Education Funding and Policy Details in American Families Plan

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Education Funding and Policy Details in American Families Plan

On Wednesday, President Biden detailed the major investments he hopes Congress will make in education in what he is calling the American Families Plan. Biden believes that “investing in education is a down payment on the future of America” and wants to “make transformational investments from early childhood to postsecondary education so that all children and young people are able to grow, learn, and gain the skills they need to succeed.”

AASA Executive Director, Dan Domenech, issued the following response to the American Families Plan. 

 

“AASA applauds this comprehensive investment on behalf of all of our nation’s young learners. Our public K-12 schools rely on and work in coordination with early education and post-secondary institutions, including preschools and community colleges.

 

“By strengthening the connections to and from our elementary and secondary schools, as well as building the pipeline for our teachers while making it easier and less expensive for schools to feed all kids, we will strengthen our schools, communities and our country’s workforce.”

 

The specific details of the plan pertinent for AASA members to know are as follows:

  • $200 billion to create a national partnership with states to offer free, high-quality, accessible, and inclusive preschool to all three-and four-year-old children. The partnership will prioritize high-need areas and enable communities and families to choose the settings that work best for them. The President’s plan will also ensure that all publicly funded preschools are high-quality, with low student-to-teacher ratios, high-quality and developmentally appropriate curriculum, and supportive classroom environments that are inclusive for all students. All employees in participating pre-K programs and Head Start will earn at least $15 per hour, and those with comparable qualifications will receive compensation commensurate with that of kindergarten teachers.
  • $1.6 billion to provide educators with opportunities to obtain additional certifications in high-demand areas like special education, bilingual education, and certifications that improve teacher performance. This funding will support more than 100,000 educators, with priority for public school teachers with at least two years’ experience at schools with a significant portion of low-income students or significant teacher shortages.
  • $2 billion for teacher-leadership programs.
  • Double TEACH Act grants from $4,000 to $8,000 per year while earning their degree, strengthening the program, and expanding it to early childhood educators.
  • $2.8 billion fund in Grow Your Own programs and year-long, paid teacher residency programs.
  • $400 million for teacher preparation programs at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs.
  • $900 million to expand the pipeline of special education teachers.
  • $25 billion to expand summer EBT to all eligible children nationwide. 
  • Lower CEP threshold for elementary schools to 25% of students participating in SNAP.
  • $25 billion to expand summer EBT and make permanent.
  • $17 billion to expand free meals for children in the highest poverty districts (those with at least 40 percent of students participating in SNAP) by reimbursing a higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement rate through CEP. Additionally, the plan will expand free meals for children in elementary schools by reimbursing an even higher percentage of meals at the free reimbursement through CEP and lowering the threshold for CEP eligibility for elementary schools to 25 percent of students participating in SNAP. 
  • $109 billion to offer two years of free community college to all Americans, including DREAMers. 
  • A $62 billion grant program to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students, particularly community colleges.
  • Provide two years of subsidized tuition and expand programs in high-demand fields at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSI.
  • $225 billion for a national paid leave program will provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers. 

AASA Comments on EANS Program Implementation

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AASA Comments on EANS Program Implementation

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

 

School Construction, Air Quality and Federal Funding: What Supts Need to Know

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School Construction, Air Quality and Federal Funding: What Supts Need to Know

Deferred maintenance and indoor air quality concerns in school buildings are not new, but the global pandemic has heightened awareness of challenges related to both. When thoughtfully implemented, strategies to mitigate risk associated with airborne pathogens can also achieve benefits such as general improvements in indoor air quality, occupant comfort, and energy efficiency. The new influx of federal funding now positions districts to address deferred maintenance, but how are federal funds best spent to do so and what construction and maintenance projects would be better addressed with future funding?

On May 12, 2021, join AASA’s Chris Rogers, Mary Filardo, Executive Director of 21st Century School Fund and Corey Metzger, Lead of ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force Schools Team as they share their advice on how to use federal funds on school construction and facility maintenance and in particular share best practices on what districts can do to improve ventilation, filtration and air cleaning strategies. Register for this webinar by clicking here.

American Superintendent 2020 Decennial Study Now Available

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American Superintendent 2020 Decennial Study Now Available

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

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

Summer Learning and Enrichment National Convening April 26 & April 27, 2021

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Summer Learning and Enrichment National Convening April 26 & April 27, 2021

On  April 26th from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EDT and on April 27th from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (ET), the U.S. Dept. of Education is hosting the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative National Convening. Specifically, the convening represents an opportunity from Secretary Cardona for national education leaders, state team members, and other interested partners to discuss and collaborate on the importance of evidence-based summer learning and enrichment programs that address the urgent needs of students, including those students disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over two days of Collaborative conversations, participants will discuss:

  • Best practices for equity-driven approaches that meet the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic;
  • Evidence-based summer learning and enrichment strategies that address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic development; 
  • Guidance for using American Rescue Plan funds to effectively address the summer learning and enrichment needs; and
  • Strategic opportunities to partner across states, districts, philanthropy, non-profit, and community organizations, bringing together diverse stakeholders to create and sustain successful programs together.

You can register for the convening by clicking here.

ED Releases Interim Final Rule on American Rescue Plan Funding

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ED Releases Interim Final Rule on American Rescue Plan Funding

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

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

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

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

Universal and correct wearing of masks.

Modifying facilities to allow for physical distancing (e.g., use of cohorts/podding).

Handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including improving ventilation.

Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the State, local, territorial, or Tribal health departments.

Diagnostic and screening testing.

Efforts to provide vaccinations to school communities.

Appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities with respect to health and safety policies.

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

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

 

USDA Extends School Meal flexibilities to June 2022

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USDA Extends School Meal flexibilities to June 2022

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

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

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

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

You can check out the press release by clicking here

An American Imperative: A New Vision for Public Schools

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An American Imperative: A New Vision for Public Schools

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

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

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

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

 

 

ASHRAE: Guidance for Re-opening Schools

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ASHRAE: Guidance for Re-opening Schools

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

The Advocate: April 2021

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The Advocate: April 2021

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

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

School Construction and Modernization: 

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

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

Digital Infrastructure:

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

Community Colleges and Childcare Infrastructure: 

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

School Lead Pipes and Service Lines:

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

Workforce Training and Apprenticeships:

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

Future Outlook of Passage:

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

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

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