AASA Reacts to CARES Late Liquidation Guidance

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AASA Reacts to CARES Late Liquidation Guidance

This week, the U.S. Department of Education released information on how States can apply on behalf of districts for the late liquidation process for the CARES Act (ESSER I). AASA had anticipated that this guidance would set the parameters for future liquidation processes, particularly for ARP funding, for which we have been advocating quick action on by the Department for almost 10 months.

Fortunately, given how cumbersome this guidance is and how late it was released in the obligation window, this guidance only touches on the CARES Act liquidation process. The process set forth in this guidance and accompanying template by ED for CARES will dramatically restrict the ability of States to apply for late liquidation flexibility on behalf of districts given the administrative requirements on the LEA and SEA side. In addition, the lack of information outlined in this process creates confusion for States, LEAs and auditors. Most troubling, ED states that just needing more time on a valid obligation will not guarantee the liquidation is granted. This is extremely problematic as they do not provide any examples or details about what parameters would need to be for a district to receive late liquidation flexibility or what criteria a State would review to determine the request for late liquidation flexibility. We are ultimately grateful that this process is expressly only for CARES as it allows AASA and our allies additional time to advocate for a much more streamlined, flexible process from ED for ESSER II and ESSER III (ARP).

As of today, we have not heard from ED as to when they plan to issue or how they plan to issue ARP liquidation guidance despite our members’ urgent pleas. Further, ED did not answer basic questions about the late liquidation process that we have asked them to respond to for months such as why the extension is only 18 months and whether States can adopt a blanket liquidation extension.

USDA Issues Summer Food Service Program Final Rule

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USDA Issues Summer Food Service Program Final Rule

Last week, USDA published the final rule -- Streamlining Program Requirements and Improving Integrity in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The regulatory changes will simplify program requirements for Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) program operators and strengthen the integrity of the program. Through this final rule, USDA is codifying changes to the regulations that will streamline requirements among child nutrition programs, simplify the application process, enhance monitoring requirements, offer more clarity on existing requirements, and provide more discretion at the state agency level to manage program operations.

Key Aspects of the Final Rule:

  • Make permanent operational flexibilities that are demonstrated to work well in the SFSP while decreasing paperwork burdens. 
  • Give sponsors the ability to focus their program oversight and technical assistance on sites that need it most.
  • Ease redundant requirements for high performing, experienced program operators through a streamlined application process. 
  • Provide local control of meal service times and allow children to take one non-perishable item offsite to eat later.
  • End confusion around important standards and requirements by clarifying performance standards, program definitions, and other program requirements.
  • Codifies FNS’ statutory waiver authority for all child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the SFSP.

See full Final Rule here

19 National Organizations Call for Response to Cyber Attacks

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19 National Organizations Call for Response to Cyber Attacks

Today, AASA joined 18 other national organizations—representing the nation’s public and private schools, superintendents, school leaders, teachers, transportation providers, counselors and educators—in a letter to the FCC calling for  the federal government to initiate a broad intergovernmental conversation about addressing cybersecurity threats to schools and other potential victims. Specifically, we need deliberate and expanded coordination and collaboration across all relevant federal agencies—including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) , and US Education Department (USED), among others—to determine the products and services that are available and effective in responding to and preventing cyberattacks. Read the full letter here.

Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act of 2022

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Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act of 2022

On Friday, September 16, Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) introduced the AASA-endorsed Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act.  The bill amends the Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) program to provide full forgiveness to educators after five years of service, have the federal government pay borrowers’ monthly payments until they reach the five-year mark and expands the TLF program to include K-12 school leaders and early educators.

These changes will help to recruit and retain more educators and ensure more diverse candidates can afford comprehensive educator preparation programs, a key strategy to decrease shortages and help increase educator diversity in early childhood and K-12 education.

“The Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act would have an immense impact on our schools by relieving teachers of a considerable financial burden and helping district leaders attract and retain staff moving forward,” said Dan Domenech, Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “I hear from district leaders on a daily basis who are struggling to find enough teachers to fully staff their schools. Student loan assistance for educators is a powerful tool to retain current teachers and incentivize young people to enter the profession. We are grateful to Senator Luján for his leadership on this bill and attention to such a critical issue facing K-12 public education.”

Read the full press release here

ED Releases Guidance on $1b in Title IV-A Funding from BSCA

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ED Releases Guidance on $1b in Title IV-A Funding from BSCA

Today, the U.S. Department of Education released a Dear Colleague letter to States outlining the parameters for the $1 billion in ESEA Title IV-A funding that was appropriated through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act earlier this summer. This funding is formula to states, but competitive to districts. The state allocation table is available here. To try and avoid confusion, ED is referring to the funding as the “Stronger Connections” grant program as it is a separate funding stream from ESSA Title IV-A.

States must run a competition to distribute 95% of the funding to high-needs LEAs. States can define high-needs LEAs as they see fit although the guidance offers suggestions for these definitions. States will also have to share their definition with ED, but ED has no ability to ask them to modify it.

The Department is encouraging States to prioritize funds for LEA applicants that demonstrate a strong commitment to the following: 

  1. Implementing comprehensive, evidence-based strategies that meet each student’s social, emotional, physical, and mental well-being needs; create positive, inclusive, and supportive school environments; and increase access to place-based interventions and services.

  2. Engaging students, families, educators, staff, and community organizations in the selection and implementation of strategies and interventions to create safe, inclusive and supportive learning environments.

  3. Designing and implementing policies and practices that advance equity and are responsive to underserved students, protect student rights, and demonstrate respect for student dignity and potential.

It is likely many states will begin the competition in the spring/winter of 2023. LEAs that receive this funding will have until September 2026 to spend the funding.

 

ED Letter on Academic Assessment Data

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ED Letter on Academic Assessment Data

On September 13, U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, sent a Dear Colleague letter to State education leaders to remind all who report and interpret student outcomes this year that assessment data has always been meant to be used constructively—to help inform parents and families about their students’ schools and to ensure schools receive the necessary resources to help support students. Further, the letter is intended to support communities in countering efforts to misuse these results by applying them punitively.

The letter outlines some considerations around possible interpretation, use, and communication of school year 2021–22 assessment data. Read the full letter here

AASA Submits Comments on New Proposed Title IX Regulations

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AASA Submits Comments on New Proposed Title IX Regulations

Today, AASA sent comments to the U.S. Department of Education on the revised Title IX regulations that were proposed in June. Our comments expressed deep concerns with the financial and administrative burden the proposed regulation would place on districts and the importance of an extended timeline to implement the new regulations. The comment also praised the new flexibilities proposed to the current Title IX regulatory framework that will simplify and streamline Title IX investigations and resolutions.

A brief summary of the proposed regulations is available here.  AASA also produced a template comment, so superintendents can directly weigh in on the Title IX regulations as well. As of today there have been over 150,000 comments, mainly opposing, the new regulations field.

The Advocate September 2022

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The Advocate September 2022

Your AASA lobbyists live and breathe Washington headlines all day and night. Whether in our work with various coalitions—we are on the board or chair six different national coalitions—or in our individual capacities, we are constantly reading and sharing news on social media, on the AASA Advocacy app or via email.

While we are fortunate to be interviewed frequently by national news outlets and are able to share AASA’s views on policy and funding matters frequently, sometimes we actually like to be the news. And that’s what we spent the August recess trying to accomplish.

This month, AASA is releasing two new surveys touching on the most important policy and funding issues in the K-12 federal policy space: ARP funding and educator shortages. The ability to influence policy is much greater when you can point to how real people—i.e. real superintendents—who are impacted by the policy and funding decisions or indecisions in Washington D.C. 

Because we have an incredible membership that is responsive to our requests for feedback and takes time to answer our emails requesting “2 minutes of their time,” we are able to generate interesting new datapoints, shift policy debates and make our own headlines and in turn, grab policymakers’ attention.

On September 1, we released the third in our series on how districts are spending ARP funding. There are a lot of takes in the media and in Washington about how districts are spending (and not spending) this unprecedented funding on both sides of the aisle, and we felt it was important to chart a clear narrative right away about what district leaders’ spending priorities are and what, if any, obstacles they are experiencing in spending this funding. 

This month’s report was taken from data we collected in July from a representative sample of more than 500 AASA members across the U.S. The results show that districts’ ARP spending priorities have remained consistent from the 2021-2022 school year to the 2022-2023 school year.

Improving instructional practices, expanding learning opportunities and learning time, hiring staff and addressing the social-emotional needs of students remain a top priority of public school system leaders, regardless of state, size of district or locale. District leaders continue to report they are using ARP funding for long-term system changes that will prioritize a shift in expanding whole child supports, including social, emotional, mental, and the physical health and development of their students. 

The report also details how spending on districts’ third long-term priority–renovating school facilities and improving ventilation—continues to be hampered by the lack of federal guidance on whether districts will be able to extend the timeline for these projects, which have been stymied by supply-chain issues, worker shortages and inflation. Almost half of district leaders indicate the 2024 deadline presents an obstacle to completing these critical projects. 

Superintendents also predicted what areas they would be forced to cut in September 2024 when the deadline for spending ARP funding occurs. Fifty-seven percent reported they will decrease, or end summer learning and enrichment offerings currently being provided to students. Fifty-three percent reported they will have to end contracts with specialist staff, such as counselors, social workers and reading specialists, to support student needs by September 2024. Forty-four percent reported they will have to stop compensating staff for working additional hours for extended school year/day programming they offer. 

Approximately half (49%) of respondents reported that a later deadline to spend ARP funding would allow them to retain recently hired staff and extend recently added programs and supports for students that are making a big difference both in learning recovery efforts and in addressing the social-emotional needs of students.

On September 8, AASA will release its second survey which attempts to gauge the pervasiveness of the staffing shortage in schools. More than 900 AASA members participated in the survey from 47 states. 

The data show that three-quarters of districts are facing a vacancy rate of 0-5% of needed instructional positions at the start of the school year while almost half report a vacancy rate of 0-5% of non-instructional staff. When asked what factors are contributing to staffing vacancies, the top 5 responses from superintendents are: Not enough applicants, losing staff to other districts, staff desire for better pay (57%), departure from field entirely or via retirement, and increased politicization and burnout. When asked to compare vacancy rates at the start of this school year to the start of last school year, approximately 10% of district leaders report lower vacancy rates this year while 22% report comparable vacancy rates. 

These two new surveys enable the AASA Advocacy Team to better lobby for more flexible spending deadlines for ARP and to urge Congress to allow districts more time to retain the staff districts have hired with ARP funds for as long as possible. The new educator shortage data is a critical reminder of the serious impact the pandemic has had on the teacher pipeline and the need of a significant, sustainable solution teacher and staffing shortages. 

Thank you for your time to respond to our surveys and to engage in AASA advocacy. We pride ourselves on truly representing the voice and priorities of the nation’s public school superintendents, and these two surveys are just the most recent and clear examples of superintendent voices impacting education. 

Stay engaged with AASA Advocacy: Download the AASA Advocacy App and follow us on Twitter at @AASAAdvocacy





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