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.