The Advocate: October 2020

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The Advocate: October 2020

October means….the start of the federal fiscal year. As hard as it may be to believe in 2020, Congress will have to divert its attention from the campaign cycle, the push to confirm a SCOTUS nominee, and the federal COVID response to focus on annual appropriations. Similarly to other years, Congress must adopt either an extension or final funding bill. Moreover, they have to do so ahead of October 1 if they want to avoid a federal shutdown.
 
As a reminder, if the federal appropriations process worked as we learned about in civics class, each chamber of Congress—House and Senate alike—would each independently adopt a budget resolution, allocate the overall dollar amount across 12 independent appropriations bills (the ‘slices’ of the funding pie), work via its respective appropriations subcommittees to determine program-specific funding levels for any and all programs within each slice of the pie, pass those 12 individual bills, reconcile differences between the House and Senate version of each of those 12 bills, and then adopt the compromise for each of those bills. That won’t be happening in 2020, and in fact, hasn’t happened in more than two decades. The last time Congress completed its funding work on time and in normal order was in the mid 1990s. 
 
When Congress can’t/won’t complete its funding work by October 1, there are two options: a federal shutdown or a continuing resolution (CR). A CR is the funding mechanism that buys Congress more time to complete its funding work. In its pure form, a CR freezes government funding at the previous year’s level, but allows government to keep running. Therefore, a CR essentially allows Congress to kick the can down the road to buy more time to finish its funding work. CRs are common place at this point, and in fact, the more common debate when it comes to annual appropriations is less ‘Will there be a shutdown or a CR?’ and more ‘How long will the CR last and will there be policy riders?’
 
Which brings us to 2020. In a presidential election year, especially one as partisan and political as this one, with a pandemic and economic downturn to boot, a CR was all but a forgone conclusion. So where do we stand with funding? 
 
In mid-September, House Democrats released a CR proposal that would level fund the federal government through December 11. The bill lacked the support of both Republicans and the administration, as well as exemptions requested by the White House. This attachment provides a section-by-section description of that bill, which makes no changes to the FY20 education funding levels. 
 
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi had agreed to a ‘clean CR’, absent any contentious policy decisions. The exclusion of the White House exemptions and the Senate Republican-requested farm subsidies was explained by House Democrats as sticking to the idea of a clean CR and balanced by the exclusion of the Democrat priority of additional funding/authorization for school lunches at closed schools. While the exclusion of those items initially derailed an intended vote, the bill was revised to include those provisions and the House passed the CR, leaving it up to the Senate to vote to keep the federal government funded to and through December 11. Critical to an AASA priority, the CR does include nearly $8 billion for two nutrition provisions that are essential to feeding kids and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the bill expands Pandemic EBT and extends it through the end of the current school year, and gives the USDA the authority and funding to extend waivers that give schools and community organizations much-needed flexibility for how they serve meals during the pandemic. This legislation removes the last roadblock to USDA extending these waivers through the end of the current school year.
 
The Senate is expected to pass the bill on September 30 (this update was written ahead of September 30), setting us up for a post-election, lame duck Congressional To Do list that includes another round of FY21 negotiations. 

FAQ K-12 Public Schools in the Current COVID-19 Environment

(RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS) Permanent link

FAQ K-12 Public Schools in the Current COVID-19 Environment

Today, September 28, 2020, The U.S. Department of Education’s (Department’s) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a new COVID-19-related technical assistance for elementary and secondary schools. The technical assistance document, Questions and Answers for K-12 Public Schools in the Current COVID-19 Environment, overviews frequently asked inquiries received by the Department and provides important information related to districts’ obligations under Section 504/Title II, Title VI, and Title IX as schools continue to make decisions regarding the provision of educational services for all children.

2020 National Student Parent Mock Elections!

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2020 National Student Parent Mock Elections!

AASA is proud to be partnering in an effort to promote the 2020 National Student Parent Mock Election. The National Student Parent Mock Election has a long and rich history of bringing civic education to millions of K-12 students. The free event was founded in 1980 and quickly grew into the largest one-day education civics event in the country. In 1984 over 2 million students participated, and by 1992 over 5 million students were learning about how our democracy works, engaging in civics activities, and casting their vote in a mock election.
 
This year's mock election runs through October 5-20, 2020, and we need your help to get as many districts registered for the event. Teachers can sign up from now until 4pm local time on the final day of October 20th. The good news is that educator sign-up is quick and easy (5min), and that students can register for the event even faster (1min). Therefore, to help continue this important work, please check out and share this document with important dates, online and paper ballot registration details, and directions for how your k-12 teachers can register their school districts to participate in this historic event. 

AASA and 1400 organization Request USDA for Summer School Nutrition Waiver Extension

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AASA and 1400 organization Request USDA for Summer School Nutrition Waiver Extension

On September 21, 2020, AASA and 1,400 national, state, and local organizations sent a letter requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issue additional child nutrition waivers allowing for the continued operation of the Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option programs through September 30, 2021. If implemented, the move will support school nutrition program operations and efforts to feed insecure students until the start of the 2021-22 school year.

The letter, which is available here, went out right before a bi-partisan move from the U.S. House of Representatives to include a provision in the upcoming continuing resolution (CR), which would extend USDA's budget authority so that the department may continue issuing waivers associated with the federal school meals programs. As such, it is seemingly more likely that the department will move to implement a full-year extension shortly after the CR is passed. Therefore, be on the lookout for any developments on this issue in the next few weeks.
 

FY21 Annual Appropriations Update

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FY21 Annual Appropriations Update

Outside of COVID negotiations, there is next to nothing being discussed on Capitol Hill, with the exception of annual appropriations (the process by which the federal government funds itself). Federal fiscal year 2021 (FY21) starts on October 1, meaning Congress has 9 days left to reach agreement on a funding mechanism to avoid a federal shutdown. Neither the House nor the Senate made any real headway on funding bills (there are 12 separate funding bills that collectively fund the full government), meaning Congress is NOT on track to complete its funding work on time or in normal order. While part of this is due to the COVID pandemic, this is not a new phenomenon: Congress hasn’t completed the annual appropriations process on time and in normal order since the mid 1990s, and instead has relied on a ‘continuing resolution’, a policy that ‘kicks the can down the road’: it avoids a federal shutdown and keeps the federal government by continuing funding at the same/current level. Yes, sometimes there are anomalies or a small set of exceptions or additional funding, but in broad terms, a CR is straight level funding that just buys Congress more time to complete its (very basic) funding work.
 
2020 is proving no exception, with a CR all but certain. A week ago I would have said ‘the question is not if they’ll pass a CR but for how long: into the lame duck session or into the new calendar year’. While I still believe there is little appetite for a shutdown this year, especially so close to an election, this is 2020 and this is Congress, so don’t rule anything out. I think Congress will get their act together to adopt a funding bill, even just a short-term CR, if only to reduce the political fall out of a federal shutdown on top of the already partisan and contentious 2020 elections. So where do we stand?
 
Yesterday, House Democrats released a CR proposal that would level fund the federal government through December 11. The bill lacks the support of both Republicans and the administration, as well exemptions requested by the White House. This attachment provides a section-by-section description of the bill, which makes no changes to the FY20 education funding levels. The bill could go to the House floor as early as today or Wednesday. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi had agreed to a ‘clean CR’, absent any contentious policy decisions. The exclusion of the White House exemptions and the Senate Republican-requested farm subsidies was explained by House Democrats as sticking to the idea of a clean CR and balanced by the exclusion of the Democrat priority of additional funding/authorization for school lunches at closed schools. The relatively straight-forward path the CR had last Thursday was completely rerouted after the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; we’ll continue to monitor the federal funding situation. 
 

AASA and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

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AASA and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

AASA and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids co-host an important webinar on “What Superintendents Need to Know about Ending the Youth E-Cigarette Epidemic and Reducing Youth Tobacco Use”

E-cigarettes are hooking a new generation of kids, thanks to thousands of kid-friendly flavors, slick marketing, and massive doses of nicotine. This dangerous epidemic is putting millions of kids at risk and threatens decades of hard-fought progress in reducing youth tobacco use. And it’s getting worse each day.

As schools re-open this fall for in-person instruction, superintendents must again turn their attention towards mitigating the e-cigarette addiction experienced by far too many students. While the data suggests the use of e-cigarette products has decreased this year the health ricks of vaping in schools has increased dramatically in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disciplining our way out of this problems is not possible given the prevalence and the intense addiction that many students are experiencing. We need federal, state and local efforts to keep these products out of the hands of students, deter predatory marketing practices, and make these products less appealing for kids.

In this webinar, participants will hear from the Caroline Goncalves Jones, Director of Advocacy and Outreach, for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids about current youth tobacco use, the efforts underway to address it and how superintendents can get involved.  Participants will also hear from Dr. Cosimo Tangorra, Jr., Superintendent of the Niskayuna Central School District, NY about the action his district has taken to address youth tobacco use and the partnerships that have made a difference to this work.

Register for this free webinar here

AASA Supports Historic School Desegregation Vote in House

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AASA Supports Historic School Desegregation Vote in House

This week the House will vote on the Strength In Diversity Act, the first federal legislation focused on desegregation in schools to receive a vote in 30 years. As we walk-the-talk on AASA’s commitment to equity, this legislation is a promising first step that will incentivize and resource district leaders to create more equitable school systems.

The Strength in Diversity Act would provide federal funding ($120m/per year) to support voluntary local efforts to increase diversity in schools.

  • Grants could fund a range of proposals, including (but not limited to):
    • Studying segregation, evaluating current policies, and developing evidence-based plans to address socioeconomic and racial isolation.
    • Establishing public school choice zones, revising school boundaries, or expanding equitable access to transportation for students.
    • Creating or expanding innovative school programs that can attract students from outside the local area.
    • Recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers to support specialized school

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech said this about the bill: “The pandemic has highlighted the impact of the economically and racially segregated school systems that exist across the country today more clearly than ever before. Legislation that will fund districts to come up with locally driven, ambitious, and achievable plans to increase diversity will enable school leaders to create and lead more equitable school districts.”

September 10, 2020

(ESEA, ED FUNDING, THE ADVOCATE) Permanent link

Flawed Equitable Services Rule Withdrawn

This blog post is an update on the hot button issue of equitable services as it relates to the CARES Act. In a nutshell, the flawed DeVos guidance (and interim rule) have been gutted by multiple court decisions, and USED itself has announced that the interim final rule is no longer in effect

Background: Through the spring and early summer, AASA was engaged in an effort to oppose a flawed interpretation of the equitable services provision within the CARES Act. As a reminder, on July 1 Sec. DeVos doubled down on her flawed interpretation of the equitable services guidance from April and released a final interim rule that would codify the guidance with the strength of law. DeVos used the long-standing equitable services mechanism as a money grab to bolster private school coffers, when historically, the equitable services provisions have been focused on ensuring Title I eligible students in private schools are served. 

Update: In late summer, a trio of combo punch of court decisions out of Washington, California and Washington D.C.  took significant momentum out of the flawed rule: A federal judge in Washington state blocked the DeVos rule, a move that prevents it from being implemented in schools in Washington state. Three days later, a judge in California issued a similar injunction, preventing DeVos from implementing or enforcing her rule in at least eight states and some of the nation’s largest public school districts. The California decision prevents DeVos from carrying out her policy in Michigan, California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia as well as for public school districts in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco. The Washington DC decision resulted in an opinion and order that vacated the interim final rule; consequently, the rule is no longer in effect. 

Collectively, these decisions are a win for equity and for common sense policy and implementation of a statute as intended. Moving forward, state and local education agencies are free to implement equitable services as they always have, and as Congress intended in the CARES Act. The Trump administration may consider an appeal, but that is irrelevant for now, and schools can and should move forward with the implementation of CARES as written in law. 

Forest Counties and Schools - Secure Rural Schools September Update

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Forest Counties and Schools - Secure Rural Schools September Update

Joint Forest Counties and Schools Coalition and NACo PILT, Secure Rural Schools September 10th Day of Action.

The Forest Counties and Schools Coalition hopes all are healthy and safe as we all work to re-open schools and counties while dealing with COVID-19 and added impact of wildfires in many of our communities.

September: Congress will return to Washington D.C. after Labor Day. The House will be back for votes the week of September 14th. Congressional leaders and the Administration are still deadlocked on negotiations on a needed COVID-19 aid bill. The negotiations are centered on the House passed HEROES bill to assist states, cities, counties, hospitals, local schools and many more needed provisions. An unconsidered Senate COVID-19 bill is being rewritten. Secure Rural Schools is not covered in these bills.

Fiscal Year Funding Deadlines, Continuing Resolution: Congress is facing a September 31 deadline for FY 2021 appropriations bills to fund all federal agencies for the next fiscal year beginning October 1. If the COVID-19 aid package negotiations get back on track in mid or late September, it is possible that a compromise COVID-19 package could be combined with a FY 2021 Continuing Resolution to temporarily fund federal agencies probably through December.

Secure Rural Schools: As Congress and the Administration negotiate a COVID-19 economic stimulus package the Forest Counties and Schools Coalition is continuing our efforts with the Administration and the Senate and House to add SRS or a least the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved S. 430 SRS amendments to end the SRS 5% mandatory cuts; Titles l, ll flexibility; and RAC appointment improvements to any bill that Congress will pass in September.

PILT-SRS Day of ActionSeptember 10: The National Forests Counties and Schools Coalition is joining NACo in a PILT-SRS Day of Action (Sept. 10) where we are asking county and school officials to call their members of Congress to urge their support for SRS and PILT funding.

Please join the SRS-PILT effort by calling your Senators and House Members on September 10 to ask that they support funding for SRS and PILT and that they ask their leaders to include SRS and PILT funding in any September COVID-19 and or CR package.

Legislative Trend Report: Summer 2020

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Legislative Trend Report: Summer 2020

In response to the National Emergency Declaration to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic issued by President Trump on March 13, 2020, and the plethora of legislative and other policy movements implemented by states and governors, AASA has endeavored to reinstitute the quarterly edition of the Legislative Trend Report to provide superintendents and other school system leaders with a high-level overview of the COVID-19 policy changes and proposals impacting the U.S. public school system. Specifically, the following text focuses on the proposed and enacted state legislative and administrative policies affecting Local Education Agencies (LEA) to provide a national picture of the states’ educational response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The data in this paper is from bi-partisan organizations, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Education Commission of the States (ECS), and overviews policies from 48-states in the areas of assessment and accountability, online learning, instructional time, grade promotion and graduation requirements, and civil liability protections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. AASA intends for this document to serve as a resource for school system leaders and educational advocates interested in understanding the state policy trends impacting LEAs during the 2020-21 school year (SY). Please note that this report is not exhaustive, but rather, shows a snapshot of the current U.S. policy landscape. You can access the report by clicking here.
 

Masks and Tests Update

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Masks and Tests Update

Earlier this week we sent a letter to the FEMA asking that they continue to allow PPE and sanitation to be reimbursable expenses for districts. The same day our letter was sent, FEMA announced that they would be suspending the policy from March that made districts eligible for FEMA reimbursement for PPE and sanitation-related requests. This policy is not retroactive meaning that if districts did purchase PPE or sanitation and are expecting reimbursement they will receive it as long as those purchases were made prior to September 15th.

Also this week, HHS announced that it would be distributing 125 million masks, half adult size and half child size, to schools based on the share of low-income students. A list of the # of masks States will be receiving is available here. The masks will be distributed in two shipments beginning in early September. We have no other details on how the masks will be delivered to districts, whether districts must request them, what responsibility for distributing them to private school students districts have and many other basic logistical details.

There is also a plan to distribute 150 million Abbott tests for schools. What is less clear is whether the feds will also be distributing machines to run the test or any funding to locally distribute and store the tests. There is no clarity around how schools will request/receive the tests, how parent refusal to test their child will be handled, HIPPA/FERPA concerns and other logistical and administrative issues around testing students and staff in schools.

AASA Urges FEMA to Keep PPE as Reimbursable Cost for Districts

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AASA Urges FEMA to Keep PPE as Reimbursable Cost for Districts

This week, AASA led a letter to FEMA signed by 20+ other education groups in response to an announcement that FEMA may eliminate PPE and disinfectants as eligible reimbursable expenses under Public Assistance for COVID-19. We also understand that FEMA may seek to tie eligibility to an arbitrary distinction between “response” and “reopening.” This proposed change to PPE coverage continues a troubling pattern of shifting costs and responsibilities onto state and local governments, including state and local education agencies, when they can least afford it. The letter urges FEMA to waive the state cost share for COVID-19 assistance, to maintain the current guidance on emergency protective measures, and encourage the Administration to provide clear guidance on eligibility of funding streams from across the federal government.