AASA and 900 Community Organizations Urge Congress to Extend U.S. Census Collection Efforts

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AASA and 900 Community Organizations Urge Congress to Extend U.S. Census Collection Efforts

Last week, AASA and a group of community organizations sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting language that mandates the U.S. Census Bureau to extend the reporting deadlines for the 2020 Census by four months, be included, as part of the next COVID-19 Relief Package. At issue here is the White House's recent decision to require the Bureau to complete critical operations – like Non-Response Follow Up (NRFU) in which census officials visit more than 30 percent of households that have not responded on their own to collect information in person – by the statutorily required deadline of  December 31, 2020.

 Earlier this year, the pandemic forced the U.S. Census Bureau to delay operations that ensure an accurate count. Currently, only approximately 63 percent of households have responded to the survey, the Census Bureau reports. Moreover, significant portions of the nation are behind their 2010 response rates, according to data from the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York.

 As we have previously highlighted on the Blog, AASA firmly maintains that ensuring an accurate count on the 2020 Census is imperative for accurately allocating billions of dollars for critical federal school funding programs like Title I, IDEA, and the school nutrition programs. As such, we were proud to join this allied effort and hold Congress accountable for ensuring that the decennial enumeration of the U.S. Census is conducted responsibly and delivers reliable data about our nation’s changing socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. You can check out more details about this issue clicking this article by our friends at Education Week.

USED Issues Guidance on Participation of Religious Organizations in Federal Education Grants

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USED Issues Guidance on Participation of Religious Organizations in Federal Education Grants

On August 7, Secretary DeVos released new guidance suggesting state and local governments must consider religious and nonreligious organizations equally when reviewing applications for subgrants of federal education funding programs. The guidance also creates a federal process for individuals and organizations to file discrimination complaints if they feel they have missed out on education benefits because of religious affiliation. This move by USED is one of the first to cite the recent Supreme Court ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue as basis for potentially extending public education benefits to religious schools. (The guidance document is here; a Department press release is here; read EdWeek coverage here.)

 

Understanding District Costs in a Remote-Learning School Year

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Understanding District Costs in a Remote-Learning School Year

Leaders on Capitol Hill, as well as leaders in every state capital, are trying to determine what additional funding districts need for the school year. One of the major questions continues to be why districts need additional resources if school buildings are not physically re-opening and so much of the original funding that was requested was for PPE/face shields, cleaning supplies and equipment, extra custodial workers, signage, plexiglass barriers and other expenses related to offering in-person instruction to students. 
 
Utilizing our membership on the COVID Reopening Task Force as well as our Governing and Executive Committee members, AASA sought to share examples of how districts are still expecting dramatic increases in spending even as they plan to temporarily close school buildings to students and staff in the fall. 
 
We found the two most costly expenses of educating students in a virtual environment are related to technology and staffing. We hope that the examples below illustrate the critical need for immediate school district funding at the federal and state level.
 
Technology Costs:
 
Districts are spending a substantial amount of money on technology to adequately prepare for remote learning. Many are hiring additional tech specialist who can assist teachers and other educators as well as students during the school day with remote learning. In addition to increasing school districts’ technology staff and personnel, AASA members anticipate having to perform more maintenance on computers and technology to upgrade and update software, platforms and other devices for both students and staff.
 
Districts are also spending more on professional development and training for staff like paraeducators, who previously did not need devices or professional development on device use. 
 
Some districts are training parents who need assistance in supporting their children at home during periods of remote learning. 
 
Finally, every district is subsidizing hot spots or paying for internet at a student’s home if they cannot afford it. 
 
Staffing Costs:
 
Some AASA members are hiring the same number of teachers regardless of the number of students who are attending virtually or in-person. In addition, districts are investing in virtual curriculum that students and educators can use for the upcoming school year. These districts are also paying for costs associated with the need to train our educators on how to use the new technology and online platforms. 
 
Others are hiring additional teachers to ensure that when schools physically re-open they do not have educators delivering simultaneous instruction to in-person and virtual students. Others are also hiring teacher-facilitators to assist with hybrid learning, so students can receive help outside the virtual school-day including evenings. 
 
Due to teacher shortages, few AASA members have a substantial number of teachers who are going to be paid overtime due to teaching multiple classes online and in-person.
 
Many school leaders indicated that they cannot furlough any staff due to contracts or shortages. For example, bus drivers must be kept on payroll because there is already a shortage of these professionals and when districts resume on-site instruction there would not be enough time to advertise, interview, select, train and certify drivers. There are also classified employee contracts that  are year-long and already in place, which means we still have to pay bus drivers, bus monitors, bus managers, bus technicians as well as food service staff, custodial staff, secretaries, instructional aides, across the district even when our schools are physically closed. 
 
If you are an AASA member and have additional thoughts and feedback on the expenses you are incurring as a result of providing virtual instruction please email Sasha Pudelski at spudelski@aasa.org so we can include your feedback in this post. 
 
 
 

August Advocate: USDA COVID-19 School Nutrition Waivers

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August Advocate: USDA COVID-19 School Nutrition Waivers

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 August 2020 edition.

As we’ve previously highlighted on the Leading Edge Blog, school leaders, nutrition directors, and advocates are beginning to sound the alarm on impending threats to districts’ ability to operate the federal school meals programs this fall. The current concerns are with the decision, by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture’s, Sonny Perdue not to extend or establish any new Family First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) waivers/flexibilities for the 2020-21 school year (SY).  

Background: The passage of the FFCRA enabled the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) to pass flexibilities and waivers associated with the federal school meals programs. Most notably for school districts, this work resulted in USDA’s (1) Unexpected School Closures, (2) Nationwide Meal Times, (3) Non-congregate Feeding, (4) Meal Pattern, (5) Parent/Guardian Meal Pick-Up, (6) Afterschool Activity, (7) Area Eligibility, (8) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) Parent Pick Up, (9) FFVP Alternate Sites, (10) Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Data, and (11) 60-Day Reporting waivers. Additionally, the passage of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act granted USDA the authority to create the Pandemic EBT program. A comprehensive chart of all of USDA‘s COVID-19 waivers is available here. Please note this figure includes a description and expiration date for each of the department’s previously mentioned waiver or program.

Although Sec. Perdue has elected to extend the non-congregate, meal service time, meal pattern flexibility, and parent pick-up waivers until August 31, 2021, at this stage in the game, it is clear that more extensions and flexibilities will be necessary for school districts to sustain their nutritional services next year. Specifically, this is the case because many students will not be in the building five days a week or have access to school breakfast and lunch each day, and districts are still in the process of establishing what “school” will look like next year. Therefore, to preserve the feasibility of school districts operating the federal meals programs, AASA is requesting the following policy changes from USDA. 

  1. Allow the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to be used to feed children during the upcoming school year, so that students may receive meals in the event of unexpected closures. 
  2. Expand the non-congregate waiver to include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO), so that schools that choose remote learning may still serve students through the federal school meals programs.  
  3. Extend the Area Eligibility waiver for SFSP and SSO through the school year to enable districts to operate food services in communities that did not meet the 50% free and reduced-price lunch area eligibility threshold. 
  4. Waive the activity requirement for the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs so districts can serve additional meals through the Child Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and NSLP.
  5. Enable districts providing meals through the SFSP or SSO to utilize the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs.
  6. Extend the FFVP flexibilities and waivers through the school year, so districts can use innovative methods to serve fresh produce (e.g., multi-day servings and fresh-produce packs) and rollover unspent FY 19-20 dollars to the 2020-21 SY.

Considering the amount of time left on the calendar before federal legislators return home for the August recess, it is likely that the nutrition-related aid in COVID-5 will not be allocated in time for the start of the school year. As such, it is imperative that USDA grant the previously mentioned policy changes for the upcoming school year. We are facing an uphill battle on this issue because U.S. Sec. Perdue has insisted that he will not pass any additional flexibilities associated with the federal meals programs – in an apparent attempt to align with the Trump administration’s push to re-open schools. Although there are legislative school nutrition champions in the House - like Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY-7) who recently introduced legislation to extend the FFCRA waivers - it is anyone’s best guess to whether these provisions will be included in the final COVID-5 bill or when/if the next package will be signed into law. Accordingly, we urge you to stay tuned to see how it plays out and learn how to get involved. Regardless, AASA will continue advocating for these critical waivers and flexibilities.