GAO Releases 2020 Disaster Recovery Report

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GAO Releases 2020 Disaster Recovery Report

On October 14, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their report on K-12 disaster recovery. The study, COVID-19 Pandemic Intensifies Disaster Recovery Challenges for K-12 Schools, found that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and compounded the challenges associated with the 206 major disasters declared since 2017. Specifically, the GAO's findings show that for many communities, the pandemic increased mental health issues, delayed recovery projects, contributed to lost instructional time, led to staff burnout, and caused financial strain. To access the major highlights, the full report, and GAO’s podcast on this topic, please click here.

Guest Blog: October 22nd AERA Brown Lecture in Education Research

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Guest Blog: October 22nd AERA Brown Lecture in Education Research

Our colleagues at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) are hosting their annual Brown Lecture virtually on October 22nd at 6:00 pm EDT. The AERA Brown Lecture was launched during the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and overviews the critical role of research in advancing the understanding of equality and equity in education. William F. Tate IV, executive vice president of academic affairs at the University of South Carolina, will present at this year’s lecture, “The Segregation Pandemic: Brown as Treatment or Placebo?”
 
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's AERA is lecture is open to all interested attendees at no-cost. You can register for the event by clicking here.
 

Guest Blog: CCSSO Restart and Recovery, Considerations for Teaching and Learning

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Guest Blog: CCSSO Restart and Recovery, Considerations for Teaching and Learning

Our colleagues at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) created a series of resources, Restart and Recovery: Considerations for Teaching and Learning, to support state and district leaders as they continue to navigate the challenges on reopening schools and delivering education to every child this school year. These resources specifically aim to help districts make decisions about operations, instruction, and social-emotional learning while delivering on their promise to ensure an excellent, equitable education for all students. CCSSO created these resources with input from a wide body of organizations and experts, as well as state and local education leaders from more than 30 states across the country. 

These resources include many actionable plans, tools and templates and can be adaptable to meet your local needs. They cover key questions in the following areas:
  • System-level considerations: 
    • How are the needs of students and families, especially those most impacted, and the voices of teachers and school leaders being incorporated into school systems’ structures and decisions?
    • How can students attend school, whether in-person or remote, in a manageable and safe way that supports learning coherence?
    • How can students be supported by teachers so they experience strong and integrated teaching, whether in-person or remote?
  • Wellbeing, connectedness and mental health supports:
    • How are we creating a culture of care in which staff and student growth and wellbeing are prioritized, and all feel safe, connected, supported, engaged, and efficacious, both individually and collectively?
    • How are we identifying the range of mental health and wellbeing needs in our students, and provide them with or connect them to effective, culturally relevant supports?
  •  Academics: 
    • What must students learn? 
    • How will students learn this content, whether in-person or remote?
    • How prepared and how well are students learning this content?
    • How will teachers be prepared to teach this content, whether in-person or remote?

An video overview of the resources and how they can be used is available here. The full series of resources is available at www.ccsso.org/coronavirus. Also, if you're interested in having an in-depth conversation with the authors of the report, please reach out to Chris Rogers at crogers@aasa.org to learn how you can participate in CCSSO office hours. 

USDA Extends Free Meals for Kids for 2020-21 School Year

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USDA Extends Free Meals for Kids for 2020-21 School Year

On October 9, 2020, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would extend flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year. Specifically, USDA's move will enable school districts to continue to leverage the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to provide no-cost meals to all children, through June 30, 2021. Additionally, the move will permit districts to serve meals outside of the typically required group settings and meal times; waive meal pattern requirements, as necessary; and allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children through June 30, 2021. AASA has engaged in this advocacy effort since the beginning of the pandemic and was proud to secure this victory for Superintendents and other school nutrition leaders. More details on this extension are accessible by clicking here
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HHS Mask Distribution to Schools Underway- Request Your Districts Now

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HHS Mask Distribution to Schools Underway- Request Your Districts Now

As described on the blog earlier in September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be providing up to 125 million cloth masks to states for distribution to schools. The Administration intends for these masks to support students, teachers, and staff in public and private schools reopening, with an emphasis on students who are low-income or otherwise with high needs and schools providing in-person instruction.

Today we learned that school districts can immediately begin requesting masks from State Health Departments for adults. All states have received shipments of white, reusable and washable masks for adults and districts in need of additional masks can request them anytime. A few states are already in receipt of reusable, washable masks for youth/children, but the majority of these masks are still being manufactured and distributed. It is expected that many more states will have youth size masks available in the next 2 weeks and by early November all states will have both youth and adult size masks available for distribution to schools.

More information on the masks is available here: https://www.phe.gov/facecovering/Pages/cloth-face-masks-in-school.aspx

House Includes $5 billion for School Infrastructure

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House Includes $5 billion for School Infrastructure

As part of our work with The [Re]Build America’s School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC), AASA released a statement thanking the U.S. House of Representatives for the inclusion of $5 billion for emergency repairs to public school facilities as part of the funding proposed for education in the Heroes Act 2.0. 
 
The inclusion of these funds is critical for the wellbeing of our families and communities. Moreover, this funding signals the House’s commitment to the health and safety of our students and educators. It also demonstrates the understanding that without public schools opening safely, our economy cannot thrive.

AASA was proud to join this effort to advocate for additional aid for school buildings emergency repairs and building modifications to support local school system leaders' efforts to provide facilities that can accommodate new procedures for social distancing, personal hygiene, surface cleaning, and high standards for fresh and filtered air. Check out the full press release here

October 1, 2020

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19 National Education Groups Send Joint Letter in Response to HEROES 2.0

Earlier today, 19 national education groups sent a joint letter to Congressional leaders in response to the revised House HEROES Act, and expressed our support for a bipartisan COVID response package.

Groups supporting the letter include:  

  • AASA, The School Superintendents Association
  • American Federation of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies
  • Association of School Business Officials International
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education 
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Council of Great City Schools 
  • International Society for Technology in Education
  • 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

 

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

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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

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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.

AASA Files Amicus in D.C. Equitable Services Case

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AASA Files Amicus in D.C. Equitable Services Case

Last week, AASA signed onto an amicus drafted by NEA in the equitable services lawsuit against Secretary DeVos filed by the NAACP. We are hopeful that like the two cases out of the 9th circuit earlier this month that this ruling will also be favorable. You can read our brief here.

 

USDA Temporarily Extends Summer Meal Flexibilities

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USDA Temporarily Extends Summer Meal Flexibilities

Today, August 31, 2020, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has elected to extend several flexibilities associated with the Summer School Food Service Program (SFSP). Specifically, the move will enable SFSP and Seamless Summer Option meals to be served in all areas and at no cost, permit meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and mealtimes, waive meal pattern requirements as necessary and allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children. 
 
As such, these extensions should allow school districts to continue serving free meals to children for the first semester of the school year, thereby ensuring that all students have continued access to well-balanced meals as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
Looking ahead, USDA has stated that they will require additional budget authorities to extend the SFSP flexibilities throughout the entire 20-21 school year. AASA will continue to pressure the Hill for the funds necessary to ensure that all students have access to the federal school meals programs. However, this is still a significant victory in the fight to provide school system leaders with the maximum flexibilities necessary to serve students. You can check out the full details on USDA's extensions by clicking here.

AASA Leads Coalition Letter to Congress Opposing Funding for Private Schools In Next COVID Package

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AASA Leads Coalition Letter to Congress Opposing Funding for Private Schools In Next COVID Package

AASA, which co-chairs the National Coalition for Public Education, organized a coalition letter to Congress urging House and Senate leaders to reject the GOP COVID-5 proposal that would funnel billions of dollars to private schools. Congress has already provided private schools with billions of dollars in relief funds, including for wealthy schools with high tuition, large endowments, and affluent students. Congress has already created a situation where private K-12 schools have received a disproportionately large share of federal resources when compared to public schools. Accordingly, the letter states that the next coronavirus relief legislation should support our public schools, rather than siphoning funding away from the public schools to fund private schools through direct grants or voucher programs.

The letter can be accessed here: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/582f7c15f7e0ab3a3c7fb141/t/5f45472d895f7d30710f3f2c/1598375726723/2020-08-25+NCPE+HEALS+Act+Letter.pdf

USDA Temporarily Extends COVID-19 Summer Nutrition Waivers

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USDA Temporarily Extends COVID-19 Summer Nutrition Waivers

On Thursday, August 20, 2020, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) issued the following nationwide waiver extensions.
  1. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-congregate Feeding in the Summer Food Service Program – EXTENSION 3
  2. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibility in the Summer Food Service Program – EXTENSION 6
  3. Nationwide Waiver to Extend Area Eligibility Waivers – EXTENSION
  4. Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children – EXTENSION 3
Specifically, these extensions will enable districts that have not begun the 20-21 school year to continue their summer food service operations through September 30, 2020, or for the duration of summer operations, whichever is earlier. While USDA did extend the nationwide non-congregate, meal service time, meal pattern flexibility, and parent pick-up waivers for the duration of the 2020-21 school year, these waivers did not apply to districts that will begin their calendar year in early to late September, and as such, are able to run the Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option Programs until that time.
 
The good news here is USDA's measure will provide school districts that haven't begun the calendar year with an additional month to operate their current summer programs, which because of Area Eligibility will enable schools to feed all students presenting at sites in need. The bad news is that these extensions provide no relief to districts running hybrid or remote online learning models. 
 
Looking ahead, AASA will continue pressing the Department and the Hill for a permanent fix to this issue. It's clear we're facing an uphill battle on extending the waivers, so stay tuned to see how you can get involved. 
 
 

AASA, NGA, AFT, and Others Urge Congress to Extend USDA's School Meals Waivers

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AASA, NGA, AFT, and Others Urge Congress to Extend USDA's School Meals Waivers

On August 19, 2020, AASA, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Governors Association, and 30 other organizations sent a letter to Congress requesting that language, which would extend the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) School nutrition waivers until June 30, 2021, be included as part of the next COVID-19 Economic relief package.
 
As we have highlighted before, the Area Eligibility, non-congregate Sumer Food Service Program, and Seamless Summer Option Waivers will expire on August 31, 2020. For districts that are still establishing what “school” will look like next year or choosing to conduct remote learning, the expiration of these waivers will force superintendents and community partners to certify students for free, reduced-price, or full-price meals. For superintendents, school nutrition directors, and other operators of the federal school meals programs, the consequences of this policy decision will force some foodservice operators to turn away hungry students and create a logistical nightmare for our leaders by further stretching strained school foodservice staffing capacities.
 
AASA was proud to join this allied effort and work to get a common-sense fix to this issue. You can check out the full letter by clicking here. Looking ahead, AASA will continue to elevate the voices of superintendents on our COVID-19 school nutrition-related priorities for the Dept. of Agriculture and on Capitol Hill.
 

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.

Hat Trick of Equitable Service Comments

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Hat Trick of Equitable Service Comments

This blog post links to three different letters, all in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s July 1, 2020, interim final rule (IFR) regarding the equitable services requirements applicable to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and opposing the Secretary’s flawed interpretation.

  • Joint Letter from 50 State Superintendent Associations: This letter, signed by the executive directors of the 50 state superintendent associations, delivers a clear message of opposition and represents a nation-wide appeal from school leaders to implement the law as intended.
  • Education Group Letter: 32 national education organizations sent a joint letter in response to the flawed policy, urging USED to rescind its interim final rule.
  • AASA Response: AASA sent a detailed response to USED. Will be updated once letter is submitted.

 

Important reminder: You still have time to file! Comments can be submitted until 11:59 pm ET on Friday, July 31. Everything you need to get started is available on the blog, including a template. 

School Nutrition Round-up

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School Nutrition Round-up

This post is longer than our usual blog content, as we are doubling down on the important issue of school nutrition and the ability of LEAs to continue to serve students during the pandemic.
 
As administrators, parents, and students gear up for one of the most memorable starts to the school year in recent times, school nutrition advocates are also beginning to sound the alarm on the impending threats to districts' ability to operate the federal school meals programs this fall. Although AASA has highlighted some of the issues and recent work around the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's (USDA) COVID-19 related waivers and flexibilities, considering the recent and drastic changes to the school nutrition policy landscape, we felt that it was critical to provide an updated overview of the lay of the land and reiterate our priorities on the federal meals programs in one streamlined blog post. It is our hope that this school nutrition round-up, helps our members with their nutrition related advocacy efforts and to better engage in this space. Checkout the text below for background on the emerging issues as well as AASA’s nutrition related advocacy work at USDA and on Capitol Hill.
 
Background: The passage of the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (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, note this figure includes a description and expiration date for each of the department’s previously mentioned waiver or program.
 
At this point, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, has elected to extend the non-congregate, meal service time, meal pattern flexibility, and parent pick-up waivers until August 31, 2021. While these waiver extensions are a critical first step in supporting stakeholders' efforts to provide meals through the federal nutrition programs when school starts in the fall, additional flexibilities will be needed to ensure the continued operation of school nutrition programs. 
 
Districts are still establishing what “school” will look like next year, but many students will not be in the building five days a week or have access to school breakfast and lunch each day. Instead, schools across the country are making plans to implement staggered schedules, remote learning, or some combination of the two. Unfortunately, this means that communities will need the flexibility to provide meals to children at school, to send meals home with children when they are not at school, and to provide meals at community sites closer to students' homes. As such, we ask that USDA use its waiver authority to make the following policy changes for the upcoming school year.

 

 USDA Policy Recommendations:

  1. Allow the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to be used to feed children during the upcoming school year. The School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs are designed to provide meals to children during the school day at the school they attend. When schools reduce the number of days that students are physically in school in response to the health concerns created by the pandemic, it limits students' access to school meals. To prevent this, USDA should allow schools to provide meals through the child nutrition program that makes the most sense given the unprecedented circumstances.
  2. Expand the non-congregate waiver to include the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option through the National School Lunch Program. Schools that utilize a remote or hybrid learning model this year also will be negatively impacted by the exclusion of SFSP and SSO. Within the current scope of the waivers, schools will need to implement a system for getting meals to families when children are not physically present in school buildings, which could include requiring families to pick-up meals or schools delivering meals directly to households. For families that have children attending different schools, this could mean picking up meals from multiple schools that are miles from home and miles from each other.
  3. Extend the Area Eligibility waiver for SFSP and SSO through the school year. This provision enabled school food services to provide meals in communities that did not meet the 50% area eligibility threshold. Moreover, this flexibility was essential to reaching children who may have become newly eligible for free and reduced-price lunch when the school year was disrupted during the spring and summer months. Considering the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19, this flexibility will be critical for continued school nutrition program operations. This is particularly true for low-income and rural localities that have been disproportionately affected by prolonged closures of industry and small businesses. 
  4. Waive the Afterschool Activity Requirement for the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs available through CACFP and NSLP. While the non-congregate waiver extension includes the afterschool meal and snack programs, it does not waive the activity requirement for providing afterschool meals and snacks. When schools closed in the spring, a waiver of the afterschool enrichment activity was quickly issued. This ensured that schools were able to easily implement meal service even as they remained shuttered or at limited capacity. 
  5. Allow districts providing meals through the Summer Food Service Program or Seamless Summer Option to also utilize Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs. This approach has been allowed through the unanticipated school closure waiver, and the approach was further clarified through Q&A guidance issued by USDA, and it has been critical to keeping hunger at bay by ensuring that children receive three meals a day. If schools were operating under normal schedules, children are eligible for breakfast, lunch, supper, and snacks through the child nutrition programs. This access should be maintained at a time of unprecedented food insecurity. 
  6. Extend the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program flexibilities and waivers through the school year. Flexibilities and waivers issued by USDA allowed schools to continue to operate this program during COVID closures by waiving previous requirements including the snack needing to be served in a congregate setting, during the school day, with a child present, and only a single serving. As a result, schools were able to provide innovative ways to serve fresh produce, including multi-day servings and fresh produce packs. USDA guidance issued in April 2020 indicated that unspent 2019-2020 dollars could be rolled over to the 2020-2021 school year. However, as many schools will still be offering alternative meal distribution in the new school year, these dollars will be unable to be spent without waiver extension. 
Capitol Hill: 
 
Considering the amount of time left on the calendar before federal legislators return home for the August recess, it is unlikely that the nutrition related aid in COVID-5 will not be allocated in time for the start of the school year. That said, AASA has been signaling our nutrition related request to federal policymakers since the start of the pandemic. Specifically, we have requested or support the following:
  1.  AASA supports the inclusion include language that extends all the waivers issued by the U.S. Dept. of Ag through the duration of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Specifically, this includes (1) Nationwide Mealtimes, (2) Nationwide Non-congregate Feeding Waiver, (3) Nationwide Afterschool Activity Waiver, (4) Nationwide Meal Pattern Waiver, (5) Nationwide Parent/Guardian Meal Pick-Up Waiver (6) FFVP Parent Pick Up  and Alternative Waiver, (7) Nationwide Waivers of Child Nutrition Monitoring, (8)  Nationwide Waiver of Food Management Company Contract Duration Requirements, (9) Nationwide Waiver of Local School Wellness Assessments, and (10) SFSP/SSO Area Eligibility waivers. 
  2. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the corresponding rise in the unemployment rate and amount of families who now qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),  AASA supports the inclusion of language in the next COVID-19 package that would grant districts the flexibility to qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision based upon student free and reduced-price lunch data from the past three years. By including this provision in the next COVID-19 relief package, Congress will be able to ensure greater participation in the program by LEAs. 
  3. AASA supports granting additional authority to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) so that LEAs can be reimbursed under the Public Assistance Category “B” Program for costs associated with serving meals to needy students and premium pay for school critical foodservice staff (e.g., bus drivers, lunch/breakfast employees, and school custodians). 
  4. Based on early reports, we are expecting up to 80% in reduced reimbursements from NSLP and SBP due to a severe decline in the number of meals served nationally. As such, AASA urges Congress provide $2.6 billion to mitigate a portion of the estimated financial loss that school nutrition programs have and will continue to experience. Allocating these funds will be a critical step in making school nutrition programs financially solvent and to maintain the integrity of essential food security programs as the recovery process begins.
  5. AASA opposes any language that would weaken the integrity of the Broad Based Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) program in the upcoming agriculture appropriations package. Specifically, the Cat El program affords states’ the flexibility to directly certify Temporary Assistance Needy Families (TANF) students for free and reduced-price meals through their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). If language is passed that would limit districts’ ability to use direct certification, the negative impact on school district nutritional programs will be immense. This is evident by the Food Nutritional Services’ data, which approximated 982,000 children would lose their eligibility to free and reduced-price meals through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when a similar provision was proposed via regulation in the fall of 2019. 4 Cat El policies have been in place for more than two decades, and Congress has consistently and overwhelmingly rejected efforts to make Cat El more restrictive, including during its consideration of the 2005 Budget Reconciliation and the 2018 Farm Bill.
 

FY21 Appropriations Work: Funding Those Schools!

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FY21 Appropriations Work: Funding Those Schools!

It’s not all COVID all the time. This week, the House is considering its annual FY21 appropriations bills. AASA submitted a letter with amendment priorities as part of the overall package. Read our letter here

 

Velazquez Nutrition Flexibilities

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AASA Endorses Legislation to Extend FFCRA Waivers

Today, July 30, 2020, AASA endorsed a recently H.R.7764. Specifically, the legislation builds on the work of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA) by offering school districts greater flexibility in enacting emergency measures to provide students with nutritious food. Moreover, the measure directs the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to extend FFCRA school nurtition waivers to schools that are open and practicing social distancing this fall. You can access the press release and list of supporting organizations by clicking here.

AASA Endorses The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act

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AASA Endorses The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act

Today, July 30, 2020, House Education and Labor Chairman, Bobby Scott, introduced The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act. If passed, the measure will help support district foodservice operations by temporarily making all students eligible for free meals and requiring the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to reimburse all meals served during the 2020-21 school year reimbursable at the free rate.  
 
As families face levels of food insecurity unseen since the Great Depression and the unemployment rate continues to rise as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, school nutrition programs are facing an existential financial crisis next school year. Without congressional action and additional aid, many schools will have to consider tapping into lines of credit or laying off staff and discontinuing their participation in the federal school meal programs, leaving our most vulnerable students with no nutrition support at school. As such, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is proud to support this piece of legislation to reimburse all federal meals at the free rate and dramatically expand participation in the federal meals programs during the 2020-21 school year,” stated Executive Director, Daniel A. Domenech.
 
For more details on the bill, check out the House Ed and Labor press release here. The bill text is also accessible here. Looking ahead, AASA will continue advocating for the policies and resources necessary for districts to sustain the continued operation of the federal school meals programs. 
 
 

Restart & Recovery: Considerations for Teaching & Learning

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Restart & Recovery: Considerations for Teaching & Learning

State, school system, and school leaders are facing a tremendous and urgent need to plan, launch, and sustain a strong school year—setting up every student for success in the wake of COVID-19 related closures, while prioritizing health, safety, and equity. To support states and school systems as they plan to restart schools and recover student learning loss, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) developed “ Restart and Recovery: Considerations for Teaching and Learning,” a fully-customizable series of vetted resources addressing system-level conditions, academics, and student wellbeing. These resources were created at the request of state leaders and with the input of a wide body of organizations and experts, including educators from nearly 30 states. Education leaders, as well as professional learning providers, can customize and adapt this guidance as they develop their local plans to meet the needs of the educators and students they support. We urge you to check it out. 

 

Senate HEALS Act Analysis

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Senate HEALS Act Analysis

Late yesterday afternoon, Senate Republicans released their marker bill for the fifth COVID response. Here is a quick summary of what we know to be in the bill. You can also access a side-by-side analysis of the House Democrat, Senate Democrat and Senate Republican bill with our key priorities (kudos to Sasha).
 
Top Takeaway: This is a message bill and it includes a lot of non-starters from our perspective (as well as for Senate Democrats, not to mention getting a bill like this to a place that could pass the House). There are a lot of pressures at play outside of content. The August recess starts soon and Congress will want to get home to campaign; at the same time, they do not want to go home for August recess without having at least made significant inroads on another round of federal support and unemployment insurance is a key driver in negotiating something quickly.
 
As always, we will work with the Senate to make this a strong, bipartisan bill. The GOP proposal is not a bill we would endorse at this point and we expect that is true of education stakeholders ranging from Governors down to classroom teachers. We will be keeping a keen eye on protecting the liability provisions (this will cause a divide in the education community, with state/district leaders calling for the protection and teachers/unions opposing the provisions), as well as increasing overall funding level, opposing any privatization and/or incentive/mandate to physically open, pushing for IDEA flexibility, supporting dedicated funding for E-Rate, and extending school nutrition flexibilities, among other priorities.
 
Overview
  • Funding: The overall bill does not include any additional budget aid for state and local governments, which will likely be a top consideration in how much officials at that level cut their education budgets in response to the economic slow down (see related Maintenance of Effort item in policy section). Topline level for education is $105 billion. 
    • $1 b for Bureau of Indian Education and outlying areas; $ 5 billion for GEERF (Governor’s Fund); $70 b to ESSERF (K12); $29 b for higher ed
    • USED Secretary would have to disseminate money to states within 15 days of the bill becoming law. 
    • For K12 Funding
      • Allocation: Would move to states based on overall population (60%) and on Title I share (40%)
      • Private schools would be eligible for all the same funding that public schools are eligible for as long as they meet the same re-opening criteria.
      • Allowable uses
        • For the 1/3 of funds automatically available, allowable uses appear to be broad and flexible, pretty similar to the CARES act, covering things like sanitation, purchasing ed tech, responding to the pandemic, etc….
        • For the conditional 2/3, includes additional flexibilities, like purchasing PPE, using flexible schedules to keep kids in isolated groups, buying boxed lunches, buying physical barriers, providing transportation, repurposing existing school rooms/space (including improving ventilation systems)  
      • Of the funding allocated to LEAs/private schools:
        • 1/3 would be available to all schools immediately; the remaining 2/3 would be available for reopening costs, with funding awarded based on certain minimum opening requirements (and other criteria established by the states)
        • For the conditional 2/3: If an LEA provides in-person instruction for at least ½ the students for at least ½ the days, their funding would be automatically approved. For LEAs with no in-person instruction, there would be no money. For LEAs that provide SOME in-person, $$ would be reduced/awarded on a pro-rata basis
        • An LEA’s plan must include a detailed timeline of when in-person instruction will occur, description of how many in-person instruction days/week are being offered, and an assurance the LEA will offer students as much in-person instruction as is safe and practicable
      • Funding for private schools: SEAs must reserve a portion of the funds equal to the percentage of students enrolled in non public K12 schools in the state prior to COVID (a la equitable services). In order to receive these funds, a private school must meet in-person requirements, though theirs differ from those of public schools
      • Any private school offering in-person instruction for at least half of their students for half of the days would be eligible to receive the full share. Private schools offering no in-person instruction would only be eligible for 1/3 of the amount of assistance per student; LEAs that provide some in-person would receive their share on a pro-rata basis
  • Policy
    • Maintenance of Effort: States have to spend the same percentage of overall FY20/21 budgets on education as they did in FY19. Put another way, cuts to education are OK, so long as schools are cut at the same rate as other state programs. LEAs can pursue an MOE waiver. This is an improvement over CARES.
    • Liability: Provides a federal cause of action for COVID exposure claims against employers, including schools. The cause of action is the exclusive remedy for all claims against a defendant for personal injury caused by actual, alleged, feared or potential exposure to COVID. The bill covers coronavirus-related exposure injuries that occur between Dec. 1, 2019 and Oct. 1, 2024, and impacted parties would have to show LEAs were grossly negligent or demonstrated willful misconduct, and that they violated relevant state and local public health guidelines. 
    • Private Schools: In addition to the private school carve out in ESSERF, the bill authorizes (but does not fund) a brand new voucher program, the Education Freedom Scholarships. This is NOT a federal tax credit, it is a one-time appropriation and can be used on any educational expense (private school, homeschool, etc) and States would be required to set up tax credit entities to receive this funding. 
    • Equitable Services: Language in how the new funds would be allocated is tighter than that of CARES. Does NOT include retroactive fix of CARES problem for CARES funding. 
    • Homework Gap: No funding for homework gap is included in the bill. Yes, it is an allowable use of the broader ESSERF fund, but that is nowhere near as flexible as CARES was and is already grossly oversubscribed.
    • IDEA Flexibility: Provides ZERO flexibility for IDEA.
     

Guest Blog: TCF launches first-of-its-kind study on K-12 funding inequities, cost estimates for 13k+ districts

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Guest Blog: TCF launches first-of-its-kind study on K-12 funding inequities, cost estimates for 13k+ districts

This guest blog post is provided by--and expresses the view point of--The Century Foundation. AASA welcomed the opportunity to share this information with you for your own reference.

The Century Foundation just launched one of our biggest projects to date examining inequities in school funding, Closing America’s Education Funding Gaps. The first-of-its-kind study estimates the investments needed to provide every child in the country with a fair shot at succeeding in school. It features comprehensive new data at the national, state, and district level, including two interactive maps allowing users to identify what funding gaps, if any, exist for every school district in the country (more than 13,000 in total). 

The Century Foundation is aware that the issue of adequate and equitable school funding is critical, especially during the pandemic and as the recession constricts state and local budgets. It's The Century Foundation's intent that this new data can help advance the case for policymakers to avoid harmful cuts to public education that disproportionately harm Black and Latinx students

 

AASA and 64 Organizations Urge USDA for Extension to COVID-19 Flexibilities

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AASA and 64 Organizations Urge USDA for Extension to COVID-19 Flexibilities

As school districts across the U.S. gear up to re-open in some form this fall, AASA, and 65 other organizations, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting that the agency extend critical foodservice operation flexibilities through the duration of the 2020-21 school year.
 
In summation, the letter urges USDA to (1) allow districts to use the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option to feed children during the upcoming school year, (2) expand the non-congregate waiver to include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)  and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), (3) extend the Area Eligibility waiver for SFSP and SSO through the school year, (4) waive the activity requirement for the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs, and (5) allow districts utilizing SFSP or SSO to also participate in the Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs. You can access the full details of the letter by clicking here.
 
This push comes as a significant portion of districts have raised concerns about their ability to serve students meals through NSLP and SBP if Coronavirus cases continue to spike, and schools are forced to re-close this upcoming school year. According to our latest intel, U.S. Sec. of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, is currently set on opposing any additional flexibilities for school districts' nutrition Coronavirus related efforts, consequently meaning that we are facing an uphill battle over this issue for the next few months. That said, AASA will continue to push for the regulatory reliefs necessary for our members to deliver critical food services to food-insecure students. Stay tuned

AASA Advocacy Action Alert

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AASA Advocacy Action Alert

Three quick and critical opportunities for superintendents to engages in federal education policy:

  • COVID Package: This week, Senate Republicans are set to unveil the details of their proposal for the latest COVID federal response, and education is widely expected to feature prominently. Based on the information we have gathered you can see a spreadsheet that contains a side-by-sidecomparison of the House/Senate Democrat and Senate Republican draft bills. Please note that the yellow portions of the spreadsheet have not been confirmed by multiple sources, so we will update it when we have more final details.

    We will include quick talking points and follow up you can use to engage your members of contrast. As a reminder, AASA’s top priorities for the next COVID package include: $200 billion in funding for K12 education stabilization, $4 billion in funding to and through the E-Rate program to support internet access and address the homework gap, liability protection for schools; narrow, time limited flexibility within IDEA; a fix to equitable services; extension of school meal flexibilities; and opposition to any vouchers or privatization efforts, including incentives/mandates to reopen. At this point, it is estimated the Senate Republican proposal provides at least $63 billion in funding to K12 but also $7 billion for the DeVos tax credit voucher proposal.  We are fairly confident the package has $4 billion for E-Rate and includes the necessary fix for equitable services but does NOT provide any flexibility for IDEA (or protection against related litigation). 

  • Equitable Services: Sec. DeVos released her interim final rule on equitable services within the CARES Act. We have 30 days to mobilize and weigh in, expressing our concern with and opposition to her interpretation, and our support for the clear-language read of the underlying statute. We have a blog post with everything you need, including back ground, a template response for you to personalize, and step-by-step directions on how to file (or, if you submit to AASA staff early, we can submit for you). Comments are due July 31.
  • AASA Advocacy Conference Follow Up: Thank you to everyone for participating in this month’s virtual advocacy conference. We are still collecting conference feedback, which is especially critical after our first virtual meeting. So far we have just 30 responses and would welcome additional responses. If you have yet to share about your experience, please do so here!

New Report on K-12 Schools and Medicaid

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New Report on K-12 Schools and Medicaid

A new report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families explains the hit K-12 funding would take if Medicaid resources are cut. Some of the key findings include:

COVID-19 has caused concern over the anticipated budget cuts to K-12 education nationwide. Cuts to Medicaid are also imminent but are expected to be less severe than if the Republicans and the current administration had repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

State funding is at risk should Medicaid be cut as funds will be drawn from other parts of the K-12 education budget.

Read the full report here

AASA-NSBA-AESA release New Report on IDEA Litigation

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AASA-NSBA-AESA release New Report on IDEA Litigation

Today, the National School Boards Association, AASA, School Superintendents Association, and the Association of Educational Service Agencies released a report “School Leader Voices, Concerns and Challenges toProviding Meaningful IDEA-related Services During COVID-19” which sheds light on how potential and actual special education litigation can impact schools’ budgets and operations. Using data gathered by the three organizations demonstrates the need for Congress to provide flexibility to districts and educational service agencies in complying with IDEA in the upcoming school year. Specifically, the legal understanding of FAPE during a pandemic cannot be the same thing as FAPE under normal educational circumstances

 America’s special education system is woefully underfunded and as the pandemic reduces state and local revenue, there are even fewer dollars to cover the services districts must provide students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).  Special education is the most active area of litigation for school districts, with the average cost of one litigation estimated at the amount that could be used to hire one experienced teacher.

As schools prepare to reopen in the fall, there is a growing concern that school districts and educational service agencies will face unparalleled rates of litigation for their inability to meet IDEA requirements during the pandemic. It is critical that the next COVID-19 package Congress passes contains liability protection for districts and educational service agencies to protect them from incredibly high levels of special education litigation that will result from their inability to meet every requirement in IDEA.

AASA Calls for $2.6B in Funding for NSLP and SBP

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AASA Calls for $2.6B in Funding for NSLP and SBP

This week, AASA and a group of allied organizations sent a letter urging Congress to appropriate $2.6B to the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs and oppose the inclusion of any provisions that would weaken Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility in the next appropriations package. You can access this letter by clicking here
 

AASA Call to Action: Respond to Equitable Services Rule

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AASA Call to Action: Respond to Equitable Services Rule

Top Line: Sec. DeVos released her interim final rule on equitable services within the CARES Act. We have 30 days to mobilize and weigh in, expressing our concern with and opposition to her interpretation, and our support for the clear-language read of the underlying statute. We have included background (below) and linked to a template response for you to personalize, and included step-by-step directions on how to file (or, if you submit to AASA staff early, we can submit for you). 
 
Background: Earlier this month, Sec DeVos published an interim rule on CARES Act Funding/Equitable Services in the federal register, starting a 30 day window where the public can file comments. AASA remains deeply opposed to the interim rule and its flawed policy premise, which could potentially transfer an additional $1.3 billion in funding to private schools beyond what Congress authorized. In the proposed rule, Sec. DeVos doubled down on her flawed interpretation of the equitable services provision, and released a draft interim rule that would codify the practice with the strength of law. In her rule, DeVos continues to conflate allocation of resources with use of resources, in an effort to distract from the fact that her proposal shifts $1.3 billion from public schools to private schools and it inherently inequitable. She frames the CARES Act equitable services resources as a subsidy for private schools to keep them from going out of business/closing, a far cry from the reality of CARES Act funding, which is about getting emergency funding to kids. CARES Act did provide a pathway by which private schools could get support against closures, via the Paycheck Protection Program. DeVos uses the long-standing equitable services mechanism as a money grab to bolster private school coffers, when historically, the program has been about ensuring Title I eligible students are served. The rule gives LEAs choices in how to distribute their K12 CARES Act funding: (From EdWeek)
  • A district can decide to distribute the CARES money only to schools that received Title I for the 2019-20 school year —essentially, those schools with a minimum share of students from low-income backgrounds.
  • If districts choose to distribute aid only to Title I schools, they can use two options to calculate how much money they set aside for equitable services: They can use the same amount for equitable services they set aside for the 2019-20 school year; or they can conduct a count of low-income students in local private schools to determine the proportional share. 
  • If a district distributes aid only to Title I schools, it can't use the CARES money to backfill cuts at the state and local level by moving other funding out of those schools into other schools. That could create a very big incentive for districts not to spend CARES money only on Title I schools, given the huge budget cuts many districts are facing.
  • But if a district distributes CARES aid to schools that didn't receive Title I in 2019-20, then it must calculate the amount it must set aside for equitable services using a count of all local students enrolled in private schools in the district.

Giving the allusion of choice as a cover for a flawed policy proposal is unacceptable. This interim rule reaches into how schools USE their CARES funding—something Congress was crystal clear to make very flexible—so as to force public schools to allocate money from Title I students to private schools. The proposal is anything but choice: if you want to implement equitable services as it has historically been done—and as Congress intended—you can only use your CARES funding in Title I schools. This is a logistical and operational hurdle that unnecessarily complicates the work of safely reopening schools in the fall. And for states where the budget process has moved forward and your state cut their state education funding by the amount of CARES dollars your state received, this all but forces LEAs to set aside the higher proportion to private schools, or to be in non-compliance with supplement, not supplant, as DeVos grossly expanded her authority to apply this provision in the context of CARES. You can read more about her initial non-binding guidance, and check out our talking points on the issue from our recent advocacy conference. 

Call to Action: Using our template response, follow the prompts in the italic, red font. Make sure to include specific numbers to highlight what the dollar difference would mean in your district, and help to bring to life what that cut means: how many teacher salaries is that? How much PPE would you be able to provide for students in school? If you are going hybrid or virtual, how many hotspots or devices would you be able to provide? We want to really bring to light how much this will impact the work schools need to do to open schools safely. Also consider inserting language about how the policy complicates roll out; it adds confusion to the field. Uncertain of how much money a district will have, can you really move forward with implementation? Comments must be filed by July 31, 2020.

Filing Your Comments

  1. Open the template, personalize, and save. Make sure to include district letter head and that all font in the letter is black (remove red italicized prompts).
  2. Clink on the Federal Register/Equitable Services page (HERE)
  3. In the box labeled comment, type “I submit this comment to express my strong opposition to CARES Act Programs; Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools 34 CFR Part 76 [Docket ID ED–2020–OESE–0091] RIN 1810–AB59”
  4. Click on the green box that says ‘upload file’ and navigate through to attach your district’s comment.
  5. Fill out the remaining boxes through email address; you can leave everything else blank.
  6. Click/check ‘I read and understand the statement above.’
  7. Click on ‘Submit Comment’.
  8. If possible, please take the time to submit your comment with your Congressional delegation, as well. Our advocacy team would be happy to get you the email addresses for the education staffers for your representative and senators. Contact jasmine Byrd (jbyrd at aasa dot org). 
  9. If you would like AASA staff to file for you, you need to send us your completed comment no later than Wednesday, July 29 5 pm ET.
  10. Questions? Contact Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 

 

 

AASA and IDEA Full Funding: Coalition Activity

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AASA and IDEA Full Funding: Coalition Activity

 AASA co chairs the federal IDEA Full Funding Coalition, representing education and disabilities groups committed to having Congress honor its commitment to provide 40 percent of the additional cost associated with educating students with disabilities (“full funding”). This month, the coalition has submitted a letter outlining its FY21 funding priorities and a letter supporting recent legislation related to funding IDEA in the context of COVID. 

 

2020 Legislative Advocacy Conference Resources

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2020 Legislative Advocacy Conference Resources

It is our sincere hope that you enjoyed your time at AASA’s 2020 Virtual Advocacy Conference. As promised, here are the recordings, slides, and resources we owe you.

Additionally, this post contains a link to a two-minute Google survey which allows you to share what happened during your Capitol Hill visits (topics discussed, responses received from staff/members and any follow-up for offices we should respond to) as well as your general impressions of the conference this year and how we can improve it next year. We would appreciate it if you could please take a moment to complete this survey by clicking here.

Day 1 Recording: 

Day 2 Recording:

AASA Joins NSBA and AESA in Letter Calling for Liability Protections

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AASA Joins NSBA and AESA in Letter Calling for Liability Protections

Earlier today, AASA joined National School Boards Association and Association of Educational Service Agencies in a joint letter to Congress asking for temporary and targeted liability relief legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read our letter here.

July Advocate

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July Advocate

 On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it was no longer prohibited for a state to bar private religious schools from participating in its voucher programs. “A state need not subsidize private education,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for a five-judge majority in the case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. “But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

AASA submitted an amicus brief to the Court arguing that it was improper to require a state to fund private religious education and that voucher programs undermine public schools and the obligation of states to fund public schools. The 5-4 decision did not surprise us or many legal experts because by hearing the case at all, which many felt was weak, the Court seemingly tipped its hand that they were unhappy with the decision by the Montana Supreme Court and wished to overturn it.

State “no-aid” provisions which bar funding of religious education exist in 38 states, but 18 of these states already have voucher programs. Thus, while pointing out how the creation of voucher program conflicts with a state’s constitution or no-aid clause has been a helpful argument for public school advocates opposed to these programs, it has not stopped states from disregarding their no-aid provisions and enacting voucher programs.

What are the immediate effects of the SCOTUS decision then? Two states, Vermont and Maine, will have their “town-tuitioning programs” dating back from 1869 to 1873 respectively, (long before vouchers were invented) open to private religious schools. These programs have allowed students in rural parts of the state who did not have access to any public school to attend any other public or private secular school inside or outside the state. Unlike voucher programs that started in the 1950s in response to segregation, these programs are small and specific to very rural communities in those states. They are not “true” voucher programs in the mind of many school leaders, but voucher proponents are already pouncing on the opportunity to claim them as such and ensure parents in these states can opt to send their children to private religious schools on the state dime.

What else is next? According to the Institute for Justice, which represented Espinoza, they are looking to use this decision to push vouchers in Texas, Missouri, South Dakota and Idaho. They say these are the next big “battlegrounds” for vouchers and legislatures and should no longer feel bound by “no-aid” causes. However, a look at how these voucher fights have played out recently reveals that the winning arguments for public education have centered on opposition by rural Republicans that diverting state funding away from public schools will hurt rural students as well as concerns about academic achievement and accountability in voucher programs.

This decision raises the possibility that voucher proponents could start insisting that it would be religious discrimination if religious schools are not treated the same as other educational entities when it comes to state aid; They could try to argue that when new grant programs are created private religious schools should be eligible for the funding. Meanwhile, they will also want to be granted exemptions, so they don’t have to meet the same academic/curriculum, reporting and discrimination provisions as secular private schools or public schools.

Like other major education decisions, in recent years the Court has issued it can take time to understand the policy ramifications of a case. AASA and the coalition we lead, the National Coalition for Public Education, will remain vigilant in fighting voucher schemes at the federal level and provide our affiliates with the best arguments and research for successfully opposing these programs at the state level.

 

 

AASA Urges FEMA to Offer Additional Flexibilities Under the Public Assistance Program

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AASA Urges FEMA to Offer Additional Flexibilities Under the Public Assistance Program

On June 30, 2020, AASA, ASBO International, and others submitted a letter to FEMA urging the agency to offer additional flexibilities under the Public Assistance Category B program so that districts can be eligible to receive reimbursements for activities related to delivering meals, sanitizing school facilities, and providing premium pay for essential school staff.
 
For background, FEMA's Category B Protective Measures provision allows districts to be reimbursed for services taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the COVID-19 National Emergency Declaration, Category “B” funds are eligible to cover costs associated with the management, control, and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety including for, but not limited to, emergency operation center costs; training specific to the declared event; disinfection of eligible public facilities; technical assistance; and control of immediate threats to public health and safety. The problem here is that the agency's current regulations prohibit FEMA from reimbursing school districts if expenses are associated with increased operating costs related to the pandemic. 
 
Due to this, AASA was happy to join this allied advocacy effort to expand the funding available to school districts for contending with the pandemic and re-opening facilities. You can access the letter by clicking here.
 

AASA Submits Amicus Brief to Halt District Title IX Regulation Implementation

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AASA Submits Amicus Brief to Halt District Title IX Regulation Implementation

Given the enormous burden the Title IX regulation poses for districts trying to re-open schools in the middle of the pandemic, AASA took the unusual step an amicus brief in two key State attorney generals cases that are requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the regulation from going into effect on August 14th.
 
The AASA amicus brief was drafted by John Borkowski of the law firm HuschBlackwell. Borkowski, a partner at HuschBlackwell and an attorney who has focused on assisting district leaders for over 30 years, did a superb job of highlighting the most egregious aspects of implementing this regulation from the K-12 perspective. You can read the brief here.

National Coalition for Public Education Denounces Ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Case

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National Coalition for Public Education Denounces Ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Case

AASA, which co-chairs the National Coalition for Public Education, released this statement in response to the 5-4 decision issued by the Supreme Court in the case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. 
 
National Coalition for Public Education Denounces Ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Case 
 
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue guts provisions that exist in the three-quarters of state constitutions that protect taxpayers from being forced to pay for private, religious education.
 
This damaging decision delivers a serious blow to public education. During the Trump Administration private school voucher advocates like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have been unable to push an unpopular federal voucher program through Congress, even when there were Republican majorities in both chambers. But now the Supreme Court has opened the door for voucher proponents in states to aggressively pursue the diversion of taxpayer dollars to private schools—schools that can pick and choose who they educate and are not accountable to taxpayers. Now more than ever, as our country tries to rectify our history of racial injustice, we need to invest in our public schools that welcome all children and unite our communities, not in private schools that further divide us.
 
Public schools are a cornerstone of our communities, and bring together all students regardless of economic status, disability, religion, or any other factor. Our nation cannot afford to waste taxpayer money on a privately run education system, particularly one that fails to improve academic achievement, when we are underfunding the public school system that educates 90% of American children. Public money should fund public schools.
 
This ruling should galvanize families, educators, taxpayers – everyone who values the fundamental role public schools play in our society – to push back against the privatization of the public education system.
 
Founded in 1978, the National Coalition for Public Education supports public schools and opposes the funneling of public money to private and religious schools through vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, and portability. 

GUEST BLOG: COVID-19 and Students with Food Allergies

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GUEST BLOG: COVID-19 and Students with Food Allergies

 This guest blog post is provided by--and expresses the view point of--the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection team. AASA welcomed the opportunity to share this information with you for your own reference.
 
COVID-19 AND STUDENTS WITH FOOD ALLERGIES
Amelia G. Smith, J.D.
General Counsel and Vice President of Civil Rights Advocacy

 

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team

The COVID-19 Pandemic has effected every aspect of our lives, including the rights of individuals with food allergies.  The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team’s (FAACT) Civil Rights Advocacy Division has been and is still actively monitoring and researching the impact of COVID-19, related directives and guidelines, school closures, and the impact of the CARES Act on the rights of individuals with food allergies.   One area of great concern that has arisen is the CDC’s “Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs,” released March 25, 2020, May 2020 CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President's Plan for Opening America Up Again, and “Considerations for Schools” released May 19, 2020.  These guidance documents recommend avoiding mixing students in common areas and include the example of having students eat breakfast and lunch in their classrooms.  As the CDC’s guidance documents may affect the way students are exposed to allergens at school, AASA’s members should be aware of the potential issues these guidance documents may cause in order to effectively ensuring students are able to return to school safely when schools reopen.
 
FOOD ALLERGIES AS A DISABILITY
 
The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, and the U.S. Department of Justice have determined that food allergies may be deemed a disability that requires accommodations under federal disability laws and regulations such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. Students with food allergies, a protected disability that affects one or more major life activity including, but not limited to, eating, breathing and the major bodily functions of the immune, digestive, respiratory, and circulatory systems, are at a great risk of an allergic reaction when their allergens are present in the classroom.  The CDC’s own “Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Educational Programs” (on which Eleanor Garrow-Holding, FAACT’s President and CEO, served as an expert panelist for the development of) recognizes that the implementation of said guidelines “must be implemented consistent with applicable federal and state laws and policies.” Additionally, on April 27, 2020 the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced that she would not seek any waivers under the CARES Act of students’ rights afforded under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Instead Secretary DeVos held that schools must continue to accommodate students with disabilities, including providing a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment.
 
CDC GUIDANCE
 
In March of this year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released a early version of a school guidance document titled “Interim Guidance for Administrators of U.S. K-12 Schools and Child Care Programs to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)”.  On page 9 of this guidance document, it is recommended “[w]hen there is minimal to moderate community transmission” schools “[a]void mixing students in common areas. For example, allow students to eat lunch and breakfast in their classrooms rather than mixing in the cafeteria.” The guidance document goes on to set out recommendations on how to limit mingling of students if it is not possible to suspend the use of common areas. Understandably so, the food allergy community is greatly concerned about the consumptions of meals in the classroom. It has been the position of FAACT since its inception that food-free classrooms are ideal and that prohibiting the allergens of a food-allergic student from their classroom is an essential disability accommodation for many students with food allergies.   
 
FAACT sent a letter to Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC Director, on May 6, 2020 outlining our concerns about the CDC’s recommendation to consume meals in classrooms.  The letter outlined the different Federal disability laws that could possibly be violated by restricting the consumption of meals to classrooms.   The letter went on to outline the potential issues consuming meals in classrooms could pose for students with food allergies, specifically (1) an increased risk of allergen exposure and reactions, (2) increased risk of anxiety in a student with food allergies, and (3) the risk of students with food allergies fixation on the allergens in the classroom instead of being able to pay attention to the educational instruction taking place in the classroom.  All of these scenarios can lead to the denial of a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE).  FAACT requested that the CDC revise the “Interim Guidance” document to address the concerns and safety of students with food allergies in light of the recommendation to consume meals in the classroom.  One specific request was that the CDC include a provision specifically recognizing that classrooms that contain a child with a known food allergy, especially those receiving accommodations through a 504 plan, IEP, or other accommodation plan, be specifically listed as a specific incidence where it is “not possible to suspend use of common areas”, at least for certain portions of the school’s population (i.e. certain classroom bodies of students).  
 
On May 19, 2020, the CDC updated its COVID guidance to schools and addressed the concerns FAACT expressed in our May 6, 2020 letter to CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield. The CDC’s new “Considerations for Schools” and the May 2020 CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response and the President's Plan for Opening America Up Again include instructions on how to safely use communal areas such as cafeterias, specifically the guidance to “stagger use and clean and disinfect between use”, and the guidance to “ensure the safety of children with food allergies” with a hyperlink to the CDC’s “Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs.” The inclusion of this new attention to students with food allergies addresses the concerns FAACT raised in our May 6, 2020 letter to the CDC, specifically the risk of schools denying students the right to accommodations prohibiting the consumption of allergens in the classroom or requiring the consumption of food items outside of the classroom (accommodations encouraged in the CDC’s Food Allergy Voluntary Guidelines), it does not do so in plain and concise language.  
 
FAACT is concerned that the CDC does not specifically and concisely set out the manner in which schools should “ensure the safety” of students with food allergies and instead only includes a link to a 103-page document. Being mindful of the unprecedented burden on school officials and to address the overwhelming concerns of the food allergy community, FAACT sent a follow-up letter to Director Redfield on May 20, 2020 requesting that, in addition to the inclusion of the hyperlink to the CDC’s Voluntary Food Allergy Guidelines, specific language be used in the CDC’s guidance to specifically address students with food allergies in a manner equivalent to students with other disabilities such as asthma.
 
ACTIONS SCHOOLS CAN TAKE TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF STUDENTS WITH FOOD ALLERGIES
 
In an effort to ease the unprecedented burden on school officials, school nurses, teachers, and other school staff, FAACT requested that the CDC revise their school guidance documents to specifically address and state the relevant language included in the CDC’s food allergy guidelines.  FAACT values the time of school administrators, nurses, teachers, and other staff and in an effort to ease your burden would call your attention to the following language contained in the CDC’s food allergy guidelines.  On page 37 of these food allergy guidelines, the CDC instructs schools to “create an environment that is as safe as possible from exposure to food allergens.”  The CDC states that some schools elect to ban specific foods across the entire school.  The guidelines additionally state that schools “may choose other alternatives to banning allergens including the designation of allergen-safe zones, such as an individual classroom or eating area in the cafeteria, or designation of food-free zones, such as a library, classroom, or buses.”  Further on page 41, schools are instructed to “[a]void the use of identified allergens in class projects, parties, holidays and celebrations, arts, crafts, science experiments, cooking, snacks, or rewards. Modify class materials as needed.”
 
ACCOMMODATION PLANS
 
Schools should be actively identifying the students that may need accommodations upon returning to school and working with the parents or caregivers of these students to ensure that proper accommodation plans are in place prior to the start of the school year.   Disability laws focus on the rights of the individual. It is important for schools and parents or caregivers of students with food allergies to focus on the individual needs of the student. Is the student a high schooler who has shown a level of maturity and an ability to safely manage their allergies in environments where his or her allergens are present? Is the student’s only food allergen shellfish? If so, there may not be an urgent need for the student’s class to avoid eating in the classroom (unless shellfish is a common lunch item in your school). This does not mean that these students will not need a 504 Plan or other accommodation plan.  The student may have asthma that can be triggered by certain cleaning products, by wearing a mask, or by having the classroom window open. This student might need accommodations addressing his or her classroom cleaning, allowing him or her to wear a face shield instead of a mask or to forgo a face covering all together, or prohibiting the classroom windows from being opened for ventilation. The student may have anxiety issues that make it too stressful for the student to learn in the in-person setting or may be at high risk for complications from COVID and needs the ability to elect to continue distance learning.
 
Areas to consider for COVID-related accommodations:
  • Meal consumption/allergens in the classroom and alternate locations.
    • While prohibiting the consumption of allergens in the classroom would seem like an easy mitigation of this risk, this approach has not been a universally accepted approach. Since FAACT’s launch in January 2014, FAACT’s Civil Rights Advocacy Division has assisted over 4,000 families, many of whose main concern was a school’s refusal to prohibit a student’s allergens from being consumed in the student’s classroom. Through FAACT’s advocacy and assistance, many of these families who were facing the challenge of schools declining to exclude their student’s allergens from the classroom were able to receive accommodations requiring food items to be consumed outside of the classroom, in areas such as the cafeteria, hallway, or outdoors.
  • If food is going to be consumed in the classroom, is enhanced cleaning, a larger room where students are going to be spaced further apart, or enhanced prohibition of food sharing needed.
  • Enhanced handwashing.
  • Face coverings for students with asthma.
  • Cleaning protocols and cleaning products for students with asthma and/or allergies to cleaning products.
  • Option to elect to utilize distance learning even when other students are participating in in-person education.
In addition to the COVID-related area of concerns above, a list of sample accommodations for students with food allergies can be found in FAACT’s Civil Rights Advocacy Resource Center. 
 
FAACT understands the uniqueness of the current COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciate that this is an unprecedented public health crisis, and we understand that the AASA and school administrators across the county are making extraordinary efforts to ensure that students return to school safely.  Should you have any questions or concerns regarding FAACT’s position and recommendation or should you wish to collaborate, please contact FAACT’s Vice President of Civil Rights Advocacy, Amelia G. Smith, J.D., at Amelia.Smith@foodallergyawareness.org or at (662) 322-7434.  FAACT appreciates your prompt attention to this crucial issue affecting the near 6 million American children with food allergies.
 
 
 

COVID-19 and Schools: Detailing the Continued Impact Full Report

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COVID-19 and Schools: Detailing the Continued Impact Full Report

As a follow up to our release of initial findings from "COVID-19 and Schools: Detailing the Continued Impact," today, June 24, 2020, AASA is publishing our full non-membership findings from our 2nd COVID-19 School Response Series.
 
Specifically, AASA launched this report to provide federal, state and local policymakers with immediate data on how districts are adapting and responding to prolonged closings, the resources and information superintendents are relying on or still need, and the initial financial implications associated with the pandemic as well as re-opening schools this summer/fall. 
 
As an indication of this study, AASA garnered 501 responses from 48 states over the weeks of May 5 through June 8, 2020. This report represents the second iteration of a series that AASA will release about the impact of COVID-19 on school districts and only speaks to the preliminary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on district operations. The full findings can be accessed here.

AASA and BASIC Applaud House Leadership for Including School Infrastructure in Proposed Economic Stimulus Package

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AASA and BASIC Applaud House Leadership for Including School Infrastructure in Proposed Economic Stimulus Package

Today, June 18, 2020, AASA and the [Re]Build America's School Infrastructure Coalition (BASIC) released a statement applauding House leaderships' decision to introduce HR2, the Infrastructure and Economic Stimulus package. If the measure passes, the Act will infuse $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority for high-poverty schools that need upgrades to their buildings for safety. Specifically, the measure includes the following provisions:  

 

  • Allocates funds to states in proportion with the dollars that districts receive under Title I. Additionally, under this provision states must match 10 percent of the funds within 10-years of the act.
  • Includes language that mandates states have a public online database that outlines the condition of all public school facilities in the state.
  • Awards need-based grants to districts based on the poverty level of the school, limitations to raise funds to improve school facilities, and the greatest demonstrated need.
  • Allots fiscal 2020 program dollars for efforts related to reopening schools in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health guidelines. This money can be used to improve digital learning, including expanding access to high-speed broadband.
  • Prohibits funding for activities related to improving central offices, athletic stadiums, or other buildings that are not primarily used for instruction and for events where admission is charged to the general public. 
In a statement, the group said, "This is a good day for public education. Adding federal support to local and state efforts to modernize and build our public school infrastructure is long overdue. With these federal funds, our states and districts will be able to make progress on four pressing issues that confront public education." 
 
In response to the House's decision, Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of AASA stated "The backlog of construction, renovation and repair work in our nation's public schools has been well known for years and easily exceeds billions of dollars. And that was before a world pandemic shut the schools down and forced a critical conversation about ensuring the schools are ready to safely and healthily greet our students when they reopen this fall. The need was well documented in a GAO report issued just this month, which found that approximately half of public school districts need to update or replace multiple building systems or features in their schools. Highlighting the importance of this need and the critical role of federal support in response to both the need and the COVID pandemic, an estimated 41 percent of districts reported needing to update or replace heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in at least half of their schools. By including the Rebuild America's Schools Act in HR 2, Congress provides immediate relief to help districts in their efforts to reopen this fall while also creating jobs hard hit by economic downturn and addressing structural inequities in the existing K12 public education infrastructure." 
 
As of now, the measure is expected to stall in the Republican controlled Senate. That said, AASA will continue advocating for this funding so our members can upgrade their school facilities. Also, check out the full details on the BASIC's response by clicking here.

AASA Releases Initial Findings from 2nd Nationwide COVID-19 Survey

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AASA Releases Initial Findings from 2nd Nationwide COVID-19 Survey

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, AASA issued a nationwide coronavirus school response survey to provide federal, state and local policymakers with data about how districts are adapting and responding to the virus, about prolonged closings, and about the resources and information, superintendents are relying on. The results being released today are from the second iteration of this survey, entitled COVID-19 and Schools: Detailing the Continued Impact, which collected more than 500 responses from 48 states.
 
“AASA is committed to supporting superintendents and other school district leaders throughout the country during this challenging and unprecedented time,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director, AASA. “We hope school systems will find our survey helpful as they carefully strive for a safe and healthy reopening process that is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.”
 
Please access the initial findings from the survey by clicking here.

Community Eligibility Provision Virtual Briefing

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Community Eligibility Provision Virtual Briefing

On June 17,  at 11:00 a.m. ET, AASA, The School Superintendents Association; the Food Research & Action Center; the American Federation of Teachers; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and the National Education Association are co-hosting a virtual briefing on Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). 
 
For context, CEP allows over 30,000 high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. As states and school districts make plans to safely reopen schools in the fall, and millions of households are experiencing job and wage losses, more schools than ever are becoming eligible to implement CEP, as well as finding the program to be a more financially viable option than before the pandemic. 
 
Specifically, this briefing will feature a panel discussion on how CEP works, the upcoming deadlines to apply and adopt the program, and some resources to help spread the word and support school districts as they determine whether community eligibility is a financially viable option for the 2020–2021 school year. You can register for the briefing by clicking here.

 

 
 

Three Major Myths of the New Title IX Regulations

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Three Major Myths of the New Title IX Regulations

Three Major Myths of the New Title IX Regulations

As of May 6, new Title IX regulations have been published, and a compliance deadline of August 14, 2020 now looms. In our interactions with our K-12 members, we’ve learned there are three main myths about the new regulations that deserve your attention:


•             The live hearings requirement;


•             The cross-examination requirement; and


•             The duty to appoint advisors to the parties in a sexual harassment complaint.


Fortunately, these misconceptions are easily dispelled, and it’s all good news for our K-12 colleagues, who have more than enough on your plates already. These three provisions apply to postsecondary institutions only, not to K-12. The regulations are confusing on these points, so this discussion should clarify.


Are Live Hearings Required in Public K-12 Schools?


Of course they are. Since Goss v. Lopez was decided by the Supreme Court in 1975, public K-12 has been required to provide hearings for students in cases that could result in suspension and expulsion. The Title IX regulations express that if schools are already required to provide hearings, they’ll need to apply those hearings to Title IX sexual harassment cases, too, but the regulations add no new or additional hearing requirements for K-12. If a sexual harassment complaint under Title IX isn’t going to lead to suspension or expulsion, and district policies don’t already require a live hearing to address them, you’ll be able to address them through the informal administrative mechanism for exchange of written questions that the regulations describe.

 


What the regulations don’t do is tell K-12 schools that if they hold live hearings, the live hearings provisions of the regulations apply to them. They don’t. ATIXA strongly encourages districts not to reinvent the wheel. Adapt your existing policies and procedures with a set of additional regulations-based rules that will apply to suspension and expulsion hearings when a Title IX complaint is in issue.


 


Is Direct Cross-Examination Required?


No, it’s not. The regulations require informal administrative decision-making which can be an entirely written exchange, requiring only that districts, “afford each party the opportunity to submit written, relevant questions that a party wants asked of any party or witness, provide each party with the answers, and allow for additional, limited follow-up questions from each party.” Then, the designated administrator/decision-maker makes a determination as to whether policy was violated.


So, whether the conduct falls short of suspension or expulsion, or a Goss hearing is required, the informal exchange of questions and responses described above and in the regulations will suffice for Title IX purposes. There may be state, board, or district level requirements for more formality, and those should be respected and applied to Title IX processes.


The regulations state:


If an elementary and secondary school recipient chooses to hold a hearing (live or otherwise), this provision leaves the recipient significant discretion as to how to conduct such a hearing, because § 106.45(b)(6)(i) applies only to postsecondary institutions. The Department desires to leave elementary and secondary schools as much flexibility as possible to apply procedures that fit the needs of the recipient’s educational environment. 


Thus, the Department declines to mandate hearings and cross-examination for elementary and secondary schools. 


K-12 Schools Not Required to Provide Party-Advisors


The district lawyers we spoke with recently shared their interpretation that while K-12 was not mandated to have hearings, once they opted to have them (or had to have Goss hearings), the cross-examination requirements of the regulations would then apply, and thus so would the appointed advisor requirement. But, as has been shown by the quote above, the regulations do not require direct cross-examination, thus leaving K-12 with only the obligation to ensure that the parties have the right to an advisor of their choice, but with no requirement to provide, appoint, or train district-level advisors for the parties.


The requirements of the regulations are onerous enough for K-12 without reading into them   additional compliance mandates that ED did not intend to extend to K-12. Since the regulations were published a month ago, our phones have been ringing with calls from school district attorneys and administrators looking for advice on where to start. We want to offer you this roadmap to compliance with the new rules to help guide your school or district forward on Title IX. For additional compliance resources please visit the ATIXA Regs Rapid Response Resource Center. 


__________________________________________________________________________________________


Brett A. Sokolow is president of ATIXA, the Association of Title IX Administrators. Contact him at brett.sokolow@atixa.org.

USDA Extends Community Eligibility Provision Deadline

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USDA Extends Community Eligibility Provision Deadline

As part of the U.S. Dept. of Ag's (USDA) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department has recently decided to extend the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) deadlines for the 2020–2021 school year to provide states and school districts with additional time to apply and adopt CEP. Specifically, this newly released nationwide waiver will enable districts to apply for CEP any time between April 1, 2020–June 30, 2020, and to extend the deadline for schools to adopt the program by August 31, 2020.
 
Considering the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, it is likely that more school districts will be eligible to implement CEP for the 2020-2021 school year due to the increases in individuals who are now qualified for SNAP benefits. As such, AASA is encouraging our members to re-examine their eligibility for CEP, since it will now be a more financially viable option for many more schools. 
 
Are you looking to learn more about CEP? Our partners at the Food Research Action Committee (FRAC) are hosting a Webinar on  June 11, at 3:00 p.m. ET., to discuss the CDC's Interim Guidance for K-12 schools as it relates to operating school nutrition programs, and best practices for districts to implement innovative policies that meet students' nutritional needs. You can register for the event by clicking here. 

AASA and Allied Organizations Request an Extension to USDA COVID-19 School Nutrition Waivers

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AASA and Allied Organizations Request an Extension to USDA COVID-19 School Nutrition Waivers

Today, June 3, 2020, AASA and 84 allied education and nutrition organizations submitted a letter to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) urging for an extension to all COVID-19 related school nutrition waivers until September 30, 2020, so that districts can continue to serve meals to students and families throughout the summer. 
 
As we've highlighted in previous posts, AASA is appreciative of USDA's extension to the Non-Congregate Feeding, Parent Pickup, and  Meal Times Waivers. However, the department must continue allowing these additional flexibilities to ensure the transition to summer is seamless for states, districts, and the community. You can check out the full letter by clicking here.

New Resource: AASA & ASBO FAQ

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New Resource: AASA & ASBO FAQ

Since the start of the pandemic, AASA and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) International have worked to collect and respond to the variety of questions we have received about the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal response, and what it means for schools in terms of implementation and compliance. To broadly disseminate this intelligence to our members, we have created this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document to cover all your COVID education policy needs. 
 
Specifically, the resource overviews COVID questions that relate to School Nutrition, ESSA, IDEA, CARES Act Funding, and school procurement, HR, and employee benefits. You can access the FAQ document by clicking here. Additionally, please continue to submit your questions through our ongoing webinars or directly to staff (Elleka Yost eyost@asbointl.org and Noelle Ellerson Ng nellerson@aasa.org).
 

AASA and ASBO Seek IDEA MOE Relief in next COVID-19 Package

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AASA and ASBO Seek IDEA MOE Relief in next COVID-19 Package

AASA and ASBO recently penned a letter urging for the inclusion of IDEA funding in the next COVID-19 package. An excerpt from the letter reads: 

"Our organizations have championed the full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for decades and we believe it is critical that the next relief package provides more resources to districts to ensure they are meeting their obligations under IDEA for each student with a disability that we educate as we transform the delivery of education in the upcoming school year.

We write to request key flexibility around a provision in IDEA that is intended to ensure districts maintain constant spending levels on special education, despite other budgetary pressures they experience." 

To read the full letter, click here

Protect Public Education: AASA Campaign

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Protect Public Education: AASA Campaign

AASA is pleased to partner with Stand for Children and AFT for the recently launched Protect Public Education campaign, a way for school system leaders to both weigh in with Congress about the very real needs facing schools in light of the COVID pandemic and to help engage community members and parents in the dialogue and advocacy.

Students everywhere are falling behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly millions of students with special needs and the twelve million students who lack home internet access. Educators are deeply committed to providing students the best possible education and support during the challenging year ahead, but, with every state slashing education spending, they need the federal government’s help. The painful truth is this: without federal funding, public schools will have to cut teachers and staff at the worst possible time.

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the HEROES Act, a robust relief package with too little dedicated K-12 education funding to prevent layoffs and ensure digital learning access for all students. The U.S. Senate needs to act as quickly as possible and do more, which is why superintendent and community member involvement now is so important. With just one click, you can request that U.S. Senate leaders and your U.S. Senators pass a next COVID-19 relief package with the $200 billion in Education Stabilization funding needed to prevent layoffs and the $4 billion through the E-Rate program needed to ensure all students can learn from home.

Next school year is fast approaching. Educators need our help to do their very best for students. Please act now.

Guest Blog Post: Straight talk in financially uncertain times: How district leaders can communicate about the messy financial landscape coming their way

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Guest Blog Post: Straight talk in financially uncertain times: How district leaders can communicate about the messy financial landscape coming their way

Today's guest blog post comes from our friends Laura Anderson and Marguerite Roza with Edunomics Lab, a Georgetown University research center exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions to inform education policy and practice.

The economic turmoil is unleashing problematic financial forecasts for public education. Given that state revenues are generally down but still in flux, and there is talk of another federal stimulus, many aren’t yet sure of the magnitude of shortfalls they’ll face or the implications for their communities. Those uncertainties make it challenging for district leaders to communicate about potential budget gaps and what they might mean for their staff and communities.

But that doesn’t mean that the best course of action for district leaders is to postpone the discussion of potential budget problems ahead. In fact, keeping communities in the dark could have the effect of eroding trust in district leaders just when engagement and support for tough spending choices is most needed.

In 2018, researchers at Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab worked with Edge Research to learn how district staff, principals, teachers, and parents engage with and react to information about district finances. Reinforcing findings from earlier interviews conducted by The Winston Group, we uncovered lessons for district leaders when it comes to engaging their staff and communities on the topic. Here we adapt those lessons for the current context to help leaders connect on finance in a way that cultivates transparency and trust.

DO start sharing concerns now even if forecasts are still uncertain.

In a recent informal poll of 30 district financial leaders, we found that while most anticipated needing to make budget cuts in the next few months, only 27% had shared that information with their schools or communities. One leader said she had avoided sharing the news in order to keep her community calm. But the evidence is clear that even when it comes to bad or incomplete financial news, communities want to be kept informed. 

Our research also suggests that even principals and teachers are unclear about where funds originate and the role the district plays in allocating those funds, so communication should help clarify how money flows. In the current moment, many states are forecasting revenue shortfalls, and where districts get a portion of their funding from the state, leaders can explain how such shortfalls matter for districts.   

Down the road, if and when cuts do start materializing, staff and parents will want to know that their leaders were honest with them at every step.

DO link spending decisions to students.

During financial strain, it will be important to regularly emphasize that choices are made with regard to doing the most for students, especially when so much attention is focused on other goals, like averting staff layoffs, or balancing the budget. When communities don’t hear their leaders emphasize that the driving agenda is to do the most for students, they worry that leaders have lost their focus. Even pointing out that “reducing layoffs means preserving services for students” can help communicate that continued focus even in the midst of financial cuts. 

DO engage principals, inviting them to weigh in on tradeoffs for their individual schools.

While staff and parents often distrust their district leaders on financial topics, we found that when financial messages are delivered by principals, trust was higher, in part because these school leaders are more sensitive to their own school’s needs. Given this trust, it makes sense to elevate principals’ role and voice on budget and finance communication especially during this financial turmoil.

One strategy that district leaders can employ is to host regular (weekly) calls with school leaders as a way to share updated financial projections and solicit authentic involvement in financial decisions. In turn, principals could be encouraged to institute regular communications with their school community as well, and to share back what they are hearing from teachers, staff, and parents. Such communication channels send a message that the district is transparent, has processes in place to share concerns, and is sensitive to   impacts on schools. 

Some will worry that principals don't want to be involved or are too busy to participate. Yet virtually every principal interviewed for this research expressed a desire to be more involved in finance issues. Others may worry that principals won’t stay “on message” when it comes to the district’s finances. If disconnects do happen, it may signal a moment for the district to stop and listen, then consider whether and how to engage more with principals. 

DO communicate with dollar amounts and acknowledge tradeoffs. But, avoid using business lingo.

In our research, we found that citing dollar amounts improves credibility and offering real dollar tradeoffs helps stakeholders understand the constraints on the system, including the limits on what is possible with available resources. Even where budgets are in flux, district leaders can share that they are crafting plans to cut as little as $X per pupil or as much as $XX per pupil so as to be prepared. 

Using terms like “efficiency,” “deficit-reduction,” “marginal costs,” or “fund distributions” could inadvertantly send the message that leaders are focused only on the spreadsheets and aren’t sensitive to the impacts of these decisions on students and teachers. And some who are frustrated by any mention of cuts may worry that district leaders did not consider all options. Sharing tradeoffs helps assure audiences of the work done and the dollar amounts involved.

DO offer the public and those inside the system a means to weigh in on financial decisions.

Teachers and parents trust system leaders more when they know they have a voice, can engage in discussions of tradeoffs, and can offer their perspectives. Most of all, they care about transparency and the opportunity to participate.

One easy strategy is for all district communications to include an invitation to share thoughts (even via email). Contact information shows that communication flows two ways, not just from the district to the public but from the public to the district as well.

Research suggests that if leaders’ invitation for public feedback is authentic, those leaders are perceived as more trustworthy and competent. Even if a decision has already been made, inviting feedback on how a change is playing out can go a long way toward maintaining confidence.

Yes, communication in a crisis is a challenge, as leaders face a firehose of urgent demands. But a crisis—and the uncertainty it sparks—makes timely communication more critical than ever. Leaders who communicate early, honestly, and often can build much-needed trust with their public and partners—from the teachers’ union and parents to student advocacy groups and school boards. Smart strategic communication lays the groundwork for goodwill when difficult spending tradeoffs and cuts must be made. It lets communities feel heard. And it helps ensure all parties understand how and why decisions are made, even budget cuts. 

 

Guest Blog Post: Seven Steps to Sending Elementary Kids Back to School and Parents Back to Work

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Guest Blog Post: Seven Steps to Sending Elementary Kids Back to School and Parents Back to Work

All over the country, states, districts, and task forces of every sort are wrestling with the question of how to safely reopen schools. This scenario planning is daunting, as schools must navigate a minefield of health, safety, legal, and instructional issues, and do so blindfolded by our ever-changing yet imperfect understanding of the virus itself. The AEI “blueprint for back to school” does an excellent job spelling out the major considerations that leaders must take into account, but it stops short of providing specific advice. In a blog post that originally appeared online on May 15, AASA friend Mike Petrilli walks through the considerations and logistics to be addressed if we are to have elementary kids back to school and parents back to work this fall. Read the article in PDF here.

 

1100+ Superintendents and Educators Sign Homework Gap Letter

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1100+ Superintendents and Educators Sign Homework Gap Letter

AASA drafted a letter signed by more than 1,100 superintendents and educators from across the country calling on Congress to address the homework gap. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on one of the worst kept secret inequities for today’s students: the homework gap. The pandemic forced more than 55 million students into a remote learning reality, resulting in an almost immediate struggle to ensure students can access online learning. It is anticipated that 12 million students across the nation lack internet access adequate to support online learning.  AASA penned a letter that was signed by more than 1,100 superintendents and educators from 49 states and sent to Congress. In the letter, signees call on Congress to take immediate action to support all students displaced from their classrooms. The letter reiterates that Congress must ensure the next COVID-19 funding package include  at least $4 billion in direct funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Schools and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate program, to help connect millions of students to the internet so they can continue their education and planning for the possibility of interruptions to classroom teaching and learning during the 2020-2021 school year.  The letter remains open for additional signatures and the copy linked in this blog will be updated as needed to reflect the growing levels of support. Read the full letter here.

 

As of May 18, the letter had 1,133 signatures.

Guest Post: NAEP Reading Framework Will Need Your Feedback!

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Guest Post: NAEP Reading Framework Will Need Your Feedback!

The National Assessment Governing Board is currently leading updates to the Mathematics and Reading Assessment Frameworks for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The frameworks guide development of the assessments and define what knowledge and skills students need in each subject area. Final updates to the frameworks will be reflected in the administration of the 2025 Reading and Mathematics assessments.

WestEd is a key partner in these efforts and has convened panels of subject-matter experts, practitioners, and other stakeholders to develop recommendations for improvement. An updated draft of the Reading Assessment Framework will be presented to the general public for additional feedback beginning in late June. We are seeking feedback from key stakeholders, especially those who have expertise in reading and reading education. To learn more about how you can provide feedback on this important framework, please visit: https://www.wested.org/project/2025-naep-assessment-frameworks-update/.

The New Title IX Regulations: What School Leaders Need to Know

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The New Title IX Regulations: What School Leaders Need to Know

On May 6th the U.S. Department of Education released the long-anticipated Title IX regulations. For the first time ever, the Department's Title IX regulations define sexual harassment, including sexual assault, as unlawful sex discrimination. It also changes how districts can investigate Title IX claims and the adjudication process. Register for the webinar here.

Districts have to begin implementing the Title IX regulations in August and to assist district leaders and principals, AASA and NASSP have lined up a great team of K-12 legal experts from the law firm of Hogan Lovells who will explain the regulations, describe what Title IX practices and policies must change under the new regulations and what steps school leaders should take to prepare for the implementation of these regulations. In addition, attendees will hear about how these regulations impact the policy discussions on Capitol Hill as well as litigation to stop the regulations from going into effect.

 

Register for this free webinar here.

Maree Sneed, Partner, Hogan Lovells LLP

Joel Buckman, Counsel, Hogan Lovells LLP Megan Wilson, Associate, Hogan Lovells LLP Sasha Pudelski, Advocacy Director, AASA

 

For decades, Maree Sneed has provided extensive counsel to AASA and its members advising them on a wide range of state and federal legal issues, including those involving the U.S. Constitution, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She is a partner at Hogan Lovells, LLP.

Joel Buckman is Counsel at Hogan Lovells and advises and represents education institutions and associations, to public and private primary and secondary schools. Joel's practice has involved a wide range of issues, including Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Department of Justice (DOJ) civil rights investigations and faculty and staff labor and employment issues.

Megan Wilson is an Associate at Hogan Lovells LLP where she helps education clients comply with federal, state, and industry-specific requirements. She regularly monitors industry developments in order to proactively advise clients on new rules, innovations, and best practices.

USDA Extends Flexibilities and Paves the Way for Meals for Kids to Continue through Summer

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USDA Extends Flexibilities and Paves the Way for Meals for Kids to Continue through Summer

Today, March 15, 2020, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would extend three nationwide waivers, thereby granting school districts the flexibility to continue feeding children while promoting social distancing and keeping families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, USDA's latest announcement will extend the waivers listed below through August 31, 2020.  
  1. Non-Congregate Feeding: USDA's Food Nutritional Service (FNS) is allowing meals to be served to children outside of the normally-required group setting to support social distancing.  
  2. Parent Pickup: FNS is allowing parents and/or guardians to pick up meals and bring them home to their children.  
  3. Meal Times: FNS is waiving requirements that meals be served at certain standard times to allow for grab-n-go options. This also allows for multiple days-worth of meals to be provided at once.  

Also noteworthy for superintendents, USDA is rapidly working to approve states for the Pandemic-EBT program, which provides food-purchasing benefits, equal to the value of school meals, to households with children who would otherwise be receiving free or reduced-price meals at school. Thus far, FNS has approved 26 states' Pandemic EBT plans. AASA is happy to see that USDA is granting school system leaders the flexibility to continue serving food-insecure students during the pandemic, and supports the department's latest move. 

 

 

Professional Development Vouchers for Teachers and AASA's Response

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Professional Development Vouchers for Teachers and AASA's Response

The U.S. Department of Education is moving forward with its proposal from a year ago to create vouchers for teachers to use for professional development—despite a previous congressional rebuke to the idea. AASA sent this letter opposing the redirection of a $190m for “professional development vouchers” for teachers. 

 

May 13, 2020

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House Intros HEROES Act in Response to COVID Pandemic

Overview: House Democrats introduced the HEROES Act, their proposal for the latest emergency supplemental in response to the COVID pandemic. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act exceeds over $3 trillion in aid. Moving forward, the bill is scheduled for a vote in the House as early as this week, and then expected to stall in the Senate. The legislation includes $1 trillion for states and local governments, in addition to $10 billion in small business grants. The bill would also send another round of direct checks to Americans, on top of the $1,200 approved in March, and extend the additional $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits that will expire at the end of July. About $175 billion would go to health care providers to reimburse them for coronavirus-related expenses and lost revenue, in addition to supporting testing efforts. The proposal allocates $100 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance program that would allocate funding to states, territories, counties, and cities to help renters pay rent and utility bills during the pandemic. The bill does not include liability protections over pandemic-related suits, which Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said must be in any future legislation.

Education Top Line: For education overall, HEROES calls for $90 billion in grants to governors to distribute among K-12 schools and public colleges to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. $58 billion is for K12 LEAs, $27 billion is for public institutions of higher education, and $4 billion for governors to support K12, higher education and related activities. Another $10 billion is set aside to address coronavirus disruption in higher education, including $1.7 billion earmarked specifically for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. Separate from the state funding, the bill includes authorizing language of up to $5 billion aimed at closing the so-called digital Homework Gap by funding Wi-Fi hotspots and other connected devices, set to be administered through the FCC E-rate program, though our understanding is that appropriators are capping it at $1.5 billion (we’ve been pushing for $4 b in actual funding). 

  • Allocation: Funds would be allocated to states based on two things: 61% bases on the state’s relative share of the population aged 5-24 and 39% on the state’s share of low-income (Title I eligible) children.  Of the funds to the governor, 65% must be allocated to LEAs based on their share of Title I funding, and there is no reservation for state departments of education.
  • Use of Funding: LEAs can use funds for any purpose authorized under ESSA, IDEA, Perkins/CTE, McKinney Vento/homeless Education, and more, including activities to address the needs of low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including learning gaps created or exacerbated due to long-term school closures; purchasing educational technology (including internet connectivity as well as assistive technology or adaptive equipment) and providing professional development related to virtual learning; offering summer learning programs, either online or in-person; and implementing activities to maintain the operation and continuity of services and to employ existing staff (to receive funds, districts must, to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay employees and contractors). Money can be spent until September 30, 2022 and unused funds have to be returned to USED.
  • Requirements on States: States that receive some of the $90 billion in funding would have to commit to maintaining support for schools and colleges and the terms of collective bargaining agreements. States would also be required to provide assurances that students with disabilities are guaranteed their full rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. The bill would prohibit states from using the stimulus money to provide financial assistance to students to attend private K-12 schools, unless the funds are used to provide special education to children with disabilities. 
  • Technical Fixes to CARES: In making technical fixes to CARES, HEROES rescinds ability of SUED to allocate grants to states hardest hit by COVID (DeVos had indicated using funds for ‘micro-grants’, aka vouchers). HEROES also includes language intended to resolve our issue with the deeply flawed equitable services guidance developed by USED. The fix isn’t 100% accurate, but a marker for the longer conversation and a step in the right direction.
  • Related Links
    • Text of H.R. 6800, The HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act)
    • A one-pager on the legislation is here.
    • A section-by-section summary is here.
    • A resource on the state and local relief provisions is here.
     

Other Items: 

  • Equity for Recovery Rebates: The bill includes another round of direct stimulus payments and establishes that payments are equal for adults and children. This time, families with children would receive $1,200 per child (up to 3 children and limited to a total of $6000 per household) instead of just the $500 included in previous aid. The adult payment of $1200 is the same as the first round of “recovery rebates.”  The legislation also fixes some of the shortcomings in the current “economic rebate” program.  It ensures that college students, non-child dependents, and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) filers are eligible.
  • Expanded CTC, EITC, and CDCTC: The bill would make the Child Tax Credit (CTC) fully refundable in tax year 2020 and also would raise the amount of the credit to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under the age of 6. It also extends the credit to 17 year-olds. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be expanded for childless workers by reducing the age of eligibility from 25 to 19 and would increase earned income amount to $9,720 with the phaseout starting at $11,490 for a max credit of $1,487 (instead of $538).  Also for 2020, the act would make the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) fully refundable, increase the maximum credit rate to 50% from 35%, and raise the phaseout threshold from $15,000 to $120,000.  It also would doubles the amount of expenses eligible for the credit.
  • Increased Medicaid FMAP: The bill increases Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) payments to state Medicaid programs by 14 percentage points through June 30, 2021.
  • Expanded Housing Assistance: The bill includes an eviction moratorium for a year and requires a 30-day notice of eviction once the moratorium ends. It also provides more money for critical housing programs, such as $100 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance Program, $10 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers, and $3.5 billion for Section 8 Housing Vouchers.
  • Expanded Nutrition Assistance: The bill includes $10 billion for SNAP and increases the benefit level by 15 percent and the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 per month through September 2021. It also provides $3 billion for child nutrition programs, $1.1 billion for WIC, and extends the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program through the summer and until schools reopen.
  • Expanded Work Supports: The bill extends UI benefits established in prior relief packages, eliminated the 500+ employee exemption for small business loans, expands the purposes for the paid leave program, increases wage replacement, and clarifies that non-profits are covered.
  • Update on 501(c) Organizations: For the state executives, I want to flag that HEROES Act includes all Section 501(c) organizations in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Any nonprofit with 500 or fewer employees will be able to apply for PPP funds. Following are other notable provisions, among many, that are relevant to associations: the covered period for PPP loans would be extended to December 31, 2020; PPP funds could be stretched over 24 weeks instead of the eight weeks originally passed in the CARES Act; businesses and organizations that receive PPP loans would be allowed to defer payroll tax payments; coordination between the PPP and Employee Retention Tax Credit would be improved to “ensure borrowers can take advantage of both types of assistance;” and the legislation would direct the Federal Reserve to create a nonprofit-specific program within the Main Street Lending Program. 
  • Looking ahead, we need to continue to press for flexibility on IDEA, which was not included (but not surprising, as Democrats tend to be of the thought that it is reasonable to expect 100% compliance with 100% of IDEA). Sasha continues to lead our work on this effort and is coordinating with national groups and the hill to include language.
  • The bill is, at best, a mixed bag. It has some things we like (we appreciate that education is funded) but is baffling in both its overall size (a likely non starter in the Senate) and specific to education, how a $3 trillion bill only has $60 billion for education and has no flexibility around IDEA. It has good policy provisions related to equitable services and reigning in what DeVos can do related to privatization. We will follow this bill, but in terms of substance, the real tell will be in both what the Senate responds with and when.

And for your regular advocacy updates, please know that we have rounded up the five specific areas of possible member engagement into one blog post, and you can engage on our top priorities (IDEA flexibility, ERate funding for homework gap, equitable services, securing a larger investment for K12, and our COVID impact survey to inform policy on Capitol Hill in terms of response and reopening.)

 

 

AASA COVID Priorities and YOU: Engage on IDEA, E-Rate, Equitable Services and More

(IDEA, E-RATE, ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

AASA COVID Priorities and YOU: Engage on IDEA, E-Rate, Equitable Services and More

As Congress continues to negotiate the details of the next COVID package—one that could include significant funding to support state and local governments, including school districts—it is important we keep the pressure on Congress to act and to help them understand what the needs are and the specific type of policy relief—funding and flexibility—that would be most helpful. In an effort to streamline your work on this, we have aggregated five areas of action into this one blog post. Collectively, they represent an opportunity for you to weigh in on our biggest COVID response priorities, including funding, support for E-Rate and remote learning, equitable services, IDEA flexibility and details related to reopening. Each of the five are bulleted below, and we welcome anything you can do to engage on as many as possible: one is as quick as signing your name to a group letter, another is a brief survey to inform our work on the hill, one is a fast cut-and-paste/fill-in-the-blank communication with the hill, and two are template letters that you can personalize.

Thank you in advance for your continued advocacy on these important issues, for the time and communication you have already completed, and for anything you may do from the list below. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, including contact information for your representatives and senators on the hill.

 

  • IDEA Flexibility: Congress Must Grant Narrow, Temporary IDEA Flexibility NOW
    • In light of the hardship districts are experiencing in trying to educate all students during a pandemic, we call on Congress to provide practical, narrow flexibility in how districts meet some of the requirements under IDEA. If your district is struggling to meet IDEA mandates, we urge you to take a moment to email the education staff on Capitol Hill and ask them to ensure the next COVID-19 relief package contains sensible flexibility for IDEA. Please send an action alert to your full Congressional delegation today using AASA’s Action Alert System. You simply input your address and they will direct you to the appropriate Rep/Senators for you to email and supply a template email for you to use. Or you can download a list of all the education staffers for your Congressional delegation and email them individually here. We urge you to make your advocacy more impactful by personalizing this email and adding a paragraph describing the issues your district is specifically facing in complying with IDEA. 
  • E-Rate and Homework Gap Letter
    • AASA has drafted a letter, to be sent to all members of Congress, urging them to take immediate action to support all students displaced from their classrooms, and we are aiming to collect as many signatures as possible from all 50 states. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on one of the worst kept secret inequities for today’s students: the homework gap. The pandemic forced more than 55 million students into a remote learning reality, resulting in an almost immediate struggle to ensure students can access online learning. It is anticipated that 12 million students across the nation lack internet access adequate to support online learning.  Congress must ensure the next COVID-19 funding package include $4 billion in direct funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Schools and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate program, to help connect millions of students to the internet so they can continue their education and planning for the possibility of interruptions to classroom teaching and learning during the 2020-2021 school year.  Please review the letter and sign your name to the list, making sure to submit your state and district name. You can read the full letter and sign your name here.
  • Equitable Services
    • AASA is deeply concerned with USED’s flawed interpretation of the CARES Act’s equitable services requirements. We are calling on our members to weigh in with Congress to highlight how USED’s guidance undermines Congress’s goal of targeting CARES Act funds to high-poverty communities. Briefly, USED’s guidance advises local educational agencies to calculate the proportionate share for CARES Act equitable services based on overall enrollment rather than poverty rates. This significantly expands the share of funding available to private schools beyond what they would have gotten under the CARES Act’s plain language. A fuller summary of the current issue is available on the blog. We have created a quick and concise template you can use to let your members of Congress see how the flawed interpretation’s failure to calculate the private school share based on poverty results in a significant increase in private school allocation. All you need to complete the template email is your name, district name, and the percentage of your district’s FY19 (2019-20 school year) Title I and Title II set asides for equitable services. To submit your comments to Congress, please reach out to either your state association or Chris Rogers at crogers@aasa.org. 
  • AASA COVID Impact Survey
    • As part of our ongoing advocacy efforts specific to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, AASA has released the second iteration of our nationwide survey, which will provide data that better illustrates the impact of COVID-19 in schools in terms of the effect of the pandemic itself and the resulting economic downturn. The data from this survey will be used to track how districts are responding to federal and state pressures to re-open schools and deliver equity-based services during the crisis. Moreover, the survey will help detail the fiscal impact of COVID-19 on our nation's public schools. Because of wide members engagement, AASA's last COVID-19 survey received more than 1,600 responses from 48 states and produced valuable data that has been integral in our advocacy efforts on IDEA, the homework gap, and the federal Coronavirus emergency relief legislative packages. You can access the survey here.
  • COVID Federal Funding Priorities Letter
    • You’ll recall that last month we coordinated a sign on letter for the seven local education groups (NEA AFT NSBA NASSP NAESP and the Great City Schools) outlining our funding priorities for the next COVID package. Given the level of engagement individual districts are demonstrating, and requests we have received to support superintendents, we have a draft template letter related to funding priorities for the next COVID-19 package for your use. You can use it for your district, or reach out to other districts in your state/region to get a group sign on, and send the letter to your Congressional delegation. As is always the case, the document is in word format and you can edit/personalize as you see fit for your work and association. 

 

Guest Post: What Will It Take to Stabilize Schools in the Time of COVID-19?

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Guest Post: What Will It Take to Stabilize Schools in the Time of COVID-19?

On Thursday, May 7 LPI posted a blog outlining what it will take to have schools stabilized - with the potential for reopening - during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the key findings outlined in the blog include:

  • At least $230 billion is urgently needed to stabilize state education budgets. This is based on a conservative estimate of a 5% decrease in state funding for education in FY20 and a 20% decrease in FY21 (totaling $188.5 billion) combined with the effects of a select group of increased costs (totaling $41.2 billion).
  • The CARES Act funding – an average of only $286 per student – is nowhere near sufficient to stabilize the k-12 public school system over the next 18 months.
  • While this model does not examine how state cuts will impact individual districts, wealthy districts with high levels of local property tax revenue will be less impacted by the downturn as these revenues are more stable in the short run than income and sales taxes. Low wealth districts that have a greater reliance on state revenue will be hit particularly hard by this recession, as they were in the last recession. These low-wealth districts are the most likely to see the loss of a large number of their programs and teaching positions.
  • At a 20% decrease in state funding alone, we project a loss of more than 450,000 school positions, or 12.2% of the nation’s education workforce, a far larger number than were lost in the last recession.

To read the full blog, click here

 

Equitable Services Call to Action

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Equitable Services Call to Action

AASA is deeply concerned with USED’s flawed interpretation of the CARES Act’s equitable services requirements. We are calling on our members to weigh in with Congress to highlight how USED’s guidance undermines Congress’s goal of targeting CARES Act funds to high-poverty communities.

Briefly, USED’s guidance advises local educational agencies to calculate the proportionate share for CARES Act equitable services based on overall enrollment rather than poverty rates. This significantly expands the share of funding available to private schools beyond what they would have gotten under the CARES Act’s plain language. A fuller summary of the current issue is viewable in the text below.

We have created a quick and concise template you can use to let your members of Congress see how the flawed interpretation’s failure to calculate the private school share based on poverty results in a significant increase in private school allocation. All you need to complete the template email is your name, district name, and the percentage of your district’s FY19 (2019-20 school year) Title I and Title II set asides for equitable services. To submit your comments to Congress, please reach out to either your state association or Chris Rogers at crogers@aasa.org

BACKGROUND: Equitable Services (ES)

  • Provision is as old as ESEA itself and is the mechanism by which private schools receive services by reserving a share of Title I dollars. It is premised on a simple idea: Title I eligible students are to receive Title I funded support whether they are in private or public schools.
  • Under Title I, the equitable services share is based on poverty (the number of low-income children who live in Title I school attendance areas but attend private schools).
  • The Secretary’s guidance for equitable services as it applies to CARES Act dismantles this focus on targeting supports to areas with concentrated poverty and annihilates the concept of equity
  • How the bulk of CARES Act funding flows under the ESSER fund:
    • From the federal to the state level based on the share each state received of overall Title I funding in FY19 (i.e., you will receive the same share of CARES funding that you did of Title I money in FY19 based on low-income and other Title I formula children).
    • From the state to the local level based on the share each district received of overall Title I funding in FY19 (i.e., you will receive the same share of CARES funding that you did of Title I money in FY19 based on low-income and other Title I formula children). 
    • At the district level, for calculating the equitable services set-aside, count all the kids (public and private) and calculate the CARES funding based on those ratios.
      • This means private schools count all students, not just low-income students, in determining the share of CARES Act funding for equitable services.
  • In talking with USED, we highlight the following:
    • ES is an original provision of Title I of ESEA and has been continually reauthorized in a manner focused on equity and serving students in need
    • CARES Act language is very clear in its intent, stating that ES shall be applied in the same manner as section 1117 of ESSA. (Meaning, driving resources based on poverty.)
    • CARES Act funding is allocated to the state and district level based on Title I allocations, which are driven by poverty rates. Allowing private schools to use a broader, all-encompassing enrollment count without regard to poverty is not only unfair and inconsistent with the way states and locals receive their funding, it is inequitable because high poverty students in public school, are in essence, generating funds for wealthy students in private schools, which is not consistent with 1117 which determines the proportional share for equitable services based on poverty. 
    • We are opposed to this interpretation. We have submitted a letter to USED asking for a revision and are deeply engaged on the hill. Dan issued a joint public statement with Randi Weingarten of AFT on this issue. We are busy collecting numbers to highlight for Capitol Hill what the shift in funding looks like.
    • What does this mean for you? A few things:
    • Technically, this is non-binding guidance. It doesn’t carry the weight of law and you can ignore it. You, as a district, can determine that you want to adhere to section 1117’s method of determining the equitable services share and calculate share based on low-income children that live in Title I attendance areas. (Related, you could have a state that determines they disagree with ED’s guidance and does the run for you in a manner that reflects Title I.) If you pursue this route, there is a chance your state, or USED could decide that they stand by the guidance interpretation and they could issue a monitoring finding or start an audit, which comes with its own set of costs and headaches.
    • Slow roll the process to determine the equitable services share. Given the immense pressure we hope to generate, we are optimistic we can get a revision. Once the equitable service share is determined, it might be difficult to adjust that set-aside level down. If you can buy some time to see how this shakes out, you can avoid this headache. Generally, equitable services must be delivered timely, so that balance should be taken into account.
    • In terms of advocacy: look at your equitable services share percentage for your district and the state overall for both Title I and Title II in FY19 (the current school year). The percentage of the Title II grant set-aside for equitable services is a rough estimation of what the percentage private schools would receive under the CARES Act (but could be even higher).  Title II’s equitable services share is based on overall enrollment, while Title I’s equitable services share is based on poverty.  The difference in the percentage between Title II and Title I is the shift toward private schools under the CARES Act. 
      • Note: The important analysis here is the percentage of the overall grant that was set-aside for Title I vs. Title II equitable services.  Title I is funded at a much higher level than Title II in terms of overall dollars, so the dollar amount will be higher for Title I – but the overall percentage for Title I equitable services is considerable smaller because it is poverty based. Therefore, it is not the dollar amount to report but the percentage of the overall grant (that is, what percentage of the district’s funding was set aside for equitable services in Title I and Title II. THAT is the difference to highlight.)
  • This is a rapidly evolving policy priority. Stay tuned!

 

 

AASA Analysis of Title IX Regulation

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AASA Analysis of Title IX Regulation

Today, the U.S. Department of Education released its long-awaited regulations on Title IX. Unless litigation against the U.S. Department of Education by States is successful in stopping the regulations from going into effect, these regulations must be implemented by districts beginning in August. It’s also important to note that districts can do more than these regulations require—this is the floor, not the ceiling and State laws may supersede federal Title IX requirements in the regs.

Background: AASA opposed the proposed Title IX regulation in 2019 because we believed Title IX compliance in districts was working relatively well, that the Title IX guidance that was the basis for district policies and practices was generally well-understood and executed and that these proposed regulations were unnecessary, costly, and could actually undermine the health and safety of students and their ability to report and seek redress for Title IX violations.

The final regulations have some important changes from the proposed regulations. Specifically:

  • Unlike the proposed regulations, the final regulations allow students in elementary and secondary school can report a Title IX claim to any employee at their school. A district must respond whenever any employee has notice of sexual harassment or allegations of sexual harassment, so there is no need to distinguish among employees who have “authority to redress the harassment,” have the “duty to report” misconduct to appropriate school officials, or employees who “a student could reasonably believe” have that authority or duty.”
  • Schools will be required to ignore all reports of in-school sexual harassment where the student has not yet been "effectively denied" equal access to a school program or activity.
  • The Department has reconsidered the position that a district’s Title IX obligations are triggered whenever employees “should have known” due to the “pervasiveness” of sexual harassment. In the K12 context, the final regulations charge a recipient with actual knowledge whenever any employee has notice. Thus, if sexual harassment is “so pervasive” that some employee “should have known” about it (e.g., sexualized graffiti scrawled across lockers that meets the definition of sexual harassment), it is highly likely that at least one employee did know about it and the school is charged with actual knowledge. There is no reason to retain a separate “should have known” standard to cover situations that are “so pervasive” in elementary and secondary schools.
  • Under the final regs, the district can now investigate Title IX incidents that occur off-campus as long as “the school exercises substantial control over both the respondent and the context in which the sexual harassment occurs.” While it is possible for districts to address sexual misconduct that occurs outside their education programs or activities, they are not required to do so and in some circumstances would be prohibited from investigating these claims. There are also restrictions that would prohibit a district from investigating online sexual harassment.
  • Schools will be required to start an investigation with the presumption that no sexual harassment occurs, so in essence, a student who reports sexual harassment is essentially lying. 
  • The district must notify all students, parents or legal guardians of elementary and secondary school students and employees, the name or title, office address, electronic mail address, and telephone number of the employee or employees designated as the Title IX Coordinator
  • The originally proposed “live hearing” process is not mandatory, but still is an option that a district could choose to utilize as part of it’s Title IX investigative process. With or without a hearing, after the school has sent the investigative report to the parties and before reaching a determination regarding responsibility, the district must afford each party the opportunity to submit written, relevant questions that a party wants asked of any party or witness, provide each party with the answers, and allow for additional, limited follow-up questions from each party.
  • A district can still use the preponderance standard, but may be forced to use the clear and convincing evidence standard, apply the same standard of evidence for formal complaints against students as for formal complaints against employees, including faculty. This is a new and higher standard than what districts used previously.
  • A district must offer both parties the right to appeal the decision.
  • A district may not require the parties to participate in informal resolution and may not offer informal resolution unless a formal complaint is filed. At any time prior to agreeing to a resolution, any party has the right to withdraw from informal resolution and resume the grievance process with respect to the formal complaint.  Schools must not offer or facilitate an informal resolution process to resolve allegations that an employee sexually harassed a student.

On the whole, there are a few positive changes that do make it easier for students to report and districts to have flexibility in managing a Title IX complaint when compared to the proposed regulations. However, we remain convinced that the Title IX regulations would greatly alter some district policies and practices from the 2001 Title IX guidance that district personnel have implemented for almost two decades. The new regulations will require significant new training of districts, create new processes and requirements for managing Title IX complaints, bind the hands of education officials in addressing sexual assault that occurs off-school grounds or online, and increase the likelihood that students will instead pursue formal litigation against districts because their claims are not taken seriously or because they do not meet the standard required to have their complaint investigated by the district. 

Seven National Education Organizations Urge DeVos to Revise Equitable Services Guidance

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Seven National Education Organizations Urge DeVos to Revise Equitable Services Guidance

AASA joined six other national education organizations, representing school district leaders and educators, in a letter to Secretary DeVos urging her to revise the recently released equitable services guidance for the CARES Act.

AASA is concerned that the equitable services guidance is inequitable and generates dollars for wealthy students in private schools at the direct expense of Title I-eligible students in public schools, is in conflict with the historical pillars of equitable services, and is inconsistent with the underlying language of both the CARES Act and ESSA 1117. Read the letter.

Groups signing the letter: 

  • AASA, The School Superintendents Association
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Education Association
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National School Boards Association

AASA Spotlight: Member Advocacy

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AASA Spotlight: Member Advocacy

While the AASA advocacy team is working daily with Congress, the administration, and superintendents across the nation to advance our federal policy priorities in response to the COVID pandemic, we would be remiss if we didn’t share some of the great work going on at the local level by school system leaders, all the more impressive when we consider everything going on in terms of keeping schools and remote learning up and running.
 
Today’s highlight comes from the Wauwatosa School District, which serves more than 7,000 students and is located in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Recently, Wauwatosa sent a district resolution to President Trump and Members of Congress urging them to immediately allocate significant and sufficient emergency stabilization aid so that state governments across America can fund their K-12 public schools and prevent furloughs or cuts to K-12 programs. You can check out the resolution by clicking here.

Second AASA COVID-19 Survey

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Second AASA COVID-19 Survey

As part of our ongoing advocacy efforts specific to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, AASA has released the second iteration of our nationwide survey, which will provide data that better illustrates the impact of COVID-19 in schools in terms of the effect of the pandemic itself and the resulting economic downturn.
 
The data from this survey will be used to track how districts are responding to federal and state pressures to re-open schools and deliver equity-based services during the crisis. Moreover, the survey will help detail the fiscal impact of COVID-19 on our nation's public schools.
 
AASA's last COVID-19 survey received more than 1,600 responses from 48 states and produced valuable data that has been integral in our advocacy efforts on IDEA, the homework gap, and the federal Coronavirus emergency relief legislative packages. However, we could not have achieved these results without your help. To help us continue elevating the voice of superintendents on Capitol Hill, please take a few moments to complete the survey by clicking here.


 Thank you in advance, and if you have questions, then please email Chris Rogers (crogers@aasa.org).

Guest Post: Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools under CARES Act Programs

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Guest Post: Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools under CARES Act Programs

The U.S. Department of Education released Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools under CARES Act Programs.  

The purpose of this document is to provide information about equitable services for students and teachers in non-public schools under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Public Law 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (March 27, 2020).

Two programs in the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund require a local educational agency (LEA) that receives funds to provide equitable services to students and teachers in non-public schools: 

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Fund) totaling $2,953,230,000 (Section 18002 of the CARES Act). 

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) totaling $13,229,265,000 (Section 18003 of the CARES Act). 

Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools under CARES Act Programs Frequently Asked Questions can be found here on the GEER Fund website and here on the ESSER Fund website.  Please note they are the same FAQs for both programs.

The Department will provide additional or updated information as necessary on the Department’s COVID-19 webpage.

 

Best,

The Nat’l Engagement TeamU.S. Department of Education (ED)

Guest Blog Post: The Impact of the COVID-19 Recession on Teaching Positions

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Guest Blog Post: The Impact of the COVID-19 Recession on Teaching Positions

On Thursday, April 30 LPI blog posted today with projections of the likely impact of COVID on the elimination of teaching positions. The blog includes state-level information and different projections based on the percentage of funding cuts. We know these cuts will fall hardest on low-wealth school districts and students of color. Cuts to “teaching positions” also encompasses other positions such as social workers, school psychologists, and guidance counselors which are even more critical at this time. The blog calls for additional significant federal investments to prevent this loss over the next 1-2 years. 

Click the link above to read the full post. 

AASA Leads Letter to CMS Asking for Medicaid Reimbursement Flexibility

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AASA Leads Letter to CMS Asking for Medicaid Reimbursement Flexibility

 Today, AASA along with 18 other national health and education organizations, sent a letter to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare asking  that CMS issue further guidance to States that would enable greater flexibility and efficiency in the delivery of healthcare services, particularly mental health services, to children during this crisis. The letter can be found here.

 

We believe that the ability of providers and districts to respond to the current health crisis and provide essential services would be greatly enhanced by allowing and encouraging States to utilize a cost-based rather than an encounter-based approach to claiming and reimbursement. When schools do re-open, students will enter classrooms with more serious health conditions and multiple, unaddressed health needs that will impede learning. Providers, in turn, will face even larger caseloads and have less time to spend on administrative paperwork.

 

In particular, this flexibility would enable districts of all sizes to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis while ensuring they have the resources needed to provide these critical health services to students.

Department Issues Guidance That Will Redirect Districts CARES Funding to Private Schools and Students

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Department Issues Guidance That Will Redirect Districts CARES Funding to Private Schools and Students

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on the provision of equitable services by LEAs that would be required under the $13.5 billion that will be distributed under the CARES Act.  Unfortunately, their interpretation of how districts must support private schools and private school students with CARES funding is totally erroneous and will lead to substantial LEA resources being redirected to private school students and schools.Specifically, the Administration is choosing to dramatically expand the number of private students and schools that qualify for federal dollars based on a very inequitable and inappropriate reading of the law and what is required.

In determining the allocation for LEAs under the CARES Act, the State must look at the # of students in the district and the # of students in poverty. However, the dollars that districts receive can be spent on any population of students in the public school system and for virtually any expense the public school incurred before March 13th.

Under this new guidance, ED has decided that since CARES LEA funding is not limited to Title I students or school-wide activities and can be used on any population of public school students then any private school student and school should be eligible regardless of poverty. What this means is that private schools who have never before sought equitable services and students in private schools who have never before qualified for equitable services resources now are entitled to a proportion of CARES funding.

Like with equitable services, districts will be required to reach out to any and all private schools within their boundaries and say “hey, would you like some of this money? It’s yours. We will give you a slice of dollars based on the total # of kids you educate—don’t worry if none of them are poor.”

The net effect of this guidance is to funnel more resources to private schools regardless of need and to undercut the dollars going to public schools through CARES. We are working with the Department and the Hill to seek changes to the guidance.

If you have questions reach out to Sasha Pudelski at spudelski@aasa.org or Noelle Ellerson Ng at nellerson@aasa.org.

AASA Joins Letter to Congress Requesting $2.6B in Funding for the School Nutrition Programs

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AASA Joins Letter to Congress Requesting $2.6B in Funding for the School Nutrition Programs

This week, AASA joined 30 other organizations in urging Congress to provide $2.6 billion to mitigate the estimated financial loss that school nutrition programs have and will continue to experience as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Last year, between March and June, school nutrition programs served more than 2.5 billion meals and snacks, receiving over $5 billion in reimbursement. Now according to early reports, programs are serving only a fraction of those meals. This unanticipated loss of revenue has forced programs to tap into fund balances and draw upon lines of credit to sustain their operations.
 
Consequently, as we begin looking at recovery, it is imperative to support these programs through additional reimbursement to district food operations. AASA will continue to push for these funding priorities in the next COVID-19 legislative packages. You can check out the full letter by clicking here.

Rural Community Resource Hub: Addressing COVID in Rural Communities

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Rural Community Resource Hub: Addressing COVID in Rural Communities

AASA is excited to share the Rural Community Resource Hub, a collaboration informed by input from rural school leaders in US. This free resource was developed by Prof. Mara Tieken  at Bates College. The Rural Community Resource Hub is an open, up-to-date resource designed to help & empower rural community leaders addressing #COVID19. It curates resources for families, students & educators and offers internet-based & also no-internet learning activities for kids. 

 Use this hyperlink, please: https://bit.ly/2YeQzCz

 

Funding Available to Districts: FEMA Category B

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Funding Available to Districts: FEMA Category B

On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a National Emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This action automatically triggered the Public Assistance, Category “B” Emergency Protective Fund, which provides districts with emergency aid for costs associated with managing and responding to the pandemic.
 
Specifically, this fund can only be used to pay for a limited amount of district services, such as emergency operation center costs, training specific to the declared event, and disinfectants. We understand districts are currently trying to budget for sanitation and cleaning costs associated with opening up next year, and we think this money could be particularly helpful for this purpose. Moreover, considering the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which provided $400 million in additional FEMA to respond to coronavirus, this emergency aid could theoretically fill a local funding gap for many districts seeking reimbursements for COVID-19 related services.
 
If you're looking to learn more about applying for Category B funding, we recommend that you reach out to your state's emergency operations division or see this FAQ. 

Guest Blog Post: COVID-19 and School Funding: What to Expect and What You Can Do

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Guest Blog Post: COVID-19 and School Funding: What to Expect and What You Can Do

This post was originally published by the Learning Policy Institute.

 

The numbers are staggering. In the past 5 weeks alone, since states began to issue shelter-in-place orders, virtually all 50 states have significantly reduced economic activity in this country, and almost 22 million Americans—more than one in ten working adults—have applied for unemployment insurance. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that this will be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This downturn will impact state tax revenue and thus result in reduced state P-12 education spending. The questions are, how badly will our public education system be affected, and what can we do about it? Read the full post here

AASA Call to Action: Sign Nation Wide Letter Calling on Congress to Address Homework Gap

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AASA Call to Action: Sign Nation Wide Letter Calling on Congress to Address Homework Gap

AASA has drafted a letter, to be sent to all members of Congress, urging them to take immediate action to support all students displaced from their classrooms, and we are aiming to collect as many signatures as possible from all 50 states. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on one of the worst kept secret inequities for today’s students: the homework gap. The pandemic forced more than 55 million students into a remote learning reality, resulting in an almost immediate struggle to ensure students can access online learning. It is anticipated that 12 million students across the nation lack internet access adequate to support online learning. 

Congress must ensure the next COVID-19 funding package include $4 billion in direct funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Schools and Libraries Program, commonly called the E-Rate program, to help connect millions of students to the internet so they can continue their education and planning for the possibility of interruptions to classroom teaching and learning during the 2020-2021 school year.  Please review the letter and sign your name to the list, making sure to submit your state and district name.

You can read the full letter and sign your name here

AASA Policy Priorities for Next COVID-19 Package

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AASA Policy Priorities for Next COVID-19 Package

 In a letter to Congress, AASA addresses the next COVID-19 package and specific funding issues within it. The letter address implementation of IDEA, CARES Act funding, Secure Rural Schools’ drawdown reduction and more as AASA pushes for policy flexibility. Read the full letter here

 

Annual Notice to SEAs and LEAs re: Obligations under FERPA and PPRA

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Annual Notice to SEAs and LEAs re: Obligations under FERPA and PPRA

Earlier this week, USED’s Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO) released its annual notice to state and local education agencies detailing their obligations related to FERPA and PPRA. The notice also included links to SPPO FERPA-related information in the context of COVID-19. The communication was direct to state chiefs of education via letter, the text of which is below. 

 

 

Dear Chief State School Officers and Superintendents:

I write to you on behalf of the Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO), formerly called the Family Policy Compliance Office, of the U.S. Department of Education (Department) to provide the notification required by Section 1061(c)(5)(C) of the No Child Left Behind Act (which amended Section 445 of the General Education Provisions Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232h(c)(5)(C)). This notification is required to inform State educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs), as recipients of funds under programs administered by the Department, of their obligations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232h; 34 CFR Part 98). FERPA protects the privacy interests and access rights of parents and students in education records maintained by educational agencies and institutions or by persons acting for such agencies or institutions. PPRA affords parents and students with rights concerning specified marketing activities, the administration or distribution of certain surveys to students, the administration of certain physical examinations or screenings to students, and parental access to certain instructional materials including ones used as part of a student’s educational curriculum. This letter serves as the cover letter to the Department’s annual notification, which has not substantively changed since it was last issued and may be accessed at https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/annual-notices.

I also write to share the following SPPO resources regarding FERPA during this time of social distancing due to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as educational agencies and institutions have transitioned to remote learning to educate their students:  

Finally, FERPA-covered educational agencies and institutions and PPRA-covered LEAs may wish to review and, if appropriate, revise their policies and procedures, and their notifications under FERPA and PPRA to provide parents and students with information about any revisions necessitated by changes to their operations during this period.  

Specifically, FERPA-covered educational agencies and institutions should review and, if appropriate, revise: (1) the criteria specified in their annual notification of FERPA rights (in accordance with 34 CFR § 99.7(a)(3)(iii)) as to who constitutes a school official and what constitutes a legitimate educational interest in order to permit the non-consensual disclosure of personally identifiable information from education records to school officials who have been determined to have legitimate educational interests under the school official exception (i.e., 34 CFR § 99.31(a)(1)); and, (2) their directory information policies under FERPA (i.e., 34 CFR §§ 99.31(a)(11) and 99.37(a)). Both the directory information and school official exceptions to the general requirement of consent under FERPA are particularly important during this time of remote learning. LEAs most commonly use the school official exception to permit disclosures under FERPA for the use of video or other technology applications and tools. Provided certain conditions are met, the directory information exception permits disclosure of information contained in a student’s education records that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed, such as the student’s name, address, phone number, photo image, and email address, including in connection with remote learning.

 

SPPO encourages LEAs to post on their websites their FERPA and PPRA notifications and policies to improve the transparency of information on student privacy. See https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/lea-website-privacy-review. If your educational institutions are conducting remote learning for your students, we also encourage you to work with your attorneys and information security specialists to review prospective technology applications and tools against FERPA requirements.

 

We are available to assist you with your student privacy questions about FERPA and PPRA. You may contact us by submitting your questions to our student privacy help desk at FERPA@ed.gov.

 

 

Sincerely,  

Kala Surprenant

Acting Director 

Student Privacy Policy Office

AASA Joins Groups in $2 Billion Push to Close the Homework Gap

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AASA Joins Groups in $2 Billion Push to Close the Homework Gap

In an effort to close the “homework gap” more than 50 education and related national associations are lining up behind new legislation calling for an additional $2 billion in emergency funding to help students without high speed internet access continue learning at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Legislation, proposed by Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) would use the funds through the FCC’s E-rate Program for parents to purchase Wi-Fi hot spots, modems, routers, and other internet connected devices.

Schools in every state are closed with several of them announcing they will not reopen this year at all. “Time is of the essence to provide remote and distance learning support,” they wrote. “An estimated 9 to 12 million students and some of their teachers currently lack home internet access and are unable to participate in their classes that have been moved online.” This legislation would do just that.

Click here to read the letter sent to House Leadership regarding connectivity issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AASA's Daniel Domenech Responds to Guidance to 'Reopen America'

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AASA's Daniel Domenech Responds to Guidance to 'Reopen America'

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, issued the following statement in response to the latest guidance from administration relating to reopening America:

“The CDC and FEMA are to be commended for their work to achieve a balanced approach in their guidance to reopening America, with the important and appropriate deference to state and local leaders, who are working day in and day out to guide their states through the pandemic and toward a post-COVID reality.

“With a goal of reopening the economy, this guidance focuses on businesses and is premised on the idea that states have the capacity to both readily test people for the highly contagious COVID and trace their contacts to monitor spread, a premise that does not match reality.

“Specific to what this guidance means for schools, it is an unfortunate continuation of information that appears to be clear and concise but when applied to the context of schools, is inconsistent and incongruous, at best. While we appreciate the deference to state and local leadership, when it comes to decisions about whether to open or close schools, state and local education leaders rely on the information and experience they have in running school districts day to day, and make any operational decisions beyond that perspective—like those necessary in the context of an unprecedented pandemic—by relying on experts.

“In this case, state and local education leaders are looking to the federal government for guidance that is clear, concise and applicable, not guidance that leaves them scratching their heads and wondering, ‘But what does that really mean for schools?’. An excellent example is the continued reliance on the recommendation to avoid social settings with more than 50 people and that large venues can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols. The average American public school will far exceed 50 people—including staff and students—every single day.

“In the same breath that the guidance highlights a path forward in opening schools, it establishes a scenario where every single school would be in direct conflict with another recommendation. We are not asking the federal government for a prescriptive mandate or script on how and when to open schools, but we are asking them to use the expertise inherent to their policy experts to ensure the guidance they draft is informative and actionable, empowering state and local leaders to implement it with minimal confusion and with confidence in the science behind it.  

“It is clear that we are all working toward the same goal, a safe return to economic and academic normalcy as soon as possible, and we call on the administration to continue to improve its guidance to be clear, concise and actionable at every level.”   

AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (4 of 4)

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AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (4 of 4)

In an effort to provide a thorough yet succinct overview of all things COVID and federal policy, AASA’s advocacy team is happy to share a series of three blog posts. The blog posts each have a different focus:

  • Blog Post One: COVID Background and Timeline
  • Blog Post Two: Congressional Action to Date (including details of education-specific funding and supports)
  • Blog Post Three: COVID resources for district leaders (LONG list of federal guidance and Q&As, related articles, supporting documents and more)
  • Blog Post Four: COVID resources (quick list of relevant blog posts from AASA blog, link to AASA’s list of COVID-related webinars)

COVID RESOURCESblogs and webinars

AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (3 of 4)

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AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (3 of 4)

In an effort to provide a thorough yet succinct overview of all things COVID and federal policy, AASA’s advocacy team is happy to share a series of three blog posts. The blog posts each have a different focus:

  • Blog Post One: COVID Background and Timeline
  • Blog Post Two: Congressional Action to Date (including details of education-specific funding and supports)
  • Blog Post Three: COVID resources for district leaders (LONG list of federal guidance and Q&As, related articles, supporting documents and more)
  • Blog Post Four: COVID resources (quick list of relevant blog posts from AASA blog, link to AASA’s list of COVID-related webinars)  

 COVID RESOURCES info

  • AASA’s COVID Resources  HERE
  • CDC Landing page for guidance for schools/child care programs  HERE
  • US Education Department
    • COVID landing page HERE
    • FactSheet on Compensation, Travel and Conference Costs HERE
    • Guidance Documents Related to Perkins CTE: Two different Q&A documents related to Perkins CTE, here and here.
    • CARES Act information
  • Tracking COVID Waivers
  • State Level Runs of CARES Funding: The Congressional Research Service shared a report detailing approximate allocations for each state as it relates to the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund.
  • Student Privacy During the COVID-19 Pandemic PDF
  • Meeting Students’ Nutritional Needs During a Pandemic: A Resource for School Superintendents WORD
  • Considerations for Special Education Administrators LINK
  • Mapping Resource Equity, Segregation, and COVID-19 Incidence Rates: EdBuild has updated its Dividing Lines dataset and mapping tool to place county-level coronavirus incidence rates in context of data on student poverty, racial demographics, and per pupil school district revenue.
  • COVID-19 State Legislative Responses: The National Conference of State Legislatures is tracking all education-related legislation introduced in statehouses nationwide. This tool allows you to sort by state to see what state legislators have introduced to respond to the current crisis. The majority of state bills, to this point, deal with state education appropriations
State and Local Responses to COVID: Sharing a great resource for helping track and compare what governments are doing at the city, county, and state level to combat the coronavirus and COVID-19.

AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (2 of 4)

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AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (2 of 4)

In an effort to provide a thorough yet succinct overview of all things COVID and federal policy, AASA’s advocacy team is happy to share a series of three blog posts. The blog posts each have a different focus:

  • Blog Post One: COVID Background and Timeline
  • Blog Post Two: Congressional Action to Date (including details of education-specific funding and supports)
  • Blog Post Three: COVID resources for district leaders (LONG list of federal guidance and Q&As, related articles, supporting documents and more)
  • Blog Post Four: COVID resources (quick list of relevant blog posts from AASA blog, link to AASA’s list of COVID-related webinars)  

Congressional Action to Date (3 bills completed, one currently under negotiation)

  • HR 6074, Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (March 6, 2020)
    • $8.3B emergency package
    • 3x request from White House.
    • Includes $2.2B to help federal, state, and local health agencies prepare for and respond to COVID-19.
  • HR 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (March 18, 2020)
    • Nutrition Provisions
      • $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to provide nutrition assistance for children and their mothers who have lost their jobs as a result of the outbreak.
      • $400 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help local food banks meet increased need for low-income Americans.
      • $100 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. 
      • A provision that allows the Department of Agriculture to approve state plans to provide emergency Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) food assistance to households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price school meals in the event that their school is closed (The MEAL Act).
      • Gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to approve state waivers addressing nutrition assistance with school closures even if it increases cost to the federal government.
      • Provisions to allow child and adult care centers to serve food to go, allow the Secretary of Agriculture to waive meal pattern requirements in child nutrition programs if there is a disruption in food supply, and allow the Secretary of Agriculture to issue nationwide school meal waivers during the emergency.
      • Allows participants to be certified for WIC without being physically present at a WIC clinic.
      • Suspends work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the emergency.
      • Allows states to request waivers for emergency CR-SNAP benefits to existing SNAP households up to the maximum monthly allotment.
    • Health Provisions
      • Provides free COVID-19 testing to all Americans, regardless of insurance.
      • Medicaid and CHIP, which cover over 45 million children between the two programs, will cover diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider visit to receive testing, with no cost to the patient.
      • Increases states' federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for public health programs like Medicaid and CHIP for the duration of the emergency. 
      • Increases Medicaid allotments for U.S. Territories.
      • The bill ensures that American Indians and Alaskan Natives do not experience cost sharing for COVID-19 testing.
    • Paid Sick Leave, Unemployment Insurance, and Family and Medical Leave Provisions
      • Provides employees of employers with under 500 employees the right to two weeks of fully-paid leave when they are sick, or two weeks of paid leave at 2/3 of their normal rate to care for a family member.
      • Provides employees of employers with under 500 employees the right to take up to 12-weeks of job-protected leave.
      • Provides $1 billion in 2020 emergency grants to states to meet the increased need for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.
      • Provides several tax breaks for employers who give their employees mandatory paid leave during the emergency.
  • S 3548 CARES Act (March 25)
    • Funding for Schools and Children (Details)
      • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
      • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
      • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
      • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
      • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
      • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
      • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.
      • The $13.5 billion in stabilization fund money could be used to provide K-12 students internet connectivity and internet-connected devices, and a separate item in the bill for rural development provides $25 million to support "distance learning."
    • Using CARES Act Funding
      • Under the CARES Act, States and districts are set to receive $13.2 billion for K-12 in the CARES Act. The money must be spent by September 2021 although it’s not clear whether the funding can be directed at costs already incurred related to the pandemic (but that is our hope). There is an urgent push by Governors to expedite the process for moving these funds to districts which AASA supports, but it still could be at least two months before they show up in districts’ coffers. Once the funds are out here is how you can use them:
        • Any activity authorized in ESSA, IDEA and Perkins CTE
        • To coordinate with public health departments to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19
        • To address the unique needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English-learners, racial and ethnic minorities, homeless and foster care youth
        • PD for staff on sanitation and minimizing spread of pandemic and purchasing supplies to clean and sanitize buildings
        • Planning for and coordinating long-term closures including how to do meal services, how to provide tech/online learning, how to carry out IDEA, etc.
        • Providing mental health services/supports
        • Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months, and addressing the needs of vulnerable children
        • Any other activity necessary to maintain the operation and continuity to employ existing staff 
    • Waiver Authority Under CARES
      • DeVos’ waiver authority as provided in CARES is addition to the expedited waiver process DeVos announced for assessments earlier in March. This package includes waiver flexibility for states to get waivers on accountability (related to publicly reporting various indicators under their accountability systems, as well as waivers from reporting on progress toward their long-term achievement goals, and interim goals under ESSA and waivers to freeze in place their schools identified for improvement. No schools would be added to the list, and no schools would be removed from the list for the 2020-21 school year, under this expedited waiver process. There is no additional language related to IDEA flexibility; that remains the huge, bruising conversation we are having with the hill. There are also a handful of waivers available at the state and local level re flexibility from sections of ESSA related to funding mandates. SEAs/LEAs can seek a waiver:
      • from ESSA's requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds. 
      • to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools. 
      • from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices. 
      • to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there's a 15 percent limit. 
      • from adhering to ESSA's definition of professional development. 
    • Accessing CARES Funding
      • As of April 13: The U.S. Department of the Treasury launched a web portal to allow eligible State, local, and tribal governments to receive payments to help offset the costs of their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Once registered through this portal, States, territories, and the District of Columbia will receive promptly half of the funds allocated to them pursuant to the CARES Act. This will fast-track the availability of $71 billion to meet immediate cash flow needs. The remaining balance of the payment amounts due to States, eligible local governments, and tribal governments will be paid no later than April 24, 2020. Read full press release here.
  • Currently being negotiated: CARES 2.0 / COVID 4
    • Top Priorities: moving forward, we are prioritizing a significant infusion of funding for schools (check out the joint letter with our priorities, signed by a dozen national organizations) as well as a call for narrow, time-limited flexibility for IDEA (Details/call to action below).
    • IDEA Call to Action: Congress Must Grant Narrow, Temporary IDEA Flexibility NOW
      • In light of the hardship districts are experiencing in trying to educate all students during a pandemic, we call on Congress to provide practical, narrow flexibility in how districts meet some of the requirements under IDEA. If your district is struggling to meet IDEA mandates, we urge you to take a moment to email the education staff on Capitol Hill and ask them to ensure the next COVID-19 relief package contains sensible flexibility for IDEA.
      • Please send an action alert to your full Congressional delegation today using AASA’s Action Alert System. You simply input your address and they will direct you to the appropriate Rep/Senators for you to email and supply a template email for you to use. Or you can download a list of all the education staffers for your Congressional delegation and email them individually here. We urge you to make your advocacy more impactful by personalizing this email and adding a paragraph describing the issues your district is specifically facing in complying with IDEA. 

AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (1 of 4)

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AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (1 of 4)

In an effort to provide a thorough yet succinct overview of all things COVID and federal policy, AASA’s advocacy team is happy to share a series of three blog posts. The blog posts each have a different focus:

  • Blog Post One: COVID Background and Timeline
  • Blog Post Two: Congressional Action to Date (including details of education-specific funding and supports) 
  • Blog Post Three: COVID resources for district leaders (LONG list of federal guidance and Q&As, related articles, supporting documents and more)
  • Blog Post Four: COVID resources (quick list of relevant blog posts from AASA blog, link to AASA’s list of COVID-related webinars)  
  • 12/1 through 1/11: First case and death reported in Wuhan, China.
  • 1/12 through 1/31:  Cases spread across Asia ahead of/during the Lunar New Year.; US and South Korea confirm first cases; World Health Organization (WHO) declares COVID-19 an international public health emergency
  • 2/1 through 2/19: Virus spreads across Asia and Europe; US cases begin to grow.
  • 2/21 through 2/29:  Italy confirms first few cases and infection count surges to 655 within a week; US reports first death; WHO raises threat of COVID-19 global outbreak to ‘Very High’
  • 3/1 through 3/6: US cases continue to grow; Congress passes 1st emergency COVID supplemental  
  • 3/7 through 3/14: WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic; Trump declares a national emergency; Congress passes 2nd emergency COVID supplemental
  • 3/15 through 3/27: Wuhan, China reports no new cases (hits peak) as virus makes its way across Africa. Countries begin announcing widespread closure of businesses, schools, etc. and cancelling/postponing large events.  Congress passes 3rd emergency COVID supplemental (CARES Act)
  • April 16: CDC and FEMA Issue Guidance on Reopening Schools: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are creating guidance for state and local governments on how to begin reopening institutions such as schools, parks, and restaurants once the pandemic settles down. The draft document also calls for an increase in the manufacturing of testing kits and personal protective equipment, and notes that hand-washing and wearing face masks will still be essential to implement phased reopenings. According to officials, Trump wants a final plan ready in the next few days so some states can reopen May 1st. “The plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized,” Trump said at a White House briefing. UPDATE: That guidance is available here. Read related EdWeek analysis

WEBINAR OPPORTUNITIES: Managing Resources Effectively in a Time of COVID-19

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WEBINAR OPPORTUNITIES: Managing Resources Effectively in a Time of COVID-19

AASA’s advocacy team is pleased to share this webinar series, focusing on how districts can manage resources in response to the COVID pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. These webinar opportunities are offered by our friends at WestEd.

 

Every day there is a new bundle of headlines about the devastating impact of the coronavirus on some aspect of American life. In recent weeks, more and more of those headlines foreshadow the economic and financial implications for the country, including public schools. And, there is truth in the growing and potentially severe consequences that this public health crisis will have on school district budgets. Precipitated by historical unemployment claims, rapidly declining consumer spending, the vast majority of the country’s economy slowed to a halt. The forecasts for state revenue availability in the upcoming fiscal year are increasingly grim with each passing day.

 

Join finance experts from WestEd for a Spring 2020 webinar series that will unpack more deeply the implications of these headlines on school district/charter budgets in the upcoming fiscal year. The series will explore the unique features of this potential economic recession, how it may impact the state and local education response, and how other funding sources such as the federal CARES Act can help. Experts will also offer concrete, practical advice for practitioners to navigate some of the vital decision-making that will be necessary to ensure that school systems are able to remain focused on supporting students and still balance their budgets.

 

Managing Resources Effectively in Response to COVID-19

Date/Time: Tuesday, April 21, 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific

The webinar will provide an overview of the economic and fiscal impact of COVID-19 on education budgets and of the allowable uses of CARES Act funding and highlight key fiscal considerations for education resources, including ensuring continuity of service and directing funds to those students with the greatest need. Register

 

Resource Planning for Students with Disabilities through the COVID-19 Pandemic: Balancing Legal Obligations and Available Resources to Maintain Student Progress

Date/Time: Tuesday, April 28, 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific

 

Maintaining the provision of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) through the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures has challenged many school systems. In addition, districts are faced with complex fiscal requirements attached to federal and state funding for special education including maintenance of effort and excess cost requirements. This webinar will: provide guidance on how to manage resource identification and allocation to ensure the needs of students with disabilities are appropriately addressed while balancing the need to meet legal requirements and highlight opportunities to maximize resources to improve outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities. Register

Blending and Braiding Funds to Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 on the Most Vulnerable Students
Date/Time: Tuesday, May 5, 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific

 

The students most likely to experience academic slide due to COVID-19 school closures are students who are eligible for services under multiple programs including federal Title and IDEA funds, and state funds set aside for vulnerable populations. Blending and braiding these and other funding streams is a strategy to more effectively leverage multiple funding streams toward a common goal to supporting students with the greatest need. The webinar will: define and provide parameters for allowable uses of blending and braiding strategies for multiple federal, state, and local funding streams to support programs or initiatives aimed at mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and highlight key opportunities for blending and braiding recovery funding provided under the CARES Act to optimize the use of these funds to support students and close gaps created by COVID-19 school closures. Register

 

 

Please join us!  There will be opportunities for further follow-up offered, such as PLCs with WestEd finance consultation regarding response planning, facilitated peer-to-peer sharing of information and strategies.

AASA Joins 11 Groups in Joint Letter for Funding Priorities in Next COVID Supplemental

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AASA Joins 11 Groups in Joint Letter for Funding Priorities in Next COVID Supplemental

Earlier this month, AASA joined 11 other national education organizations in a letter to Congress outlining our funding priorities for COVID-4. The asks exceed more than $200 billion and call for investments in the education stabilization fund, Title I, IDEA, E-Rate, and infrastructure. Read the letter here

 

New Maps Detail District-Level Budgets for State and Federal Share

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New Maps Detail District-Level Budgets for State and Federal Share

When it comes to school district budgets, the funding that helps support the nation’s public schools comes from a combination of federal, state and local dollars. Just as no two school districts are the same, neither are their budgets, whether in terms of their funding priorities or—relevant to this blog post—the proportion of the budget covered by federal and state dollars. That is, some districts are more reliant on federal dollars than others, while still more are disproportionately reliant on local dollars. Local dollars are largely driven by property taxes, meaning that affluent communities have more local dollars, making them less reliant on state dollars. Related, because many state funding dollars are targeted to areas of need to help level the playing field, poorer areas receive a larger share of state dollars.

 

Why is this relevant now? As the COVID pandemic sweeps the nations, shuttering school districts across the nation, it is also bringing the broader economy—and the revenue it generates at the state, local and federal level—to a grinding halt. With most state revenues coming from income and sales taxes—both in rapid decline with people being laid off and people spending less—states are bracing for significant reductions in state funding levels. Including those for education.

 

States have tough decisions to make in light of these budget pressures, and there are two specific to education we want to highlight: they have to decide how much to cut from education in general (HINT: education should not be cut disproportionately; that is, when the cuts are in place, education should still represent at least the same share of the overall budget that it did before the cuts) and they have to decide which education programs to cut (that is, the age-old question of whether they should cut equity-centric programs or start with streams that are primarily in place to help level the playing field). How states answer these questions will 100% impact schools, and the intricacies were part of an article in Chalkbeat last week:

  • The major cause of the looming school budget crisis: state tax revenue is cratering.
  • Since high-poverty districts are more reliant on state funds, they’re at risk of deeper budget cuts.
  • Because state dollars are more at risk, the economic downturn could hit low-income students and their schools the hardest.

 

The decisions made by policymakers will have real impacts on communities, a reality that is true for both federal and state policy. Specific to funding, it is both the overall amount of what is cut as well as the specifics of which program are cut that will ultimately reveal the full impact to individual communities.

 

In 2013, as the federal government acted to implement the blunt budget cuts of sequestration, AASA shared a map detailing the hugely inequitable impact of a cut that prioritized so-called ‘fairness’ by virtue of being ‘equal’ by being one flat rate for all programs. The reality of the ‘across the board’ cuts was that some states and districts felt the cuts much more acutely than others. Sure, the idea of ‘everyone take a 5% cut’ seems fair, but the reality is far different: a 5% cut to federal funding when federal dollars are just 10% of your budget is very different than a 5% cut to federal funding when federal dollars are 50% of your budget. As I wrote in 2013: “…it must be noted that the so‐called ‘across‐the‐board’ nature of sequestration is anything but in schools. Each district has its own operating budget which includes a share of federal education dollars. Through a combination of factors including poverty, local/state budget capacity, and state/local investment in education, the federal dollars represent a varying ‘share’ of the overall budget1 such that some districts will feel to allegedly ‘flat’ cut of 5.2 percent much more aggressively than other districts. That is, relatively robust districts—where federal dollars represent less than 8 percent of the overall budget—will be applying the sequester cuts to a smaller portion of the overall budget than their higher‐ poverty districts, where federal dollars can represent upwards of 50, 60 or 70 percent of the operating budget. Five percent of 8 percent, while damaging, is much less harmful than 5 percent of 60 percent. Low‐ wealth (higher‐poverty) districts generally have a larger share of their funding coming from the federal level. The sequester cuts will disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable students in the most vulnerable districts, anything but ‘across‐the‐board.” Check out the map in that report; it shows, at the district level, the share of each district’s budget that came from federal dollars; it is a clear illustration of how cuts will disproportionately impact different communities.

 

Which brings us to today’s post: We’ve updated the maps to reflect each school district’s budget in terms of its reliance on state dollars, as well as on federal dollars. Why? Well, we’ve already seen a significant investment in schools via the CARES Act and can reasonably expect additional investment via subsequent emergency funding packages. While the statutes are very clear that large portions of the education funds are intended for the local level—and we know that states will pass those dollars through to the local level—we are very concerned that ultimately, states will make cuts to state education funding, rendering the federal emergency dollars as back-stops to state cuts, leaving school districts to feel no discernable difference from the federal dollars. This shell game is not a case of crying wolf; it was a well-documented reality under ARRA that state cuts to budgets in response to the economic downturn resulted in local school districts feeling little to no relief from the federal dollars intended to provide help.

 

Any federal emergency funding for school districts must both include and enforce policy related to state maintenance of effort and state ‘supplement, not supplant’. This is NOT to say that states should be prohibited from making budget cuts. To the contrary: unlike the federal government, state and local budgets are often required to ‘balance’, meaning that in light of precipitously declining revenues, they need to reduce expenditures (ie, make cuts). What MUST happen, though, is that states must ensure that they do not cut education disproportionately. That is, after the cuts are in place, education funding must represent at least the same overall share of the state budget that it did before the cuts were in place. The idea that states should ‘get a pass’ on investing in education because of significant funding pressures is naïve, and a slap in the face to local schools: the same fiscal pressures slowing state economies will also slow local economies. Giving states cart blanche when it comes to education cuts leaves local school districts holding the purse: states use the federal dollars to keep their budgets closer to ‘whole’ while locals are left grappling with both state and local cuts.  In addition to including and enforcing maintenance of effort and supplement/supplant provisions, there are other considerations the federal government could include (Scroll to the last section).

 

These maps highlight—and allow us to predict with some accuracy—which districts will be most impacted by state cuts, especially if Congress fails to protect its COVID emergency response dollars for education by holding states accountable for not disproportionately cutting education within their budgets. Landing Page: School District Revenue & Expenditure Patterns, FY 2017

 

About the map maker: Warren Glimpse/ProximityOne (wglimpse@proximityone.com) has developed several national scope map views showing patterns of school district FY 2017 (latest available on a national scale) revenues by source (federal, state, local). These maps show the percent of state and federal revenue for FY 2017 by school district.  The Web page http://proximityone.com/sdfa17.htm features the map views with more detail.  That page also includes an interactive table where sources and uses of funds may be viewed/analyzed by individual district, groups of districts or all districts.  Data are based on an annual survey of public elementary and secondary education systems, mostly school districts, conducted by the Census Bureau under sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Education. The survey covers all U.S. school districts. These data are reported by school districts. They are not estimates subject to estimation error. However, financial data reporting and categorization differs from state to state. As a result, some data cells show as zero while in fact the data for that cell is included in another category, such as "Other." Data shown in these table were developed by merging the Census-sourced "F-33" data with the Census-sourced 2017-18 school year school district geographic reference/boundary file using the Federal school district code. There is not a 1-to-1 match between these codes. Where total revenue shows as 0 (228 districts) the F-33 financial data are not available.

New Tool: USDA Summer Food Service Rural Designation Map

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New Tool: USDA Summer Food Service Rural Designation Map

As more districts continue to face challenges in delivering school meals because of COVID-19, USDA has launched a new tool to help state agencies, local program operators,  and sponsors to determine if a proposed site may be designated as rural to receive additional funding under the Summer Food Service Program. You can access the tool by clicking here.  
 
To use the map, enter the address of the proposed site in the “Find Address or Place” box located on the right side of the screen. By pressing enter, the map will zoom to the location specified, where a location colored purple indicates a non-rural area and a location unshaded, meaning not colored purple, indicates it is rural.

AASA Responds to OMB Proposal on Poverty Measure

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AASA Responds to OMB Proposal on Poverty Measure

AASA submitted formal comments in opposition to the Administration’s recent proposal to change the poverty measure by submitting comments against the proposal. Any changes to how we define poverty have particularly significant implications for children, who disproportionately experience poverty in our society. Changes to the poverty measure will inform and impact policy and budget choices, including standards to determine eligibility for benefits that are critical to children’s healthy development, such food assistance, housing vouchers, health benefits, and more. You can read AASA’s comments here

ED Releases New Factsheet On Compensation, Travel and Conference Costs

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ED Releases New Factsheet On Compensation, Travel and Conference Costs

The Department will be releasing a series of factsheets related to how federal expenditures will be addressed during COVID-19. This factsheet focuses on how to pay for employees whose positions are funded by federal funding as well as how travel and events that are non-refundable and paid for with federal funding should be addressed.

 

Unpacking the CARES Act Funding

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Unpacking the CARES Act Funding

Under the CARES Act, States and districts are set to receive $13.2 billion for K-12 in the CARES Act. The money must be spent by September 2021 although it’s not clear whether the funding can be directed at costs already incurred related to the pandemic (but that is our hope). There is an urgent push by Governors to expedite the process for moving these funds to districts which AASA supports, but it still could be at least two months before they show up in districts’ coffers.

Once the funds are out here is how you can use them:

  1. Any activity authorized in ESSA, IDEA and Perkins CTE
  2. To coordinate with public health departments to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19
  3. To address the unique needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English-learners, racial and ethnic minorities, homeless and foster care youth
  4. PD for staff on sanitation and minimizing spread of pandemic and purchasing supplies to clean and sanitize buildings
  5. Planning for and coordinating long-term closures including how to do meal services, how to provide tech/online learning, how to carry out IDEA, etc.
  6. Providing mental health services/supports
  7. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months, and addressing the needs of vulnerable children
  8. Any other activity necessary to maintain the operation and continuity to employ existing staff 

ED has developed a streamline waiver that provides even more flexibility to States to waive how they spend their existing money, which could allow schools to spend more of the federal dollars on technology for distance learning. That said, we would prefer the funding for ed-tech to come from the E-Rate program and are requesting $2 billion in additional E-Rate funding in the next stimulus package to ensure districts can attempt to close the homework gap. 

Two AASA and ASBO Webinars: FRAC (April 7) and USDA (April 16)

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Two AASA/ASBO Webinars: FRAC (April 7) and USDA (April 16)

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on district food service operations, AASA and the Association of School Business Officials, are holding two webinars that will help Educational leaders impacted by COVID-19 provide students with access to healthy and nutritious meals.
  • The first webinar on April 7 – Feeding Students During COVID-19 – will focus on best practices, tools, and resources school districts are currently leveraging to feed children, and feature presentations from nutritional experts from the Food Research Action Committee. You can register by clicking here.
  • The second webinar on April 16 – USDA COVID-19 School Waivers – featured a presentation from USDA Food Nutritional Service Child Nutrition Branch Chief for School Meals, Tina Namian, and focused on the Department’s latest round of federal school meal waivers available to districts closed because of COVID-19. Check out a recording of the conversation by clicking here. Also, you can view the slide deck for the webinar by clicking here.