Biden Administration Announces Additional Actions to Increase COVID-19 Screening Testing in Schools

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Biden Administration Announces Additional Actions to Increase COVID-19 Screening Testing in Schools

October 29, 2021

The Administration has been assisting states and schools in implementing screening testing since awarding American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to states last spring, and is now announcing additional actions to help states, schools, and school districts establish screening testing programs in more schools:

 

  • ED and CDC to partner with The Rockefeller Foundation to accelerate school-based screening testing for students and staff: The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the CDC plan to partner with The Rockefeller Foundation to help ensure that all schools can access and set up screening testing programs as quickly as possible. This partnership will further expand the reach of federal and state partners in helping more school and district leaders navigate the set-up and ongoing operations of school testing programs. The Rockefeller Foundation has been providing resources to schools on setting up testing programs since the early days of the pandemic – including by piloting screening testing programs to gather insights on how best to structure testing in K-12 schools; establishing a K-12 National Testing Action Program to connect school leaders and parents together with labs and manufacturers; and issuing a school playbook to offer step-by-step guidance to design and implement effective testing programs in schools (resources can be found on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website). ED, CDC, and The Rockefeller Foundation will collaborate on initiatives to make it easier for schools to set up testing, including by:
    • Holding weekly “office hours” to connect schools to national testing experts to set up and sustain screening testing programs: Starting November 2, ED, CDC, and The Rockefeller Foundation will host a learning network with twice weekly sessions through December aimed at helping schools set up screening testing programs. The series will feature experts from CDC, ED, and outside of the U.S. Government to help schools develop and execute a plan for screening testing with trusted partners. Building on existing engagement from CDC and ED in providing technical assistance to schools, this new series is designed to help schools no matter where they are in setting up testing programs – from those who are just starting, to those who are looking to sustain or expand participation in their existing programs. The series will launch on November 2, and more details can be found at The Rockefeller Foundation website.
    • Publishing a start-up guide for schools on how to launch screening testing programs: Today, The Rockefeller Foundation released a new one-page start-up guide that schools can use to begin testing. This guide seeks to simplify the process by identifying key steps for schools to take in launching testing – and identifies resources available to help schools navigate the process. This includes connecting to a testing provider; learning about different testing options available; developing a plan and the team to administer testing; communicating with parents on consent and what the testing process will look like for their child; and planning for how to isolate individuals who test positive during school hours. The guide can be found at The Rockefeller Foundation website.
  • Additional personnel available to help state health departments coordinate school-based screening testing through the CDC Foundation: In addition to the resources already provided to states and school districts from the ARP, the CDC Foundation is making staff available to state health departments through the COVID Workforce Initiative to coordinate, execute, and expand on school-based COVID-19 testing, contact tracing/case investigation, and other public health activities. These staff can help in taking on roles like leading school-based testing expansion, hiring liaisons to support local school districts, and deploying disease investigation specialists, case investigators, and nurses to support outbreak and case investigations. This additional support from the CDC Foundation can be obtained by contacting CDC at this link.
  • Directory for schools to identify a provider and get started with testing: Today, the CDC launched a new directory and website to make it easy for schools to identify testing providers within their state.  CDC has distributed $10 billion in ARP funding to help states launch screening testing programs in their schools. Most states have used that funding to set up centrally-supported state contracts with testing providers, making it easier for schools to tap into testing programs and established supports underway across their state. The directory will point schools to the contracted provider(s) their state is working with, the state’s landing page for how to get started with provider(s) and a point of contact with clear contact information for schools and districts to reach out to if they have any questions.
  • Guidance for school districts on providing incentives to parents and guardians to participate in screening testing programs: ED is releasing a fact sheet on how funding from ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds can be used to provide incentives to parents or guardians whose children participate in school-based COVID-19 screening testing. Strong school-based screening testing programs rely on robust participation from the school community to ensure that they can identify and remove infected individuals from the school before any COVID-19 infection can spread. The resource can be found on the ED website.

 

Details on New Version of the Build Back Better Act

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Details on New Version of the Build Back Better Act

 After weeks of negotiations, Democrats appear to have reached an agreement on a new version of the Build Back Better Act. The new package totals $1.75 trillion, down from the $3.5 trillion original proposal.

Most notably for superintendents, the bill includes:  

Investments in the Educator Workforce through stand-alone grant programs:

  • $112.6 million for “Grow Your Own” Programs
  • $112.2 million for teacher residencies programs
  • $112.2 million for Hawkins Centers of Excellence Program
  • $112.2 million for school leadership programs

This is a significant increase for the educator workforce. In FY21, Congress appropriated just $52 million for teacher preparation through teacher quality partnership grants.

Expanded Access to Nutrition Programs

  • Makes 8.7 million more children eligible to receive free school meals by expanding the Community Eligibility Program during the years 2022-2026:    
    • Lowers the threshold from 40% to 25%
    • Increases the ISP multiplier from 1.6 to 2.5
    • Allows states to opt-in to a statewide CEP, providing free meals to all students in their state
     
  • Creates a national Summer EBT program for two years to provide a $65 per child per month benefit to the families of 29 million children in need to purchase food during the summer
  • Provides $30 million for school kitchen equipment grants
  • Spends $250 million in grants to improve nutritional quality of programs

Universal Pre-K and Child Care Subsidies

  • Invests $400 billion over 6 years to provide free, high-quality pre-K to all 3- and 4-year-olds and child care subsidies for families. Under the plan, families making up to 250 percent of a state’s median income would not have to pay more than 7 percent of their annual income on child care. There is no mandate that LEAs provide child care or universal pre-K options although they can compete with other home-based and private providers if they want to try and expand their program offerings. The State would also be required to opt-into the program and commit to spending significant resources. We do not anticipate all states to do this. Similarly, the requirements for participating and qualifications for educators could pose obstacles for districts. We will provide AASA members a more comprehensive breakdown next week.

Lead Remediation Grants

 

  • Includes $9 billion for lead remediation projects under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The program includes grants to schools that serve disadvantaged communities for the installation and maintenance of lead filtration systems, lead testing and replacements of water fountains that may contain lead. 

 

While this deal is quite close to complete, there could still be amendments offered and accepted that would change the funding levels. We will keep you posted if anything in the K-12 funding arena is altered.

COVID relief: IRS helps employers wanting to rehire retirees or retain employees after retirement age

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COVID relief: IRS helps employers wanting to rehire retirees or retain employees after retirement age

October 26, 2021

To help address COVID-related labor shortages, the Internal Revenue Service reminded employers last week that they generally will not jeopardize the tax status of their pension plans if they rehire retirees or permit distributions of retirement benefits to current employees who have reached age 59 ½ or the plan's normal retirement age.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers, including public school districts, are looking for ways to encourage retirees to return to the workforce to fill open positions and experienced employees to stay on the job. This is specifically relevant in the context of bus drivers, food service staff, teachers and subs looking to re-enter the workforce.

The IRS created two new FAQs offering guidance to private and public employers who sponsor pension plans for their employees. The Department of Treasury and USED will also be holding two webinars for education leaders and other stakeholders to discuss approaches to addressing school staff labor shortages, including a discussion about these new FAQs:

Webinar 1- Teacher and Substitute Teacher Shortages
When: October 27 at 4 PM EST
To register: Click here

Webinar 2- Staff Shortages (school bus drivers and food service workers)
When: October 28 at 4 PM EST
To register: Click here


Read the full article here.

AASA Joins Coalition Letter on Rescinding Public Charge

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AASA Joins Coalition Letter on Rescinding Public Charge

October 25, 2021

AASA and 84 other national and state organizations sent a letter in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on public charge, urging them to take action in rectifying the harm to children in immigrant families created by the previous public charge rule. Specifically, we highlight how DHS should exclude children’s use of benefits when making a public charge determination for that child’s family member as this can have a significant impact on the family’s ability to utilize any school-based services such as free-and-reduced meals, Medicaid, etc. You can access the letter here.

10 Tips for Implementing COVID-19 Testing Programs in Schools

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10 Tips for Implementing COVID-19 Testing Programs in Schools

October 21, 2021

COVID-19 continues to be on the forefront of school administrators' minds as they navigate what the "new normal" is for their districts. AASA asked their members directly about what they believed an efficient testing program would look like when developed. The feedback received was invaluable and the Advocacy team created a handy cheat sheet for 10 Tips for Implementing COVID-19 Testing Programs in Schools for districts looking to implement a system featuring strong communication, funding ideas and staffing.

Note: Many of the points in this document are highlighted in the Covid-19 Testing in K-12 Settings: A Playbook for Educators and Leaders developed by the Rockefeller Foundation. We strongly encourage AASA members to read the playbook for more detailed strategies and information on COVID testing in schools. 

Please contact Sasha Pudelski at spudelski@aasa.org for any questions.

Senate Releases Draft of FY22 Labor HHS Education Bill

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Senate Releases Draft of FY22 Labor HHS Education Bill

October 20, 2021

Earlier this week, the Senate released its draft FY22 Labor HHS Education bill. Overall, the Senate Appropriations Committee provides a $25.4 billion increase USED (though that number is still $4.4 billion less than the House and President’s budgets). The differences in the Senate bill are spread across programs, and the most noticeable difference between the House and Senate bills is in their overall increase for Title I. The Senate bill increases Title I by $16.6 billion ($3 billion less than the House/President proposals). The Senate bill does not include the $1 billion increase for mental health included in both the House and President’s budgets. The Committee for Education Funding (AASA is a member of the coalition!) put together a handy side by side detailing the House, Senate and President proposals. Other program funding levels in the Senate proposal to note:

  • The Senate rejects the President’s proposal for a shadow Title I equity formula (AASA opposes the proposal)
  • $40 million increase for homeless youth
  • $12 million increase for REAP
  • $100 million increase for Title IV-A
  • $2.6 billion increase for IDEA (aligned with House and President)
  • $50 million increase for CTE

 

 

Important New ED Resource on Mental Health in Schools

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Important New ED Resource on Mental Health in Schools

October 20, 2021

This week, the U.S. Department of Education released a new resource: Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health to provide information and resources to enhance the promotion of mental health and the social and emotional well-being among children and students. This resource highlights seven key challenges to providing school- or program-based mental health support across early childhood and K–12 schools, and presents seven corresponding recommendations. This resource includes many real-world examples of how the recommendations are being put into action by schools, communities and states across the country.

We encourage superintendents to review the recommendations and examples of how districts of various sizes, needs and locales are implementing some innovative and evidence-based practices for enhancing mental health services for students. In particular, the appendixes also include some information on the many technical assistance centers funded by ED and HHS that stand ready to assist districts in this work. 

Please note that this document is totally different than the DOJ/OCR document issued last week that focuses on the obligation for districts under Section 504 and other federal civil rights laws to provide students with mental health disabilities "an opportunity to learn free of discrimination."

White House Outlines Vaccination Plans For Kids 5-11

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White House Outlines Vaccination Plans For Kids 5-11

October 20, 2021

Ahead of the expected authorization of the COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, the Biden administration has announced that shots will be distributed to school-based clinics as well as pediatricians’ offices, pharmacies, and other sites. School superintendents should expect to be contacted by their state departments of health in the coordination of vaccination clinics.

In addition, the White House has indicated that FEMA will reimburse states for school-based vaccination efforts, and the administration will coordinate to pair schools with local providers and pharmacies to help with on-site inoculations. They are holding "readiness calls" with states and territories in advance of the expected vaccine authorization.

Read the full details on EdWeek here.

New Report on Teacher Shortages

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New Report on Teacher Shortages

FutureEd and EducationCounsel released a report analyzing the current teacher shortage and offers policy recommendations to help states and schools address the human capital needs. The report, “In Demand: The Real Teacher Shortages and How To Solve Them” argues that despite recent headlines indicating a national shortage, the real teacher shortages lie within key subject areas, geographic locations, and the diversity of the teacher workforce.

Nationwide, states identify shortages in math, special education, foreign languages, and science and only 20% of public-school educators identify as Black, Hispanic or other non-white ethnicities.  Additionally, rural and urban districts that serve a large number of high-need students face significant challenges in attracting and retaining quality teachers.

The report breaks down the reasons for the shortages and provides targeted strategies to address these issues including different models of financial incentives to both teacher candidates during training and teachers working in high-need subjects and geographic areas, and improvements to teacher preparation programs. 

Instead of focusing on increasing the overall number of teachers, the report states, policymakers should have a more nuanced response to the problem to avoid exacerbating the existing inequities of access to effective educators. 

Responding to COVID-19 Cases in K-12 Schools: Resources for School Administrators

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Responding to COVID-19 Cases in K-12 Schools: Resources for School Administrators

October 19, 2021

Yesterday, the CDC updated its resources for school administrators responding to COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools. These resources come at a pivotal time as schools resume in-person learning, and school administrators must be prepared to respond quickly when someone with COVID-19 has been in the school or at a school event. The CDC stresses timely case investigation and contact tracing as the most effective tool to contain outbreaks in schools and provides insight on best practices and core principles for contact tracing.

The CDC also provides an updated process for responding to COVID-19 cases found in K-12 schools that emphasizes thorough investigation/testing, quarantining, observation and effective communication with the school community. This new guidance goes hand-in-hand with prevention strategies recommended by the CDC prior to the beginning of the school year.

Read the full resource here.

K-12 and Special Education Funding

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K-12 and Special Education Funding

October 14, 2021

Our friends at Education Commission of the States have released a great resource, that compares how all 50 states approach various aspects of K-12 and special education funding. The resource includes information on states’ primary funding models, base per-student funding amounts, student attendance count methods, and funding for special education, English language learners, students from low-income backgrounds, gifted and talented, and small schools.

Among the key takeaways, Education Commission for the States found that some, but not all, states allocate additional funding for specific student populations:

 

  • Special Education: 49 states and the District of Columbia
  • English Language Learners: 47 states and the District of Columbia
  • Students from Low-Income Backgrounds: 43 states and the District of Columbia
  • Gifted and Talented: 34 states
  • Small Size or Isolated Funding: 33 states

 

View a specific state’s approach by going to the state profiles page. 

DOJ OCR Issue New Mental Health Guidance for Districts

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DOJ OCR Issue New Mental Health Guidance for Districts

October 18, 2021

Today, OCR/DOJ released a Dear Colleague letter to districts about their obligations under federal civil rights laws—Section 504 in particular—to "provide students with mental health disabilities an equal opportunity to learn, free from discrimination."

Specifically, they write: "A student with a condition such as anxiety, depression, or a substance use disorder can have a mental health disability. Students with mental health disabilities are protected under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)."

OCR also gave examples of when a district may be not following Section 504 when they should be. This example is of particular relevance to superintendents: “A public school student has developed severe depression for the first time during the pandemic. Their parent tells the school principal. Despite the school’s Section 504 FAPE obligation to evaluate any student who needs or is believed to need special education or related services because of a disability, the principal does not refer the student for evaluation. Instead, the principal says that all students are struggling because of the pandemic and suggests that the parent should hire a private tutor and find a psychologist for the student.”

The guidance encourages districts to "develop trauma-informed crisis management procedures that include an individualized assessment of the student’s circumstances" and "reasonably modify policies, such as attendance policies, for individual students as appropriate." You can access the corresponding factsheet here.

FDA Releases Guidance for Voluntary Sodium Reductions for Food Industry

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FDA Releases Guidance for Voluntary Sodium Reductions for Food Industry

October 13, 2021

On October 13, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released guidance for voluntary sodium reductions for the food industry. This guidance is for food manufacturers and does not directly impact schools. 

The guidance provides targets for food companies and restaurants to the reduce sodium in their foods by about 12 percent over the next 2½ years in an effort to reduce excess population sodium intake. This goal would reduce Americans’ sodium intake from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day.

The guidance includes sodium reduction targets for 163 categories of food ranging from condiments to frozen foods. Many critics say that the voluntary nature of the guidance makes it unlikely that manufacturers will make the changes necessary as it will require reformulation and marketing, which will be costly. However, the FDA stated that it will monitor progress and “reward companies that comply”.

The only impact to schools will be trickle-down as the foods they receive will have reduced sodium content if manufacturers decide to participate. The current sodium requirements for school meals are not impacted by this guidance. AASA supports flexibilities for school meal programs, including those for sodium targets, and sent a letter to Congress on October 8, in partnership with 15 national organizations, urging them to maintain these flexibilities.

GUEST POST: Supporting Teachers and Students Post-COVID

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GUEST POST: Supporting Teachers and Students Post-COVID

October 12, 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) has provided school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to make schools safe again for in-person instruction, help with learning loss and address other needs as we transition back to “normalcy” after a very difficult year and a half of dealing with COVID-19.

Shortly after ARP was signed into law, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE, created a toolkit to help address the shortage of teachers in our nation’s classrooms.  In it, they suggest to their members that they partner with districts to support residency models, grow-your-own programs, and other innovative approaches to develop a pathway into teaching. 

Through this partnership, teacher candidates benefit from receiving hands-on teaching experience they need for certification, while teachers benefit from having an extra support in the classroom to help with instruction, provide one-on-one instruction for a struggling student or any other number of tasks.  It also helps ensure that teacher candidates are profession-ready when they graduate and the teacher shortage is not exacerbated by this pandemic. 

Recently, AACTE hosted a webinar with their colleagues at GoReact to highlight a successful example of these partnerships in Tennessee titled Educating the Future, Today: How to use emergency relief funds for educator preparation. They hope you take advantage of these resources and consider these models as you plan how to spend your ARP funding.

Mike Rose is the Senior Director of Government Relations and Policy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

AASA Urges Congress to Maintain School Meal Flexibilities

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AASA Urges Congress to Maintain School Meal Flexibilities

October 8, 2021

On October 8, AASA sent a letter signed by 15 organizations representing school district and state education leaders, school nutrition professionals, and K-12 education and nutrition advocates, to Congress to express appreciation and support for the school meal flexibilities to the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. These flexibilities remain essential as school districts continue to deal with the economic impacts of the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and rising food insecurity in local communities.

The letter urges Congress to maintain these school meal flexibilities so that districts can continue providing meals for students and customize service delivery to accommodate local needs and realities.

Read the full letter here

Toolkit To Raise Awareness Of The Child Tax Credit

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Toolkit To Raise Awareness Of The Child Tax Credit

October 8, 2021

 
The Child Tax Credit is a tax refund aimed to help families with the expense of raising a child. The benefit can amount to hundreds of dollars per month for each qualifying child. This year, the Child Tax Credit was expanded to include families who do not traditionally file taxes due to little or no income. While most families automatically receive this benefit, families in this category will need to enroll atGETCTC.org/strengthby November 15, 2021.

 
School districts are in a unique position to reach qualifying families and raise awareness of this new benefit. Share Our Strength has created a toolkit of customizable resources for education leaders to share information with the families in their communities.

57 School And Library Organizations Urge The Inclusion Of Homework Gap Funding In Build Better Act

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57 School And Library Organizations Urge The Inclusion Of Homework Gap Funding In Build Better Act

October 7, 2021

In a letter addressed to Congressional leaders, today 57 national education and library organizations expressed their strong support for including of Homework Gap Funding in the Build Back Better Act.

The groups ask, specifically, that Congress include '..at least $4 billion to ensure that more than 5 million students, teachers and library patrons can maintain their home broadband connections...".

Read the full letter.

New Report Studies Relationship Between School District Boundaries, Affordable Housing and What It Means for Educational Equity

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New Report Studies Relationship Between School District Boundaries, Affordable Housing and What It Means for Educational Equity

October 7, 2021

A new report from Bellwether Education Partners examines how the geographic boundaries of school districts and the rental housing market limits options for students and exacerbates the education gap between lower-income and affluent families. The report, “Priced Out of Public Schools: District Lines, Housing Access and Inequitable Educational Options”, analyzed the relationship between per-pupil funding, rental housing access and school district boundaries in the 200 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and found that the combination of these factors contributes to an inequitable gap averaging $6,355 in district funding per-pupil and affects 12.8 million students.

Read the full report here

Department of Education Announces Actions to Improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

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Department of Education Announces Actions to Improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

October 7, 2021

On October 6, the Department of Education (ED) announced a set of actions to improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The program provides debt relief to public service workers by cancelling debt after 10 years of service but to date has been plagued with administrative errors and nearly impossible to navigate.

These changes are expected to bring more than 550,000 people closer to debt cancellation, including 22,000 who will be immediately eligible. Improvements to PSLF are significant as more than half of all educators have student debt averaging $55,800.   

The ED announcement includes both short-and long-term solutions that will help restore the promise of the PSLF program. 

In the short-term, ED has implemented a limited waiver that will count all prior payments on any federal loan towards PSLF. This waiver is in effect until October 31, 2022. Borrowers will need to consolidate, if necessary, and submit a PSLF form before the waiver ends to have previously ineligible payments counted. 

The waiver will also automatically adjust PSLF payment counts for those made on or before October 31, 2021 but were rejected due to technical requirements like payment plan or amount. Borrowers who have not yet applied for PSLF forgiveness or certified employment but do so by October 31, 2022 will benefit from these temporary rules as well.

The longer-term actions include: reviewing all denied applications and providing a reconsideration process for borrowers who believe there was an error in their application process; improving communication to notify borrowers who are eligible for forgiveness and provide information on what actions are required; and simplifying the application process to make it more accessible to borrowers. 

More information for borrowers can be found here.

New Report Details Challenges Faced by Superintendents During COVID-19

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New Report Details Challenges Faced by Superintendents During COVID-19

October 6, 2021

The National Superintendents Roundtable released a report on superintendents’ experiences dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The report “Superintendents Struggle During Pandemic: Panic Attacks, Strokes and Threats of Violence Meet Prayer, Exercise, Meditation and Booze” includes results from a survey of 400 district leaders – 63% of whom stated that they considered quitting during the 2020-2021 school year.

Respondents detailed “over-the-top rage”, harassment and threats of violence while they navigated the already stressful challenges of school openings, vaccines, and masks in order to keep children safe. Many reported developing health conditions including strokes, high blood pressure and panic attacks as a result. Despite the extreme circumstances, 83% of respondents chose to remain in their positions and will continue to lead. This decision, the report states, is evidence of their commitment to their students, their staff, and their communities. 

See full report here

Back to School: Supporting Educational Environments Free from Discrimination: A Resource Collection for Elementary and Secondary Schools

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Back to School: Supporting Educational Environments Free from Discrimination: A Resource Collection for Elementary and Secondary Schools

October 6, 2021

The Office for Civil Rights recently released two resource collections—or virtual “resource binders”—to assist elementary schools, secondary schools, and postsecondary institutions in supporting a successful and equitable school year. Especially at this back-to-school time, we encourage you to read and share Back to School: Supporting Educational Environments Free from Discrimination: A Resource Collection for Elementary and Secondary Schools and Back to School: Supporting Educational Environments Free from Discrimination: A Resource Collection for Postsecondary Institutions.

These valuable and informative resources contain fact sheets, Q&As, letters to educators and school leaders, and other materials about institutions’ responsibilities to provide educational environments free from discrimination under the federal civil rights laws enforced by OCR.

The collection is organized into sections focused on 1) race, color, and national origin discrimination; 2) discrimination based on disability; 3) sex discrimination; and 4) the Civil Rights Data Collection.

More on these resources on the Office of Civil Rights blog here!

AASA Memo on New OSERS Guidance

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AASA Memo on New OSERS Guidance

October 5, 2021

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education (Department), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released a major new guidance document clarifying that, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the mode of instruction, children with disabilities are entitled to FAPE. OSERS has sought to clarify and re-interpret IDEA in some unique ways in this guidance document and superintendents should read the guidance as well as this AASA memo below closely.

First, the Department recommends that IEP Teams utilize contingency planning to ensure that regardless of whether a child is educated in-person, remotely or via hybrid that the IEP outlines can how the special education and related services included in a child’s IEP can be provided in changing circumstances.

Second, the Department cautions schools to avoid routinely using discipline to address a child’s behaviors that may arise when students return to school and consider developing or revising, or ensuring the provision of, positive behavioral interventions and supports and other strategies, as appropriate. The Department also gives examples of social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health supports related to the COVID-19 pandemic that could be included in a child’s IEP. The guidance also describes the steps the IEP Team should take when considering behavioral supports for children with disabilities as they return to in-person instruction. Specifically, if new or different social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health needs arise after a child has been determined to be eligible for special education and related services and an IEP has been developed, the IEP Team must reconvene to consider these needs, including whether there is a need for additional related services and positive behavioral interventions and supports to ensure the child’s access to FAPE.

Third, the guidance outlines who should be included on a child’s IEP Team when a child with a disability has one or more underlying medical conditions that puts them at increased risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19. Further, they reaffirm that LEAs must address the school-related health needs of eligible children with disabilities who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 infection. Specifically, if a parent or other member of the IEP Team believes that COVID-19 prevention strategies are necessary for the provision of FAPE to the child, the IEP Team must consider whether and to what extent such measures are necessary, based on child-specific information, which may include medical or health records, diagnostic or other evaluative data, or information documented by medical or health professionals. In a direct rebuttal to states that have limited masking or other COVID mitigation strategies, the Department reaffirms that “state or local laws, rules, regulations, or policies that have the effect of improperly limiting the ability of the IEP Team to address the school-related health needs of a child with a disability, or the ability of the group of knowledgeable persons to propose an appropriate placement in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities who have school-related health needs, would be a violation of IDEA.”

Fourth, when it comes to determining extended school year services, the Department does explicitly permit the IEP Team to determine that a child’s ESY service needs could be met through participation, with appropriate supports, in some or all of the additional services the LEA provides to all students.

Fifth, the Department also answers whether an LEA is obligated to provide special education and related services through virtual instruction upon the parent’s request. They note that if virtual is provided to all students than students with disabilities must also be given this option, but that IDEA also includes a “home instruction” provision in the continuum of alternative placements an LEA must make available to ensure FAPE is available to children with disabilities, which could mean virtual/hybrid.

The final and most troubling section of the guidance focuses on learning loss during the pandemic and associated revisions to the IEP as well as a need to provide compensatory services for students who have been denied FAPE. The Department clarifies that the IEP team should discuss what new or different needs a child has including lost skills or lack of progress towards attaining IEP goals and all areas of need, whether or not commonly related to the child’s disability category. However, it then proceeds to recommend that IEP teams convene to determine what “compensatory educational services” should be provided to a child. This is a total misread of the provision of compensatory educational services. Since compensatory services were first outlined in IDEA regulation, they have strictly been a legal remedy that Courts have ordered to address a student’s needs after the district’s failure or inability to provide FAPE over a given period of time. In this guidance, the Department suggests that any district can and should consider what compensatory services a child is owed and outlines a step-by-step process for IEP teams to determine whether a child should be given compensatory services that includes the child’s present level of academic achievement, the child’s previous rate of progress towards IEP goals and the documented frequency and duration of special education services provided prior to the pandemic.

The guidance also states that the Department’s longstanding position has been that IEP Teams are the appropriate vehicle for addressing the need for, and extent of, compensatory services to address the child’s needs based on any failure or inability to provide appropriate services due to circumstances such as teacher strikes, natural disasters, and pandemics. And the Department believes that IEP Teams are already empowered under IDEA to make individualized determinations regarding the special education and related services that a child needs. AASA takes great issue with this interpretation and disagrees that there is no statutory or regulatory evidence to account for this view.

Furthermore, the Department cautions that any attempts by districts and states to provide “recovery services” or “COVID mitigation services” would not be considered “compensatory services” as defined by the Department unless they utilize a process “identified under IDEA for making individualized determinations about these services based on each child’s unique needs and circumstances.” Therefore, efforts to provide recovery services to all students, including students with disabilities, would not suffice. The Department also says that students who have graduated or who have exceeded the age of eligibility for IDEA services can also be granted compensatory services. This is yet another interpretation of IDEA with which AASA disagrees. 

Congress Passes Bipartisan Bill to Fix TEACH Grant Program

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Congress Passes Bipartisan Bill to Fix TEACH Grant Program

October 1, 2021

This week Congress passed the Consider Teachers Act and the bill is now headed to the President’s desk for signature. The bipartisan bill makes technical, but important changes to the Teacher Education Assistance College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program – which provides up to $4,000 a year to college students training to be teachers. Within 8 years of graduating, grant recipients must serve 4 years in a high-need field to avoid having the grants converted into loans.

Federal data has shown that more than 63% of grant recipients have had their grants converted to loans due to administrative errors and burdensome paperwork. This has created an unexpected financial burden for teachers across the country. The Consider Teachers Act improves the TEACH grant program and provides additional support to recipients by:

 

  • Opening a reconsideration process for all recipients who had their grants converted to loans. If the Department of Education (ED) finds that grants were converted in error – the loans will be converted back to grants. Any payments made on the loans will be applied to other loans owed by the recipients or refunded.  
  • Increasing support for recipients by requiring ED provides notification of important deadlines and creates a publicly available list of qualifying schools and high-need fields for recipients. 
  • Reducing administrative burden for recipients by changing submission requirements from once a year to within the service obligation window and providing an alternative for employment certification if schools will not cooperate or the school is no longer in existence.
  • Extending the “service obligation window”. If a recipient has their loans reconverted, they are provided more time to fulfill their service obligation. Years spent teaching while the loan were converted counts towards the service obligation. It also adds an additional three years for individuals whose work may have been disrupted due to COVID-19. 

 

Many of these provisions simply make permanent the changes made to the program by Former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos which went into effect in July 2021 with the support of the Biden-Harris administration.

Additional changes to the program, including an increase in awards and the inclusion of early education were outlined in the American Families Plan but were not included in the Build Back Better Act now moving through Congress. 

AASA Urges Congress to Include Children Nutrition in Budget Reconciliation

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AASA Urges Congress to Include Children Nutrition in Budget Reconciliation

October 1, 2021

AASA joined nearly 800 organizations in a letter to Congress urging leadership to include essential nutrition provisions in the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package. The asks included:

 

  • Expand the number of schools eligible to offer free meals to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision by increasing the multiplier (that determines the amount of federal reimbursement that a community eligibility school receives) from 1.6 to 2.5 and lowering the eligibility threshold to 25 percent.
  • Give states the option to implement the Community Eligibility Provision statewide.
  • Allow all states to conduct Medicaid direct certification.
  • Extend Summer EBT nationwide for students who receive free or reduced-price school meals to close the summer meal gap.
  • Provide $500 million for school kitchen equipment grants. 
  • Provide $634 million for a Healthy School Meal Incentives demonstration project.

 

These provisions will reduce food insecurity and ensure that millions more children will have the nutrition they need to learn, grow, and thrive 365 days a year.

AASA-Endorsed Cyber Security Bills Heads to Biden’s Desk

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AASA-Endorsed Cyber Security Bills Heads to Biden’s Desk

September 30, 2021

AASA is excited to share that bipartisan legislation, The K-12 Cybersecurity Act,  that would help protect K-12 school systems from cyber-attacks, will head to President Biden to be signed into law. The bill will direct DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to work with teachers, school administrators, other federal departments and private sector organizations to complete a study of cybersecurity risks specific to K-12 educational institutions, including risks related to securing sensitive student and employee records and challenges related to remote-learning. Using their findings, CISA will then create cybersecurity recommendations and other voluntary resources for schools to use when implementing their cybersecurity solutions. 

Ransomware and other cyber-attacks that can shut down our K-12 schools and compromise the personal information of our students and dedicated educators are unacceptable and must be stopped. We are thrilled Congress has taken steps to provide faculty and staff with the resources and means that they often lack to defend themselves and their students against complicated cyber-attacks.

September 29, 2021

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September 29, 2021

September 29, 2021

Today, 17 national organizations representing the school and library beneficiaries of the E-Rate program sent a letter to the Biden Administration urging them to nominate FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to another term and to elevate her to the position of Chair. The Education & Libraries Networks Coalition (EdLiNC) coalition is comprised of the leading K-12 public and private education associations and the American Library Association and has participated in every major regulatory proceeding involving E-Rate, most recently successfully spearheading efforts to secure funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, an investment critical to ensuring learner access in the midst of the pandemic. EdLiNC’s constituent organizations believe that her vast telecommunications policy experience combined with the strong leadership skills that she has manifested throughout her career, but most especially during her time as Acting Chair, merit her becoming the Commission’s Chair.

Read the full letter here

Urge Your Congress Members to Support Funding to Continue Forest Counties Program

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Urge Your Congress Members to Support Funding to Continue Forest Counties Program

September 28, 2021

This week, the House is set to vote on an infrastructure package that includes a three-year extension for the Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties Program (SRS). Please contact your House members to ask them to vote yes on the bill.

Background: The House has scheduled a vote Thursday on the Senate passed bipartisan infrastructure bill which includes the 3 year SRS extension.  The Infrastructure bill with the SRS extension has already been passed by the Senate. House passage will send the bill to the White House for signature by the President.   The House vote on the Infrastructure bill on Thursday is being complicated by political issues connected to the Continuing Resolution and the Reconciliation bill described below.  There is a possibility the vote may be delayed as the House leadership works to make sure they have the votes to pass it.  There should be some Republican votes for the Infrastructure bill just as there were when the bill passed the Senate. 

Need More? If you need contact information for your member of Congress, check out the AASA advocacy app!

House Passes Continuing Resolution to Fund Government Through December 3 – Stalemate Awaits in Senate

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House Passes Continuing Resolution to Fund Government Through December 3 – Stalemate Awaits in Senate

September 23, 2021

Fiscal year (FY) 2021 ends in 7 days and Congress is having trouble agreeing on how to extend government funding while it continues to work on full-year FY 2022 appropriations bills. On Tuesday, Sept. 21, on a party-line vote, Democrats in the House passed a continuing resolution (CR) to extend current funding levels until December 3. The bill also includes emergency funding for disaster relief and resettlement assistance for displaced Afghans and, most notably, suspends the debt ceiling until December 2022.

As a reminder, if Congress does not increase or suspend the debt ceiling in the next month, the U.S. will no longer be able to borrow and will begin to default on its obligations, with catastrophic economic repercussions. 

In the Senate, the House CR requires 60 votes to pass and Republicans have vowed not to support an increase in or suspension of the debt ceiling, making the bill unlikely to gain approval. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans released their own CR, which does not address the debt ceiling and contains foreign aid funding that progressive Democrats oppose. How this faceoff will end is uncertain, but no one wants a government shutdown on October 1. 

Status of Budget Reconciliation and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

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Status of Budget Reconciliation and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

September 23, 2021

The mantra these days for Democrats is “divided, we stall” as progressives and moderates in the House continue to disagree on the order of which to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package that has already passed the Senate and a larger reconciliation bill containing “human” infrastructure investments – including hundreds of billions for education and related programs.

After facing pressure from moderates, House leadership committed to bringing the infrastructure bill to the floor for a vote by Monday, September 27. However, progressives say they won’t vote for that bill unless they can also vote for the reconciliation bill, which will not be ready by Monday. In fact, a vote on the reconciliation bill is likely weeks away, as Democrats negotiate behind the scenes to possibly pare back the size of the House committee proposals to garner support from all the Senate Democrats, some of whom have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag.

AASA Urges Secretary Cardona to Fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

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AASA Urges Secretary Cardona to Fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

September 22, 2021

On September 22, AASA joined an allied coalition letter asking Secretary Cardona and the Department of Education (ED) to take administrative action to ensure that all public service workers who have completed a decade of service receive the debt relief they were promised through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.

Since the first public service workers became eligible for debt cancellation in 2017, 98 percent of those who applied have been rejected. Despite reassurances from ED that these were just initial missteps and that rates of debt cancellation granted under this program would improve over time, year after year there are widespread denials without explanation. 

Recent data obtained by the Student Borrower Protection Center showed that ED rejected more than 4,500 school employees as they sought to certify that their employment counts for the program. In some cases, educators were rejected for seemingly minor bureaucratic mix-ups, such as checking the wrong box or missing a date next to a signature. Others were wrongfully rejected on the basis that the school did not qualify as a public service employer.

It is time for ED to address the underlying problems causing these systematic failures. In the letter, the coalition emphasized the importance of retroactive relief, prospective changes for future participants and highlighted three principles for ED to follow when delivering debt relief: 

 

  • Eliminate all student debt owed by those who have served for a decade or more.
  • Grant one year of credit for each year of service for all public service workers who owe any type of federal student loan. 
  • Ensure relief to public service workers is automatic.

 

Public service workers have been the backbone of our communities throughout the ongoing pandemic and beyond. It is crucial that ED fix the PSLF Program to ensure these groups receive the debt relief they’ve earned. 

USDA Announces Waiver Amidst Supply Chain Disruption

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USDA Announces Waiver Amidst Supply Chain Disruption

September 21, 2021

On September 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a waiver on fiscal action requirements in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) where there is a supply chain disruption due to COVID–19.

Until June 30, 2022, providers will not be penalized for missing food components, missing production records or repeated violations involving milk type and vegetable subgroups. When determining whether this waiver is applicable during an administrative review, state agencies will consider all of the information school food authorities have available that illustrates that a COVID-19 supply chain disruption occurred. 

The authority of the USDA to grant nationwide child nutrition waivers, like this one, is set to expire on September 30, 2021. This authority provides the critical flexibility needed to respond to the ongoing pandemic and ensure that the federal child nutrition programs continue to operate and provide healthy snacks and meals to the students who need them. On September 20, AASA signed on to an allied coalition letter urging Congress to extend this authority to September 30, 2022.

Discover an Award for Innovative Young People!

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Discover an Award for Innovative Young People!

September 14, 2021

This opportunity comes from our friends at NASSP:

Your students want to build a better world. We want to celebrate them through a new awards program.                

As an educator, you give students every opportunity to succeed. And now you can help them even more, as they take aim at some of society's most urgent issues.

Discover Prudential Emerging Visionaries — the exciting national recognition program that awards young people who have innovative solutions to a financial or societal challenge. It's a program you can use to motivate students to think deeper about financial and societal matters and inspire innovation.

Emerging Visionaries is the evolution of Prudential's long-running Spirit of Community Awards program, which for 26 years has honored over 150,000 outstanding youth volunteers. This revitalized program refines that focus, by asking young people to create solutions specifically geared to financial and societal challenges. 

Help Students Apply for Prudential Emerging Visionaries 

Now through November 4, 2021, applications are being accepted from young leaders, age 14-18, who bring powerful vision and real change to financial and societal challenges. 

Those selected may qualify for up to $15,000 in awards, an all-expenses paid trip with their parent or guardian to Prudential headquarters — as well as coaching and skills development to help take their innovation to the next level. Prudential Emerging Visionaries is a collaboration between Prudential Financial and Ashoka, a leading social impact organization. Financial health advisory support is provided by the Financial Health Network

To learn more about Prudential Emerging Visionaries, student eligibility and more, please visit www.prudential.com/emergingvisionaries

For Questions, contact emergingvisionaries@ashoka.org.

Details re Biden Vaccine Plan and Education Implications

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Details re Biden Vaccine Plan and Education Implications

September 10, 2021

Here’s what Biden’s Vaccine Plan says and what we know (so far). We will update the blog and app with more details as we learn them over the next 48 hours.

The Biden Administration plan does the following:

 

  • Requires staff of Head Start programs, DOD schools, Bureau of Indian Educations schools to be vaccinated
  • Calls on all states to adopt vaccine mandates for all school employees
  • Creates a new grant program, Project SAFE (Supporting America’s Families and Educators), to restore funding withheld by state leaders who oppose efforts like mask requirements, virtual learning, etc. The funding can also be used to backfill salaries for district leaders who are implementing masking, etc. 
  • Providing new resources so students and school staff can be tested regularly and beefing up vaccine testing processes/systems. 
  • Providing every resource to the FDA to support review of applications for vaccines for <12

 

Here’s what we know so far about how it impacts states/districts directly. While the president’s vaccine mandate does not apply broadly to all schools, the Biden administration will issue a rule through the Department of Labor that will apply to the 26 states with OSHA plans (including TN, SC, AZ, KY and VA). Teachers in these states will have to be vaccinated OR submit to weekly testing. To check on your state’s OSHA plan, please refer to this map: https://www.osha.gov/stateplans.

Check out the Congressional Research Service (CRS)  report, OSHA Jurisdiction Over Public Schools and Other State and Local Government Entities: COVID-19 Issues.  

There is no authority to mandate vaccines for children at the federal level, so the administration is strongly encouraging states/districts to adopt COVID vaccine mandates for students 12 and over. 

 

State of Our Schools 2021

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State of Our Schools 2021

September 8, 2021

School facilities have a direct impact on student learning, student and staff health and school finances. However, many students attend school facilities that fall short of providing quality learning environments because essential maintenance and capital improvements are underfunded.

The 2021 State of Our Schools Report compiles and analyzes the best available school district data regarding U.S. PK–12 public school facilities funding. In addition to drawing attention to the disparity across the U.S. in funding levels, it finds that the U.S. is underinvesting in school buildings and grounds by $85 billion each year. These findings bring to light the proper financial support required for all children, in every district, to attend healthy and safe schools that provide the best learning environments and most resilient facilities. 

Download the report.

Read the full press release, including a quote from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech. 

Check out the comprehensive state files detailing how underfunded your state's school facilities are.

BUDGET RECONCILIATION: K-12 FUNDING DETAILS

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BUDGET RECONCILIATION: K-12 FUNDING DETAILS

September 8, 2021

This week the House Committee on Education and Labor will mark up its portion of the Build Back Better Act, a portion of the $3.5 trillion bill that Democrats are pushing using a mechanism known as budget reconciliation that only requires the support of 50 Senators.

There is much to like in the House proposal, and we are hopeful to see the Senate move quickly to support these provisions as they move forward next week in determining determine whether the House bill numbers will work for the Senate. 

Here’s what superintendents should know:

 

  • $82 billion in direct aid to states/district to rebuild America’s schools. There is a 10% match requirement for States. If a State applies for the funding, the Title I formula is used to distribute the funds. Every state that participates must collect a “local facilities master plan” from each LEA as well as data to support implementation of the State school facilities database. States will prioritize funding to districts that serve the highest numbers or percentages of Title I students or the most limited capacity to raise funds for the long-term improvement of public-school facilities.
  • $35 billion for school nutrition programs. The bill would make more schools eligible for CEP by lowering the Identified Student Percentage eligibility threshold from 40 to 25 percent and make it more financially viable by increasing the multiplier that determines the amount of federal reimbursement a school receives from 1.6 to 2.5. It would also give states the option to implement the Community Eligibility Provision statewide, allowing all students in the state to receive school breakfast and lunch at no charge. It would allow Children who participate in Medicaid to be certified for free or reduced-price school meals based on their household income. It would also Extend Summer EBT nationwide for students who receive free or reduced-price school meals. 
  • $5 billion for youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs.
  • $400 million for districts to partner with higher education institutions to implement grow-your-own programs and teacher residencies to address teacher shortages.
  • "Such sums as necessary" for expanding universal pre-K programs. States would apply for grants and target subgrants toward interested LEAs, ESAs and other child care providers located in high-poverty communities or in areas with limited early learning programs to provide children with pre-K opportunities. LEAs would not be mandated to provide pre-K programs but could partner with other child care and private partners to compete for grants to start or expand pre-K programs.  

 

Now, none of these numbers are final. It will take effort on everyone’s part (including yours!) to make sure that these funding levels are accepted by the Senate. It’s especially imperative to participate in our call-to-action next week on school infrastructure funding. Stay tuned for more details!

USED Releases ARP Fact Sheet on Pre-Award Costs

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USED Releases ARP Fact Sheet on Pre-Award Costs

September 2, 2021

USED released a fact sheet describing strategies for how LEAs may utilize pre-award costs if they have not yet received an ARP ESSER award from their state.

Background: The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund provides nearly $122 billion to help schools reopen safely, sustain safe operations, and meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of the Nation’s students. Because these needs are so urgent, the ARP Act requires that States allocate at least 90 percent of all funds to their local educational agencies (LEAs) in an “expedited and timely manner.” Although states legally have until March 24, 2022, to make available the LEA share of the first 2/3 of ARP ESSER funding, the ARP Act emphasizes that States should have acted within 60 days of receiving the funds to the extent practicable—and the Department has made clear that every State should do so if they have not already. 1 While the large majority of States have moved expeditiously to make these vital resources available to LEAs, a few States have not yet started awarding ARP ESSER funds that they received in March. In response to questions the Department has received from LEAs, it is important to emphasize that such delay by a State does not restrict an LEA’s ability to incur allowable costs that an LEA determines are appropriate and necessary. Hence, today's fact sheet.

FCC Announces Second ECF Application Window

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FCC Announces Second ECF Application Window

September 2, 2021

From the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):

The FCC announced  that requests for $5.137 billion in funding to support 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections were received during the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program's initial filing window.  The window, which closed August 13, 2021, attracted applicants from all 50 states, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia – including schools and libraries in both rural and urban communities seeking funding for eligible equipment and services received or delivered between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022.  Additional information about the demand at the state level can be found here.

In view of outstanding demand and the recent spike in coronavirus cases, the FCC will open a second application filing window for schools and libraries to request funding from the roughly $2 billion in program funds remaining for connected devices and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons for the current 2021-22 school year.  The second window will open on September 28 and run until October 13.  Eligible schools and libraries will be able to apply for financial support to purchase eligible equipment and services for students, school staff and library patrons with unmet needs.

The Advocate September 2021: District ARP Spending: A Snapshot

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The Advocate September 2021: District ARP Spending: A Snapshot

September 1, 2021

On September 1, AASA released the results of a survey of superintendents about how they plan to use ARP funding this school year and during the next three years. The rationale for conducting this survey is that federal policymakers have expressed concern that district leaders are either taking too long to spend or are unsure of how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funding to address specific pandemic-related educational issues.

Our hope is that this survey of AASA members reassures them that the planning is well underway and sheds light on the trends in allocating federal resources quickly to address both short-term and long-term issues for students and districts. While the survey data is a snapshot of the earliest days of ESSER spending, AASA intends to monitor the continued investment and impact of these dollars on students, particularly vulnerable students, in future surveys of our membership.

What does the data tell us?

One big takeaway is that ARP money is being used to add support staff, particularly mental health support staff, to schools, which is exactly what Congress intended.

 

  • Two-thirds (66%) of respondents plan to use ARP funding this year to add specialized instructional support staff and other specialists (e.g., counselor/social worker/reading specialists) to support specific student needs.
  • More than three-quarters (83%) of respondents expressed their desire to use this investment during  the next three years to meet the needs of their students’ physical, social-emotional and behavioral development.
  • Slightly more than half (52%) of respondents said they would use ARP funding to implement or advance social-emotional learning practices and systems in their districts and/or on trauma-informed training for their educators.

 

Professional development, curriculum upgrades and purchasing of devices was another major expenditure for this school year.

 

  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) are using ARP funds to purchase technology/devices and/or provide students with internet connectivity during the school year.
  • More than half (61%) said they were going to invest in professional development for their educators.
  • More than half (60%) of respondents will be using ARP to procure high-quality instructional materials and curriculum for students.

 

When asked about major expenditures for the next three years, there was a concerted effort by district leaders to invest in re-engaging students, enhancing special education offerings and providing more dual-enrollment and CTE offerings.

 

  • More than half (58%) of respondents indicated their district would be able to improve educational outcomes by investing in re-engaging high school students who have fallen off-track to graduate and who need additional support to navigate the transition to college and career.
  • Nearly half (46%) said they planned to enhance special education services and programming for students with disabilities.
  • More than one third (35%) said they planned to expand dual enrollment programming, apprenticeships and high-quality CTE offerings for students.

 

It is increasingly likely that the Democrats’ reconciliation bill that will be released later this month will contain paltry funding for new school construction. This means that the only opportunity most districts will have to invest in upgrading school facilities is through ARP spending. School facilities experts suggest that at least 15% of ARP funding should be dedicated to school construction. 

Our survey found:

 

  • More than half (57%) of superintendents said they would be able to renovate and build school facilities.
  • Nearly half (45%) of districts indicated they would spend between 1-10% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements.
  • Few (13%) districts indicated they would spend between 11-15% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements.
  • Few (17%) districts indicated they would spend between 16-25% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements.

 

One quarter of respondents indicated that the 2024 deadline to spend funding was an obstacle in using ARP funding for infrastructure updates and construction. Nearly half of urban districts and two-thirds of suburban districts indicated they would spend less than 10% of ARP funding on construction or other infrastructure improvements. Rural districts were much more likely than suburban and urban districts to spend more than 25% of their ARP funding on facility enhancements.

Guest Post: 4 Steps to Manage COVID-19 Vaccinations in School Districts

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Guest Post: 4 Steps to Manage COVID-19 Vaccinations in School Districts

September 1, 2021

This guest blog comes from Qualtrics, an easy-to-use web-based survey tool to conduct survey research, evaluations and other data collection activities. AASA partnered with them for our COVID-19 School Response Dashboard.

4 Steps to Manage COVID-19 Vaccinations in School Districts

With school districts around the U.S. managing the complexities of COVID-19 vaccines, education leaders are setting strategies for how to set clear vaccination and/or testing policies and enabling staff and students (via caregivers) to quickly and easily confirm their vaccination status. Here are four steps to organize your school system to respond to the latest developments and safety standards of the pandemic.

Step #1 — Establish the right policies to support school communities

Listening to your community and building trust are now more important than ever, and correlates directly with the success of any new vaccination status management system or policy.

According to a Qualtrics study of over 1000 U.S. adults, most families who can send their children to school in person will send them to school. To maintain the trust families are placing in their schools, listening to them and your staff will correlate directly with the success of any prospective COVID-19 vaccination policy or management system.

Given the urgent need to build trust between communities and schools, leaders must think about what policies and solutions they can implement quickly and easily to solicit important health information from stakeholders, all while making the process as simple, easy, and private as possible. 

Before implementing any kind of vaccination status management solution, it’s important that schools and districts establish the right approaches and build around them.

Make it easy to participate

Whatever the solution, it must be easy to use and access. App-based tools that can be used via mobile, laptop or desktop, regardless of where or when will make it incredibly simple for staff and families to submit their digital vaccination certification or update their current status. This could also include a single portal with seamless workflows, combined with backend systems for vaccine scheduling, attestation, testing, and symptom checking, for example.

Educate the community and clearly explain the process

Ensuring staff and families are informed about new vaccination verification policies and potential solutions will help to establish buy-in and reduce friction throughout. It isn’t just about providing resources to help educate, but also about giving them the opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback and be involved. Transparency is key and ultimately leads to better outcomes and understanding.

Create a culture of listening

Vaccination mandates have shown to be polarizing topics in many communities. This moment is both a challenge and an opportunity for school systems to operate with even greater empathy and understanding. By building a culture of listening into vaccination policies and using the appropriate tools and solutions, it becomes much easier to glean insight and create more engaged communities.

Stay ready for change

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that changes happen fast and often unexpectedly. Over the next few years, it’s highly likely that vaccination requirements, mandates, and even certifications will change. As decisions change regarding required mitigation methods, having a flexible solution can help school systems respond at the speed required to keep pace with these changes.

Step #2: Leverage the Right Solutions

As COVID-19 regulations and policies continue to rapidly change at every level, school leaders are working tirelessly to keep up with the latest legislation and compliance.

Some systems have systems and policies to manage vaccination status, masks, contact tracing and testing. However, many lack the means to securely capture and organize this kind of information, or do so in a way that’s easy and comfortable for their stakeholders. They also may not be flexible enough to keep up with the current pace of change. Some also do not have the level of sophistication to easily track connections between students and their family members who provide health information on their behalf.

Qualtrics has a solution that can maintain compliance, save time, and run on an automated basis to build greater efficiencies, effectiveness, and trust. 

Step #3: Confirm stakeholder vaccination status quickly and easily

covid guest post

The Qualtrics Vaccination & Testing Manager enables school systems to confirm staff and student (via family) vaccination status, ongoing test results, and screen for COVID-19 symptoms - all in one single platform. The lightweight and no-code setup enables districts to get started in days, not months, and has the flexibility to adapt to future needs and changing regulations.

Stakeholders can easily and confidentially confirm their COVID-19 vaccination status — all they need to do is upload their vaccination cards, digital certificate(s) or exemptions via the preferred digital channels (email, text or webpage).

And as a solution with minimal administrative overhead and automated workflows, it’s easy to guide staff leaders through the process — meaning less work for human resources staff and other district leaders. Qualtrics’ Vaccination & Testing Manager is secure by design, with built-in features that keep protected health information and vaccination information separate. Qualtrics is FedRAMP and HITRUST compliant, and configurable to meet HIPAA requirements. The solution will also include vaccine verification options to confirm information about vaccinations if needed.

Step #4: Consolidate school and district COVID operations

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qualtrics has worked with hundreds of organizations to reach 100M+ citizens across 25,000 COVID programs that span screening, appointment scheduling, testing, and vaccination status management.

We’re seeing a few districts across the U.S. require vaccinations for all or part of their staff communities — and in some cases, their eligible student populations as well.

Whether vaccinations are required or optional, districts have the opportunity to streamline operations for all COVID-19 protocols into one system. As the means to confirm school stakeholder vaccination status becomes increasingly important, systems across the U.S. should be able to implement student and staff centered vaccination status and confirmation solutions that are robust, flexible, and ready for any challenges that may come.

Questions? Contact Byron Adams, Education Industry Advisor, byrona@qualtrics.com

USDA Announces School Meals SY 21-22 Flexibilities, Waivers and Supply Chain Resources

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USDA Announces School Meals SY 21-22 Flexibilities, Waivers and Supply Chain Resources

August 30, 2021

USDA recently detailed the School Year 2021-2-22 and Supply Chain Challenges technical assistance resources available to State agencies, school districts and stakeholders:

A suite of technical assistance resources entitled Planning for a Dynamic School Environment, including:

 

 

On August 13, FNS hosted a webinar entitled “Procurement Strategies for School Year 2021-2022.” The webinar takes a deep dive into some of the supply chain strategies mentioned on this webinar and the recording is now available on the Team Nutrition website. The link is below:

 

 

In partnership with USDA, the Institute of Child Nutrition is hosting a special Back to School series focused on Tools and Strategies to Address Supply Chain Challenges. This two-part series scheduled for September 1st and 2nd from 3:00 – 4:00pm EST will feature eight State agency representatives and child nutrition directors from across the country as they discuss the supply chain issues they have been facing as schools return to school as well as resources and best practices to mitigate those challenges. Visit theicn.org for more details on that series and to register.

USED IDEA Resource Round-Up

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USED IDEA Resource Round-Up

August 25, 2021

This week, the U.S. Department of Education released a new guidance document reiterating the importance of complying with child find requirements during the pandemic. They also stated they would be releasing a series of other policy guidance on meeting IDEA in the coming weeks.

In addition, many districts are reporting that they are beginning to see the ARP funding increase for IDEA hit their bank accounts. You'll recall that Democrats sought a $3.5 billion plus-up to IDEA in the American Rescue Plan. This funding, like all increases to IDEA done through the appropriation process, is subject to the same stringent local maintenance of effort requirements. While House Democrats have proposed level-funding IDEA from the ARP baseline for FY22 it is not guaranteed. We are cautiously optimistic that we will see a sustained investment over two years at the same level for IDEA, but it's important for districts to monitor their compliance with MOE and review this document that ED shared on ARP and IDEA MoE compliance.

America Counts Releases State Data Profiles

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America Counts Releases State Data Profiles

August 25, 2021

The U.S. Census Bureau today released 52 individual data profiles on America Counts highlighting the recent 2020 Census Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File release.

These sharable data-rich state profiles are available for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and feature data visualizations that include population, housing, race, ethnicity, diversity and age data. Each profile provides key demographic characteristics of each state and county on one page.

Check out the state profiles!

USED Guidance Reaffirms Importance of Full Implementation of IDEA

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USED Guidance Reaffirms Importance of Full Implementation of IDEA

August 24, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) sent a letter to its state and local partners reiterating its commitment to ensuring children with disabilities and their families have successful early intervention and educational experiences in the 2021-2022 school year. 

This letter outlines a series of question and answers (Q&As) as children and students return to in-person learning. The Q&As focus on topics to help ensure that—regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic or the mode of instruction, children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and that infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services.   

“Serving all children and students with disabilities in our public schools isn’t just written into law – it’s a moral obligation and strong equitable practice. When we recognize and celebrate these differences as strengths, and when we help all children make progress toward challenging educational goals, everyone benefits,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “I’m proud that the Department is releasing these tools as part of the federal government’s important and necessary obligation to IDEA.” 

The Q&As document on Child Find Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act released with the letter is the first Q&A in the series and reaffirms the importance of appropriate implementation of IDEA’s child find obligations, which requires the identification, location and evaluation, of all children with disabilities in the states. An effective child find system is an ongoing part of each state’s responsibility to ensure that FAPE is made available to all eligible children with disabilities.    

Other topic areas under IDEA include: 

 

  • meeting timelines;
  • ensuring implementation of initial evaluation and reevaluation procedures;
  • determining eligibility for special education and related services;
  • providing the full array of special education and related services, that may include compensatory services, for students with disabilities to ensure they receive a FAPE, and
  • delayed evaluations and early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families served under IDEA Part C. 

 

FCC Releases Back-to-School Emergency Broadband Benefit Outreach Toolkit

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FCC Releases Back-to-School Emergency Broadband Benefit Outreach Toolkit

August 23, 2021

Students are returning to school for a new year and whether classes are remote, in-person, or a hybrid this fall everyone needs internet access to succeed.

To help promote the Emergency Broadband Benefit as a tool for the coming school year, the FCC has added new back-to-school themed materials to the EBB Outreach Toolkit.  New materials include school posters, bookmarks, handouts and Pell Grant and school lunch and breakfast program specific flyers. Additional social media posts and images have also been added. 

The FCC hopes that universities and K-12 schools will use these items to notify their communities about this important program designed to help eligible households get, or stay, connected. 

The new materials are available in English and in Spanish. They also include Tribal specific flyers to promote the increased monthly benefit available to eligible households on qualifying Tribal lands. If you have questions about any of the materials please contact broadbandbenefit@fcc.gov.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program allows eligible households to enroll through an approved provider or by visiting GetEmergencyBroadband.org. To learn more about the program or to become a partner visit www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit

New research finds schools remain more likely to suspend Black students and students with disabilities, despite overall reductions

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New research finds schools remain more likely to suspend Black students and students with disabilities, despite overall reductions

August 23, 2021

While schools have continued to lower their reliance on out-of-school suspension to manage student behavior, large disparities still exist by race and disability status, according to a new analysis of the Civil Rights Data Collection from Child Trends. The analysis found that, in the 2017-18 school year:

 

  • The average K-12 school suspended 4.5% of their students and the average secondary school suspended 7.4% of their students, compared to 5.6% and 9.6% in the 2011-12 school year.
  • K-12 schools suspend their Black students at rates twice as high (7.8% of Black students in the 2017–18 school year) as their White (3.8%) and Hispanic (3.6%) counterparts. 
  • Schools also suspend their students with disabilities at rates twice as high as their peers without disabilities (8.5% versus 4.0%, respectively, at the average K-12 school).
  • Disparities also exist within individual schools. 1 in 5 public K-12 schools (22.5%) disproportionately suspend their Black students at higher rates than their White students, and 2 in 5 (39.9%) disproportionately suspend their students with disabilities relative to students without disabilities. 

 

As students return to in-person instruction, they’ll face new behavioral expectations as schools work to safeguard communities from COVID-19 transmission. Schools may need a renewed commitment to positive behavioral approaches, tailored to support both new social and emotional needs and expectations, to maintain the current trend towards reduced disciplinary exclusion. 

USED Revises Maintenance of Equity Guidance

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USED Revises Maintenance of Equity Guidance

August 8, 2021

On Friday, USED released a revised set of guidance for Maintenance of Equity in which they provide a flexibility such that the provision will only apply to LEAs experiencing a net decrease in state and local funding for the 21-22 school year. You’ll recall that in June, USED released its initial guidance on Maintenance of Equity (MoEq) and included an interpretation that the provision would apply to all schools enrolling more than 1,000 students, which ran counter to the  intention of the underlying statute, the general impression in the field and among policy experts, and something that would prove problematic to the field. 

This revised guidance clarifies that, among other things, for the 21-22 school year, the more narrow application will apply.

What do you need to know?

 

  • Letter from Sec Cardona to state chiefs and school superintendents is here.
  • The updated guidance itself is available here. The critical update is that with this new guidance, “an LEA…may demonstrate that it is excepted from the maintenance of equity requirements for FY 2022 by certifying to the Department that it did not and will not implement an aggregate reduction in combined State and local per-pupil funding in FY 2022 (i.e., is not facing overall budget reductions).” In layman’s terms, this means the MoEquity provision only applies to LEAs experiencing a net decrease in state/local dollars. Any LEA that can certify they will not have a new reduction in combined state and local funding for 2021-22 school year will be excepted from this provision. LEAs seeking the exception will need to submit a certification affirming they will not have a net decrease; that form is available in Appendix B (page 24) of the August 6 revised guidance.

 

Using ESSER to Advance Student Health Equity

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Using ESSER to Advance Student Health Equity

August 5, 2021

We are really excited to share a new guide, Advancing Student and Staff Health with COVID-19 Relief Funding, which highlights how districts should consider using ESSER funds to support student and staff health. In addition to sharing information on how school districts can use COVID-19 relief money for capacity building and infrastructure, the guidance details how these federal funds can be used to access additional funding streams, such as Medicaid, to ensure the efforts initiated with COVID relief aid are sustained. For more information, check out the guidance here.

Developed by the AASA, FutureEd, Healthy Schools Campaign and Kaiser Permanente, the guide provides an essential roadmap for strategic and sustainable investment that can help advance student and staff health for years to come.

CDC Updates on COVID-19 Guidance for K-12 School

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CDC Updates on COVID-19 Guidance for K-12 School

August 5, 2021

This content originates from an email from the CDC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools to align with CDC’s existing guidance for fully vaccinated people and assist K-12 schools in opening for in-person instruction and remaining open. Additionally, the Considerations for Case Investigation and Contact Tracing in K-12 Schools and Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) has been updated to align with new CDC guidance.  

CDC’s Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools includes recommendations for

 

  • Promoting vaccination among teachers, staff, families, and eligible students. 
  • Universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. 
  • Implementation of layered prevention strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, including maintaining at least 3 feet of distance between students within classrooms in combination with universal masking; screening testing to promptly identify cases, clusters, and outbreaks; handwashing and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and disinfection; and contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.  

 

CDC’s Considerations for Case Investigation and Contact Tracing in K-12 Schools and Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) highlights 

 

  • How case investigation and contact tracing--in combination with testing, isolation, and quarantine--are effective strategies to help prevent transmission of COVID-19 in K–12 schools. 
  • How collaboration between schools and STLT health departments on reporting COVID-19 cases can facilitate timely case investigation and contact tracing in school settings. 
  • Recommendations for students, staff, and educators, regardless of vaccination status, who have come into close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. 

 

CDC has also updated the exception to the close contact definition for students in K-12 indoor classroom settings. If using the 3-foot distancing in indoor classroom settings, it is important that schools implement layered prevention strategies to ensure a safe environment and prevent transmission of COVID-19. However, implementation of these strategies will no longer be considered in the determination of close contact.   

Given the importance of key services schools offer and the benefits of in-person learning for students, it is critical for K-12 schools to open for in-person instruction, and stay open. Working together, school leaders, local health departments and community members can take actions to keep schools open for in-person learning by protecting students, teachers, and school staff where they live, work, learn, and play. 

ICYMI: USED Released New Title IX Guidance on 2020 Regulations

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ICYMI: USED Released New Title IX Guidance on 2020 Regulations

August 2, 2021

On July 20, OCR released a Questions and Answers resource explaining how OCR interprets schools’ obligations under the 2020 amendments to the Title IX regulation.

The 2020 amendments remain in effect while OCR’s comprehensive review of Title IX actions is ongoing, and the Q&A aims to assist schools, students, and others by highlighting areas in which schools may have discretion in their procedures for responding to reports of sexual harassment.

The Q&A includes an appendix that responds to schools’ requests for examples of Title IX procedures that may be adaptable to their own circumstances and helpful in implementing the 2020 amendments. In addition, the guidance clarifies the steps that districts can take to address and remediate harassment that does not meet the new “severe, pervasive and objective” standard.

FNS and Direct Certification Pilot Projects

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FNS and Direct Certification Pilot Projects

August 2, 2021

As part of the Russell School Nutrition Program, currently known as the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) conducts additional demonstration projects to expand the evaluation of direct certification with Medicaid for both free and reduced price punch meal eligibility under the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Programs. Direct certification of Medicaid is the use of Medicaid data files to ID children eligible to receive meals through NSLP and SBP at free and reduced price without need of application (yay for reduced paper pushing!).

As you know, 19 state agencies are already directly certifying income-eligible children receiving Medicaid benefits to receive free/reduced price school meals. The Biden administration announced its plan to expand these efforts and is inviting additional state agencies to initiate similar direct certification with Medicaid demonstration projects for school years 2022-23 and 2023-24. To that end, FNS released a request for applications last week, which you can access here and share with your respective state agency contacts. 

USED Releases Return to School Roadmap

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USED Releases Return to School Roadmap

August 2, 2021

As published in a press release, USED released the “Return to School Roadmap,” a resource to support students, schools, educators, and communities as they prepare to return to safe, healthy in-person learning this fall and emerge from the pandemic stronger than before. The Roadmap provides key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning. Over the course of the next several weeks as schools reopen nationwide, the Roadmap will lay out actionable strategies to implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) updated guidance for K-12 schools, so that schools can minimize transmission and sustain in-person learning all school-year long.

The Roadmap includes three “Landmark” priorities that schools, districts, and communities are encouraged to focus on to ensure all students are set up for success in the 2021-2022 school year. These include: (1) prioritizing the health and safety of students, staff, and educators, (2) building school communities and supporting students’ social, emotional, and mental health, and (3) accelerating academic achievement. As part of the Roadmap, the Department will release resources for practitioners and parents on each of these priorities, and will highlight schools and districts that are using innovative practices to address these priorities. The Department will also lift up ways that the American Rescue Plan and other federal funds can be used to address these priorities in schools and communities across the country, as well as outline additional investments from President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that are needed to ensure our schools and communities can rebuild from the pandemic even stronger than they were before and address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, particularly for students in underserved communities.  

As part of the launch of the Return to School Roadmap, the Department released: 

 

  • A fact sheet for schools, families, and communities on the Return to School Roadmap, reviewing the three “Landmark” priorities, and elevating schools and districts that are addressing each in effective ways.  
  • A guide for schools and districts outlining what schools can do to protect the health and safety of students, including increasing access to vaccinations and steps for implementing the CDC’s recently updated K-12 school guidance.   
  • A checklist that parents can use to prepare themselves and their children for a safe return to in-person learning this fall, leading with vaccinating eligible children and masking up if students are not yet vaccinated.

 

Buses and Federal Rules: What You Need to Know

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Buses and Federal Rules: What You Need to Know

August 2, 2021

Many superintendents have expressed confusion about different federal orders requiring masks on school buses and we are writing to provide some clarity for you and your administrative teams on this issue.

But, first some context: In June, CDC reiterated its order from January that school bus masking is required. At the same time, several states acted in the spring and summer to prohibit local school districts from requiring masks for students generally.

Superintendents have wondered what the consequence of following state law (no mask mandates) and flaunting federal CDC orders would be and the answer is as follows: CDC has no way of enforcing its school bus mask mandate. While they have the power to issue orders, their enforcement capacity is essentially non-existent. Superintendents should weigh the consequences of what would occur if they do not follow the state mandate on masks and following the CDC order and vice versa.

In addition to masking, there are multiple effective mitigation strategies for districts to employ to reduce the risks associated with student transportation as demonstrated in this document published by the U.S. Department of Education. Regardless of what practices your district employs, the U.S. Department of Education has reiterated that social distancing practices on school buses should not deter districts from offering full-time, in-person instruction.

With regards to the TSA order for buses that have associated fines for noncompliance, please know that school buses are not part of the order. There is no financial penalty associated with noncompliance with the TSA or CDC orders.

We hope this blogpost provides you with the clarity necessary to make safe and healthy choices for your students this school year. 

This blog was originally posted to AASA Advocacy app. Sign up for the app today to get this information direct to your phone.

AASA August Advocacy Updates

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AASA August Advocacy Updates

August 2, 2021

It is officially recess for Congress, but the work continues. Three items/updates we want to relay to you:

 

  • FY22 Appropriations: Last week, the House completed its voting on amendments to the FY2022 LHHS-Education appropriations bill. That bill is part of a 7-bill FY22 omnibus package that was ultimately passed by the house. Education did receive an increase, and brings the House tally to having passed 9 of the 12 appropriations bills. USED saw an overall increase of $29.3 billion, compared to the CDC/s increase of $2.7 billion. The House LHHS includes a $20 billion increase for Title I, following the lead of the Biden administration, funds which would move through a new Equity Grant Program. The bill also includes a $5 million increase for REAP, an $85 million increase for Title IV-A, and a $2.6 billion increase for IDEA Grants to states. We will watch to see how the Senate drafts their approps bills, and monitor FY22 funding conversations as they continue to evolve.
  • Infrastructure: Late on Sunday, the Senate introduced the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It is loosely based on the broad outline negotiated by a bipartisan group of Senators and the White House earlier this summer. The bill totals nearly $1 trillion in infrastructure funding, but is glaringly devoid of meaningful supports for public schools. The school-related provision totals $500 million over FY2022-26. While it is good and historic that public schools are included in the national infrastructure bill, the funding level for schools is embarrassingly low: in terms of scale, in relation to other infrastructure—even though school district capital outlay is the second largest sector for capital outlay—nearly the same as for highways, nationally—this bill dedicates only .04% --not four percent, but four hundredths of a percent toward public school infrastructure—it falls incredibly short on what the needs are and the importance of this sector is. AASA continues to support the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, and believes that should be the starting point for conversations about schools within the broader package. We will continue to monitor this legislation. 
  • Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties: The pending infrastructure bill includes a provision that would extend the Secure Rural Schools/Forest Counties program for three years. More specifically, it includes an extension for FY21-22-23 without a 5% reduction, and provides that for FY21 and each fiscal year thereafter the amount is equal to the amount of FY2017. Big thanks to Senator Wyden, who is the champion of this provision, along with Sens. Manchin, Crapo, Murkowski, Tester, Risch, Merkley and Barrasso.

 

Bills on K-12 Funding and Discrimination Move Forward

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Bills on K-12 Funding and Discrimination Move Forward

July 18, 2021

Thursday was a busy day on Capitol Hill as two committees held contentious mark-ups on K-12 issues and funding. The House Education and Labor Committee voted to pass a bill that would create a competitive grant program to incentivize districts to de-segregate schools. This bill, the Strength in Diversity Act, is one that AASA supports. The second bill would give students and parents the right to bring Title VI discrimination claims based on the disparate impact of school policies, as if those policies had been written to be intentionally discriminatory. It would also require each district to have a Title VI coordinator. AASA does not support this bill. A Republican substitute amendment to the Title VI bill would have barred federal funding from supporting instruction that made assumptions, assigned characteristics, or separated students or teachers based on race, color, or national origin. This vote, focused on Critical Race Theory, is the first vote on this contentious topic on Capitol Hill and was defeated by Democrats and supported by Republicans.

The House Appropriations Committee also met to deliberate on the House Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. The bill passed only with Democrats voting in favor of it and would represent a huge increase in annual federal spending on schools, as it more than doubles the size of the Title I program and provides a substantial increase to IDEA. This EdWeek story provides a good outline of the funding. House Leadership has indicated that the Labor-HHS-Education bill will be on the floor of the House of Representatives in two weeks. It is critical that we have support for this unprecedented funding jump for education. Make sure to reach out to your members of Congress using the AASA Advocacy App and let them know you support this critical increase in Title I and IDEA.

Letter from Secretary Cardona re: Vaccinations, Screening Testing, and Summer Learning and Enrichment Opportunities

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Letter from Secretary Cardona re: Vaccinations, Screening Testing, and Summer Learning and Enrichment Opportunities

July 6, 2021

On July 6, 2021, the U.S. Dept. of Ed. shared a letter on its most recent efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19 on our public school communities and increase the vaccination rates amongst school staff and students. As a part of these efforts, the Department is asking the following requests listed below of superintendents.

 

  • First, stand up for a vaccination clinic at your school sites, and for state officials. To help in this effort, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a toolkit available here. This toolkit was developed in consultation with the White House, with recommendations on how to effectively work with your local health partners to stand up a vaccine clinic for your staff and eligible students and their families as soon as possible. To learn more about the Health Center Program, please click here
  • Second, the Department is asking superintendents to launch a campaign to encourage eligible students, parents, and staff to get vaccinated and share with them the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and why they are critical to protecting individuals from COVID-19 and lowering community transmission. Please share this information with limited English proficient parents and students by providing it in their primary languages. The Department is encouraging superintendents to use their voices and platforms to encourage students and parents to get vaccinated and to organize events in their community this summer and in the lead up to school reopening focused on vaccination and reopening. As a recommendation, USED encourages partnerships with community, faith-based organizations, labor, and others to get students and/families vaccinated. Superintendents can also collaborate with student leaders to make these efforts fun and get young people to participate.
  • As part of these efforts, The Department is also encouraging superintendents to consider implementing creative incentives and initiatives to boost excitement and vaccine participation and use these opportunities to partner with local community-based programs, including early childhood education providers. For example, Ohio has created in-state scholarship lotteries for students who get vaccinated; in Los Angeles, secondary schools that exceed a 30% vaccination rate will receive $5,000 grants, and Head Start programs have partnered with a school district and local hospital to host vaccination satellite sites; and teens in Detroit are leading virtual sessions for their classmates encouraging them to sign up for vaccines. 

 

The Department is also supportive of providing incentives to students and their household members to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As some may recall, this activity is an allowable use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Funds. An FAQ on the GEER and ESSER Fund is available here. Check out this FAQ document for more information about uses funds for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, to support vaccinations and COVID-19 testing for teachers, faculty, staff, and eligible students.

Finally, another important component of creating safe school environments is COVID-19 screening testing. The Department of Health and Human Services awarded funding from the American Rescue Plan to all states to support COVID-19 testing in schools. You can click here for more information on how to set up a screening testing program for a school that will ensure for safe operations in every district by the fall.

The Advocate July 2021: Emergency Connectivity Fund

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The Advocate July 2021: Emergency Connectivity Fund

July 1, 2021

Sometimes naming a phenomenon is all it takes to shift a conversation, to step towards a solution. And sometimes, not.

In February 2020, 17 long months before COVID upended everything, the term homework gap existed and was used to address the very unfortunate reality--and worst kept secret in education--that as many as 12-17 million students in the U.S. lacked internet access at home. Naming the homework gap helped us to talk about it, but getting serious response to the homework gap? That took a pandemic. 

Even before the pandemic shuttered schools and shifted our students into remote/online learning, students without connectivity were at an educational disadvantage because they could not complete homework assignments that required internet access after class. This inequity was simultaneously exacerbated and shoved to center stage when COVID shut schools. 

In response to this crisis Congress passed Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The ECF is a $7.17 billion program which allows schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The ECF will be distributed along the lines of the E-rate program. It will be similarly managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) through the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) portal. Any school or library that has ever applied for funding through the E-rate program will already be familiar with the eligibility requirements and application procedure for the ECF. This funding is only for purchases made beginning July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. Ed tech purchases prior to July 1 can be reimbursed by the American Rescue Plan funding and other COVID-relief packages. 

Under the ECF program eligible equipment for reimbursement includes: laptop computers, tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers  and devices that combine modems and routers. Districts cannot be reimbursed for desktop computers and mobile phones. There are price caps in place for purchases of $400 per computer and $250 per hotspot as well as distribution limits to ensure a student or school employee receives only one fixed broadband connection (or modem) per location or one computer/tablet per person. Other eligible services for reimbursement include: home internet access delivered via a commercial provider; the activation, installation and initial configuration costs for eligible equipment and services and school construction of self-provisioned networks to connect students and staff – only where there are no commercially available service options. The ECF funding cannot be used for purchasing cybersecurity tools, learning management systems, video conferencing equipment, standalone microphones and technology protection measures required by CIPA. 

The 45-day application window opened on June 29; schools and libraries have until August 13 to apply for the funding. This is a very tight turnaround on a new tranche of funding at the exact time that schools are working to plan and invest unprecedented amounts of federal funding. It is a daunting task, but also critically necessary and possible. 

 For more information and resources, check out the ECF's website or Funds for Learning's ECF Guide. Or check out the AASA webinar we did on the ECF in coordination with ASBO,  “Using Federal Funds to Get Students Connected & Fix the Homework Gap”. 

AIR Results: National Survey of Public Education’s Response to COVID-19

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AIR Results: National Survey of Public Education’s Response to COVID-19

July 1, 2021

Earlier this spring, AASA was pleased to partner with the American Institutes for Research in the National Survey of Public Education's Response to COVID 19. Over the course of 2020, they asked school district and charter management organization leaders to respond to a nationally representative survey of school districts and charter management organizations—more than 2,500 in total—about the actions they have taken and the challenges they have encountered during the COVID-19-related school closures. The 2020 survey addressed how school districts and charter management organizations coped with issues related to school closures, including the timing of school closures due to COVID-19; distance learning approaches and challenges; supporting students with disabilities and English learners; district policies and requirements, such as grading and graduation; staffing and human resources; and health, well-being, and safety.

In 2021, they administered a survey focused on instructional approaches, student engagement and participation, supports for student learning, and priorities and challenges. They followed up with interviews with school district administrators on a variety of topics including the virtual options available for next school year, methods to alleviate staff shortages and teacher burnout, assessing the extent of and mitigating “loss in expected learning,” meeting the needs of students with disabilities and English language learners, providing social emotional support for students and teachers, and actions taken to ensure equity and social justice for families in the community.

The results of that work were released throughout the year, and the newest set of resources--an infographic and three research briefs--were released just this week. You can access them directly here:

 

  • Infographic: Schooling During 2020–21: Results from the National Survey of Public Education’s Response to COVID-19 (PDF)
  • District Approaches to Instruction in 2020-2021: Differences in Instructional Modes and Instruction Time Across Contexts (PDF)
  • Student Attendance and Enrollment Loss in 2020-2021 (PDF)
  • District Concerns About Academic Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic (PDF)

 

 

School Infrastructure Update

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School Infrastructure Update

June 24, 2021

Yesterday, President Biden endorsed the bipartisan infrastructure framework introduced by a group of 21 senators led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Rob Portman (R-OH). At this point, the exact details of the proposal have yet to be formally released. However, the plan is expected to total $579 billion in new spending to rebuild America’s roads and bridges, improve public transit systems, expand passenger rails, upgrade ports and airports, invest in broadband infrastructure, fix water systems, modernize our power sector and improve climate resilience. Additionally, the bipartisan framework includes funding to electrify thousands of school and transit buses across the country and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines and pipes to deliver clean drinking water to up to ten million American families and more than 400,000 schools and child care facilities. You can check out the draft framework by clicking here.

The bill does not include funding for school, child care, and community college infrastructure proposed in the American Jobs Plan. That said, there is some good news here, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the House would not vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes a larger set of Democratic priorities through budget reconciliation. Biden also signaled that he will not sign the bipartisan G20 proposal without the Senate first passing a larger reconciliation bill with his American Job and Family Plan priorities.

Considering this, the pressure is now on Senate Democrats to craft the text for President Biden's proposal. Again, there is still time to get the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act across the finish line.

New U.S. Dept. of Ed. & FCC Resources

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New U.S. Dept. of Ed. & FCC Resources

June 23, 2021

Schools, districts and states have taken a variety of approaches throughout the past year to address the homework gap for students. To help superintendents in these efforts, the U.S. Dept. of Ed. has released a host of new resources and opportunities to provide district leaders with strategies and guidance addressing how to close the digital divide.

The first resource is the Department’s new guide that focuses on digital equity. Specifically, the guide highlights one new long-term solution that may be particularly helpful for rural LEA’s trying to increase access to connectivity. (Hint: It concerns deploying off-campus wireless networks.) You can access the full guide here

The second resource provides answers to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) new Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. Specifically, this document was designed in close coordination between the U.S. Dept. of Ed. and the FCC outlining what the EBB program is, what it covers, how long it lasts and the eligibility requirements for qualified students. Moreover, the Department has issued an Outreach Toolkit that includes a Sample Consent form and Template FRPL Verification Letter for the EBB program (additional language is coming soon, so be on the lookout for the updated resources). You can access all these resources by clicking here

Biden Admin Shares Timeline for Upcoming Regs-Guidance

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Biden Admin Shares Timeline for Upcoming Regs-Guidance

June 23, 2021

On Tuesday, the Biden Administration released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which reports on the actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long term. Of note, the Administration stated they did not anticipate a new proposed Title IX regulation until May 2022. This means that the DeVos Title IX reg will be on the books for the entire 2021-2022 school year and given how long the comment period and comment review will be likely for the 2022-2023 school year. In addition, the Administration announced it would be releasing regulations on the $800 million earmarked in ARP to support homeless students. The Education Department says its rules for the program will apply to three-quarters of the funding and will focus on the formula that state education agencies use to provide subgrants to local school districts. Another regulation will seek to clarify the definition of “education records.” The rule would also attempt to clarify “provisions regarding disclosures to comply with a judicial order or subpoena” as it pertains to FERPA.

AASA and NASSP Send Critique of Title IX Rule

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AASA and NASSP Send Critique of Title IX Rule

June 17, 2021

On June 11, AASA and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) responded to the U.S. Department of Education’s request for written comments on the implementation of the 2020 Title IX regulation.

AASA and NASSP urge to the department to immediately rescind the 2020 amendments to the Title IX regulations and replace them with nonbinding guidance for K–12 schools, technical assistance, and best practices to ensure the fair, prompt, and equitable resolution of reports of sexual harassment and other sex discrimination. 

Our comments focus on three major issues with the 2020 amendments:  

 

  • The length of the process and the ability of administrators to adequately mitigate potential and actual sexual harassment and assault of students in a timely manner, especially when compared to other similar disciplinary infractions 
  • Staffing burden 
  • Confidentiality requirements

 

USDA Responds to AASA's Request to Expand Direct Certification with Medicaid Demonstration Project

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USDA Responds to AASA's Request to Expand Direct Certification with Medicaid Demonstration Project

June 11, 2021

On June 11, 2021, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) submitted a response to AASA's allied coalition letter requesting that the department extend and expand opportunities for states to participate in the Direct Certification with Medicaid (DC-M) Demonstration Project, which currently enables 19 states to use Medicaid data to directly certify students for free or reduced-price school meals, under the authority provided in Sections 9(b)(15) and 18(c) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. Specifically, U.S. Secretary of Vilsack stated that "USDA is actively working to identify possible options for building upon our existing DC-M demonstrations, and we look forward to offering expanded opportunities in the near future."

You can check out AASA's initial letter here. Access the USDA's response by clicking here.

IDEA Full Funding Coalition: FY22 Approps Letter

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IDEA Full Funding Coalition: FY22 Approps Letter

June 7, 2021

The IDEA Full Funding Coalition – which AASA chairs – submitted a letter with its funding request for the FY22 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriation levels to Congress. Specifically, the 33 allied organizations of the coalition called for $15.5B to be allocated to IDEA Part B. The full letter is available here.

Call-to-Action: Schools Belong in Upcoming Infrastructure Package

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Call-to-Action: Schools Belong in Upcoming Infrastructure Package

June 4, 2021

Negotiations on an infrastructure package are rapidly progressing in the Senate, as last week Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion counterproposal to the recently released $1.7 trillion scaled-back infrastructure proposal from the Biden-Harris administration. The Republican proposal does not contain funding for school construction, remediating lead in schools or electrifying school buses while the Democratic proposals do.

In light of the possibility that schools could be left out of the forthcoming infrastructure proposal, AASA needs your help to ensure that public schools receive the funding they need to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all students. To join us in advocating for public schools to be included in the forthcoming infrastructure package, please follow the directions below. 

Action Steps: 

 

  1. See if your Senators support S.96, the Rebuild and Reopen America Schools Act (RRASA). You can access a list of cosponsors by clicking here. If they are not on the list, then ask them to support public school infrastructure needs by cosponsoring the bill. If they are already a cosponsor of the legislation, then thank those who have signed on in support and urge them to tell leadership that they must include Rebuild America’s Schools Act in the nation’s infrastructure package and keep advocating for public school facilities infrastructure funding. 
  2. If you prefer to connect with your senators via phone, you can either (1) lookup their numbers located on your senators’ websites, or (2) call the Capitol Switchboard operator at (202) 224-3121, so they can directly connect you with your Senate office..
  3. Alternatively, if you prefer to contact your congressional member via email, here is a template your school district or association can edit and send to advocate for public schools. 

 

We need all-hands-on-deck to ensure schools are not left out from the upcoming infrastructure proposal. Infrastructure is a non-partisan issue on the local level, and our students' and communities' needs should not become a partisan compromise in the upcoming negotiation. As always, we are grateful for your continued support and look forward to getting RRASA across the finish line!

Guest Post: Two Ways for States to Support More Thoughtful School District Recovery Plans

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Guest Post: Two Ways for States to Support More Thoughtful School District Recovery Plans

June 4, 2021

This blog post is reposted with permission of EducationCounsel. AASA was pleased to partner with our Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium (facilitated by EducationCounsel) on a joint letter to USED regarding two concerns with the ARP LEA recovery plan timeline and approach to continuous improvement. You can access the original blog post here.

"In public school districts across the nation we see the familiar June images of high school seniors celebrating, teachers grading projects and final exams, and superintendents…drafting plans to spend billions of new dollars?!?

Yes, strategic planning is ramping up just as the school year is winding down. To help districts meet this critical moment, there are two small but important things state education agencies (SEAs) can do in their soon-to-be-submitted American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) plans. These opportunities arise from recent clarifications by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) about how SEAs and local education agencies (LEAs) can approach figuring out how best to use new federal resources to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the big new pot of ARP funds.

 

  1. USED has clarified that SEAs have the discretion to establish their own deadlines for LEAs to submit ARP plans, so long as their timeline is “reasonable.” Importantly, a reasonable timeline can be more than 90 days after LEAs’ receipt of ARP funding.
  2. USED also clarified that LEAs may periodically review and revise these plans through a SEA-designed and -managed process. 

 

Together, these clarifications allow SEAs’ plans to include a more reasonable timeline for LEA plans and to establish an expectation and process for periodic review, learning, and continuous improvement of those plans over time. Even with SEA plans due to USED on June 7, there is time to adjust LEA plan timelines. Additionally, many states will likely be submitting some or all of their plans after next week, and a state could submit a revised plan or amendment (before or after receiving USED approval).

The remainder of this post provides more details about the planning challenge facing school districts and how states can leverage the recent clarifications from USED to help their districts tackle it:

The Challenge

Given all of the challenges created by the pandemic, our public school students, staff, families, and communities need their school districts to develop recovery plans that both meet immediate needs and help make important shifts to address long standing inequities and “build back better.” But it takes significant time and effort to develop a high-quality multi-year strategic plan that advances excellence and equity for each and every student, both as a matter of best practices and according to requirements in ARP itself. Such a plan must be rooted in a particular community’s needs and assets and address the holistic needs of all students. It must be informed by what evidence shows is most likely to work for whom and under what circumstances. A wide variety of stakeholders must have multiple opportunities to provide meaningful input and inform decisions in ongoing ways.

Under the best of circumstances, this type of planning would pose a big challenge for any school district. Needless to say, these are not the best of circumstances. Districts are still managing through the widespread disruption from the global pandemic; launching unprecedented summer engagement, support, and recovery efforts; planning for another unique school year ahead; and continuing to navigate changing information and challenging realities.

The Clarifications

As noted above, under ARP, states have the authority to set reasonable timelines for district plans and to establish processes that encourage continuous improvement. (For more about why these two clarifications are so important for districts to plan well, see this joint letter by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium in response to USED’s original ARP interim final requirements (IFR).

LEA Deadlines: USED has further clarified that SEAs have the discretion to establish their own deadlines for their LEAs to submit ESSER use of funds plans so long as the timelines are “reasonable.” Importantly, a reasonable timeline can be more than 90 days after receipt of ARP funding.

 

  • USED’s IFR reflects this, requiring only that SEAs require LEA ARP plans to be submitted “on a reasonable timeline determined by the SEA.” In the commentary for that rule and in USED’s SEA plan template (page 13), however, USED noted that the timeline “should be within no later than 90 days after receiving its ARP ESSER allocation.” This has raised some questions regarding state authority to set timelines that may extend beyond 90 days (or from when the 90 days would even begin).
  • Last week, however, USED twice clarified that the only rule is what is in the IFR itself – the SEA’s timeline must be reasonable. On 5/26, the Department published a FAQ (A-4 on page 14) that omitted any reference to a 90-day deadline while affirming that the timeline is “determined by the SEA.” Then, in a 5/27 “Office Hours” presentation (slide 21), USED reiterated its suggestion of a 90-day timeline, but noted that ultimately “this decision is left to each SEA.”

 

Accordingly, references to a 90-day timeline must be taken as a non-binding suggestion (“should”) and not a requirement (“must”). SEAs can set an earlier or a later deadline, taking into account their own contexts and their determination of what is a reasonable amount of time for their LEAs to meaningfully engage with stakeholders and develop a thoughtful, multi-year plan that makes strategic and equitable use of ARP funds to meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. (Note there is a shorter timeline required by ARP for LEAs’ to submit plans on return to in-person instruction, which is not affected by these clarifications.)

Continuous Improvement: USED also clarified that LEAs may periodically review and revise these ARP ESSER plans and that SEAs have authority to design their amendment process.

 

  • The IFR specifically requires periodic review and improvement for the return to in-person instruction plans, but it did not explicitly address the need for continuously improving the LEA use of funds plans.
  • Yet, in the same 5/27 “Office Hours” presentation (slide 22), USED noted: “As with ARP ESSER State Plans, the Department believes that ARP ESSER LEA use of funds plans are living documents. It is the Department’s expectation that these plans may need to be reviewed and revised periodically.”
  • Further, “SEAs have discretion to determine the amendment process for their LEAs as long as the amended plans continue to meet statutory and regulatory requirements for such plans.” States can design processes that maintain ARP’s guardrails (e.g., using evidence-based approaches to meet students’ holistic needs) while avoiding onerous procedures that might discourage continuous improvement.

 

Given all the challenges facing districts and the importance of developing thoughtful ARP plans, we encourage SEAS to maximize their further clarified authority and flexibility. Doing so will provide LEAs with the time they need to develop thoughtful and equitable recovery plans, as well as prepare to adjust those plans in response to new information, data, and feedback."

The Advocate June 2021: Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education

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The Advocate June 2021: Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education

June 4, 2021

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the June 2021 edition.

Just before the Memorial Day weekend, the Biden administration released its Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education. We knew to expect a big increase in the overall top-line funding level for USED based on the discretionary budget released by the Administration in April. The proposal includes a record increase for USED of $29.8 billion (41%) over the FY 2022 level, and big increases for education programs in Health and Human Services (HHS). Some of our top takeaways:

 

  • LOTS of New Programs: Some of the biggest funding increases are for new programs. While we are pleased to see President hold true to his push for increased funding for Title I, we are following this proposal closely because detail in this budget indicates that the $20 billion increase for Title I is for a new Equity Grant, not the existing state grant program. Another new program of note? $1 billion for a School-Based Health Professionals program, an initial down payment on a 10-year campaign to double the number of counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals in schools.
  • Outside of these new programs, the remaining increases are concentrated in a handful of programs. The biggest winners in the discretionary side of the budget? Special education, with IDEA seeing a $3.1 billion increase; Pell Grants, with a $3 billion increase; Community Schools, with a $413 million increase; and career and technical education, with a $128 million increase, among others.
  • Lots of Level Funding: In spite of an unprecedented increase in total funding, funding levels for a number of discretionary USED programs—including Title IV-A and most of the Title I programs—remain frozen, with no proposed increase.
  • Of particular importance to AASA, the Administration proposes a $2.7 billion increase for IDEA. This aligns with the increased IDEA funding that was allotted in the American Rescue Plan. We support this increase as it would allow districts to not have to initially worry about IDEA maintenance of effort requirements since the funding would be level for two years.
  • The proposal is also recommending a major increase in Title III grants for ELLs with a proposed increase of $917 million from $797 million in FY21.
  • The proposal provides a $5 million increase to the Rural Education Achievement Program.
  • The proposal would continue funding the DC voucher program at the same level as the prior Administration.

 

In terms of annual appropriations process, the next step lies within Congress, and we wait to see the extent to which House and Senate Democrats use the Biden proposal as the starting point for their FY22 work, or instead move in a different direction. As a reminder, FY22 starts on October 1, and these federal dollars would be in schools for the 2022-23 school year. FY22 is the first year in over a decade where federal funding is not bound by spending caps in the Budget Control Act.

Biden Budget Released Today

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Biden Budget Released Today

May 28, 2021

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration released the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education. As expected, the budget proposal for Education greatly exceeds past budget requests by past Administrations in its request for an additional $29.8 billion over the funding included in FY 2021. The almost $30 billion increase is more than three times the education increase ever requested by any President. This request would put FY 2022 about $20 billion above the level of a decade ago in real dollars, allowing for meaningful investments rather than just struggling to cover costs.

Two-thirds of the Education Department’s increase is for Title I, whose funding is more than doubled with a $20 billion increase; President Biden campaigned on a pledge to triple Title I funding, and this investment goes more than two thirds of the way toward that goal in one year. Specifically, the Administration will be using the Title I increase $ for what they are calling “Title I equity grants.” The goal of this standalone Title I funding will help address long-standing funding disparities between under-resourced school districts and their wealthier counterparts and provide critical new support to advance the President's commitments to ensure teachers at Title I schools are paid competitively, ensure equitable access to rigorous curriculum, expand access to pre-kindergarten and provide meaningful incentives to examine and address inequalities in school funding systems.” It is unclear how the Title I equity grants could be leveraged to urge states to examine and address state financing disparities of low-income schools, but clearly there’s an attempt to achieve that goal with this additional pot of funding.

Other things to note:

 

  • The Administration proposes a $2.7 billion increase for IDEA. This aligns with the increased IDEA funding that was allotted in the American Rescue Plan. We support this increase as it would allow districts to not have to initially worry about IDEA maintenance of effort requirements since the funding would be level for two years. 
  • The Administration is also recommending a major increase in Title III grants for ELLs with a proposed increase of $917 million from $797 million in FY21. 
  • The Administration is also recommending the creation of 2 new grant programs. The $1 billion “School-based health professionals fund” would provide formula grants to State educational agencies, which would then make competitive grants to high-need local educational agencies to support the goal of doubling the number of health professionals, including school counselors, nurses, school psychologists, and social workers, in our Nation's schools. $25 million is allocated to building climate resilient schools, which would allow States to award competitive grants to districts to renovate schools, so they are safe, eco-friendly, and climate resilient, and to support projects that address health risks such as poor air quality and ventilation and lack of access to clean water. 
  • The Administration is recommending a $5 million increase to the Rural Education Achievement Program. 
  • The Administration proposed to continue funding the DC voucher program at the same level as the prior Administration.

 

How School Leaders Can Help Children with Disabilities

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How School Leaders Can Help Children with Disabilities

May 27, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic required us to limit in-person services to protect our customers and employees.  Among the most vulnerable populations affected, are children with disabilities and their families.  We are asking school leaders to help us spread the word to parents, guardians, and caregivers about potential financial assistance for children with disabilities.

Our Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides monthly cash payments to children and teenagers with mental and/or physical disabilities whose families have little or no income and resources.  In most states, a child who receives SSI payments is automatically eligible for Medicaid.  School systems in many states participate in Medicaid to help provide services included in children’s individualized education plans like physical, occupational, and speech therapy.  You can read more about children’s benefits in our publication, Benefits for Children with Disabilities.

With the decline in SSI applications due to the pandemic, it is important that we help children and their families get the financial support they need.  School leaders can assist by:

 

  • Learning the process to certify school attendance for students using our For School Officials page
  • Referring parents or caregivers to our SSI for Children page—and the SSI Child Disability Starter Kit.
  • Discussing Social Security’s programs during Individualized Education Program and 504 Plan meetings.
  • Spreading the word to other school leaders using our SSI Kids Toolkit.

 

Families of children with disabilities often have higher out-of-pocket costs—leading to financial instability.  Receiving monthly payments can help reduce the struggles families go through and provide the crucial financial support their children need.

We recognize the important role America’s educators play in supporting children and their families.  In this environment, your support is more important than ever.  Please share this information with the school leaders you know.

ED ESSER-GEER Use Of Funds Guidance Is Out!

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ED ESSER-GEER Use Of Funds Guidance Is Out!

May 26, 2021

At last the U.S. Department of Education has released its FAQ on how ESSER funding in CARES, CCRSA and most importantly in ARP. Please take time to read the guidance. In particular, the procurement and school construction sections are quite nuanced and require a careful review.

A few highlights to be aware of: 

 

  • An SEA or a State legislature may not limit an LEA’s use of ESSER formula funds
  • An SEA/State may not require that CARES Act funds need to be obligated prior to obligating CRRSA Act and ARP Act funds.
  • ESSER funding can be used for new school construction, but ED cautions districts to be careful with this major investment and to make sure that it is somehow tied to preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID-19. 
  • Federal funds can be used to pay for student/staff vaccinations. 
  • ESSER funds can be used for pre-K and early childhood education programs.
  • State and local education officials can't use federal pandemic relief money to shore up their "rainy day" accounts.

 

AASA-LCSC Requests More Flexibility re ARP Timelines

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AASA-LCSC Requests More Flexibility re ARP Timelines

May 25, 2021

Today, AASA in partnership with the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium, wrote to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the ARP interim final requirements to encourage the Department to clarify two important aspects of ARP implementation: (1) the timeline for submitting local education agency (LEA) recovery plans and (2) LEAs’ flexibility to periodically review and improve those plans over time. The letter can be accessed here.

AASA Priorities For CNR

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AASA Priorities For CNR

May 19, 2021

AASA’s Advocacy Team has created two new resources for Congressional stakeholders working to reauthorize the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The first document includes an overview of AASA’s policy recommendations for this year's child nutrition reauthorization effort. The second document provides anecdotes from AASA members regarding the harm that increased federal school meal nutritional standards would have on superintendents' ability to operate NSLP and SBP.

You can access AASA CNR priorities here. Our member anecdotes are available here.

Use of Funds and Upcoming Deadlines for ARP

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Use of Funds and Upcoming Deadlines for ARP

May 18, 2021

Our colleagues at The Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO) have released two documents that outline the upcoming due dates and use of funds requirements for state and local education agencies in the American Rescue Plan (ARP). You can access the ESSER III deadline document here and the criterion concerning the use of ARP funds here.

New Q&A on Civil Rights and School Reopening in the COVID-19 Environment

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New Q&A on Civil Rights and School Reopening in the COVID-19 Environment

May 13, 2021

Today, May 13, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released: Questions and Answers on Civil Rights and School Reopening in the COVID-19 Environment. The Q&A provides answers to common questions about schools’ responsibilities under the civil rights laws and is designed to help students, families, schools and the public support all students’ rights in educational environments, including in elementary and secondary schools and postsecondary institutions.

In AASA’s view, this Q&A Document is straightforward and doesn’t contain any unexpected guidance on reopening practices. Of note, the document does mention that OCR will be releasing a standalone guidance document on compensatory education in the near future.

School Infrastructure Letter: 17 Organizations Urge Congress to Pass the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act

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School Infrastructure Letter: 17 Organizations Urge Congress to Pass the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act

May 12, 2021

On May 12, 2021, AASA and 16 other allied organizations sent a letter to Congress urging for the inclusion of at least $100 billion in direct grants and $30 billion in bonds for K-12 public school facilities, which is consistent with the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July 2020.

 The letter examines how years of state and local government disinvestments in K-12 facilities have caused school buildings to be underfunded by $46 billion annually. Moreover, the letter shows that even if school districts were able to use 15% of ARP funding to meet CDC mitigation guidelines and reduce some of their deferred maintenance, many school buildings would still require significant repairs and upgrades, which is especially the case for high-poverty school districts.

In light of new efforts by GOP congressional leaders to exclude schools from the upcoming American Jobs proposal, AASA was proud to join this allied effort and advocate for schools to be included in any forthcoming infrastructure package. You can access the letter by clicking here.

FCC to Launch Connectivity Fund Program

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FCC to Launch Connectivity Fund Program

May 12, 2021

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously adopted final rules to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program.  This $7.17 billion program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, will enable schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Report and Order adopted establishes the rules and policies governing the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The new rules define eligible equipment and services, service locations, eligible uses, and reasonable support amounts for funding provided.  It designates the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) as the program administrator with FCC oversight, and leverages the processes and structures used in the E-Rate program for the benefit of schools and libraries already familiar with the E-Rate program.  It also adopts procedures to protect the limited funding from waste, fraud, and abuse. Recent estimates suggest there may be as many as 17 million children struggling without the broadband access they need for remote learning.

The final order outlines the actual implementation of how E-rate beneficiaries can apply for homework gap funds. While the final order is not yet available, we do know that we were successful at ensuring the fund will be distributed equitably and prioritizing those unconnected students and educators with the greatest need (rural, low-income, Black, Brown, Indigenous) - a big win! Key highlights of how the emergency fund will be administered include:

 

  • 100% reimbursement for connectivity and devices
  • if applications exhaust the fund, then distribution of the funds will be prioritized by need (using the Category I discount matrix from the E-rate program), defined by % of students eligible for free/reduced lunch
  • the initial application window will be for prospective needs (forward looking) - meaning to be used for connecting students and educators who have not been connected
  • if not all funds are exhausted during that initial application window, there may be a second later window that would allow for applicants to apply for retrospective costs incurred (i.e. get reimbursed) back to March 2020
  • laptops and tablets (only) will be reimbursed up to $400 (though schools or libraries could choose to purchase more expensive devices and be responsible for the remaining cost)

 

AASA Sends Medicaid Direct Certification Letter to USDA

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AASA Sends Medicaid Direct Certification Letter to USDA

May 12, 2021

On May 10th, 2021, AASA and 10 other allied organizations sent a letter to U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Vilsack requesting that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) expand the Demonstration Projects to evaluate direct certification with Medicaid, as proposed in the American Families Plan. Specifically, this demonstration uses rigorously assessed data to auto-enroll children for free or reduced-price school meals.

Currently, 19 states use Medicaid data to directly certify students for free or reduced-price (FRPL) school meals, under the authority provided in Sections 9(b)(15) and 18(c) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The evaluations of these demonstrations provide useful information about how to strengthen the school meal programs while improving access. In school year 2017-2018, more than 1.2 million students were directly certified using Medicaid data. These students would otherwise most likely not have been certified or would have had to complete a FRPL application. 

AASA was proud to join this effort to advocate for increasing the use of data from Medicaid and other programs to directly certify a greater share of students, reduce the number of families and schools that have to complete/process FRPL application forms, and support schools operating under the Community Eligibility Provision by making it easier for schools to identify more of their low-income children. You can read the full letter here.

Reinvesting and Rebounding: Where the Evidence Points for Accelerating Learning

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Reinvesting and Rebounding: Where the Evidence Points for Accelerating Learning

May 4, 2021

AASA, The Association of Education Service Agencies (AESA) and Corwin have released a new white paper, Reinvesting and Rebounding: Where the Evidence Points for Accelerating Learning. Specifically, the paper covers how in the age of post-pandemic teaching and learning, educators can leverage their expertise to accelerate student learning and achievement by meticulously deciding what ideas, content, and skills are crucial for our students to understand and practice. The brief provides dive into tips, tools, and data-driven evidence from education experts that will aid readers in the following areas:

 

  • Assessing where to invest funds to maximize learning recovery;
  • What action items to implement immediately to support acceleration;
  • How best to support the nurturing of teacher morale and student engagement; 
  • Understanding how the investments we make today will have a lasting impact on the future of education;

 

 You can download the report by clicking here.

The Advocate May 2021: Bring On the Broadband: Connectivity Post-COVID

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The Advocate May 2021: Bring On the Broadband: Connectivity Post-COVID

May 6, 2021

The homework gap is/was perhaps one of education’s worst-kept secrets, a phenomenon by which nearly 12 million students were routinely unable to complete school assignments at home because of inadequate or non-existent access to broadband. The issue was blown wide open in the wake of the COVID pandemic: as schools shuttered and moved online, millions of students were unable to even access—let alone engage in—remote learning.

As the pandemic wore on and Congress negotiated a flurry of emergency supplemental bills, a bipartisan agreement on support for the homework gap quickly emerged, but wasn’t able to get over the finish line until the 6th and most recent package, the American Relief Plan (ARP). We’ll use this month’s article to talk about that funding, and a related program in the December 2020 package (CARES II) that provides support to families, helping them afford internet in their homes.

The Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund is a $3.2 billion fund that will be administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC will use the fund to establish an Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, that will help low income families receive a discount off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices. Details on the EBB started to roll out the first week of May, and eligible households will be able to enroll in the EBB to receive a monthly discount off the cost of broadband service provided by an approved provider. USA Today has a good write up on who qualifies, and you can visit the Get Emergency Broadband website for more information on how to get the benefit. More details here.

The big win, though, was final inclusion of the funding dedicated to school and student access, the more than $7 billion in funding to address the homework gap within the ARP. The $7 billion will go to the FCC for the creation of the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which can be used to be for high-speed internet and devices used off campus. The funding will be distributed through the FCC’s E-Rate program, which has helped schools and libraries access affordable internet access for more than 20 years. Schools will be able to purchase wi-fi hotspots, modems and routers for students, and to fund the internet service those devices use. The FCC has released its proposed rules on how the program will be structured, and at this point it is anticipated school districts will be able to start applying as early as late May, but more likely in June. Districts can expect to receive funds for approved applications slightly ahead of the start of the 2021-22 school year (in late August). 

In terms of what to expect in accessing the funds, the initial rule from the FCC includes many of the things AASA was supporting, including:

 

  • Distribute support from the ECF via an application--based program where school and library applicants submit eligible service and equipment requests to support connecting to the Internet those students and patrons that lack any or sufficient Internet access in their homes or dwelling places, a device suitable for remote learning, or both;
  • (If demand outpaces available funding) Use the existing E-Rate discount matrix to rank funding requests, with applicants possessing the highest E-Rate discount rate receiving priority; 
  • Adopt program metrics and goals focused on progress towards ensuring that all students and educators are: a) able to connect at internet speeds sufficient to engage in remote learning; 
  • Allow schools, libraries, states, and consortia of schools and libraries eligible for support under the E-Rate program to be eligible to receive funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund; it does NOT expand eligibility to other non-profit entities that serve homeless, transitory and migrant students;
  • Allow the ECF to only support: eligible services and equipment “that are needed to provide the connectivity required to enable and support remote learning for students, school staff, and library patrons,” and devices suitable for remote learning and video conferencing platforms; 
  • Provide reimbursements for eligible equipment and services back July 1, 2020; and 
  • Waive the competitive bidding process rules but not establish an alternative streamlined competitive bidding process.

 

AASA is closely tracking the homework gap fund and application process and will continue to provide updates.

Education Funding and Policy Details in American Families Plan

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Education Funding and Policy Details in American Families Plan

April 28, 2021
On Wednesday, President Biden detailed the major investments he hopes Congress will make in education in what he is calling the American Families Plan. Biden believes that “investing in education is a down payment on the future of America” and wants to “make transformational investments from early childhood to postsecondary education so that all children and young people are able to grow, learn, and gain the skills they need to succeed.”
AASA Executive Director, Dan Domenech, issued the following response to the American Families Plan.  
 
“AASA applauds this comprehensive investment on behalf of all of our nation’s young learners. Our public K-12 schools rely on and work in coordination with early education and post-secondary institutions, including preschools and community colleges. 
 
“By strengthening the connections to and from our elementary and secondary schools, as well as building the pipeline for our teachers while making it easier and less expensive for schools to feed all kids, we will strengthen our schools, communities and our country’s workforce.”
 
The specific details of the plan pertinent for AASA members to know are as follows:
  • $200 billion to create a national partnership with states to offer free, high-quality, accessible, and inclusive preschool to all three-and four-year-old children. The partnership will prioritize high-need areas and enable communities and families to choose the settings that work best for them. The President’s plan will also ensure that all publicly funded preschools are high-quality, with low student-to-teacher ratios, high-quality and developmentally appropriate curriculum, and supportive classroom environments that are inclusive for all students. All employees in participating pre-K programs and Head Start will earn at least $15 per hour, and those with comparable qualifications will receive compensation commensurate with that of kindergarten teachers. 
  • $1.6 billion to provide educators with opportunities to obtain additional certifications in high-demand areas like special education, bilingual education, and certifications that improve teacher performance. This funding will support more than 100,000 educators, with priority for public school teachers with at least two years’ experience at schools with a significant portion of low-income students or significant teacher shortages.
  • $2 billion for teacher-leadership programs.
  • Double TEACH Act grants from $4,000 to $8,000 per year while earning their degree, strengthening the program, and expanding it to early childhood educators. 
  • $2.8 billion fund in Grow Your Own programs and year-long, paid teacher residency programs.
  • $400 million for teacher preparation programs at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs. 
  • $900 million to expand the pipeline of special education teachers.
  • $25 billion to expand summer EBT to all eligible children nationwide. 
  • Lower CEP threshold for elementary schools to 25% of students participating in SNAP.
  • $25 billion to expand summer EBT and make permanent.
  • $17 billion to expand free meals for children in the highest poverty districts (those with at least 40 percent of students participating in SNAP) by reimbursing a higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement rate through CEP. Additionally, the plan will expand free meals for children in elementary schools by reimbursing an even higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement through CEP and lowering the threshold for CEP eligibility for elementary schools to 25 percent of students participating in SNAP. 
  • $109 billion to offer two years of free community college to all Americans, including DREAMers. 
  • A $62 billion grant program to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students, particularly community colleges.
  • Provide two years of subsidized tuition and expand programs in high-demand fields at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSI.
  • $225 billion for a national paid leave program will provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers. 

AASA Comments on EANS Program Implementation

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AASA Comments on EANS Program Implementation

April 26, 2021

On April 23, AASA led a letter signed by 15 other national education, disability and secular organizations to the U.S. Department of Education on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan’s Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program. Our comments were premised on two driving realities: First, a student in poverty is a student in poverty, whether they are enrolled in a public or non-public school. Second, to the extent federal policy appropriately supports and prioritizes federal funding for the neediest of students, the mechanisms of identifying, counting and reporting students in poverty should look the same for both public and non-public schools. You can read the comments here.

American Superintendent 2020 Decennial Study Now Available

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American Superintendent 2020 Decennial Study Now Available

April 23, 2021

Copies of the American Superintendent 2020 Decennial Study, which examines historical and contemporary perspectives of our nation’s school system leaders, are now available through AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and Rowman & Littlefield, the organization’s co-publishing partner. The latest edition is an extension of national decennial studies of the American school superintendent that began in 1923, and can be purchased here. Check out our press release to get an overview of the Study's major findings.

AASA and PDK have also partnered in a series of podcasts to coincide with the availability of the 2020 published edition. The first episode features Starr, Gregory Hutchings, superintendent of Alexandria (Va.) Public Schools, and Jennifer Cheatham, senior lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Education, in a conversation about race and equity in K-12 public schools. The second episode features Starr, Almudena (Almi) G. Abeyta, superintendent, Chelsea (Mass.) Public Schools, Deb Kerr, retired superintendent and AASA immediate past president, and, Carol Kelley, superintendent, Oak Park Elementary (Ill.) School District 97, in a conversation about women in school leadership.

ED Releases Interim Final Rule on American Rescue Plan Funding

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ED Releases Interim Final Rule on American Rescue Plan Funding

April 21, 2021

As a requirement for receiving the remaining American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, the U.S. Department of Education will be requiring LEAs to develop and submit to SEAS a plan for the use of the ARP dollars as well as how they will ensure a safe return to school learning environment for students and staff.

The use of funds plan must include how funds will be used to implement prevention and mitigation strategies that are to the extent possible consistent with CDC guidance on reopening schools. The LEA must also describe how they are using the 20% of ARP earmarked for learning recovery efforts and how they will spend the remaining ESSER funds of the ARP Act. It will also require the LEA to describe how they will respond to the social, emotional and mental health needs of all students with a specific emphasis on vulnerable subgroups. The LEA must also describe how they are meaningfully consulting with stakeholders and allowing for public input on their plan.

Of particular note are the requirements that ED is requiring for meaningful stakeholder engagement on the ARP spending plan. In addition to consulting with usual groups (students; families; school and district administrators, including special education administrators; and teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, school staff, and their unions) ED mandates that the LEA demonstrate that they have consulted with tribes, civil rights organizations (including disability rights organizations) and stakeholders representing the interests of children with disabilities, English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students.

As a separate requirement, the LEA must have a “safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services plan” which is reviewed/revised at a minimum of every 6 months through September 2024. The LEA must seek public input into its “return to school” plan and take such input into account in determining whether to revise its plan and take into consideration the timing of significant changes to CDC guidance on reopening schools that could impact the plan. This plan must describe how how it will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff and the extent to which it has adopted policies, and a description of any such policies, on each of the following safety recommendations established by the CDC:

 

  • Universal and correct wearing of masks. 
  • Modifying facilities to allow for physical distancing (e.g., use of cohorts/podding).
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette. 
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including improving ventilation. 
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the State, local, territorial, or Tribal health departments. 
  • Diagnostic and screening testing. 
  • Efforts to provide vaccinations to school communities.
  • Appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities with respect to health and safety policies. 

 

This plan will also have to describe how the LEA will ensure continuity of services, including but not limited to services to address students’ academic needs and students’ and staff social, emotional, mental health, and other needs, which may include student health and food services. In addition, if at the time the LEA revises its plan the CDC has updated its guidance on reopening schools, the revised plan must address the extent to which the LEA has adopted policies, and describe any such policies, for each of the updated safety recommendations.

Finally, each LEA’s ARP ESSER plan must be in an understandable and uniform format and to the extent practicable, written in a language that parents can understand or, if not practicable, orally translated; and, upon request by a parent who is an individual with a disability, provided in an alternative format accessible to that parent

USDA Extends School Meal flexibilities to June 2022

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USDA Extends School Meal flexibilities to June 2022

April 21, 2021

On April 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a broad set of flexibilities to promote safety and social distancing in the federal school meal programs as local education agencies continue to transition to in-person learning during the 2021-22 school year.

Specifically, USDA's announcement will extend multiple COVID-19 school nutrition nationwide flexibilities through June 30, 2022, which AASA advocated for at the beginning of the pandemic and supported school food-service operators' efforts to keep students fed while limiting exposure to COVID-19. Under the announcement, the following waivers and flexibilities are available to LEAs: 

 

  1. Schools nationwide can serve meals free to all students through the National School Lunch Program's Seamless Summer Option (SSO). While the waivers do not extend the option to operate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) during the regular school year, schools that opt for SSO will get the benefit of the summer reimbursement rate for each meal served. The summer rate is higher than the typical rate for each reduced-price meal or free meal served as part of NSLP.
  2. USDA will continue to offer targeted meal pattern flexibility and technical assistance as needed. This will help school districts reasonably comply with food supply disruptions while maintaining access to nutritious meals. 
  3. School districts can continue providing breakfasts, lunches, and after-school snacks in non-group settings at flexible meal times. Parents or guardians can also pick up meals for their children when programs are not operating normally while still complying with social distancing consistent with federal recommendations.  

 

AASA and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) released a joint statement supporting the proposal yesterday, April 20, 2021. AASA executive director Daniel A. Domenech said, "Throughout the last year, we have seen record levels of food insecurity across the nation. While our schools have made tremendous strides toward re-opening with in-person learning and returning to some semblance of normalcy, it is clear that our students and school food-service operations are continuing to recover from the pandemic. As we enter this new transition period, USDA's move to allow schools to operate the Seamless Summer Option and offer all meals free to students as well as provide continue targeted meal pattern flexibility and technical support to local education agencies will give superintendents the tools to tackle this issue and customize meal service designed to fit local needs..."  

You can check out the press release by clicking here.

 

ASHRAE: Guidance for Re-opening Schools

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ASHRAE: Guidance for Re-opening Schools

April 9, 2021

Our colleagues at ASHRAE – a global professional society of over 55,000 members committed to serving humanity by advancing the arts and sciences of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning – released two new resources this week that provide school districts with guidance on how to limit transmission of SARS-COV-2 and future pandemics through the air. Specifically, the focus of these resources is to provide school system leaders with practical information and checklists to help minimize airborne transmission of COVID-19 by offering recommendations concerning HVAC (1) inspection and maintenance, (2) ventilation, (3) filtration, (4) air cleaning, (5) energy use considerations and (6) water system precautions.

Check out an abridged summary of the guidance by clicking here. The full version of ASHRAE's school re-opening guidance is available here.

An American Imperative: A New Vision for Public Schools

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An American Imperative: A New Vision for Public Schools

April 9, 2021

On April 9, 2021, AASA released a report recommending a holistic redesign of our nation’s schools through the empowerment of districts on behalf of their learners, families and communities.

The report, An American Imperative: A New Vision of Public Schools, was created by Learning 2025: A National Commission on Student-Centered Equity-Focused Education, a cadre of thought leaders in education, business, community and philanthropy, launched earlier this year by AASA. 

What makes this report stand out is its call to action comprised of recommendations, coupled with specific action steps. Everyone associated with a school district must take bold steps to work together as systems on behalf of the well-being, self-sufficiency and success of our students. The report affirms that leaders, teachers and learners play a role in redesigning systems, reengineering instruction and co-authoring the learning journey. Further, core component areas are essential and must be present to address any school system and community. These core areas include resources; culture; and social, emotional and cognitive growth. 

Looking ahead, AASA, in partnership with other national collaborative organizations, will identify demonstration school districts that exemplify the actions expressed in the report to serve as national models. Districts will be divided into different phases—Lighthouse, Aspiring and Emerging—to indicate various levels of development or implementation, and will help guide practical application.

The Advocate: April 2021

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The Advocate: April 2021

April 1, 2021

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the April 2021 edition.

As AASA has highlighted in newsletters and blog posts, one of President Biden’s policy priorities this year is to move legislation that would drastically rebuild the nation’s infrastructure after decades of disinvestment in school facilities, broadband, water systems, bridges and roads. Acting in good faith on this campaign promise, yesterday, March 31, 2021, the Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan. If passed, this sweeping proposal would invest a total of $2 trillion in funding over 10-years in infrastructure improvements that would include more than $200 billion in direct grants and bonds for education and childcare infrastructure and workforce training programs. The last time public school facilities received a federal investment of this scale was following the Great Depression after FDR appropriated $1 billion to improve school buildings and make repairs; thus, making public schools one of the oldest forms of American infrastructure in addition to the second largest portion of the infrastructure sector. If history repeats itself, the American Jobs Plan will be welcomed news to superintendents, as it would provide additional federal investments that would benefit schools and families by modernizing school facilities, improving environmental factors and closing the digital divide. To keep our members abreast of what this plan could potentially mean for their communities, AASA has listed the major education-related highlights of the proposal below:

School Construction and Modernization

In total, the President’s plan calls on Congress to allocate $100 billion for school construction and modernization. This would be broken down into $50 billion in direct grants and an additional $50 billion leveraged through bonds. Moreover, this funding would likely be appropriated on an as-needed basis to procure equipment and make repairs that enable schools to improve indoor air quality and safely reopen with in-person learning (i.e., HVAC repairs). This funding may also be used for school district efforts around: (1) creating energy-efficient and innovative school buildings with cutting-edge technology and labs, (2) improving school kitchens, or (3) reducing or eliminating the use of paper plates and other disposable materials. 

While AASA is appreciative of any federal investment for public school facilities, it is important to note that the President’s proposed investment around school construction and modernization efforts represents a significant dip in funding from other proposals that have moved forth on Capitol Hill. For comparison, the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Bobby Scott, has championed the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act (RRASA). This proposal would allocate $100 billion in grants and 30 billion in capital outlay bonds. Therefore, this portion of the American Jobs Plan represents a $50B reduction in total grant funding compared to other House Democrat proposals on school infrastructure.

Digital Infrastructure:

If passed, the proposal would appropriate $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure. President Biden's priority on digital infrastructure is to build a system that is "future proof," meaning that it can withstand the impact of future crises. Specifically, this funding would be used to help America reach the 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage threshold. While the details of how this money would be allocated have not yet been released, it is certain that this investment would help close the digital divide particularly in the nation’s most rural communities.

Community Colleges and Childcare Infrastructure

The proposal calls on Congress to invest $12 billion in community colleges to improve facilities and technology, address higher education deserts (particularly for rural communities), grow local economies, improve energy efficiency and resilience, and narrow funding inequities in higher education. The proposal also urges Congress to appropriate $25 billion for states to upgrade and increase the supply of childcare facilities. Specifically, this funding would flow through a Child Care Growth and Innovation Fund directed at building states' supply of infant and toddler care in high-need areas. Finally, the President is calling for an expanded tax credit to encourage businesses to build childcare facilities at places of work. Employers will receive 50 percent of the first $1 million of construction costs per facility so that employees can enjoy the peace of mind and convenience that comes with on-site childcare.

School Lead Pipes and Service Lines:

Also, of important note to AASA members, the proposal calls on Congress to provide $45 billion in federal investments to eliminate all lead. The benefit of this investment to AASA members is that it would significantly solve the schools’ burden of complying with Environmental Protection Agency requirements around the prevalence of lead in schools’ drinking water.

Workforce Training and Apprenticeships:

The proposal also calls on Congress to allocate $48 billion in federal investments to improve the capacity of existing workforce development and worker protection systems. Ultimately, the goal of this investment would be to support registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, create one to two million new registered apprenticeship-slots, and strengthen the pipeline for more women and people of color to access these types of workforce training programs.

Future Outlook of Passage:

Senate Democrats are exploring whether they could have an additional opportunity to use budget reconciliation to pass these two bills. Congress could revise the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 budget resolution that included the reconciliation instructions, which were used to create and pass the American Rescue Plan, and then use the new reconciliation instructions to pass this latest infrastructure proposal. This would benefit Democrats by leaving the FY 2022 budget resolution available for a third reconciliation bill, which only requires a simple majority vote in the Senate for passage. 

Speaker Pelosi has announced her intention to pass this bill before the July 4th recess, but many are skeptical given the lack of detail in this proposal how realistic that timeline actually is. AASA will certainly make a hard push to ensure school infrastructure is included in any Congressional package and funded in an appropriate, equity-centered way. Please stay tuned to see how you can advocate and for the maximum funding needed to address the longstanding crumbling and decrepit condition of some of our nation’s school buildings and grounds.

**Please note that the version of the Advocate posted here is an extended version, and is beyond what appears in our state newsletters.

K12 School Facilities Belong in National Infrastructure Stimulus

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K12 School Facilities Belong in National Infrastructure Stimulus

March 31, 2021

On March 29th, AASA and over 130 allied education, health, environmental, labor, and industry organizations sent a letter to House Leadership urging the inclusion of the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act (RRASA) as passed last Congress in any upcoming infrastructure package enacted into law. The [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC) made it clear that while the American Rescue Plan and COVID-19 Relief funds will enable districts to operate their 20th-century schools more safely, the funding will not enable high-need LEAs and schools to modernize critical infrastructure for the 21st century. Thus, further exacerbating long-standing inequities.

By allocating $100 billion in direct grants and $30 billion in bond interest subsidies, Congress can address obsolete and deteriorated conditions in high-need rural, town, suburban, and urban public school facilities. AASA was proud to join the BASIC in this effort to advocate for a comprehensive local, state, and federal partnership to modernize our nation’s public school facilities infrastructure. Click here to read the letter.

Letter to USED: Recommendations to Improve Rural Education Outreach

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Letter to USED: Recommendations to Improve Rural Education Outreach

March 23, 2021

On March 23, 2021, AASA and 16 other allied organizations sent a letter to Secretary Cardona requesting that the Department of Education expand its efforts to increase engagement with rural education stakeholders, promote staff understanding of the challenges facing rural local education agencies, and improve the intra-agency rural education-related policymaking efforts of and between the Department’s senior leadership, White House Domestic Policy Council, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Specifically, the letter provides the following recommendations to achieve the previously mentioned objectives:

 

  1. Maintain the Office of Rural and Community Engagement within the Office of Communication and Outreach to ensure greater internal and external awareness of rural education needs and improve deliberations on policy development, communications, and technical assistance that impact rural education.
  2. Advise the Biden administration and Congress to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of a new Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for the Office of Rural and Community Engagement (ORCE).
  3. Re-institute its rural education listening sessions to understand the perspective of state and local school leaders working to access new funding from the American Rescue plan and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Mandate the DAS of ORCE to formalize the Department's inter-POC rural working group.
  5. Advise the Biden administration to reinstate the White House Rural Council to better coordinate federal programs and maximize the impact of federal investments that promote economic prosperity and quality of life in rural communities.

 

While the pandemic has highlighted unprecedented challenges facing rural LEAs from topics ranging from educator shortages, lack of internet and broadband connectivity, and the rise of student mental health and academic needs, our nation's history of passing and implementing bold education-related proposals has  provided the Department with a playbook for how to move forward with the implementation of the procedures, guidance, and rulemaking activities concerning the American Rescue Plan without leaving out rural public school systems. As USED continues to implement new provisions of the American Rescue Plan, our coalition looks forward to working together with the Department to better prioritize rural education through the recommendations included in the letter.

AASA American Rescue Plan Webinars

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AASA American Rescue Plan Webinars

March 23, 2021

Last week AASA hosted two webinars dealing with the American Rescue Plan.

Click here to access the recording American Rescue Plan with AASA’s own Noelle Ellerson Ng and Sasha Pudelski. In this, they discuss the American Rescue Plan and what it means for schools. PowerPoint presentations from this webinar can be found here

Click here to access the recording American Rescue Plan: Implementing for Success to get a deeper look at the issues and items to be aware of and to plan for when it comes to using American Rescue Plan funding.

Letter from Deputy Assistant Secretary Samuel on School Staff Vaccination Program

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Letter from Deputy Assistant Secretary Samuel on School Staff Vaccination Program

March 21, 2021

This week, Deputy Assistant Secretary Samuel sent a letter to education stakeholders discussing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directive that all states immediately make Pre-K-12 teachers, school staff, and childcare workers eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. To help in this efforts, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) also released the following resources:

 

 

State Estimates on ARP IDEA grant funds

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State Estimates on ARP IDEA grant funds

March 19, 2021

ASAA is pleased to share two resources with approximate state allocations for the IDEA funds coming from the American Rescue Plan. The first resource is from the Congressional Research Service, and the second one comes from our friends at IDEA Moneywatch

AASA Leads Letter Urging Expediency in Developing Kids Vaccines

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AASA Leads Letter Urging Expediency in Developing Kids Vaccines

March 18, 2021

Today, AASA along with 16 other national education, labor and health organizations, wrote to the Biden Administration asking them to urgently focus resources in developing a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for use in children. Schools are best equipped to educate children in person, where, beyond the academic development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in building students’ social and emotional skills, deliver reliable nutrition, provide health services, and addressing racial and social inequality. Unfortunately, until a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for safe use in children, we are concerned that many students will continue to be educated in virtual settings or remain unable to participate in other important in-person academic and social opportunities that schools can provide.

You can read the letter here.

America Rescue Plan: USED Fact Sheet and State Allocations

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America Rescue Plan: USED Fact Sheet and State Allocations

March 17, 2021

This morning, the U.S. Dept. of Education sent a letter to the Chief State School Officers overviewing the state-by-state allocation tables for the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The Department also released an updated fact sheet that includes a side-by-side of Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding in the CARES I, II, and now, ESSERS in the ARP. All of these resources are available here.

Guest Blog: CCSSO Resources

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Guest Blog: CCSSO Resources

March 12, 2021
This week our colleagues at CCSSO released two resources that overview the funding distribution, grant management, and maintenance of effort requirements concerning the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (“ESSER II”) program. The link to specifics on the laws maintenance of effort requirement is accessible here. The link to the resource on funding disruption and grant management requirements is here.

Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Education sent chief state school officers a template letter related to waiver requests of accountability, school identification, and reporting requirements for school year 2020-21. You can checkout the template by clicking here.

American Rescue Plan Summary Memo

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American Rescue Plan Summary Memo

March 12, 2021

On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law. This nearly $2 trillion  federal emergency supplemental appropriation is the sixth emergency package in response to the enduring COVID19 pandemic.

The bill signed into law bears a striking resemblance to President Biden’s initial proposal. The funding is far reaching, and includes supports for vaccines, schools, small businesses, and anti‐poverty programs. ARP includes almost $220 billion for education, child care, and education‐related programs, plus $362 billion for local  and state fiscal relief, much of which could ultimately support education. The total for the Department of  Education is more than twice the fiscal year 2021 regular funding total of $73 billion. You can check out our full analysis by clicking here.

AASA Supports American Rescue Plan, Highlights Policy Concerns

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AASA Supports American Rescue Plan, Highlights Policy Concerns

March 5, 2021

Today, in advance of Senate consideration of the American Rescue Plan (HR 1319), AASA sent a letter of support for the overall package, highlighting our strong support for the education funding and support to address the homework gap, while calling out Senate Democratic Leadership for continuing the privatization agenda of Betsy DeVos. We also express deep concern for a rushed, flawed policy proposal, well-intended to address equity but set up for failure and complication. Read the letter here.

March Advocate: 2021 AASA Legislative Agenda

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March Advocate: 2021 AASA Legislative Agenda

March 1, 2021

Each month, the AASA policy and advocacy team writes an article that is shared with our state association executive directors, which they can run in their state newsletters as a way to build a direct link between AASA and our affiliates as well as AASA advocacy and our superintendents. The article is called The Advocate, and here is the March 2021 edition.

As part of this year's National Conference on Education, members of the AASA Governing Board ratified the 2021 Legislative Agenda, as drafted by the organization's Executive Committee in January 2021. In light of the ongoing pandemic, AASA Governing Board and Executive Committee Members elected to include a COVID-19 section in the 2021 Legislative Agenda to ensure an appropriate federal response that will support local school system leadership in safely reopening schools. Specifically, these new priorities include the following: 

 

  • A significant fiscal investment designed to flexibly allow local education leaders to make the decisions and implement the plans necessary to safely open and operate schools for students and staff. This should be a blend of education stabilization funding as well as investment in key categorical programs, including Title I and IDEA. 
  • A high bar for states asking to waive their maintenance of effort requirement coupled with a need to ensure any maintenance of effort flexibility for states is similarly available for districts.
  • Flexibility to state and local education agencies to suspend, reduce and/or redesign assessment and accountability. 
  • An explicit investment of $12 billion to address the Homework Gap, funding administered to and through the E-Rate program to support schools in their work to connect students to the internet. 
  • Flexibility for state and local education agencies to expand, revise and modify their school/academic calendars to best address learning loss. At the local level this could include, but is not limited to, extended day, broader access to summer learning, expanded integration of online learning, and year-round school, among others. 
  • An extension of liability protections that are afforded to employers to public schools. 
  • Clarification that federal aid can be used to cover staffing absences necessary to keep students and other staff safe. 
  • Any effort to reopen schools during the pandemic is dependent upon the availability of personnel. Federal efforts to support local education agencies with their teacher and staffing needs must include: 
  • Increased annual investment in Title II of ESSA, which is critical to ongoing educator development and training needs to ensure educators have the professional knowledge to adjust their teaching to changing learning environments predicated by the pandemic. 
  • Establishing a commission to address the long-standing teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. 
  • Support efforts addressing student learning loss through the deployment of support teachers and tutors.
  • A joint commission led by the U.S. Depts. of Education and Health and Human Services should be formed to detail how to locate, connect with and educate the millions of children who have not attended school since March 2020 and how to leverage resources available in both agencies for these purposes.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid should actively engage district stakeholders in updating technical assistance and guidance that will enable every district to access Medicaid reimbursement for much needed critical mental health services for children. 
  • A prioritization of vaccine access for school personnel and support for district-led vaccination distribution to students.

 

Also noteworthy, this year AASA members prioritized: ensuring that federal funding is available to support school districts' ongoing efforts to respond to cybersecurity threats and breaches, including technology, training, and updates to infrastructure; support for the reauthorization of FERPA to include clear and updated language aligned with existing laws and regulations that schools are following, and support for universal school meals on the contingency that such policies do no harm to eligibility for and enrollment in existing federal funding streams serving schools, and fully cover costs associated with the program. You can check out the full Legislative Agenda by clicking here.

AASA Releases 2020-21 Superintendent Salary Study

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AASA Releases 2020-21 Superintendent Salary Study

February 23, 2021

Today, Feb. 23, 2021, AASA released its 2020-21 Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study, which serves as the ninth annual edition of the superintendent salary series. This year's report is based on more than 1,500 responses and offers readers the latest findings concerning school district leadership compensation and benefits packages. To get a sneak peek at the study, check out the findings listed below.

 

  • A superintendent’s median salary ranged from $140,172 to $180,500, depending on district enrollment (size).
  • More than one-half (53 percent) of the respondents, regardless of gender, indicated that their district is best described as rural, while nearly one-third (30 percent) described their district as suburban and nearly one-quarter (18 percent) described their district as urban. This is closely aligned with data from the National Center on Education Statistics.
  • In the 2019-20 school year, 32 percent of female superintendents described their districts as in declining economic condition, along with 25.1 percent of male superintendents. The findings for this year’s investigation show a trend of more superintendents, male and female, feeling less optimistic about the economic stability of their districts.
  • Most superintendents reported serving in their present position for less than five years, with just 13 percent serving more than 10 years. 
  • One-fourth (24.9 percent) of the sample consisted of females, while nearly three-fourths (73.8 percent) of respondents were male superintendents.
  • Respondents were predominantly white (89 percent), followed by African American (5.1 percent), Hispanic (2.8 percent), Native American or Native Alaska (.92 percent) and Asian (.46 percent).
  • About four out of 10 superintendent contracts specify the process, measures and indicators to be used in the formal performance evaluation.

 

The 2020-21 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study, was released in two versions: a full version for AASA members and an abridged version for wider circulation. You can check out both versions of the report by following the link here. The study's press release is accessible here.

 

AASA and 18 other National Education Groups Urge Passage of FY21 Budget Reconciliation Package

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AASA and 18 other National Education Groups Urge Passage of FY21 Budget Reconciliation Package

February 23, 2021

Earlier today, 19 national education groups sent a joint letter to Congressional leadership expressing their support for the American Rescue Plan that would appropriate $128 billion in new, flexible funds for school districts over the next two-and-a-half school years. This funding will enable school districts to sustain and enhance their support for students learning remotely as well as ensure schools open for in-person instruction have healthy, welcoming environments throughout the calendar year.

Groups supporting the letter include:

 

  • AASA, The School Superintendents Association
  • American Federation of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American School Counselor Association
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies
  • Association of Latino School Administrators
  • Association of School Business Officials International
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Association of State Boards of Education
  • National Association of State Directors of Special Education
  • National Education Association
  • National PTA
  • National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium 
  • National Rural Education Association
  • National School Boards Association

 

AASA Statement to Guidance Released by the CDC and Ed. Dept. on Reopening Schools

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AASA Statement to Guidance Released by the CDC and Ed. Dept. on Reopening Schools

February 12, 2021
Today, Feb. 12. 2021, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidance prioritizing masks and social distancing of at least six feet for teachers and students in K-12 schools as they reopen.  The U.S. Dept. of Ed also released its first volume of a handbook as a supplemental document to guide educators on masking and physical distancing.

In summary, CDC guidance reiterates that access to vaccines should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated, "These two strategies are incredibly-important in areas that have high community spread of Covid-19, which right now is the vast majority of communities in the United States.” According to Director Walkensy, "Teacher vaccinations can also serve as an additional layer of protection atop masking, distancing, hand-washing, facility cleaning, and rapid contact tracing, plus quarantines for the infected.

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued the following statement in response to the CDC’s new guidance on reopening schools. 

“Since the outset of the pandemic, AASA and the public school superintendents we represent have focused on the safety and health of our staff and students—always with an eye on and priority for safely reopening schools.

“With the new year, new Congress and new administration, we are greatly appreciative of the deliberate, coordinated and focused federal leadership on both prioritizing the physical reopening of schools and supporting schools in their work to do so. We have relied on the science and data available. However, when we found that lacking, we partnered with our fellow national organizations and outside academics to create the National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, a platform that provides data critical to informing school reopening while ensuring the data was available and accessible at the most local of levels.

“Our data initially reported what has become only clearer—that it is likely safer for schools to be more open than they currently are, so long as appropriate mitigation strategies are in place. And to the extent that today’s sets of guidance address both of those realities—that schools can open and to do so requires mitigation strategies—it represents a strong step forward in helping more students return to the classroom.

“As we near the one-year mark since our students left the classroom, it has become abundantly clear that our nation’s greatest assets—our children—are paying some of the biggest tolls for this pandemic in their physical, mental and academic health. We reiterate our call for additional federal funding to support the work of reopening, covering costs spanning from testing and ventilation to PPE and social distancing, and so many more things in between. We applaud the CDC and the U.S. Dept. of Education for the coordinated and collaborative effort to provide clear, actionable guidance that school system leaders can incorporate into their reopening plans.

“We remain deeply indebted to the tireless leadership of superintendents and educators in our nation’s public schools and will continue to do everything in our power to support those schools already reopened and those still working to reopen safely.”

 

Detailed Explanation of the K-12 Funding Request in the American Rescue Plan

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Detailed Explanation of the K-12 Funding Request in the American Rescue Plan

February 5, 2021

On February 5, 2021, the Biden Administration released additional information on the President's latest $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic relief proposal dubbed a Detailed Explanation of the K-12 Funding Request in the American Rescue Plan. Specifically, this document serves as the Administration's justification to Congress to appropriate $145 billion in K-12 education funding to support LEA's safely reopening. As good news, the plan differed from the initial details of Biden's $130B K-12 education proposal during the campaign trail.

As a justification for the higher request in funding from Congress, the President based his new proposal on CDC cost estimates associated with safely operating school districts during the 2020-2021 academic year, an approximation of the costs for school districts to avoid lay-offs into the next school year, and an estimate of the additional costs around the academic and social-emotional needs of students that have resulted from the pandemic. We've included an overview of a breakdown in allowable uses of K-12 funding in the chart below.

Allowable Use of Funding

Cost in Billions of $

Estimate Source

To avoid Lay-offs Closes budget holes so districts can avoid lay-offs this school year and next.

 

60

Learning Policy Institute, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Conference of State Legislatures

To provide for physical barriers and other materials CDC recommends to help keep students safe

3.5

CDC

To provide additional custodial staff members

14

CDC

To support additional Transportation Investments that   provide for social distancing on buses

14

CDC

To provide PPE for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch

6

AFT,CDC, American Association of School Business Professionals

To support activities around promoting social distancing by reducing class size

50

AFT

To provide a nurse to the 25% of schools without one

3

American School Nurse Association

To extend learning time & support for students through tutoring or summer school

29

Learning Policy Institute

To provide the additional school counselors and psychologists

10

American School Counselor Association

Activities around the digital divide

7

Census Pulse Survey Data

To provide wrap-around services and supports to students and families through Community Schools

.1

Internal

To advance equity and evidence based polices to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

2

Internal

Total Need

199

N/A

Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 133)

- 54

N/A

Net Funding `

145

N/A

Budget Analysis: Fully Fund IDEA 2021

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Budget Analysis: Fully Fund IDEA 2021

February 3, 2021

Since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, federal funding for the program has fallen woefully short of the amount initially promised by Congress under the law. In Fiscal Year 2020, the federal government provided a meager $12.7 billion to states to help offset the additional costs of providing special education and related services to an estimated 7 million students with disabilities nationwide.

This Federal contribution was just 13.2% of the amount promised by Congress, also known as “full funding,” and has resulted in an approximate fiscal shortfall of $23.5 billion for special education services across the nation. As a result of this failure, the burden to cover the funding shortfall and additional cost for IDEA services has moved to states and local school districts. After adjusting for inflation, funding provided in FY 20 is the lowest percentage of the federal share of IDEA funding since 2000.

To make matters worse, the growth in the number of students served by IDEA in the past several years is further exacerbating state and local public school systems' budget shortfalls. Between 2011–12 and 2018–19, the number of students receiving IDEA services increased from 6.4 to 7.1 million, which in turn increased the percentage of IDEA students from 13 to 14 percent of total public school enrollment. In states like California, New York, and Florida the federal government's failure to fully fund IDEA has cost these localities $1.2 - $1.9 billion for special education services in school year 2020-21 alone. To see the full breakdown between state and federal IDEA funding gaps across the nation, click here.

For AASA, which co-chairs the IDEA full funding coalition, these new statistics further highlight the need and importance of our allied advocacy efforts to push Congress to provide up to 40% of the costs associated with IDEA and other special education-related services. Looking ahead to the first months of the 117th session of Congress, it is likely that this issue will gain broader attention on Capitol Hill due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on K-12 operations. Thus far, Congress has already introduced the Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers (PACT) Act, which would fully fund Title I and IDEA. Moreover, our intel suggests that an IDEA full funding bill is in the works. As such, we implore you to keep up-to-date on all of AASA's advocacy efforts on IDEA to engage on this issue and ensure Congress provides this critical funding for our most vulnerable students.


Updated P-EBT Implementation Guidance for States

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Updated P-EBT Implementation Guidance for States

February 1, 2021

On January 29th, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new Pandemic EBT guidance that will allow states to provide P-EBT benefits to children in schools and childcare settings. Specifically, this guidance provides states with new flexibilities when developing or amending P-EBT plans and increases the daily P-EBT benefit for both school children and children in childcare by approximately 15 percent to reflect the value of a free reimbursement for an afterschool snack. The guidance also allows states to retroactively apply to use the new higher benefit back to the beginning of School Year 2020-2021.

Check out the full details via USDA's memo, updated state plan template, and accompanying Q&As document by following the highlighted links.

House Democrats Propose $466 Billion to Help Schools Crippled by Virus

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House Democrats Propose $466 Billion to Help Schools Crippled by Virus

January 29, 2021

Today, the House Education and Labor Committee unveiled three new bills aimed at upgrading school facilities, saving teachers’ jobs, and extending the school year to offset learning loss that has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic. Altogether, the trio of bills totals $466 billion in federal education funding over the next decade.

Until now, Congress provided more than $67 billion for elementary and secondary schools in separate emergency relief packages last year. However, as AASA and others have highlighted for the Hill and Biden-Harris Administration, more funding is necessary to contend with the disruptions to K-12 school since the initial COVID-19 outbreak mushroomed last year. 

As such, AASA was proud to see that Congress is holding its commitment to deliver additional economic relief to K-12 districts thus far in the 117th session. On the package’s outlook of passage on Capitol Hill, it is yet to be seen whether the bills will make it through the 50/50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. Still, we are cautiously optimistic that the package will move via President Biden's proposed $130B COVID-19 economic relief bill or through budget reconciliation. Therefore, to help our members stay abreast of the recent development of the bills, and what they mean for education, please check out our quick and dirty analysis on the bills below.

The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2021

 

  • The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2021 (RRASA) invests $130 billion in bonds and grant programs – targeted at high-poverty schools – to help reopen public schools and provide students and educators a safe place to learn and work. The funding from this legislation would be appropriated on an emergency basis to facilitate school reopening and could be used to upgrade school buildings and their heating and ventilation systems. To check out a section-by-section analysis of the bill, click here.

 

The Save Education Jobs Act

 

  • More than half a million jobs in local school systems have been lost since the pandemic started, or more than during the entirety of the Great Recession. To preserve the educator workforce, the Save Education Jobs Act would create an education jobs fund that would send $261 billion to states and local school districts over the next 10-years. To check out a section-by-section analysis of the bill, click here.

 

The Learning Recovery Act

 

  • Recent studies have found academic progress slowed during the pandemic, although not as much as initially feared. Still, many of these analyses say that millions of students may not have attended classes since many school districts switched to remote learning. To contend with this emerging trend, the Learning Recovery Act would authorize $75 billion over the next two years to fund summer school, longer school days, or other academic programs. A section-by-section analysis of the bill is available by clicking here.

 

USED Guidance on Collecting Average Daily Attendance

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USED Guidance on Collecting Average Daily Attendance

January 29, 2021

This week, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released their plans for collecting average daily attendance (ADA) data from States for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years (SYs). For context, NCES collects ADA data annually through the National Public Education Financial Survey (NPEFS) for use, among other things, in distributing funds for several of the Department’s programs. Specifically, the Department is providing States flexibility for reporting SY 2019-2020 ADA data to ensure the data are consistent and as accurate as possible. As required by section 8101(1) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), each State will continue to report ADA based on either the Federal or the State’s definition of ADA. The options available to states are listed below:

If using the Federal ADA definition, the following options are available:

 

  1. States unable to accurately report ADA for remote learning days occurring as a result of COVID-19: Report the aggregate number of days of attendance of all students during SY 2019-2020 for each school or LEA and the number of days each school or LEA was in session during SY 2019-2020 until the date that school facilities closed for in-person learning due to COVID-19, and a State determined that it could no longer accurately report ADA.  
  2. States able to accurately report ADA for remote learning days occurring as a result of COVID-19: Report the aggregate number of days of attendance of all students during SY 2019-2020 for each school or LEA and the number of days each school or LEA was in session for the same school year. Under this option, States would report attendance on days each school or LEA was in session and attendance was collected, including remote learning days (including distance education, distance learning, and digital learning) completed before the date SY 2019-2020 ended. If States have a temporary inability to report attendance, they may include in ADA data reporting those days for which attendance was collected subsequent to the interruption. States have the flexibility to report under this option even if they are unable to report remote learning days from all schools or LEAs.

 

If using your State ADA definition, the following options are available:

 

  1. States unable to accurately report ADA for remote learning days occurring as a result of COVID-19: Report, consistent with State law or regulation, the aggregate number of days of attendance of all students during SY 2019-2020 for each school or LEA and the number of days each school or LEA was in session until the date school facilities closed for in-person learning due to COVID-19 and a State determined that it could no longer accurately report ADA or report under the Federal ADA definition for SY 2019-2020.  
  2. States able to accurately report ADA for remote learning days occurring as a result of COVID-19: Report ADA as defined by State law or regulation. Under this option, States would report on attendance on days each school or LEA was in session and attendance was collected, including remote learning days (including distance education, distance learning, and digital learning) completed before the date SY 2019-2020 ended.

 

NCES plans to continue collaborating with States to ascertain the content of ADA data that States can accurately report and provide further clarification, if appropriate, in the FY 2020 reporting instructions to collect those data for SY 2019-2020. To support this effort, NCES will also provide technical support to State Fiscal Coordinators through quarterly interactive webinars to help support consistent collection and submission of accurate ADA data for SY 2020-2021. Furthermore, NCES has convened a panel of State Fiscal Coordinators and LEA-level personnel to review potential changes in how ADA data is being reported by LEAs and States, make recommendations to clarify ADA reporting instructions, and develop best practices for reporting ADA data. Based on comments and suggestions from State Fiscal Coordinators and LEA-level personnel, additional guidance on potential remote attendance tracking options for SY 2020-2021 will be provided as necessary. You can access the full details on NCES guidance to states and LEAS by clicking here.

USDA NPRM: Restoration of Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Flexibilities

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USDA NPRM: Restoration of Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Flexibilities

January 4, 2021

Last week, AASA, the Association of School Business Officials International, the Association of Education Service Agencies, the National Rural Education Association, and the National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium submitted a letter in support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the restoration of milk, whole-grains, and sodium flexibilities under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Act. For background, the NPRM finalizes the Department's 2012 interim rulemaking process concerning provisions in the Healthy Hunger Free-Kids Act (HHFKA) that ensure all school districts, regardless of socioeconomic status or size, can reasonably meet the nutritional requirements under the law.

If passed, the regulation will allow schools to continue offering flavored, low-fat milk (1% fat) at lunch and breakfast and as a beverage for sale à la carte and require that unflavored milk (fat-free or low-fat) be available at each school meal service; mandate that only half of the weekly grains served in school meals be whole grain-rich; and postpone initial sodium reduction requirements until the 2023─2024 school year and eliminate final sodium target levels established in HHFKA. In layman's terms, USDA’s policy means targeted long-term regulatory flexibility for school districts, which is practical and necessary to serve appealing meals that decrease food waste and increase student participation in NSLP and SBP. 

AASA was proud to lead this allied effort and continue advocating for the regulatory flexibilities that are necessary for school administrators to feed students. You can access our letter by clicking here

ED Releases New Guidance on ELP Assessments

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ED Releases New Guidance on ELP Assessments

January 21, 2021

On January 18th, the U.S. Department of Education released an addendum fact sheet titled “Providing Services to English Learners During  the COVID-19 Outbreak” to better explain SEA and LEAs’ responsibilities for assessing English learners during the pandemic. The document reiterates that while ESEA requires an annual statewide ELP assessment there are no prescribed Federal timelines for that annual assessment. Thus, an SEA may adjust its dates for administering the ELP assessment to address challenges due to the pandemic, e.g., by changing its testing window. However, the ELP assessment should be conducted as soon as safely possible in order to provide useful information for districts, teachers, and parents. Furthermore, an SEA has the discretion under the ESEA to administer the ELP assessment remotely or in person. 

The Department is also extending the flexibility related to the standardized entrance procedures, so that an LEA may continue to identify and provide ELs support as soon as possible. That is, an SEA may continue to implement its adjusted standardized statewide entrance procedures until its LEAs are able to administer their regular screener assessment. This does not change the obligation of districts to assess students for EL status within 30 days of enrollment in a school in the State. However, the LEA can wait until schools are physically reopen to complete the full identification procedures to promptly ensure proper identification and placement for new ELs. Like an SEA, an LEA must treat a student identified as an EL through modified entrance procedures as an EL for all purposes (e.g., by including such students in its count of ELs for purposes of Title III subgrants to LEAs, providing appropriate language instruction services to such students, and administering the annual ELP assessment to such students). 

Lastly, the Department is also extending the flexibility regarding statewide exit procedures. The extended flexibility permits such an LEA, for the 2020-2021 school year, to base exit decisions solely on the ELP assessment. All LEAs must continue to meet the requirement that a score of proficient on the statewide ELP assessment be used in order to exit a student from EL status.  

Biden Issues National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness

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Biden Issues National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness

January 21, 2021

On January 21, President Biden released a roadmap an actionable plan across the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including twelve initial executive actions that will be issued by President Biden during his first two days in office. To execute on the National Strategy, the White House will establish a COVID-19 Response Office responsible for coordinating the pandemic response across all federal departments and agencies

AASA applauds the clear, strong and decisive direction being demonstrated on Day One of the Biden Administration. This is a much-needed step forward in a coordinated response to the ongoing pandemic, and will help to alleviate some of the downward pressure and decision making that was placed upon local leaders to date.

Specific to the plan’s education-related elements, we are pleased to see many of the items AASA had recommended and mentioned in our communications with the transition team, including:

 

  • a focus on K-12 education funding; 
  • restoring the FEMA reimbursement for schools;
  • a national testing strategy that supports school screening testing programs and provides clear, unified approach and TA for testing in schools;
  • updated public health guidance on containment and mitigation measures that provides metrics for schools to measure and monitor the incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 as well as updated guidance on physical distancing protocols, and contact tracing in schools;
  • a national strategy for safely reopening schools, including requiring ED & HHS to provide guidance on safe reopening and operating, and to develop a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse to share lessons learned and best practices from across the country; 
  • pushing the FCC to support student connectivity in their homes. 

 

This direct responsiveness to practitioner feedback is critical and demonstrates that the Biden Administration, serious in its priority of opening schools in its first 100 days, recognizes that the ultimate work and responsibility of opening schools lies with local school system leaders and that as such, their voice, insights and recommendations should be reflected in any nation-wide plan. We look forward to working with the Biden administration, welcome the confirmation of Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona, and stand ready to support the important work of safely opening the nation’s schools. 

New Guidance: USDA Meal Waivers & FRPL

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New Guidance: USDA Meal Waivers & FRPL

January 8, 2021

Due to the impact of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nationwide waivers – which support students’ access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19 through June 30, 2021 – this week, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USED) released a document that provides Local Education Agencies (LEA) and State Education Agencies (SEA) with guidance on how to carry out the data collection activities for the education programs associated with the federal school meals programs. Specifically, this guidance pertains to the National School Lunch Program data collection activities associated with Title I, Part A – Improving Basic Programs; Title II, Part A – Supporting Effective Instruction; and Title V, Part B – Rural and Low-Income School Program (RLIS) for the 2021-2022 school year.

For many LEAs that have chosen to participate in USDA’s federal meals program waivers, complete NSLP data collected through household applications may not be available from school year 2020-2021. As such, USED's fact sheet outlines options for SEAs and LEAs to implement their ESEA programs without complete NSLP data. The good news here is that according to the guidance, using data from the 2019-2020 school year is allowable for all circumstances, which means that ED has essentially created a hold harmless provision for school districts and states that have seen a decline in Free and Reduced-Price Lunch forms.