The Clock is Ticking – Apply Now for Emergency Connectivity Fund Program Support!

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The Clock is Ticking – Apply Now for Emergency Connectivity Fund Program Support!

From the Federal Communications Commission:

The new school year is just around the corner, will students in your community have the broadband access and devices they need to succeed?  

The Federal Communications Commission has a new program to help with unmet needs. The Emergency Connectivity Fund Program covers 100% of the reasonable costs of laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons.  

Eligible schools and libraries must apply by August 13

During the current application filing window, eligible schools and libraries, in addition to consortia of schools and libraries, can submit requests for funding to purchase eligible equipment and services between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. 

Interested schools and libraries can find more information and apply for support at emergencyconnectivityfund.org.  The FCC will hold a webinar on August 3 at 2 p.m. ET to highlight frequently asked questions and answer questions submitted by potential applicants.  Newly updated resources include an application process overview and the attached program flyer.  You may also review additional Frequently Asked Questions about the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program here or contact the Customer Support Center hosted by the Universal Service Administrative Company, the program administrator, at (800) 234-9781, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. 

 

Congress authorized the Emergency Connectivity Fund as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Through the Emergency Connectivity Fund, the FCC will award $7.17 billion to help schools and libraries purchase connected devices and broadband internet connections to facilitate off-campus remote learning.  The initial application window will close on August 13 at 11:59 p.m. ET. 

The FCC shared a great flyer with everything you need to know. APPLY TODAY!

Bills on K-12 Funding and Discrimination Move Forward

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Bills on K-12 Funding and Discrimination Move Forward

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.

U.S. Department of Education Invites States and School Districts to Apply for Additional $600 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds for Students Experiencing Homelessness

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U.S. Department of Education Invites States and School Districts to Apply for Additional $600 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds for Students Experiencing Homelessness

To help support the needs of students experiencing homelessness, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced this week that it will invite states to complete the application for their share of the second disbursement of $800 million in funding under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021’s Homeless Children and Youth Fund (ARP-HCY). In April, the Department released the first $200 million of the $800 million in ARP-HCY funds to states. The distribution of the additional $600 million will give states and school districts access to funding before the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. 

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic highlighted and exacerbated inequities in America’s education system, students experiencing homelessness faced numerous challenges as they strove to learn and achieve in school each day. Amid COVID-19 and the transition to remote and hybrid learning, for so many students, these challenges intensified. As a nation, we must do everything we can to ensure that all students—including students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity—are able to access an excellent education that opens doors to opportunity and thriving lives,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “I encourage every state to urgently use these American Rescue Plan funds to support homeless children and youth so that these students have every chance to participate in summer learning and enrichment; experience full-time, in-person instruction in their schools in the fall; and get connected to vital services and supports that can support their success.”

The needs of students experiencing homelessness remain urgent, as many schools and districts struggle to identify and serve students who experience homelessness. The ARP-HCY funds are designed to be flexible so that states and districts can address community needs. This additional ARP-HCY funding will be used by states and school districts to identify homeless children and youth, provide wraparound services in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide assistance to enable homeless children and youth to attend school and participate fully in school activities.  

“Every child deserves to have a warm place to sleep and a roof over their head every night. But for 1.5 million children across America and over 10,000 children in my home state of West Virginia, that is not the case. The COVID-19 pandemic made this heartbreaking and dire issue much worse for many of our families and children in need. Since the pandemic kept most students at home, schools have struggled to track students experiencing homelessness,” said Sen. Joe Manchin. “This second round of funding—part of the $800 million I successfully fought to include in the American Rescue Plan—will help schools identify students experiencing homelessness and provide support for these vulnerable students. States can begin applying for the second round of funding today in order to get the funds directly to school districts before the new school year so students experiencing homelessness can receive the support they need.”

“This past year has been so difficult for every student, parent and educator across the country—but what students experiencing homelessness have gone through is unthinkable. The first thing we told people during this pandemic was to ‘stay home.’ But so many students don’t have a safe place to call home, access to internet, devices, or critical services that students have relied on to learn during this pandemic,” said Sen. Patty Murray. “We fought hard to make sure the American Rescue Plan includes dedicated funding for students experiencing homelessness, and I’m so pleased the Department of Education is acting quickly to get these resources to our communities. The crisis of youth homelessness is especially acute for LGBTQ young people and children of color, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure students experiencing homelessness not only get enrolled in school, but also get the kind of support and stability they need so they can learn and grow in the classroom.”   

Following a brief application, states will receive funds that will be awarded to school districts through formula subgrants. These funds will reach districts that may not have accessed previous federal funding designated for students experiencing homelessness. Under the final requirements that will be published in the Federal Register, states are required to distribute funds to school districts via a formula that uses the district’s allocation under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the number of identified homeless children and youth in either the 2018-19 or 2019-20 school year, whichever number is greater. With the exception of the district subgranting formula, which replaces the competitive subgrant process required by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento Act), all requirements of the McKinney-Vento Act also apply to the ARP-HCY funds. 

The distribution of ARP-HCY funds is part of the Department’s broader efforts to support students and districts as they work to reengage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, and build our education system back better than before. In addition to providing $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools and meet the needs of all students, the Biden-Harris Administration has:   

  • Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook   
  • Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit   
  • Helped over 175 million Americans ages 12 and older get vaccinated  
  • Provided $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing for PreK-12 educators, staff, and students   
  • Prioritized the vaccination of educators and other school staff   
  • Launched a series of Equity Summits focused on addressing inequities that existed before, but were made worse by the pandemic  
  • Released a report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on underserved communities, including homeless youth  
  • Developed a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse elevating hundreds of best practices to support schools’ efforts to reopen safely and address the impacts of COVID-19 on students, educators, and communities.  

 

 

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

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. 

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

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)

 

The Advocate July 2021: Emergency Connectivity Fund

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The Advocate July 2021: Emergency Connectivity Fund

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”.