclosed except as required or authorized by federal law. These records and roster must be maintained and preserved while this section remains in effect.

Employers must also report work-related fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA—within 8 hours of learning of work-related fatality, and within 24 hours of work-related hospitalization.

Testing Guidelines

Employees who choose not to be vaccinated must be tested once every 7 days. Any tested approved or authorized by the FDA is allowed. Tests that are not acceptable are antibody tests and over-the-counter (OTC) tests that are administered and read by the employee. If an OTC test is proctored by telehealth practitioner or administered by employer, or observed by employer if is acceptable.

Under the ETS, employers do not have to pay the cost associated with testing. However, whether employers can require employees to pay for their own tests will depend on state law and whether testing is offered as a reasonable accommodation. Many states have laws requiring employers to pay the cost of any required medical exams or tests or expense reimbursement laws, which may be implicated.

Removal for Positive Tests

Regardless of vaccination status, employees who test positive for COVID-19 or who are diagnosed with COVID-19 must be removed from the workplace until they meet certain return-to-work criteria. The ETS does not require paid leave for employees who are removed, but acknowledges that other laws may impose such obligations.

Masking Guidelines

Subject to limited exceptions, employers are required to enforce the wearing of masks for those who are unvaccinated when indoors and when occupying a vehicle with another person for work purposes. Like testing costs, the ETS does not mandate employers to pay for face coverings required by the ETS.

See OSHA’s website for more resources including factsheets, FAQs and more. 

Guest Post: Five Things Superintendents Should Know About Education Finance Equity

 Permanent link

Guest Post: Five Things Superintendents Should Know About Education Finance Equity

This guest blog comes from Bellwether Education Partners’ Alex Spurrier, co-author of Splitting the Bill: Understanding Education Finance Equity — a nine-part series that gives advocates a crash course in the fundamentals of education finance in their states and communities.

Education leaders are likely familiar with school finance policy in their state and its impact on educational opportunities for students. As superintendents, you play an important role as advocates for more equitable state and local finance systems. However, effective school finance advocacy requires a deep understanding of the complicated mechanics of how dollars move from taxpayers to classrooms. And at a time when the capacity of school system leaders is stretched as thinly as ever, it can be difficult for even the most motivated leaders to know where to begin.

To help educators, advocates, and policymakers get up-to-speed on school finance policy, Bellwether Education Partners released Splitting the Bill, a series of nine at-a-glance briefs that serve as a crash course to demystify the complexities and inequities embedded in school finance systems.

Here are five key takeaways for education leaders from the series:

    1.  Most state school funding formulas connect directly with student enrollment and learning needs — but that connection is weaker in some states.

Thirty-six states, along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico have what's known as a student-based funding formula. These formulas direct funding to districts based on the number of students they enroll. The vast majority have "weights" to allocate additional funding to support students who have additional learning needs, such as lower-income students, English language learners, and special education students. This way, districts serving students in need of more educational resources should get a bigger share of state funding. 

Not every state follows this approach. In 17 states, funding for districts is based on the anticipated cost of serving their student population (mostly via staffing costs and ratios), while four states provide funding for the cost of specific programming (like transportation and special education).

Student-based formulas offer a better combination of transparency, flexibility, and equity. To learn more about different state funding formula structures, read the third brief in the Splitting the Bill series.

    2.  Many state school finance systems fail to fund schools equitably

State school funding policies typically attempt to account for the different wealth and student learning needs of school districts, but often fall short. These shortcomings can have many sources, from opaque formulas disconnected from student needs to inadequate “weights” to support students with particular learning needs (e.g., low-income students, ELLs, and special education students).

Learn more about some of the biggest equity problems in state education finance systems in the fourth brief in the Splitting the Bill series.

    3.  Property taxes aren't just a major source of funding for schools — they can also be a significant source of inequity

It's no secret that locally generated property taxes are an important source of funding for school systems. But the level of taxable property wealth per pupil can vary wildly from one district to the next — even among districts that share a direct border. And property wealth disparities across districts boundaries are closely related to economic and racial segregation. These disparities create significant challenges for funding equity that some state policies work hard to address, and others do very little about.

Check out how local taxes affect school finance equity in the sixth brief in the Splitting the Bill series.

    4.  Districts' budgetary decisions are an important mechanism for equity

State policy plays a key role in determining the amount of funding that districts receive. At the same time, district leaders and school boards typically have freedom to determine how most dollars are allocated from the central office to schools. Since the vast majority of schools' budgets go to staff salaries and benefits, the way those positions are funded can have major equity implications within a school district.

Unpack different approaches to district budgeting and how they affect equity in the seventh brief in the Splitting the Bill series.

    5.  There's a good chance school funding policy in your state has been challenged in the courts

In many states, problems in state school finance systems have led to litigation that contest either adequacy (enough funding), equity (funding distributed to where it is most needed), or both.

School finance lawsuits can catalyze policy change, but they take time, money, and have no guarantee of improving policy. To learn more about whether school finance lawsuits are an effective tool for your state or community, read the eighth brief of the Splitting the Bill series.

Developing a command of the details within school funding systems can reveal both the benign and malign impacts of different policy choices. Spending on K-12 education makes up the largest share of general fund expenditures for state governments, but there are relatively few people in each state that truly understand how those dollars currently move and, more importantly, how they should move to better serve students.

It’s time for equity-minded education leaders to become more familiar with the wonky details of school finance policy so that they can advocate for funding that meets the needs of the students they serve.

Questions? Contact Partner, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, jennifer.schiess@bellwethereducation.org, and Associate Partner, Alex Spurrier, alex.spurrier@bellwethereducation.org.

 




We apologize for inconvenience, but this page has been moved.
To access the AASA Leading Edge blog, please click on the following link.



AASA Leading Edge Blog



ARCHIVES