Webinar Recap: Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds: Halftime Reflections & Revisions

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Webinar Recap: Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds: Halftime Reflections & Revisions

This week, we were thrilled to partner with EducationCounsel and Education Resource Strategies for our webinar presentation: "Making the Most of Your ESSER Funds: Halftime Reflections & Revisions"

As we pass the halfway point of the ESSER timeline, district leaders are tasked with spending down their remaining funds strategically while simultaneously preparing for the approach of a potentially steep cliff once ESSER funds run out. This is the moment for system leaders to understand the progress of their ESSER spend to date and assess performance across indicators for their “big bet” initiatives. Those understandings will then inform any decisions to reallocate remaining funds now and to establish system conditions for making future trade-off decisions on what to sustain, particularly for those systems facing declining enrollment.

Webinar participants heard from two district leaders (Katie Sunseri, Executive Director of State and Federal Programs, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Scott Thompson, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Support Services, Mesa Public Schools) about how they (and other systems around the country) are engaging in halftime reviews with an immediate focus on identifying key moves to make through the SY23-24 budget cycle to optimize the ESSER opportunity. Our conversation was facilitated by Emily Parfit, Director of Education Resource Strategies (ERS).

Check out the recording here, and accompanying slides here.

New Dept of Energy Grants Available to K-12 Schools

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New Dept of Energy Grants Available to K-12 Schools

This week, the Department of Energy kicked off an $80 million grant program for critical energy upgrades in America’s highest-need K-12 school facilities. Titled Renew America's Schools, this substantial investment under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will target infrastructural investments in key project areas to reduce utilities costs, improve energy performance, reduce carbon emissions, and create safer and healthier learning spaces for students and teachers. Examples of eligible projects include new HVAC and ventilation systems, building envelope and lighting projects, and alternative fuel and renewable energy technologies.

The focus of the program is to concentrate funds in rural and high-poverty school districts to lower utilities costs, reduce carbon emissions, and build healthier learning environments for students and teachers. DOE anticipates making approximately 20-100 awards under this first grant competition. Individual awards may vary between $500,000 and $15,000,000. DOE is hosting a webinar on December 6th where you can learn more. Register here. If you’re interested in applying, they recommend submitting a “concept paper” expressing interest in the program by January 26.

The Advocate December 2022: Looking Ahead Post-Midterms

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The Advocate December 2022: Looking Ahead Post-Midterms

The 118th Congress will be another divided governing body with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans re-taking the House. As Republicans assert their power, expect lots of public statements, speeches and promises of action. The House will likely introduce and pass many pieces of legislation to fulfill those promises and strengthen their party’s base leading into the Presidential election. In particular, the House will have many hearings to conduct oversight on hot-button issues including the NSBA-Garland probe of parents at school board meetings, ESSER spending and the participation of transgender students in athletics and other Title IX-adjacent issues.

The first major order of business for Congress in December is passing the FY23 appropriations bills and extending the debt ceiling. There will likely be a good-faith effort to meet the new government funding deadline of December 16 and to try and only do a short-term “continuing resolution” for a few days or weeks. 

One exciting development for the K-12 community is that the new Senate Appropriations Chair will be none other than Patty Murray of Washington, who has long led or co-led the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, and the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. She is also a champion for increased funding for Title I and IDEA among other K-12 spending priorities. Sharing the dais with her will be Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican with a willingness to spend money on K-12 priorities she supports such as the Rural Education Achievement Program and legislation to address the teacher shortage. She is also a well-respected negotiator and dealmaker. Both women have a friendly, collaborative relationship, which should bode well for alignment on K-12 funding levels in the future. 

On the House side, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to also be led by two women again: Reps. Kay Granger of Texas and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. DeLauro, who also chairs the House Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, is an outstanding champion for additional K-12 funding and was instrumental in pushing for the $120 billion for districts in the American Rescue Plan. At this point it’s not clear whether Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the current ranking member on the subcommittee, will become the chairman or whether a new chair would step in. Regardless of who is running the committee, expect K-12 COVID relief funds to be an issue that both sides are eager to explore in hearings. 

On the authorization side, the picture on the House side is a bit murkier. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who has served as chair and ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee over the past decade, would like to re-take the job as chair. It is unclear whether anyone will challenge her for the position and whether she would receive a waiver from Republican leadership to continue in the top slot. 

Rep. Bobby Scott will be the ranking member for the committee. Foxx or whomever leads the committee will likely follow McCarthy’s policy agenda, which includes advancing his “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” bills to restrict transgender minors’ access to gender-affirming care and prohibit schools from addressing students by different pronouns without parental consent. For example, the Empower Parents to Protect Their Kids Act would apply to all schools that receive federal funding and would allow parents to sue schools that use pronouns they believe are incorrect. Foxx also promised to increase oversight on how Covid relief funds are being used to address learning loss and will fight to expand federal “school choice” programs via a $10 billion tuition tax credit voucher bill known as the Educational Choice for Children Act. 

On the Senate side, there will be new leaders on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont will serve as the chairman of the committee and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana will be the ranking member. Given that both men are intensely focused on healthcare issues, there is speculation that the other areas of jurisdiction (like K-12 education!) for the committee will receive scant attention. Very few education issues are likely to rise to the top of the heap for the committee aside from student loans although Cassidy has expressed a desire to work on issues related to improving the identification of dyslexia (his wife founded a charter school for students with dyslexia).

And of course, there’s the Presidential election looming large, which always means more politicking and less policy work in Washington. There is roughly one year left for the Biden Administration to utilize Democrats in Congress to its advantage before re-election politics completely consumes the political parties. Will Republicans have any real desire to demonstrate they can work across the aisle and forge common ground with Democrats? Will there be any attempt to address overdue reauthorizations like the child nutrition or Head Start? At this point, it’s hard to see how meaningful K-12 policy conversations get any traction in the divided Congress. The best we can hope for is more robust funding. 

AASA Urges Inclusion of Child Nutrition Provisions in FY23 Spending Bill

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AASA Urges Inclusion of Child Nutrition Provisions in FY23 Spending Bill

 Today, AASA sent a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-AR) urging them to include critical child nutrition provisions in the FY23 appropriations package. The letter was co-signed by the Association of School Business Officials, National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition, School Nutrition Association and Urban School Food Alliance.

These recommendations, if enacted, would have a minimal financial cost, if any, but would significantly improve the day-to-day operations for school food authorities across the country: 

  • Streamline meal pattern requirements across all nutrition programs in schools–
  • Establish a single application for all federal nutrition programs in a single district
  • Return to a 5-year Administrative Review Cycle
  • Permanently waive paid lunch equity (PLE) pricing requirements for districts with break-even or positive food service balances
  • Maintaining the Keep Kids Fed Act (KKFA) federal meal reimbursement rates  
  • Direct National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to conduct a study on a new poverty indicator/metric for K–12 students
  • Explore solutions to address unpaid meal debt 

Read the full letter here

 

Webinar Recap: Re-Building Student Supports for Pandemic Impacted Times: Student Success Systems and the GRAD Partnership

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Webinar Recap: Re-Building Student Supports for Pandemic Impacted Times: Student Success Systems and the GRAD Partnership

We had a blast talking about Student Success Systems with the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University. The GRAD Partnership is building student success systems to help them graduate on time and excel.

You can check out a recording here, and accompanying slides here.

A helpful two-pager on Student Success Systems from the GRAD Partnership can be found here.

You can sign up here if you are interested in piloting the self-reflection tool developed by the GRAD Partnership or want to know more about what it will look like.

Learn more about how to have your district participate in the GRAD Partnership.

Congress Asks Cardona for Late Liquidation Guidance

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Congress Asks Cardona for Late Liquidation Guidance

This week, members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Cardona urging the Department to issue guidance on how school districts can utilize late liquidation flexibility under the American Rescue Plan to ensure construction and HVAC projects, mental health supports, and learning recovery and tutoring programs can continue to be funded through December 2026.

The Department has been reluctant to give any indication they are open to a process that will allow districts to know in a timely manner whether pandemic-related contracts can be extended, which has significantly delayed districts’ ability to obligate funds for significant construction projects and facility upgrades. While AASA did not specifically ask for this letter led by Rep. Kuster (D-NH),  we appreciate her and her colleagues’ willingness to send the request for expedited guidance to Cardona especially since Democratic leadership has been urging members of Congress to stay off the letter.

USDA Launches $50 Million Grant Program For Schools & Food Industry to Work Together to Strengthen School Meals

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USDA Launches $50 Million Grant Program For Schools & Food Industry to Work Together to Strengthen School Meals

Last week, USDA launched a $50 million grant opportunity to support collaboration with the food industry to develop nutritious, appetizing school meals for students. This grant program—The School Food System Transformation Challenge—is part of the larger Healthy Meals Incentive Initiative.  

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will select up to four non-governmental organizations to manage funds for the School Food System Transformation Challenge. These organizations will then award competitive grants to support and enhance the food supply chain for K-12 schools. Grantees may include food producers, suppliers, and distributors; school districts; and community partners. The grants will support schools’ ability to access a wider variety of healthy, appealing products and promote innovation by food producers and suppliers, including local producers and small and disadvantaged businesses.

The initiative was part of the commitments made in the administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

Cardona Issues New Guidance on Prioritizing Dual Enrollment, Apprenticeships, with ARP Funds

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Cardona Issues New Guidance on Prioritizing Dual Enrollment, Apprenticeships, with ARP Funds

The U.S. Department of Education released new guidance that encourages schools to use unspent COVID relief money to expand various career options for students: dual enrollment programs, college advising, registered apprenticeships and industry-based credentials. The guidance reminds districts that they can use ESSER funds to expand access to and participation in dual enrollment, particularly for those students who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes using ESSER funding for tuition assistance and stipends to teachers, so that they can complete the education and training required to meet postsecondary credentialing requirements for teaching dual enrollment course. In addition, LEAs can use ESSER funds to facilitate participation in work-based learning by paying for student transportation or other costs associated with worksite placements, such as tools and uniforms as well as hiring work-based learning coordinators. The guidance contains examples of how districts are utilizing ESSER funds for these purposes.

The Advocate November 2022: School Transportation Resources

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The Advocate November 2022: School Transportation Resources

In the last year, AASA has stepped in to provide federal policy support to the National Association for Pupil Transportation. Our advocacy included a successful coalition letter focused on policy relief for the bus driver shortage. More recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has shared a suite of resources that can be helpful to school districts, and we are happy to highlight them here.

NHTSA has a National Roadway Safety Strategy, which is the US Department of Transportation’s comprehensive approach to significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths on the nation’s highways, roads, and streets. 

And related, NCSL recently updated their state-by-state look at school transportation laws

 

CDC Releases Monkeypox Toolkit for Schools and Early Care and Education Programs

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CDC Releases Monkeypox Toolkit for Schools and Early Care and Education Programs

The CDC has released a new resource for administrators and staff members of schools and early care and education programs related to monkeypox: Monkeypox Toolkit for Schools and Early Care and Education Programs. This toolkit provides a new, user-friendly format for existing monkeypox considerations in schools and early care and education.

In addition, a Monkeypox Toolkit for Institutions of Higher Education is also available.

AASA Joins 64 Organizations to Ask for Funding for Emergency Connectivity Fund

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AASA Joins 64 Organizations to Ask for Funding for Emergency Connectivity Fund

As part of our ongoing advocacy around connectivity, AASA joined 64 other organizations in a letter calling for additional funding for the emergency connectivity fund. Specific to FY23, the letter calls for $1 billion to keep the Emergency Connectivity Fund alive and available. Read the full letter here.

Dept of Energy Announces $80M in Grants for School Energy Projects

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Dept of Energy Announces $80M in Grants for School Energy Projects

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Energy announced more than $80M, the first tranche of funding in a $500M investment, to make clean energy improvements in K-12 public schools.  The funding originates from the Renew America’s Schools grant program created by the bipartisan infrastructure law to provide schools critical energy infrastructure upgrades. Through the grant program, DOE will fund energy and health improvements in public K-12 schools across the country. Additionally, a new DOE prize program will help resource 25 high-need school districts with the training and tools needed to improve how their schools consume energy.

DOE will encourage eligible applicants to consider projects that enable replicable and scalable impacts, create innovative, sustaining partnerships, leverage funding and economies of scale, target disadvantaged communities, improve student, teacher, and occupant health, enrich learning and growth, target schools that serve as community assets (e.g., neighborhood cooling centers or disaster recovery shelters), can be completed quickly, and are crafted thoughtfully within the context of public-school facilities (e.g., procurement restraints, construction windows, etc.).

Potential applicants will be considered based upon the partnering LEA’s demonstrated funding need for energy improvements; whether the school serves a high percentage of students who are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch; whether the district qualifies for REAP funding; and whether the proposal leverages private sector investment through energy-related performance contracting. The estimated period of performance for each award will be approximately 2 to 5 years in duration. 

LEAs do not have to identify a partner for this grant; the DOE is compiling a “teaming” partner list to facilitate widespread participation in this initiative. This list allows organizations with expertise in these topics to express their interest to potential districts and to explore potential partnerships.

Ed Dept Webinar: Raising the Bar: Literacy and Math Series to Address Academic Recovery

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Ed Dept Webinar: Raising the Bar: Literacy and Math Series to Address Academic Recovery

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing efforts to support the academic recovery of students from the impact of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education will host five sessions focused on strategies and programs to boost student literacy and math outcomes.

The first session will be livestreamed to the public for viewing on Wednesday, October 26 from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET.

This kickoff event is a continued call to action to education leaders and policymakers to leverage the extraordinary level of available federal resources to boost academic recovery efforts and sets the foundation for four subsequent sessions: 
  • Learning research-based practices from content experts 
  • Highlighting promising practices from SEAs and LEAs
  • Leveraging American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to implement literacy and math achievement best practices at scale 
  • Offering dedicated time and expertise to support action planning (i.e., guided working sessions and support from technical assistance providers).
You can register for this opportunity here.

Webinar Recording: Healthy Schools- An Imperative or Impossibility?

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Webinar Recording: Healthy Schools- An Imperative or Impossibility?

In case you missed it, we held our Healthy Schools: An Imperative or Impossibility? webinar this week with the American Academy of Pediatrics and Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

We had a discussion on the opportunities to sustainably integrate health and learning and transform every school into a healthy school with the Ten-Year Roadmap.

You can check out the recording here and the accompanying slides here.

18 National Organizations Sign Letter Supporting AASA Leadership on USAC

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18 National Organizations Sign Letter Supporting AASA Leadership on USAC

AASA joined 17 other national organizations in signing a letter supporting the nomination of AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech to continue to serve on the USAC board, the entity that oversees E-Rate. Dan has held this role for more than a decade, currently serves as the chair of the schools and libraries committee, and hopes to continue this work. Read the letter and bio here.

Groups signing the letter:

  • AASA, The School Superintendent Association
  • American Federation of School Administrators 
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Library Association
  • Association for School Business Officials International
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies
  • Consortium for School Networking 
  • Council of Chief State School Officers 
  • National Association for Pupil Transportation
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Federally Impacted Schools
  • National Association of Independent Schools
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Catholic Educational Association
  • National Education Association
  • National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium
  • National Rural Education Association
  • State Educational Technology Directors Association

Four Cybersecurity Action Steps for K-12 Schools and Districts

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Four Cybersecurity Action Steps for K-12 Schools and Districts

In recent years, kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) educational institutions have been an increasingly frequent target for cyberattacks. These attacks can impact a school’s ability to carry out its educational obligations, protect sensitive student and staff data, and provide a safe and secure learning environment for our nation’s youth. Defending against cyber threats is a critical priority for the K-12 community that requires a whole-of-school approach. 

This October, The Department of Homeland Security is recognizing Cybersecurity Awareness Month in conjunction with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other organizations across the county. This year’s campaign theme – “See Yourself in Cyber” – demonstrates that while cybersecurity may seem like a complex subject, ultimately, it’s really all about people.

Everyone in the school community can ‘see themselves in cyber’ by taking action to stay safe online. That means supporting basic cyber hygiene practices through four key action steps: 

1)   Enabling Multi-Factor Authentication

2)   Using Strong Passwords

3)   Recognizing and Reporting Phishing

4)   Updating Your Software

This infographic outlines additional details on these four action steps and how schools and districts can put them into practice. For additional information on cybersecurity and school safety, please visit SchoolSafety.gov or contact our team at SchoolSafety@hq.dhs.gov

Time is Running Out to Take Advantage of the PSLF

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Time is Running Out to Take Advantage of the PSLF Waiver

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program Temporary Waiver expires on October 31. Time is running out for eligible applicants to take advantage of the temporary flexibilities. Use this template to notify your staff about the program and what they must do to participate.

As a reminder, the Dept. of Education implemented the waiver to help those who qualify for get closer to forgiveness. Anyone who has federal student loans and is employed full-time by a school district qualifies for the program. 

For additional support or questions, join the PSLF.us Campaign for a free upcoming webinar:

· Thursday, October 13, 2:00pm ET — Register 

· Wednesday, October 19, 2:30pm ET — Register

 

Find additional resources here

ICYMI: AASA, FRAC and First Focus's Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) Webinar Series

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ICYMI: AASA, FRAC and First Focus's Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) Webinar Series

In case you missed our series on the Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) program series, we've compiled each session recording and accompanying slides for you to catch up on.

 

Thank you to everyone who joined us!

Schools and Social Media: The Critical Need for Verification and Dedicated Reporting Processes

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Schools and Social Media: The Critical Need for Verification and Dedicated Reporting Processes

 AASA is proud to support Schools and Social Media: The Critical Need for Verification and Dedicated Reporting Processes, joint project led by the National School Public Relations Associations (NSPRA) and Consortium for School Network (CoSN). The project found that the lack of dedicated verification and reporting processes for federally recognized K-12 education institutions on social media platforms is causing a strain on school districts around the country.

In a survey of school communication and school technology professionals, more than 50% of respondents indicated they have dealt with fake-official or mock accounts that impersonate their district or organization, while only a third indicated they were able to get their organization verified on various social media platforms.

Additional findings include:

  • Overall, a quarter of respondents indicated that within the last two years their educational organizations have applied to be verified on social media and have been rejected (25%).
  • Respondents indicated that among their educational organizations:
    • 59% have dealt with accounts that harass, intimidate or bully students.
    • 45% have dealt with social media platforms not removing reported accounts/posts that harass, intimidate or bully their students.

Help spread the word about the importance of dedicated verification and reporting processes for K-12 education institutions on social media, using this campaign toolkit to urge social media platforms to make it easier for schools to accurately represent themselves on social media and to report accounts that harass, intimidate, bully or otherwise negatively target students.

White House Releases Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights

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White House Releases Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights

Earlier today, the White House announced its Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights. This is an overarching proposal that will include education and school-related conversations. We are reviewing the proposal and will have a more detailed blog post later this week. In the meantime, here is an initial google doc with the excerpt related to student and child data; we’re paying the most attention to the Data Privacy section (starting at the bottom of page 3) as that appears to have the most relevant content. Conversations earlier this week indicated that the plan will require USED to issue related guidance on this topic in the early part of 2023 (though they were quick to define ‘early’ as anything between January and June). Stay tuned; we’ll have more updates.

New LEA Mental Health Grants: Apply by November 3!

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New LEA Mental Health Grants: Apply by November 3!

Today, the U.S. Department of Education released Notices Inviting Applications for two grant programs to increase access to mental health services for students and young people, totaling $280 million, that were funded through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA).  AASA fought to have this funding included in BSCA and was instrumental to ensuring the $1 billion in funding over 5 years can be used to improve access to mental health personnel in schools.

School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program

The SBMH grant program provides competitive grants to State educational agencies (SEAs), Local educational agencies (LEAs), and consortia of LEAs to increase the number of credentialed school-based mental health service providers delivering school-based mental health services to students in LEAs with demonstrated need. The grant provides $144 million each year for 5 years, with an average award size of $1,750,000, ranging from $500,000 to $3,000,000 per year. The Department anticipates making up to 150 awards. Two technical assistance webinars for prospective applicants will be provided: one on October 11th, 2022, and one on October 19th, 2022 at 4 pm prior to the application deadline of November 3rd. Webinar information will be available here.  

Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant Program

The MHSP Demonstration grant program provides competitive grants to support and demonstrate innovative partnerships to train school-based mental health services providers for employment in schools and LEAs. The grant program aims to address a challenge facing districts and schools across the country: an insufficient supply of school-based mental health professionals to meet the needs of students. The partnerships must include (1) one or more high-need LEA or an SEA on behalf of one or more high-need LEA; and (2) one or more eligible institutions of higher education (IHE). These grants make available $143 million a year for 5 years, with an average award size of $800,000, ranging from $400,000 to $1,200,000 per year. The Department anticipates making up to 250 awards. Two technical assistance webinars for prospective applicants will be provided: one on October 12th, 2022, and one on October 19th, 2022 at 3 p.m. prior to the application deadline of November 3rd. Webinar information will be available here.  

The Advocate October 2022

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The Advocate October 2022

Last month, the Biden administration hosted the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to “catalyze action for the millions of Americans struggling with food insecurity and diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.”

Ahead of the conference, the administration released its national strategy—outlining steps necessary to reach the goal of ending hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 so fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases, while reducing related health disparities.

The strategy includes five pillars: 1) Improving food access and affordability, 2) Integrating nutrition and health, 3) Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices, 4) Supporting physical activity for all, and 5) Enhancing nutrition and food security research.

Most notable for district leaders in the strategy was an explicit commitment to advance a pathway to free, healthy school meals for all. The national strategy expressed the importance of school nutrition programs and the need to fully leverage them as a core intervention to improve child health and child hunger. It calls for a “healthy meals for all” approach to reorient the school meal programs from an ancillary service to an integral component of the school day and allow schools to focus on providing the highest quality meals and engaging children around healthy food.

Essential components highlighted for this approach are expanding efforts to increase access to local and regional food systems, enabling more schools to cook meals from scratch by funding training and equipment purchases, investing in the school nutrition workforce, and expanding nutrition education for children. The Biden administration committed to working with Congress to expand access to healthy, free school meals for 9 million more children by 2032.

That commitment will require buy-in from Congress, but USDA does have some flexibility to expand the Community Eligibility Provision (a top nutrition priority for AASA) on its own. While speaking to reporters, U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack mentioned this flexibility but did not provide specifics. AASA encourages USDA to use every tool at its disposal to expand CEP to allow more schools to participate in the program and ensure it is also financially viable for them to do so.

Additionally, the national strategy focuses on creating healthier food environments and a healthier food supply. As such, USDA will continue to work to reduce sodium in school meals with the goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the FDA’s voluntary sodium target. While AASA recognizes the importance of promoting healthy eating habits around sodium, enriched whole grains, and dairy intake, it is important to acknowledge that healthy meals are only healthy if students eat them. We continue to engage in conversations with USDA around the need for reasonable nutritional standards that provide flexibility for school nutrition programs and do not lead to unnecessary food waste and reduced participation.

Other commitments from the Biden administration to support schools in this work include:

  • The administration will continue to support the expansion of Summer EBT (another nutrition priority for AASA).  
  • USDA will provide training and resources to school meal program operators on incorporating more indigenous and traditional foods into school meals to improve access.
  • USDA will advance a new Healthy Meals Incentive initiative—supported by ARP funding—to support schools’ efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school meals. This initiative will challenge all players within the K-12 food supply chain to increase the availability of and access to healthy offerings, recognize School Food Authorities (SFAs) that are innovating in offering nutritious school meals, and provide funding to small and/or rural SFAs to improve the nutritional content of meals offered through the Child Nutrition Programs.
  • USDA will work to strengthen and diversify suppliers that provide healthy, nutritious and local foods to schools and nutrition assistance programs by assisting small and underserved farmers and businesses to become vendors for school meals.
  • The U.S. Dept. of Education will provide guidance to states and school districts on how they can use funds under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act grants and ARP funds to support physical activity for children.
  • The U.S. Dept. of Education will, through the Engage Every Student Initiative, promote strategies for increasing participation in physical fitness programs and for incorporating physical activity in summer learning and engagement in after-school programs.

Finally, the strategy included a “Call-to-Action for a Whole-of-Society Response.” Here are the highlights related to K-12 schools:

  • States and school districts should increase investment in school food programs such as providing investments to support kitchen infrastructure and training school nutrition professionals.
  • States, localities and K-12 schools should consider incorporating culinary arts and nutrition education into schools.
  • Philanthropy should support pilots that foster collaboration between food service programs at K-12 schools and colleges or universities to synergize efforts around workforce training and food procurement.
  • The food industry should increase the availability of and access to foods that are low in sodium and added sugars—including foods meeting or exceeding FDA’s voluntary sodium reduction targets—and high in whole grains, particularly for the K-12 market.

You can watch the entire conference recording here.  

So far, reaction from Congress to the conference has been mixed and as could be expected, fairly partisan. The conference overall did not have a strong bipartisan showing—U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) was the only GOP lawmaker in attendance. Additionally, on the day of the conference, House Ed and Labor Committee Ranking Member Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) released a statement criticizing the event—claiming it did not engage key stakeholders and dismissed it as partisan. Meanwhile, support from Democratic lawmakers poured in for both the conference and its policy proposals.

The path to a bipartisan agreement to expand access to school meals is unclear, but there is hope that the Senate will take up Child Nutrition Reauthorization before the end of this year—building on the momentum of the House Democrats’ version: the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, which passed the House Ed and Labor Committee on July 28. The bill, in its current form, would permanently expand CEP, which would be a longer-term solution than any USDA action, but given the current Republican opposition to the policy it will require strong advocacy to get it included in the final bill.

AASA Joins 37 National Organizations in Letter Prioritizing IDEA Funding in FY23

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AASA Joins 37 National Organizations in Letter Prioritizing IDEA Funding in FY23

AASA is proud to co-chair the IDEA Full Funding Coalition. This week AASA joined nearly three dozen national organizations in calling on Congress to fund IDEA Part B at $16.2 billion for FY23. As Congress resumes its work on the final FY23 appropriations package, it is imperative they act to honor their long standing—yet chronically underfunded—commitment to IDEA. Read the letter here

 

Federal Funding Update

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Federal Funding Update

On Friday, September 30, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at FY22 levels until December 16—avoiding a government shutdown that would’ve occurred at midnight.

In addition to funding the government, the package includes $12 billion in emergency military and economic funding to Ukraine in response to its war against Russia, $1 billion in low-income family heating assistance, $20 million for the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis, $2.5 billion for communities impacted by natural disasters and more than $112 million for federal court security.

The temporary funding package buys time for congressional negotiations on a broader, long-term government spending deal for FY23. 

Spread the Word About the Expanded Child Tax Credit

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Spread the Word About the Expanded Child Tax Credit

 There's still time for schools to help families claim the expanded CTC, which provides up to $3,600 per child. Recent data shows the CTC's significant role in reducing poverty and helping families meet their children's basic needs. Unfortunately, many kids are still at risk of missing out on these funds. This is an urgent time to spread the word among families, because they have until November 15th to easily claim this money on their own online at  GetCTC.org. While families can continue to claim these tax credits after November 15th, they'll need to file full tax returns to do so. 

Your district can help spread the word before November 15th, by sending text messages, emails, and/or flyers to families. Find these ready-to-use resources in 10 languages here. For full outreach resource toolkits, check out this outreach website

Want to learn more? On Thursday, October 13th at 2 pm ET, join the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Code for America, Coalition on Human Needs, and Partnership for America's Children for a refresher on how to help families claim the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) before simplified filing closes on November 15th, and to hear exciting new information on the launch of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) feature on GetCTC.org. All registrants will receive the recording and resources.  Register here.

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

ED and DOL Letter on Addressing School Staff Shortages

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ED and DOL Letter on Addressing School Staff Shortages

On August 31, Department of Education (ED) Secretary Miguel Cardona and Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Marty Walsh sent a letter to state and local education and workforce leaders encouraging them to take a series of actions to address teacher and school staff shortages and invest in the teaching profession, including:

(1) Establish high quality paid Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAP) for teaching. Registered Apprenticeship is an effective, high-quality "earn and learn" model that provides structured, paid on-the-job learning experiences combined with job-related technical instruction with a mentor that leads to a nationally recognized credential. Once established, RAPs can leverage financial resources from ED and DOL to support this career pathway.

(2) Increase collaboration across workforce and education systems, including strengthening career pathway partnerships, to bring more people into the education profession through high-quality pathways, such as providing opportunities for school-based staff to become teachers. Workforce and education partners can work more closely in developing their respective statewide strategies, including how they can create pathways for individuals from underrepresented populations to become educators. The letter recommends creating long-term collaboration through inclusion in state plans required by Federal Education laws such as ESEA, IDEA and Perkins.

(3) Ensure teachers are paid a livable and competitive wage. Secretaries Cardona and Walsh encourage states and school districts to use ESSER funds to pay critical staff competitively. They also highlight that Governors, county commissioners, and mayors can also help districts address this challenge by using the $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) to help schools hire staff, including by providing premium pay.

Read the full letter here.

In addition to the letter, the White House announced commitments from talent recruitment and job platforms to make it easier for states and school districts source, recruit, and hire teachers and school professionals, and to help more Americans find jobs in education. See more information here

PSLF Day of Action

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PSLF Day of Action

With just two months left to go until the end of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) limited waiver period on October 31st, the White House is calling on employers and others across the country to get the word out. So far, borrowers have gotten more than $10 billion forgiven through PSLF. RSVP to the White House Day of Action here.

Tomorrow, August 31st, the White House is focusing on spreading the word about the PSLF limited waiver to educators, school personnel, administrators, professors and other employees at all education levels. This relief can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who work tirelessly every day to educate and care for our nation’s students. Please join by posting to social media, sending out an email to your educator networks, or otherwise help public servants to access this life-changing opportunity.

Use AASA's template email for superintendents to share with their staff on how to take advantage of the waiver before it expires. 

The White House also developed a set of materials for K-12 school district administrators and college leaders to share with educators on how to complete the PSLF application. In it, you can find draft newsletter blurbs, a template all-school email, social media samples, and more! You can also visit our PSLF stakeholder resource page for additional relevant toolkits for other community sectors.

Updates from HHS: Back to School townhall, #VaxToSchool, Youth Vaccine Champions

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Updates from HHS: Back to School townhall, #VaxToSchool, Youth Vaccine Champions

 Back to School Town Hall for School Staff – Thursday 9/1 at 6:30pm ET

You are invited to a Back-to-School town hall for teachers and school staff on Thursday, September 1st at 6:30pm ET, hosted by the White House in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). The conversation will include panels on health and safety, as well as academics and mental health. Speakers will include Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and NEA President Becky Pringle. To register, please visit https://pitc.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_jE_vnPijRVKlPtjGFEI6SA. If registrations are full, you can watch the program in its entirety on Twitter (@WHCOVIDResponse) and YouTube (The White House). The event is open to all school staff.

#VaxToSchool toolkit

HHS launched the #VaxToSchool social media toolkit to promote the use of hashtag #VaxToSchool (and #WeCanDoThis) and encourage back-to-school COVID vaccinations for students of all ages. Sample posts and graphics are provided to share across social media channels. Please promote widely between now and the end of the first week of September as students across the nation go back to school! See attached.

Young people who have championed access to COVID-19 vaccines

HHS is also looking to celebrate and lift up young people who have been champions for COVID-19 vaccines in their communities – among other young people, or in the community at large. They are looking for any suggestions you might have of talented young people who have been engaged on vaccine access, awareness, and confidence. If so, please send information about them our way!

Hundreds of District Leaders Sign Letter to Cardona Urging Late Liquidation Flexibility

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Hundreds of District Leaders Sign Letter to Cardona Urging Late Liquidation Flexibility

On Monday, almost 700 district leaders from 47 states sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona urging the Department to immediately issue guidance that will clarify how much additional time districts can have to spend ARP funding for contracted services, projects and personnel. Additional time to liquidate the ARP funds ensures that districts can maintain the critical pandemic-related services students require to overcome the challenges of the past three academic years.

This letter, signed by not only superintendents but school business officials and educational service agency directors, is the first open sign-on letter to the Secretary in many years. The breadth and depth of the signatories—the letter includes some of the largest and smallest districts in the country—demonstrates the urgency of this issue and the importance of knowing when and how this flexibility will be granted to districts.

To read the letter and signatories you can click here. We will update the blogpost if we hear a response from the Department or the Secretary.

NASSP Principal Recovery Network Releases Guide to Recovery

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NASSP Principal Recovery Network Releases Guide to Recovery

Founded in April 2019, the NASSP Principal Recovery Network (PRN) is a national network of current and former school leaders who have experienced gun violence tragedies in their buildings. Together, the PRN seeks to assist principals in the immediate aftermath of a crisis and well beyond. PRN members reach out directly to their colleagues to provide much-needed support, share the combined wisdom of their experience with the larger principal community through various outlets, assist schools during recovery, and advocate for national school safety enhancements and violence prevention programs.

In August 2022, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Principal Recovery Network published the Guide to Recovery, a collection of best practices to assist school leaders in the aftermath of shooting tragedies. Authors include current and former principals of Columbine High School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Sandy Hook Elementary.

The 16-page guide is divided into five areas of focus for school leaders: securing support and responding to offers of assistance, reopening the school, attending to the ongoing needs of students and staff, holding commemorations and annual remembrances, and listening to student voice.

We encourage you to share with your membership.

USED and CDC Create Resources on Monkeypox for Educators, Will Hold Stakeholder Call

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USED and CDC Create Resources on Monkeypox for Educators, Will Hold Stakeholder Call

Today, USED released two new resources for educators related to monkeypox. The first is a set of frequently asked questions from Schools, Early Care and Education Programs, and Other Settings Serving Children or Adolescents about monkeypox. The second is a factsheet about What You Need to Know about Monkeypox if You are a Teen or Young Adult.

The CDC will host two webinars to share information on these resources and take questions from stakeholders:

  • Today, August, 22, a webinar for early childhood education (ECE) partners will be held from 2:00-2:30 p.m. ET. Please click the link to join the ECE webinar.
  • Today, August 22, a webinar for K-12 educators will be held from 3:00 - 3:30 p.m. ET. Please click the link to join the K-12 webinar.

 

 

Appropriations Update

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Appropriations Update

On July 28, the Senate Appropriations Committee released its proposed Democratic fiscal year (FY) 2023 funding bills. This means that we now have both the House and Senate proposals for FY23. Before we get into the numbers, it’s important to note that these are the Democratic proposals and the negotiated bipartisan bills may lead to significantly lower funding than the democrat-only bills.

Here are the proposed numbers for Title I and IDEA:

 

President’s Proposal

House

Senate

Title I

$36.5 billion (includes a proposal for $16 billion to be included as mandatory spending)

$20.5 billion (+$3 billion from FY22)

 

$20.1 billion (+2.6 billion from FY22)

IDEA

$16.26 billion (+3 billion from FY22

$16.26 billion (+3 billion from FY22)

$15.3 billion (+1.98 billion from FY22)

 The House left for August recess before passing the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill. Although it is possible the House passes the bill once they return, it’s far more likely that the next action on FY23 appropriations will be a congressional vote to extend current FY22 funding for a period into FY23.

The Senate does not leave for August recess until next week but is not expected to take further action on appropriations as all attention is on a possible reconciliation package. 

AASA Joins K12 Groups in Amicus Brief for SCOTUS Case on Affirmative Action

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AASA Joins K12 Groups in Amicus Brief for SCOTUS Case on Affirmative Action

AASA joined the National School Board Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and American School Counselors Association in an amicus brief for Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard and SFFA v. University of North Carolina. This pair of cases—which have been separated for oral argument—concern racial discrimination in affirmative action programs as used in for college admissions. SFFA v. Harvard centers on Harvard University's undergraduate admissions process; the program is accused of discriminating against Asian American applicants. In SFFA v. UNC, the University of North Carolina’s consideration of socioeconomic factors in admission is called into question, for violating Title IV of the Civil Rights Act.  Read our brief here.

 

Biden Administration Strengthens School-Based Mental Health Services

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Biden Administration Strengthens School-Based Mental Health Services

On Thursday, the Biden-Harris Administration announced two new actions to strengthen school-based mental health services and address the youth mental health crisis.

The Department of Education (ED) and Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) also announced that they are planning to release the significantly overdue re-write of the Medicaid program in the next 6-8 weeks! We will keep you updated as learn more.


In addition, next week, ED will begin the process to disburse almost $300 million Congress appropriated in FY22 through both the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the FY22 Omnibus to help schools hire more school-based mental health professionals and build a strong pipeline into the profession for the upcoming school year. In total, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will invest $1 billion over the next five years in mental health supports in our schools, making progress towards the President’s goal to double the number of school counselors, social workers and other mental health professionals. This funding is allocated to two critical programs:   

  • The Mental Health Service Professional (MHSP) Demonstration Grant Program. In FY22, this program will provide over $140 million in competitive grants to support a strong pipeline into the mental health profession, including innovative partnerships to prepare qualified school-based mental health services providers for employment in schools.
  • School-Based Mental Health (SBMH) Services Grant Program. In FY22, this program will provide over $140 million in competitive grants to states and school districts to increase the number of qualified mental health services providers delivering school-based mental health services to students in local educational agencies with demonstrated need. This will increase the number of school psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals serving our students. Some schools will gain mental health staff for the first time. Others will see this critical workforce expand. By increasing the number of qualified mental health professionals in our schools, and thereby reducing the number of students each provider serves, this program will meaningfully improve access to mental health services for vulnerable students. 

ED will be partnering to provide districts with as much TA as possible on how to apply for this funding as well as the $1 billion that will be distributed competitively to States/districts through the Title IV program. Stay tuned for information on a forthcoming webinar on how to apply for these critical funds.

How School Leaders Can Help Families Claim the Expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) During the Back-to-School Period

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How School Leaders Can Help Families Claim the Expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) During the Back-to-School Period

Schools can help spread the word about the expanded CTC, which provides up to $3,600 per child. Unfortunately, millions of kids are at risk of missing out- disproportionately Black and Latino children, and children in low-income households. You can help point families to GetCTC.org where they can claim this money on their own before mid-November. 

The back-to-school period provides the perfect opportunity to spread the word about the CTC by:

  • Including flyers in “welcome back” resources at the start of the school year 
  • Sending texts, emails and/or robocalls to families in your district, using these sample messages in multiple languages

You can find additional ready-to-use, multilingual resources on this CTC outreach website from the Coalition on Human Needs and Partnership for America's Children. Want to learn more about the CTC and how schools can help families claim it? Check out this short school outreach training featuring district leaders. Please reach out if you have questions, want support with outreach in your district, or would like a unique URL for GetCTC.org to help you track your outreach impact: Julia Beebe, CTC Outreach Coordinator with the Coalition on Human Needs & Partnership for America’s Children, jbeebe@chn.org 

Webinar Recap: What Do Supts Need to Know and Do About the Newly Proposed Title IX Regs?

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Webinar Recap: What Do Supts Need to Know and Do About the Newly Proposed Title IX Regs?

On July 27, we held our webinar titled “What Do Supts Need to Know and Do About the Newly Proposed Title IX Regs?” with the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA)’s top legal team, Tanyka M. Barber, Mikiba Morehead, Daniel Swinton and AASA’s Sasha Pudelski.

We hope this webinar provided clarity about the significant shift in Title IX policy, and helped you to understand how to take steps to encourage the Department of Education to adopt and change various pieces of the proposed regulations before they are finalized.

Couldn't join us? You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentation here.

ATIXA has a free, open-to-all initiative coming up for the 2022-2023 school year, titled the K-12 Institute for Advancing School Equity, Safety, and Wellness that combines behavioral intervention, threat assessment and Title IX efforts. Visit https://www.atixa.org/k-12-institute/ for more information.

Additionally, AASA has launched aasa.org/titleixtemplate.aspx, a template and instructional guide for superintendents on how to submit comments on the proposed regs to OCR. OCR wants to be responsive to the K-12 field and in particular, district leaders, charged with implementing a new regulation.

 

 

Federal School Safety Clearinghouse Introduces SchoolSafety.Gov Ahead of 2022-23 School Year

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Federal School Safety Clearinghouse Introduces SchoolSafety.Gov Ahead of 2022-23 School Year

As schools and districts look ahead to the next school year, the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse has provided the K-12 community with a variety of resources and tools available on SchoolSafety.gov to assist in safety and security planning efforts. School personnel can use the site to prioritize school safety actions, connect with state-specific and local school safety officials, discover grants and funding opportunities, and find applicable resources, guidance and evidence-based practices to create a comprehensive and holistic school safety program.

SchoolSafety.gov features and tools include:

  • Grants Finder Tool: Supports schools and districts in more easily locating and determining the applicability of Federal funding opportunities to keep school communities safe
  • Safety Readiness Tool: Assists users in evaluating their respective school’s safety posture across ten elements and provides a personalized action plan with options for consideration
  • State Information Sharing Tool: Enables schools to locate and access state-specific school safety programs, contacts, and opportunities
  • Resource Library: Provides actionable resources, guidance, training, and fact sheets that can be filtered by audience, intended application, topic, and more 
  • Calendar of Events: Features upcoming webinars, training sessions, and conferences for school safety personnel, administrators, educators, and parents

You can also find a two-page overview highlighting these tools and other features available on SchoolSafety.gov to support K-12 school communities in their ongoing school safety planning efforts. We encourage you to download and share this with your members, stakeholders, networks and schools and districts in your communities this summer and throughout the upcoming school year as you see fit.

Please contact the School Safety team at SchoolSafety@hq.dhs.gov if you have any questions. 

Learning Policy Institute introduces the Whole Child Policy Toolkit

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Learning Policy Institute introduces the Whole Child Policy Toolkit

The Learning Policy Institute has release the Whole Child Policy Toolkit, a comprehensive framework developed to give state policymakers and education leaders a set of strategies, tools, and resources to advance whole child policy. Produced by LPI with input from more than a dozen Whole Child Policy Table partners, individual organizations, and experts, the toolkit is organized around a framework of five key whole child policy elements. The framework outlines how policymakers can support schools, districts, and communities to make shifts to meet the needs of every child efficiently, effectively, and most importantly, equitably.

The Toolkit offers research-based recommendations that focus on how state policymakers and education stakeholders can support:

In the Toolkit, AASA’s resources have been highlighted, including—In the Loop, Time in Pursuit of Education Equity, and Alternatives to Grade Retention.

AASA and CCSSO Press ED For Guidance on ESSER Late Liquidation Process

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AASA and CCSSO Press ED For Guidance on ESSER Late Liquidation Process

On July 22, AASA, the Council of Chief State School Officers and ten other national organizations, sent a letter to Secretary Cardona confirming late liquidation guidance for ESSER funding that the Department recently issued, and to propose some additional clarifications and considerations. Specifically, the letter seeks clarification that the late liquidation would apply not only agreements related to school infrastructure projects, but also service agreements and licensing agreements that support COVID recovery, such as tutoring programs, summer school, professional learning, and online instructional materials.

It also seeks clarity around the liquidation extension timeline and requests that ED extend the liquidation extension period to December 31, 2026, so districts and states can use funds through the end of the 2025-2026 school year. Finally, we ask the Department to consider a process by which liquidation extension requests can be granted in a timely manner, given the extraordinary burden on districts, states, and the Department that reviewing requests on a case-by-case basis would present.

Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act

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Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act

On July 20, 2022, Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee released the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act—their proposal for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The last reauthorization expired in 2010.

Here are the key points for district leaders:

  • Changes the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) by reducing the eligibility threshold of Identified Student Percentage (ISP) from 40% to 25% and increasing the multiplier from 1.6 to 2.5. These proposed changes would allow more districts to participate by changing eligibility and ensuring the program is more financially feasible.
  • Expands Direct Certification to include Medicaid in all states.
  • Addresses food insecurity over the summer period by changing Area Eligibility for Summer Food Service Program from 50% to 40% students from low-income areas to make the program more accessible. The bill also creates a nationwide Summer EBT program to provide students eligible for Free and Reduced Price Lunch with cash assistance during the summer months.
  • Establishes competitive grant programs to promote scratch cooking, provide plant-based meals, and upgrade equipment.
  • Increases lunch reimbursement by 10 cents and provides an additional 6 cent commodity assistance for breakfast.
  • Requires that summer nutrition standards be updated to align with the Dietary Guidelines. Additionally, codifies the timeline for when nutritional standards must be updated to align with new Dietary Guidelines.
  • Requires USDA conduct a study on best practices regarding adequate meal time and issue guidance for schools participating in the program.
  • Provides guidelines for how districts can deal with unpaid lunch debt. 

AASA and ASBO International sent a letter to House Education and Labor Committee leadership to share our thoughts on the proposal ahead of the mark up scheduled for July 27. Read the full letter here

OCRE Asks USED for Follow Up On Rural Priorities.

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OCRE Asks USED for Follow Up On Rural Priorities.

AASA is a member of Organizations Concerned for Rural Education (OCRE). In a letter dated July 21, 2022, OCRE President John Forkenbrock followed up with Secretary Cardona with pointed questions related to how the Department of Education is proactively considering the perspective of and soliciting feedback from rural educators and communities. Real full letter here

Webinar: What about the students? The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Anti-Inclusive Legislation on K-12 Learning

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Webinar: What about the students? The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Anti-Inclusive Legislation on K-12 Learning

Much of the discussion surrounding the spate of anti-inclusive legislation targeting K-12 education is focused on the rights of families and perceived family values. But what is the impact on students? There has been little to no discussion about the emotional and psychological impact of legislative efforts to craft curriculums that exclude the experiences, history, and identities of students from marginalized communities. Many of these students are already grappling with navigating the societal challenges connected to their sexual, gender and/or racial and ethnic identities.

Is this wave of anti-inclusive legislation exacerbating these challenges? What is the impact on the students’ educational achievement, especially in light of the studies that show that inclusive curriculums are beneficial to all students, regardless of background? Finally, if the goal is to create a more diverse and inclusive legal profession, does the impact of these policies run counter to that goal?

Join the American Bar Association (ABA) for a webinar titled What about the students? The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Anti-Inclusive Legislation on K-12 Learning, Thursday, July 28 at 1 p.m. EDT.

Register here.

Related resources:

 

OCR, OSERS Release New Guidance on Disciplining Students With Disabilities

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OCR, OSERS Release New Guidance on Disciplining Students With Disabilities

 On July 19, 2022, OCR and OSERS jointly released new guidance focused on disciplining students with disabilities. You can find the guidance, factsheet, question and answers document and more here.

A few key takeaways from the guidance are as follows—we encourage you to share this with your special education team and lawyers as well. The guidance states:

  • A school’s responsibility not to discriminate against students with disabilities applies to the conduct of everyone with whom the school has a contractual or other arrangement, such as lunch or recess monitors, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, security staff, private security companies or other contractors, school district police officers, or school resource officers (SROs). Schools cannot divest themselves of their nondiscrimination duty by relying on such personnel when the personnel operate under a contract or other arrangement, such as an MOU.
  • Schools are discouraged from using exclusionary discipline for nonviolent offenses. 
  • A school’s duty to evaluate whether a child has a disability could be triggered by ANY of the following: student behaviors that may harm the student or another person; information voluntarily provided by the student’s parents; frequent office referrals, demerits, notes to parents.
  • A school may have to re-evaluate a student’s disability-based behavioral needs if they are dealing with mental health issues.
  • Schools must ensure that they do not violate the rights of a student with a disability by creating a pattern of removals that constitutes a significant change in placement absent a manifestation determination. OCR considers a series of short-term nonconsecutive removals to also constitute a significant change in placement if combined they total more than 10 school days during the school year and create a pattern of removal. OCR determines whether a series of removals creates a pattern of removal on a case-by-case basis, considering evidence related to, among other factors: the length of each removal, the proximity of the removals to each other, the total amount of time the student is removed from school, and the nature of the behavior underlying each incident and giving rise to the series of removals.
  • Section 504 FAPE requirements do not interfere with a school’s ability to address those extraordinary situations in which a student’s behavior, including disability-based behavior, is an immediate threat to their own or others’ safety. For example, nothing in Section 504’s FAPE requirements prohibits schools from contacting mental health crisis intervention specialists or law enforcement under such extraordinary circumstances, even if the result is that those professionals remove the student from school.
  • Schools can consider the impact of the student’s disability-based behavior on other students. Where a student’s disability-based behavior significantly impairs the education of others or otherwise threatens the safety of the student or others, the Section 504 team’s placement determination could result in a change to the student’s services, supports, or educational setting to more effectively address the behavior and attempt to prevent it from recurring.
  • A school district whose threat or risk assessment team does not coordinate with the Section 504 team of a student with a disability could risk violating the student’s FAPE rights. Schools should ensure that school personnel who are involved in screening for and conducting threat or risk assessments for a student with a disability are aware that the student has a disability and are sufficiently knowledgeable about the school’s FAPE responsibilities so that they can coordinate with the student’s Section 504 team.
  • Informal exclusions are subject to the same Section 504 requirements as formal disciplinary removals, including the FAPE requirements discussed above and the nondiscrimination responsibilities discussed in Section IV
  • OCR cautions schools that informing a parent or guardian that the school will formally suspend or expel the student, or refer the student to law enforcement, if the parent or guardian does not pick up the student from school or agree to restraint/seclusion could be a violation of FAPE.
  • Schools may discipline a student with a disability who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs or the use of alcohol to the same extent that the school disciplines students without disabilities for this conduct.
  • OCR applies the different treatment and disparate impact standard when reviewing discipline for students with disabilities.

AASA will be putting together a webinar for superintendents and special education directors on the new guidance soon. Stay tuned!

USED Webinar: Lessons from the Field: Protecting Students by Preventing Aiding and Abetting Adult

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USED Webinar: Lessons from the Field: Protecting Students by Preventing Aiding and Abetting Adult

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools, the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) invites you to join the next Lessons from the Field webinar, Protecting Students by Preventing Aiding and Abetting Adult Sexual Misconduct, being held Wednesday, July 20, 2022 at 3 p.m. EDT.

Subject matter includes experts and state and local education agencies sharing how schools and districts can inhibit the aiding and abetting of adult sexual misconduct. Also known as ‘passing the trash,’ this is when staff who have engaged in adult sexual misconduct move to another school. This webinar will improve participants’ understanding of what aiding and abetting is and what practices and policies can help prevent it. Register for the webinar here.

Related resources:

AASA Advocacy Conference Resources

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AASA Advocacy Conference Resources

For those of you here in DC in person (and those of you following along at home!) here are the resources for this week’s conference. We will be posting presentation slide decks as we get them.


Don't forget about our IDEA Full Funding Invoice / Call to Action and our 2022 Talking Points

And Making the Most of Your Summer with AASA’s ARP Tools: With ARP spending present of mind following last week’s sessions, we also want to share (or re-share) a set of AASA tools that can help you and your team reflect on your past and planned uses of these recovery funds. The AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign guidance and self-assessment tools focus on evaluating both how you approach using ARP funds, as well as what you use them forWe encourage you to use them to increase the impact of your spending in the remaining time.

Please take a few minutes to complete our Feedback Survey about the Legislative Advocacy Conference so we can continue to bring you the latest and best in federal advocacy sessions.

 

CALL-TO-ACTION: Tell Congress to Fully Fund IDEA

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CALL-TO-ACTION: Tell Congress to Fully Fund IDEA

Join educators across America in urging Congress to fully fund IDEA! The most recent federal appropriation (FY22) puts the federal share at just 13.3% of the authorized 40%, meaning continued and extensive encroachment into state and local education budgets, as states and districts use state and local dollars to cover the federal shortfall. Tell your Senators and Representative to support the IDEA Full Funding Act (HR 5984 / S 3213) now. Take action here and be sure to use the IDEA Invoice templates to calculate the amount owed to your district and include it in the message.

USDA Extends Numerous Waivers for Summer 2022

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USDA Extends Numerous Waivers for Summer 2022

Under the authority granted by the Keep Kids Fed Act, USDA issued or extended six waivers for Summer 2022. These waivers are for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) Programs only and are effective immediately for states that choose to adopt them.

  • Area Eligibility—Allows states to waive the requirement in the SFSP and SSO that "open site" meal service is limited to areas with at least half of the children in the area are low-income households.
  • Area Eligibility for Closed Enrolled Sites—Waives the requirement that closed enrolled sites collect income eligibility applications to determine eligibility.
  • SFSP Reimbursements Rates for SSO—Allows school food authorities to receive the SFSP reimbursement rate for meals and snacks provided under the SSO program
  • Non-Congregate Feeding—Allows meals to be provided outside of a congregate feeding setting. Meals can be distributed at a site where families pick up the meals, as well as be delivered to children’s homes.
  • Parent Pick-Up—Allows a parent or guardian to pick up meals to take home to children.
  • Meal Service Time Restrictions—Provides flexibility to the meal service time requirements by allowing meals to be served outside of the standard meal times.

For school year 2022-23, USDA has extended the Fiscal Action Flexibility for Meal Pattern Violations Related to COVID-19 Supply Chain Disruptions Waiver through June 30, 2023. This waiver ensures that schools are not held financially responsible for missing food components or other meal pattern requirement violations that occurred due to the supply chain disruptions. This waiver is critical as districts continue to face significant challenges due to the supply chain such as unreliable deliveries and last-minute substitutes. 

 

Top Five Things Superintendents Should Know About the Proposed Title IX Rules

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Top Five Things Superintendents Should Know About the Proposed Title IX Rules

By Jackie Gharapour Wernz, Partner, Thompson & Horton LLP* 

On the Fiftieth anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed amendments to the Title IX regulations. The rules are just a proposal—don’t go throwing out your current copy of the 2020 regs just yet! The earliest they will become effective would be in time for the 2023–2024 school year. When they take effect, they likely will include some changes from the proposed version.     

However, because the final rules likely will be similar to those proposed, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the proposed rules now. If you haven’t already, watch the Thompson & Horton free on-demand webinar, Title IX Double Take: A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Current and Proposed Title IX Rules, which provides a fast-paced and thorough side-by-side comparison between the current and proposed rules in a side-by-side format.  

1. Required Grievance Procedures for All Complaints of “Sex Discrimination”  

The proposed rules require a somewhat less prescriptive set of grievance procedures than the current rules. But the procedures would be much more broadly applicable.  Specifically, the current rules require the grievance process to be used only for “sexual harassment” complaints. The proposed rules, however, would require schools to use the grievance procedures outlined in the rules for any complaint of sex discrimination. That includes sexual harassment, but also things like: 

  • Sex-based harassment 
  • Different treatment and different impact based on sex (such as in single-sex programs or discipline) 
  • Failures to accommodate based on sex (including based on pregnancy and LGBTQIA status), and 
  • Retaliation.  

2. On the Hook for Off-Campus Conduct?  

Another broadening would occur under the new regulations regarding alleged sex-based discrimination that occurs outside of the United States or off-campus and outside the educational program or activity. The new rules would make clear that they would applyif such conduct contributes to an alleged hostile environment back home in the school’s educational program or activity. It is unclear whether this new language will require a school to actually investigate the behavior that occurred outside the U.S. or off-campus. But many are suggesting that is the direction the Department of Education may be headed. Such an interpretation would be a significant change for schools, which currently defer to law enforcement for off-campus sexual misconduct in most cases. This is an area where schools should work to make their voices heard during the comment process. 

3. Goodbye “SPOO,” Hello “SORP” 

Under the current Title IX regulations, if conduct is not part of the Title IX Big Five (employee quid pro quo, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking), it can only be “sexual harassment” that must be addressed using the Title IX grievance process if it is unwelcome conduct based on sex that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it “effectively denies” equal access to the educational institution’s education program or activity. Such conduct is commonly referred to as “hostile environment sexual harassment,” and the Title IX “hostile environment” standard is sometimes shortened to “SPOO” for “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” Other “lower level” types of sexual harassment that is not “SPOO” can be addressed using another process, such as a school’s code of conduct for student discipline.  

The proposed rules would apply the Title IX process to almost all of those “low level” types of sexual misconduct, sweeping many more complaints under the Title IX grievance process. Conduct would create a “hostile environment” subject to the Title IX rules if it is unwelcome conduct based on sex that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive” that, “based on the totality of the circumstances and evaluated subjectively and objectively, denies or limits” a person’s “ability to participate in or benefit from” the educational institution’s education program or activity. Many are already referring to this standard as “SORP” for “severe or pervasive.”  

The change from “SPOO” to “SORP” would be big. It would take us back to a standard more like the one used before the 2020 Title IX rules. In total, the first three changes identified here—and other “broadening” changes in the proposed rules—would mean that many more incidents of misconduct would fall under the Title IX process than under the current rules.    

4. Procedural Changes 

With the broadening of the complaints that will fall under the Title IX rules, superintendents should be understandably worried about applying the incredibly complicated process from the 2020 Title IX rules to all these new complaints. The current rules include lengthy, cumbersome processes unlike any other type of grievance or complaint in the education context. 

The good news is that the processes in the proposed Title IX rules are much less prescriptive than those in the current rules, especially for K-12 schools. Here are some key takeaways from the K-12 process in the proposed rules:  

  • Fewer Time-Consuming Reviews in the Investigation. One of the most cumbersome parts of the investigation process in the current rules is that the investigator must allow the parties two separate ten-day review periods during the investigation process. Parties must be allowed to review and respond to the “directly related evidence” before the investigation report is finalized and then to the investigation report before any decision is made. Under the proposed rules, those steps would be gone for K-12 complaints. All that would be required would be to “provide each party with a description of relevant/permissible evidence with a reasonable opportunity to respond.”  
  • The Single Investigator/Decisionmaker Model is Back. There are also significant proposed changes to decision-making. The proposed rules would allow educational institutions to use the “single investigator/decisionmaker” model for Title IX cases. That means the proposed rules would jettison the current rules’ requirement that the decisionmaker be someone other than the investigator and Title IX Coordinator. Indeed, under the proposed rules, the decisionmaker can be Title IX Coordinator, the investigator, or all three roles. 
  • Less is More for the Written Determination. The requirements for what must be in the written determinationin the Title IX decision-making process would also be loosened significantly for most cases under the proposed rules. In K-12 cases, the proposed regulations would require the recipient only to notify the parties of the complaint’s outcome, including whether sex discrimination occurred under Title IX and the procedures and permissible bases for the complainant and respondent to appeal. That’s a far cry from the current “written determination on the merits,” which prescribes precise information that must be included in an incredibly lengthy document.  
  • Barely Any Appeals. Finally, whereas the 2020 Title IX rules require appeals to be offered for several reasons, the proposed rules require appeals only for dismissals for K-12, and do not identify any required bases for K-12 appeals. However, the decisionmaker in the appeal must continue to be different from the initial decisionmaker. 

5. Application to LGBTQI+ Discrimination  

The proposed rules would be the first time Title IX would explicitly extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, aligning Title IX with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. Bostock held that Title IX’s sister law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

While the Biden administration has said unofficially many times that it believes Title IX requires equal access for transgender students, including to sports teams, it will not weigh in officially on the question under these proposed rules. Instead, it will engage in separate rulemaking in the future to address #TitleIX’s application to athletics as early as this fall.  

These are a few of the many, many changes to the Title IX regulations from the 2022 Title IX proposed rules. Superintendents should use this opportunity to weigh in on the rules before they become law; OCR will no longer be listening once the rules are finalized. The comment period for the rules will be open for 60 days after the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, which has still not happened yet.  

*Also authored by Emmy Edwards, a first-year law student at Southern Methodist University, currently a legal intern at Thompson & Horton LLP. You can reach the authors of this post at jwernz@thlaw.com.  

USDA Provides Additional Funding for School Nutrition Programs

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USDA Provides Additional Funding for School Nutrition Programs

On June 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it will provide nearly $943 million in additional funding to schools to help address the significant challenges child nutrition programs continue to face, such as high food costs and supply chain disruptions. The funding will be made available for the purchase of American-grown foods for their meal programs. 

The $943 million boost from the department is provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. Funds will be distributed by state agencies to schools across the country, so they can purchase domestically-grown foods for their meal programs. This assistance builds on the $1 billion in Supply Chain Assistance funds USDA previously allocated in December 2021, which states can use this school year as well as next to provide schools with funding for commodity purchases.   

Like the Supply Chain Assistance Funds, states will allocate funds based on enrollment but must set a base amount to ensure small districts aren't left out of the program. 

 

 

The Advocate July 2022

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The Advocate July 2022

It’s with great excitement to share the legislation AASA helped write and have introduced was signed into law as part of the bipartisan gun legislation known as the Safer Communities Act. We are thrilled that the policy we have long championed to improve and expand access to mental health services, as well as all healthcare services in schools, will now become a reality.

AASA spent the past decade urging the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to dramatically revisit their guidance on how districts claim and bill for Medicaid-reimbursable healthcare services. Frustrated about the inaction by multiple federal administrations, in 2019 we issued a report urging Congress to force CMS to issue new guidance on the program that would streamline the paperwork requirements for districts. 

In March, President Biden announced his administration would take steps to revise the program and reduce operational barriers to participation. For the last few months, we have been meeting actively with CMS and our conversations with staff led us to believe there was hesitation to make the bold, transformative changes to the school-based Medicaid program that would dramatically streamline the paperwork for districts and reduce the administrative burden on districts. 

After the tragedy in Uvalde, we led a letter to Congress signed by all the major K-12 education groups asking that they address the Medicaid reimbursement issue as a way of tackling the mental health crisis. We are happy to see our specific asks for the revised Medicaid guidance addressed in the law. 

Specifically, the Safer Communities Act requires CMS to move quickly to update the rules governing school-based Medicaid programs to reduce the administrative burdens that are particularly acute for small and rural districts, opening the door for districts to bill for a variety of healthcare related services they perform every day for students and their families. For years, we have known there are numerous obstacles to obtaining appropriate Medicaid reimbursement for the delivery of healthcare services in schools. As a result, many districts that have high numbers of Medicaid-eligible children do not even attempt to participate in the Medicaid program. 

As districts are faced with more children with critical health and mental healthcare needs and increasing demands for school personnel to provide those services, AASA has developed a specific policy solution that will enable more districts—large, small, urban, and rural, high-poverty and low-poverty—to participate in the Medicaid program. 

Now, Congress has mandated that CMS recognize AASA’s policy solution and allow districts to use a simplified, uniform billing process for direct and administrative healthcare services for direct services such as speech-language pathology, counseling, nursing, etc. as well as care-coordination, transportation, Medicaid enrollment, and other administrative services that they may already provide. In addition to this transformational policy shift, Congress also mandated the creation of a new technical assistance center to help districts maximize their Medicaid billing processes and ensure they follow federal requirements. Congress also granted every state $1 million to operationalize the new billing flexibilities that CMS will issue, so states and districts can shift their programs to take advantage of these new operational efficiencies. 

At a time when we have an uptick in children who lack health insurance coverage and a surge in children coming to school with unaddressed mental health needs, there is an urgency to improve the reimbursement stream for school-based Medicaid programs so schools can deliver more services to more students. This new reimbursement model has the potential to benefit students and families, district personnel and administrators, states and other healthcare partners to ensure more efficient delivery of healthcare services to children in schools.

Medicaid in Schools Guidance Language is Law

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Medicaid in Schools Guidance Language is Law

The bipartisan Safer Communities Act that passed to prevent gun violence last week included language requiring CMS to issue new school-based Medicaid guidance before June 2023. The guidance does EXACTLY what the Medicaid in Schools Coalition has been asking CMS to do for years and goes further than what we had hoped for by providing direct grants to states to start the hard, but meaningful work of changing how they process Medicaid claims, find ways to dramatically expand Medicaid-reimbursable services to schools, and generally take advantage of the new flexibilities that they will be granted via updated guidance to expand healthcare, particularly mental health services, to millions more children.

This is going to be totally game-changing for states, for districts and most importantly for KIDS.

Here are the specifics (which you can also find starting on page 11 here)

  1. Update the Medicaid guidance from 1997 and 2003
  2. Clarify that a State should take steps to allow a district to bill for any EPSDT service they provide
  3. Outline strategies/tools that reduce the administrative burdens on, and simplify billing for local educational agencies, in particular small and rural LEAs, and support compliance with Federal requirements regarding billing, payment, and recordkeeping, including by aligning direct service billing and school-based administrative claiming payments
  4. Include a comprehensive list of best practices and examples of approved methods that State Medicaid agencies and local educational agencies have used to pay for, and increase the availability of, assistance under Medicaid, including expanding  State programs to include all Medicaid-enrolled students, providing early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment  (EPSDT) services in schools, utilizing telehealth, coordinating with community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers and organizations, coordinating with managed care entities, and supporting the provision of culturally competent and trauma-informed care in school settings; and
  5. Provide examples of the types of providers (which may include qualified school health personnel) that States may choose to enroll, deem, or otherwise treat as participating providers for purposes of school-based programs under Medicaid and best practices related to helping such providers enroll in Medicaid for purposes of participating in school-based programs under Medicaid. (note: this is essential for ensuring critical school personnel like school psychologists can bill Medicaid and was NOT something CMS was planning to clarify in their guidance based on our most recent conversations with them).
  6. Create a NEW TA Center—in consultation with ED—with $8m in seed money so districts and states aren’t lost about how to do school-based Medicaid any more. Further, the TA Center has to report to Congress on the areas where the most TA was requested to ensure that CMS is accountable and responsive to stakeholder needs.
  7. $50m in grants to States to for the purpose of implementing, enhancing, or expanding the provision of assistance through school-based entities under Medicaid or CHIP.

Despite this amazing victory - the work continues. We must continue to urge ED to reduce barriers to accessing Medicaid services in schools through changes to FEPRA and parental consent requirements as well as urge CMS to follow this law  and be more aggressive in promoting free care, removing TPL barriers, and more, but this is a great and unexpected new policy that should be celebrated. 

USED to Hold Public Briefing on Proposed Title IX Regulations

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USED to Hold Public Briefing on Proposed Title IX Regulations

The U.S. Department of Education will be holding a public briefing on the proposed amendments to the Title IX regulations that we released earlier today. The briefing will be held online tomorrow, Friday, June 24 from 2:00 - 2:30 pm EDT.

Registration for the briefing can be found here. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the call. Captioning will be provided.

For more information about the proposed Title IX regulations released today, here are the following resources:

FY23 Appropriations Update

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FY23 Appropriations Update

While we may have thought it was enough to be monitoring 2 SCOTUS cases, the Title IX regulations, the Keep Kids Fed Act and the Safer Communities Act, Congress is all about being busy ahead of the July 4 recess. The House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee released its FY23 appropriations bill ahead of today’s mark up. We are only going to highlight too take aways here, as it is very early in the process and numbers are subject to change. This is a place holder in the annual appropriations process, and we need to see how the Senate mark compares, if either of the packages are bipartisan (unlikely) and how the two proposals are reconciled to a final place that can garner the votes necessary to get over the finish line.

So what do you need to know for today? 

  • The bill provides a big increase for ED, but less than the even larger increase the President requested.
  • It provides $86.7 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education, which is $1.6 billion less than the President’s request and $11.3 billion (15%) above the net level provided for FY 2022 (it is $10.3 billion above the gross level provided for FY 2022, but that total included a $1.0 billion rescission of previously appropriated Pell Grant funding).  
  • Program Highlights (subject to change and update)
    • $3 billion increase for Title I
    • $100 m increase for Title II
    • $75 million increase for Title IV
    • $933 m increase for school based mental health services grants/ mental health services professional demonstration grants 
    • $2.95 billion increase for IDEA Part B
    • $45 million increase for CTE state grants
    • No increase to rural education 
     

 

 

AASA Joins Coalition Letter Supporting Safer Communities Act

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AASA Joins Coalition Letter Supporting Safer Communities Act

It’s a busy week on Capitol Hill, and we are pleased to report that the Senate is now considering the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Following outcries for action from across the country, this legislative package represents a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country. The legislation, introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is fully paid for and follows their previously released bipartisan proposal supported by Senate leaders from both parties and a bipartisan group of 20 Senators. 

In addition to the gun violence prevention pieces, there are significant legislative accomplishments attributable to AASA that are embedded in this package.

First, there is language requiring CMS to issue guidance on an updated school-based Medicaid program reimbursement system that includes taking steps to dramatically reduce the administrative burden on small and rural districts and the creation of a new TA center for districts to utilize to insure they are billing expansively for healthcare services they provide to students. A complete summary of the Medicaid pieces is here

Second, there is increased funding for the STOP School Violence Act grant program, Project AWARE, and $2 billion in new funding for districts to hire mental health professionals and build a pipeline of mental health personnel. While we know this is not the robust funding we need to address the mental health crisis in our schools, this funding is a good start and will meaningfully increase access to these professionals in some school districts. 

Keep Kids Fed Act

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Keep Kids Fed Act

On June 25, Congress passed the Keep Kids Fed Act. Led by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Boozman (R-AR) and House Education and Labor Chairman Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Foxx (R-NC) this rare, bipartisan, bicameral agreement includes $3 billion to provide relief to school meal programs and other providers beyond the June 30 expiration date of child nutrition waivers without extending all of them. 

Specifically, the bill provides the following assistance: 

  • Increase federal reimbursement rates: 40 cents per meal for lunch and 15 cents per meal for breakfast, above the annual inflationary adjustment scheduled for July 1
  • Extend the USDA's authority for all waivers for 2022 summer meal programs
  • Extend the USDA's authority for no-cost waivers for SY22-23, including those for schools unable to meet nutrition standards due to supply chain disruptions and to reduce administrative and reporting burdens   

On June 23, AASA released a statement with four organizations expressing our support for the package. Most notably for schools, the Seamless Summer Option Waiver - which allowed districts to serve meals to all students at no cost - was not extended. Schools must return to the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Model. 

Here is a breakdown of what waivers USDA has the authority to issue: 

WAIVER

Summer

(Until Sept. 2022)

School 2022-23 (Until June 2023)

Area Eligibility

Yes

No

Meal Pattern Requirement

Yes

Yes

Parent/Guardian Pick Up

Yes

Yes

Non-Congregate Setting

Yes

Yes

Meal Service Times

Yes

Yes


It is important to note that waivers for the summer are only available for the Seamless Summer Option and Summer Food Service Program. The waivers are not applicable for summer schools operating the National School Lunch Program.  

Although USDA now has the authority to issues these waivers, they still must do so. We anticipate USDA will issues these waivers quickly but provide caution that none of these waivers are available until USDA takes the necessary actions. Once USDA issues the waiver and guidance, states will need to opt-in and create the necessary procedures.

 

AASA Joins Letter Asking for Schools to be Added to WH Conference on Hunger

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AASA Joins Letter Asking for Schools to be Added to WH Conference on Hunger

On June 21, AASA joined a group of thirty education, nutrition, and disabilities' rights organizations in calling on President Biden to add a sixth pillar to the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to emphasize the critical role schools play in addressing student hunger and nutrition. Additionally, the letter encourages the administration to not only solicit feedback and input from stakeholders with expertise in education-related disciplines, but also to ensure that students, families, educators, practitioners, and other stakeholders are present and involved in the Conference itself in September. Read the full letter here.

 

SCOTUS Decision in Maine Voucher Case

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SCOTUS Decision in Maine Voucher Case

Earlier today the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Carson v Makin case, a voucher case from Maine premised on whether or not Maine could deny public funds to schools that promote religious instruction. In a 6-3 decision, the court handed down a predictable decision against the state of Maine, ruling that a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to school that promote religious instruction was unconstitutional. The decision makes it a bit easier for K12 religious schools to access private funds (continuing a recent trend), but does not require states to fund religious schools if they aren’t already funding private schools.

Background: In November 2021, AASA was proud to join NSBA and other education groups in filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in the case Carson v Makin. This case presents a question of vital importance to school superintendents: whether the free public education available to all residents by their local school boards must include the option of a pervasively religious education or whether innovative methods of providing a secular public education that are necessitated by local district circumstances may lawfully exclude the sectarian alternative. We were never expecting a favorable outcome (given the current court) and it was always a question of how far this decision would go beyond 2020’s Espinoza ruling. There is the potential for this case to impact the ability of private religious schools to be eligible for state formula funding as well as other funding that has been traditionally limited to public schools. In terms of the voucher program under question: jurisdictions in rural areas too sparsely populated to support public schools of their own can arrange to have nearby schools teach their school-age children, or the state will pay tuition to parents to send their kids to private schools. But those schools must be nonsectarian, meaning they cannot promote a faith or belief system or teach “through the lens of this faith,” in the words of the state’s department of education. Privatization/voucher advocates argued the policy was discriminatory. 

Today’s decision continues a shift in momentum that reaches back to the earlier Espinoza decision, which found that states much allow religious schools to participate in programs that provide scholarships to students attending private schools.  It reflects a court that continues to grow receptive to claims from religious groups and people, requiring governments to aid religious institutions (albeit however much at odds with the historical separation of church and state). It comes with huge consequences for state funding of religion. The court’s conservative majority holds that the First Amendment requires Maine’s taxpayers to fund explicitly religious education.  Today’s decision continues to open the door to further privatization of education, and raises important questions/considerations:

  • Sotomayor: “Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.’ And ‘A state's effort to preserve the constitutional separation of church and state now qualifies as a violation of free exercise. The majority is repealing the establishment clause.’ And ‘This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build. ... The consequences of the Court’s rapid transformation of the Religion Clauses must not be understated.’
  • Breyer, asking the next logical question: Does this ruling mean that states must provide equal funding to private religious schools and public schools? Taken at face value, Roberts' decision has the potential to dismantle secular public education. 

 

 

National Healthy Schools Collaborative Releases Ten-Year Roadmap

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National Healthy Schools Collaborative Releases Ten-Year Roadmap

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how connected health and learning are. Districts cannot return to the pre-pandemic status quo which left millions of children and adults in unhealthy schools. 

The National Healthy Schools Collaborative’s Ten-Year Roadmap offers a bold, comprehensive and popular blueprint to create healthy schools over the next decade. AASA is happy to be part of the implementation to better schools across the country.

Informed by the real experiences of students, school staff and administrators, parents, and nonprofit organizations as well as successful policy experiments around the country,  the roadmap offers a bold and practical path forward. This is not just another report telling people in schools what they need to do. This is the beginning of a movement to build and sustain healthy school communities with real resources to get involved:  

  • If you are a district or school, take the NHSC Ten-Year Roadmap Integrated Assessment aligned with the roadmap to assess how healthy your district or school is 
  • If you are an education and health organization consider applying to become part of the NHSC to implement opportunities in the roadmap. 
  • If you are a family member, interested community member, or student advocate for Healthy Schools. 

 

You can find the roadmap here. Learn more on the Kaiser Permanente blog here.

 

EPA Hosts Series of Webinars on the Clean School Bus Rebate Program

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EPA Hosts Series of Webinars on the Clean School Bus Rebate Program

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a series of webinars about the $500 million Clean School Bus Rebate Program. Application deadline for the program is August 19, 2022. 

  • June 22, 1:00p.m. ET – Joint Office of Energy and Transportation: Electric & Clean School Bus Infrastructure
  • June 29, 1:00p.m. ET – How to Apply with Live Q&A
  • July 13, 1:00p.m.  ET – Office of the Inspector General: Fraud Prevention & Best Practices
  • July 27, 1:00p.m. ET – How to Apply with Live Q&A
  • August 10, 1:00p.m. ET – U.S. Department of Agriculture: Rural Electric Cooperatives Infrastructure Funding
Register for one or all of the webinars here

 

USED Releases Final Maintenance of Equity Rule

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USED Releases Final Maintenance of Equity Rule

Earlier this week, USED released its final rule for the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) K12 maintenance of equity provision, part of the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

Background: AASA opposes the maintenance of equity provision. It is a rinse/wash/repeat of the comparability regulations in the 2016 negotiated rulemaking of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The MoEquity provision was inserted to the ARP ESSER language at the very last minute with zero effort made to solicit feedback from the state and local education leader who would have to implement the provision. AASA engaged in subsequent direct advocacy with CCSSO to get significant changes (including those outlined here) made to the law to make it less problematic; that all said, less bad doesn’t make it good; AASA supports ensuring that this provision—intended for only two years under ESSER—dies after ESSER and is not carried into future legislation.

So what’s in the final rule?  

  • The provision includes separate requirements for state and local education agencies. Our advocacy has focused on the requirements for LEAs; one of the important changes is that in addition to the limits established in the statute (the provision only applies to districts enrolling more than 1,000 kids, with more than one building (or building per grade span), USED was forces to further clarify that the provision would only apply to those LEAs facing a net cut in state/local dollars. USED had originally intended the provision to apply to LEAs, regardless of funding level. The final rule clarifies that SEAs need to ensure districts are not making disproportionate budget and staffing cuts at their highest-need schools.
  • The rule extends the timeline by which states must publish information on the LEAs in their state that are exempt from the requirement.
  • The deadline for FY22 reporting remains unchanged: December 31, 2022. Because states may collect/finalize per-pupil expenditure data on varying timelines, states are able to pursue a reasonable extension beyond Dec 31.
  • The timing of this rule and data requirement will burden LEA staff at the end of the school year, who will find themselves facing an additional reporting requirement. 
  • Summary of the Final Regulatory Requirements: By July 8 of this year (for FY 2022) and by November 1, 2022 (for FY 2023), each SEA must post on its website:  
      • The identity of each of its LEAs exempt from the LEA-to-school MOEquity requirements, and why the LEA is exempt.
      • For each LEA that is not exempted, a listing of that agency’s high-poverty schools .
      • An explanation of how the SEA will ensure LEAs that have to comply with MoEquity are protecting their high-poverty schools from disproportionate reductions in funding, in a manner that ensures  the LEAs can make necessary funding adjustments in a timely manner.
      • By December 31 of each applicable school year, each SEA must post the following information for each non-exempted LEA:
        • The per-pupil funding for each high-poverty school for that fiscal year
        • The per-pupil funding in the aggregate for all schools in the LEA, on a districtwide basis or by grade span
        • The per-pupil number of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff for each high-poverty school 
     

17 National Education Organizations Sign on to AASA Statement on Uvalde Response Package in Senate

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17 National Education Organizations Sign on to AASA Statement on Uvalde Response Package in Senate

Today, AASA was joined by 17 organizations representing the full breadth of the national K-12 education community, including school superintendents, administrators, educators, school mental health providers, school staff and parents, to call on Congress to swiftly pass legislation that will address the senseless epidemic of gun violence in this country. Our students deserve to go to school and thrive in communities where they are safe. To achieve this goal, we need laws that address the gun-violence epidemic and ensure our children and educators can learn and work without constant fear for their lives.

Read our statement here.

FY23 Appropriations Children's Budget Coalition Letter

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FY23 Appropriations Children's Budget Coalition Letter

As part of our appropriations advocacy, AASA participates in the Children’s Budget Coalition. We were proud to support a recent letter to Capitol Hill calling on Congress to prioritize children in their annual spending decisions and call their attention to the unique and growing needs of children as much uncertainty remains about the pandemic and our economic recovery. Read the full letter here.

 

USED Releases Final Notice of Requirements

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USED Releases Final Notice of Requirements

Last week, USED sent a letter to grantees announcing the Notice of Final Requirements (NFR) regarding the LEA-level maintenance of equity provisions under section 2004(C) of the American Rescue Plan. The NFR establishes requirements for SEAs to publish LEA-level maintenance of equity data to demonstrate that LEAs are maintaining both fiscal and staffing equity in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

The Office of State and Grantee Relations will host an Office Hour on Thursday, June 9, 2022, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 pm EDT to outline the local maintenance of equity reporting requirements stated in the NFR and answer frequently asked questions from the field. Both SEAs and LEAs are welcome to attend. Attendees must pre-register for the Office Hour by clicking this link: https://ems8.intellor.com?do=register&t=1&p=843399.

 If you have any questions, contact your State program officer through your State mailbox, (Ex. alabama.oese@ed.gov).  

New ED-Commissioned Study on ESEA Provisions that Protect Students

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New ED-Commissioned Study on ESEA Provisions that Protect Students

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) published a study concerning requirements under Section 8546 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for states and schools to protect students from the consequences of assisting – or “aiding and abetting” – school employees in obtaining a new job if they are known or believed with probable cause to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a student or minor.

States must comply with these requirements. ED's study, along with a fact sheet and other supporting materials, are available here and may be helpful to states and schools in ensuring meaningful, ongoing compliance with Section 8546 requirements.

To underscore states’ obligations relative to Section 8546, ED will host a webinar for state and local leaders on July 20, 2022, to highlight important practices in the areas of employer disclosure and information-sharing among educational entities. We will update this post as further information including registration details becomes available.

Alongside these efforts, ED will monitor each state’s laws, regulations, or policies to determine compliance as it relates to Section 8546. We stand ready to work with states through training, differentiated technical assistance, and more intensive supports or enforcement actions as needed. These efforts to provide additional assistance respond directly to requests that states made as part of the study for ED to identify and disseminate examples of policies and practices that meet Section 8546 requirements.

The Advocate June 2022

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The Advocate June 2022

May ended on a deeply painful note because of the horrific gun violence in Buffalo and Uvalde. For AASA it meant a return to federal policy and politics focused on the prevention of gun violence and increased discussion about how we can keep our schools and students safe. Prior to Uvalde, there were 27 school shootings in 2022 and if these numbers continue it will be the deadliest year for students and educators on record.

As is unfortunately customary after these terrible acts of violence, Capitol Hill is once again turning its attention to what, if anything, can be done legislatively to reduce gun violence in schools. This month’s Advocate will explore whether this year can produce different outcomes that include any legislation AASA can support.

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, AASA has maintained a consistent position that comprehensive federal policy is required to prevent future school violence. This approach includes continued funding to ensure our districts are as safe as they should be coupled with commonsense gun safety legislation. Recent federal data indicates school districts have already taken significant steps over the past 10 years to harden and secure their buildings and deter school violence. Data from 2019 shows that two-thirds of schools reported having a school security or police officer present and that includes more than 80% of middle and high schools and a majority of elementary schools. Half of these schools have at least one officer armed with a gun. Furthermore, nearly all schools report maintaining controlled access to their building during school hours, using security cameras, planning for the possibility of an active shooter, and conducting lockdown drills. More than half say they have controlled access to school grounds, too.

Over the past decade, superintendents have taken aggressive steps to make school buildings and students safer through enormous local and state investments to improve school building security, build threat assessment systems and teams, invest in mental health personnel and programs, and provide professional development programming to identify potential school violence before it occurs.  In the meantime, we continue to wait on Congress to take steps to pass comprehensive legislation that would help ease the gun violence epidemic. As of June 1, it appears that lawmakers will attempt to include legislation that touches on background checks and red-flag laws as part of a broader mental health and school safety package. We are hopeful that this package comes to fruition and that the answer from Washington is not to simply ask schools to do more by themselves to protect students and educators. Specifically, we continue to ask Congress to move forward with legislation that would:

  • Increase law enforcement of existing gun laws
  • Reinstate the ban on the sale, import, transfer and ownership of assault weapons
  • Ban large-capacity magazines
  • Require thorough background checks for all gun purchasers
  • End the “gun-show” loophole
  • Prevent individuals convicted of violent crimes from being able to purchase guns
  • Prevent individuals with mental health issues from purchasing or owning a gun (18 U.S.C. 922 (g))
  • Punish irresponsible gun owners
  • Fund gun-violence prevention research
  • Build the pipeline of mental health personnel and sustainably fund their work in schools through Title IV of ESSA, Medicaid and new standalone funding streams

 As AASA’s Executive Director, Dan Domenech, stated on May 24th: The mass shooting in Uvalde “begs the very fair question, ‘Is school safety on America’s short list of priorities?’ If not, why not? How many more families have to face the reality of a student that doesn’t return home? How many more students have to walk into a school, only to never walk out? Our children have a right to live and learn in a safe environment. If these tragedies do not serve as a serious wake-up call to our nation to take action, I don’t know what will.” 

AASA School and Gun Safety Policy

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AASA School and Gun Safety Policy

AASA has maintained a consistent position that comprehensive federal policy is required to prevent future school violence. This approach includes continued funding to ensure our districts are as safe as they should be coupled with commonsense gun safety legislation. You can read the full policy position here.

 

CDC Releases New Guidance and FAQs for K-12 and Overnight Camps

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CDC Releases New Guidance and FAQs for K-12 and Overnight Camps

Today, the CDC released updated Operational Guidance for K-12 School and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning. Additionally, CDC released Frequently Asked Questions for K-12 and Early Care and Education (ECE) Settings: Information for School and ECE Administrators, Teachers, Staff, and Parents, Frequently Asked Questions for Directors of Overnight Camps, and the Interactive School Ventilation Tool

The operational guidance can help K-12 school and ECE program administrators support safe, in-person learning for K-12 schools, and keep ECE programs open, while managing the spread of COVID-19. Based on the COVID-19 Community Levels, this guidance provides flexibility so schools and ECE programs can adapt to changing local situations, including periods of increased community health impacts from COVID-19. 

The updated K-12 schools and early care and education (ECE) guidance includes recommendations for prevention strategies for everyday operations as well as COVID-19 specific prevention strategies to add based on the COVID-19 Community Level or when experiencing an outbreak in the school or ECE program. The updated guidance also includes considerations to inform decisions about when to add or remove prevention strategies, and which ones to prioritize.

Supporting Uvalde

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Supporting Uvalde

AASA is deeply saddened by the continued gun violence killing students in our schools. The information below comes directly from our Texas affiliate, and is the best way to offer support to the Uvalde community.

First State Bank of Uvalde has setup an account for donations. If you would like to donate to the Robb School Memorial Fund, please call us at 830-278-6231 and ask for Roxanne Hernandez, Chance Neutze or Cody Smith for any questions. 

You can also drop off donations at any of our branch locations or mail to:

PO Box 1908, Uvalde TX 78802. 

Make checks payable to Robb School Memorial Fund

 Zelle account to digitally send donations. robbschoolmemorialfund@gmail.com

Updated Child Tax Credit Outreach Resources

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Updated Child Tax Credit Outreach Resources

There's still time for schools to help families claim the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC)! More than 4 million kids, primarily those in households with low incomes, are at risk of missing out on the CTC, which provides up to $3,600 per child. While the tax filing deadline has passed, families with no or low incomes can continue to file to claim the CTC without penalty. In early May, a simplified online filing portal, GetCTC.org, relaunched. The portal, created by Code for America in collaboration with the U.S. government, makes it easier for families without filing obligations to claim the credit. As trusted community institutions, schools can help spread the word about the CTC. Check out these CTC outreach resources for schools (also available on this new CTC outreach website from the Coalition on Human Needs and the Partnership for America's Children), which includes webinar recordings for community partners, as well as multilingual flyers, sample text messages and emails, posters and other resources that schools can use to help communicate to families about the CTC. School staff do not have to be tax experts to help families claim the credit, and the new portal makes it easy for families to claim the money on their own. If you have any questions, are looking for additional resources or training, want support with CTC outreach in your district, or would like a unique URL for GetCTC.org to help track your outreach impact, please contact Julia Beebe with the Coalition on Human Needs: jbeebe@chn.org  

Now Open: EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Program

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Now Open: EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Program

Today, the EPA announced then opening of the $500 million Clean School Bus Rebate Program. This is the first funding opportunity under the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program will provide $250 million in rebates for zero-emission buses and $250 million for clean school buses, which are operated entirely or in part using an alternative fuel.

The program will prioritize school districts from high-need school districts and low-income areas, rural districts, and Tribal communities. EPA has created a list of school districts that will be prioritized for the program. This list does not include all eligible applicants, only those that are prioritized.

Here are the available resources to help navigate the program and application process:

The application window is open until August 19. EPA has been clear that there is no benefit to being the first in line or applying quickly. Once the window application closes, all applications will be placed in a single ordered list using a random number generator lottery process. EPA will then select applicants for funding based on prioritization.

A FAQ and additional resources are forthcoming. We will continue to update this post as more information becomes available. 

EPA Webinar: Zero-Emission and Clean School Bus Rebates Program

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EPA Webinar: Zero-Emission and Clean School Bus Rebates Program

The EPA's Clean School Bus Program will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 24 at 1 p.m. EDT about the upcoming Zero-Emission and Clean School Bus Rebates.

Authorized by the recently signed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA’s Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion over the next five years to replace school buses with low- and zero-emission school buses. The first funding opportunity under this program is the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates. EPA will offer $500 million in rebates for zero-emission and clean school buses.

Join the EPA virtually to learn:

  • Who is eligible?
  • What is the selection process?
  • What resources will be available to help?

Register here.

You can also visit https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus for additional resources, webinar recordings and presentation slides.

District ARP timeline extended for school facilities and construction projects!

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District ARP timeline extended for school facilities and construction projects!

UPDATE: We are hearing that the process for the extended liquidation of ESSER funding may not be as straightforward as we initially relayed to superintendents. While we are still awaiting formal guidance from ED, thus far ED has indicated that liquidation period extensions cannot be applied for in advance.  That is, LEAs cannot apply for liquidation period extensions before the funds expire. In the case of ARP funds, this means one must wait until close to or after September 30, 2024 to apply for a late liquidation extension. 

We understand this presents significant barriers for districts to utilize the late liquidation flexibility for school construction and HVAC upgrades as well as other contracted services. We are urging ED to quickly outline the process for applying for liquidation extensions and to do so in a way that ensures districts can confidently proceed with contracts that may have later deliverables beyond September 30, 2024. 

AASA has sounded the alarm for months that district leaders are concerned about the timeline for spending ARP funding for school facility upgrades and HVAC updates by September 2024.  

On May 19, ED sent an official response back to AASA clarifying that they will allow States and districts to apply for an additional 18 months to liquidate funding for all ESSER tranches of funding (including ARP) for school facility upgrades/HVAC work. In the context of ARP, this means that if the contract for these projects is signed by the district by September 2024, then the project would not need to be liquidated and the ARP funds completely spent until April 2026.

AASA’s Executive Director, who the Department letter was addressed to, had the following to say: “After numerous discussions with Secretary Cardona and his staff, we are thrilled that, today, they were able to expeditiously provide clarity to AASA members about the timeline they have to complete desperately needed school facilities projects and HVAC upgrades. The responsiveness of this Department to district leaders is unparalleled. We are grateful for the flexibility and clarity that Secretary Cardona is providing around school construction timelines and in particular, HVAC upgrades. Given inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages, we know that districts want to invest these funds wisely and the knowledge that they have 18 additional months to liquidate funding will hopefully provide them with the assurance needed to move forward with using ARP funds for these contracts and obligations.”

Districts do not need to individually apply for this flexibility, but states do have to apply on behalf of districts. Based on our conversations with CCSSO and other state groups, we feel confident that SEAs will not hesitate to apply for this additional spending runway on behalf of districts that need it, and the process for them to do so is a familiar and straightforward one. We do not know when the applications for late liquidation will become available for ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER III/ARP. Of note, the letter does allude to the ability of districts to potentially receive a liquidation extension beyond 18 months if there are extenuating circumstances. However, this extension does not change the obligation for districts to obligate (i.e. sign contracts) by September 2024, which is only something Congress can change.

We encourage you to read the letter and share the letter with your contractors and vendors so they understand the circumstances under which they may be permitted to deliver goods and services beyond the original ESSER timelines. It is our hope that the extended timeline will also reduce costs for these projects given supply chain challenges, inflation and labor shortages. 

AASA Joins Coalition Letter Asking Department of Labor to Stop or Delay Rulemaking on Overtime Pay

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AASA Joins Coalition Letter Asking Department of Labor to Stop or Delay Rulemaking on Overtime Pay

Today, AASA joined 94 organizations in a letter to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh urging him to abandon or at least postpone issuance of the Department of Labor’s announced proposed rulemaking altering the overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Read the full letter here

 

Child Tax Credit: Resources for Your Community

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Child Tax Credit: Resources for Your Community

The following blogpost comes from our friends at Coalition for Human Needs.

Tax season is over, but families can still claim the full 2021 Child Tax Credit (CTC) - up to $3,600 per child per family! This week, the simplified filing portal, GetCTC.org, re-launched, making it easier for families with no or low incomes to claim the CTC. Studies show that additional income like the CTC is associated with stronger educational performance, improved health, and reduced stress among kids in families with low incomes. The first half of the 2021 CTC reduced food insufficiency. Unfortunately, too many kids are at risk of missing out. School leaders can play key roles in ensuring that schools are spreading the word to families about the CTC and how to claim it. 

Join the Partnership for America's Children, Coalition on Human Needs, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Code for America for a webinar on Thursday, May 19th, 1 pm- 2:30 pm ET:  "It’s Not Too Late to Help Families Get the Expanded Child Tax Credit: GetCTC.org Navigator Training" 

Register here (https://bit.ly/may19ctc). Registrants will receive slides and the recording after the training. The webinar will focus on how community partners can help families claim the CTC through the simplified filing portal, GetCTC.org. You do NOT need to be a tax expert. We will share multilingual, ready-to-use materials that you can use to take simple actions to help families you work with claim this money.

An updated resource toolkit will be made available shortly that schools can use to easily tell families about the CTC, including sample text messages and emails, flyers and more. If you are interested in a training specifically for school leaders, want customized communications or materials for your district, are interested in setting up a unique URL for GetCTC to track your district's outreach impact, or have any questions, please email Julia Beebe with the Coalition on Human Needs & Partnership for America’s Children: jbeebe@chn.org

Summer Nutrition Waivers Available for States

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Summer Nutrition Waivers Available for States

If you follow this blog, you are well aware of the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nationwide waiver authority to provide flexibilities to school nutrition programs expires on June 30 without further Congressional action (tell Congress to take action here).

To provide some flexibility after the nationwide waivers have expired, the USDA has created a waiver checklist that allows state child nutrition agencies to opt into specific state waivers. This way, each state is not required to submit its own waiver request for each type of waiver.

The two Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option state waivers included in the checklist are 1) Parent Pick-Up: which allows parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children and 2) Non-Congregate: which allows meals to be eaten offsite. 

These state waivers can be used when congregate meal service is limited by the pandemic and expire on September 30, 2022.

In addition to the waivers included in the checklist, states can apply for four waivers that were available prior to the pandemic, which are available through April 30, 2023:

  • Offer versus serve: Sites offer the required components for a reimbursable breakfast or lunch, but the child is only required to take a certain number of items or components for the meal to be reimbursed and may take all of the components offered.
  • First Week Site Visit: States can waive the requirement to conduct a site visit during the first week of meal service.
  • Meal Service Time Restrictions: This provision offers flexibility for when meals can be served, including providing multiple meals if used in combination with the non-congregate and parent pick-up waiver.
  • Area Eligibility for Closed Enrolled Sites: Summer meal sites that only serve children enrolled in the program are allowed to use area eligibility data instead of collecting household income forms to document that at least half of the children served are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

Two waivers that many communities relied on will not be available this summer: Area Eligibility:  which allowed sites to operate in any area without meeting the requirement that 50 percent of the children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals; and Meal Pattern Requirements that provide flexibility in meeting the nutrition standards. 

For area eligibility, USDA is offering flexibility on how to document that a school meets the area eligibility requirement if a school has not collected school meal applications.

Option 1 is using the percentage of students certified for free or reduced-price school meals during the 2019–2020 school year.

Option 2 is multiplying the percentage of students in the school who are certified for free school meals without an application by 1.6. This approach is similar to the Community Eligibility Provision to qualify a site. Sites also can still use census data and other approved data to demonstrate that the site is in a low-income area.

Due to certain constraints, USDA cannot provide flexibility around meeting the nutrition standards without the nationwide waiver authority. Congress still has time to extend the waiver authority, tell them to do so using the Legislative Action Center

The Advocate May 2022: Biden Administration Focuses on Building Better Schools

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The Advocate May 2022: Biden Administration Focuses on Building Better Schools

The health of our school buildings has long been a major problem. The 2021 State of Our Schools Report from the 21st Century School Fund estimates that the U.S. is underinvesting in school buildings and grounds by $85 billion each year.

The COVID-19 pandemic focused considerable attention on the importance of ensuring we have well-ventilated schools, but air quality is merely one key aspect of healthy buildings. Over the past decade, states and federal agencies have tried to incentivize districts to address a variety of key school facilities issues such as lead in water, PCBs in light bulbs and asbestos. The Biden Administration is now shifting its focus to expand beyond these issues to the environment health of our planet and the role schools can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

On April 4, the Biden Administration announced its Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure to “upgrade our public schools with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation—delivering health and learning benefits to children and school communities, saving school districts money, and creating good union jobs.”

As part of this plan, there are new grant programs available to districts to upgrade their buildings and transportation systems. Notably absent from this announcement is any new, dedicated federal funding for school infrastructure, a major priority for AASA during the Build Back Better negotiations that fell apart last year. Instead, the Administration is tapping money that passed through the bipartisan infrastructure bill to issue competitive grants to “advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses, and resilient design” in schools. 

Specifically, in May, the EPA will roll out applications for its $5 billion electric school bus rebate program. AASA has a detailed blog post about the grant program and how districts can apply. There are already steps districts can take to prepare for the grant application as detailed here. This unprecedented influx of funding provides an opportunity for many districts to begin the process of electrifying their school bus fleets and reducing operating expenses for school transportation. In addition, there is a $500 million grant program to make public schools more energy efficient. The grant program is not expected to open until the summer and further details for this program are available here

Taken together, these grant programs represent a well-intentioned desire by the Biden Administration to help districts transition to cleaner, greener technology and improve energy efficiency. That said, it is far from the investment the federal government should be making to upgrade our school facilities and ensure equitable learning opportunities for every student. 

Based on our AASA survey data, we know many districts are planning to spend American Rescue Plan funds on upgrading HVAC systems, replacing roofs, carpets, windows and upgrading buildings. We are also aware that many are hesitant to sign or finalize contracts given supply chain issues, inflation, labor supply issues and other logistical issues. That’s why we are continuing to press Secretary Cardona to offer districts additional time to spend ARP funding on these projects and we are expecting Department of Education guidance outlining an extended timeline for liquidating ARP funds later this month. Without a standalone new federal school infrastructure program, the ARP funds are the best opportunity many superintendents have to make a dent towards the $85 billion a year we should be spending to update our facilities. 

One other funding opportunity around school facilities is through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, a $350 billion program for state and local governments included in ARP. On April 27, the Treasury Department issued guidance specifically outlining how this funding can be used to build out school infrastructure. While governors and state legislatures are in charge of how this funding is spent, superintendents should consider lobbying them to allocate some of this funding towards rebuilding crumbling school facilities. 

Virtual Data Symposium with Every Hour Counts

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Virtual Data Symposium with Every Hour Counts

Every Hour Counts is hosting a free, virtual Data Symposium on May 4 from 12-4:30 ET to help participants strategize with peers about how to collect, analyze and use data to advance racial equity and drive continuous improvement in their communities. Grounded by Every Hour Counts’ Putting Data to Work for Young People: Measurement Framework and Guide, the Symposium will feature a variety of 75-minute sessions that tap into the expertise of community leaders committed to demonstrating the value and impact of afterschool and summer experiences for youth, families and communities. Participants will learn how to invest stakeholders in a common vision and set of measures, identify and address gaps in service, improve quality, boost provider capacity, center equity, and use data to advance your mission. Register today!

See the full schedule here

Introducing the GRAD Partnership

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Introducing the GRAD Partnership

States, districts, and schools need to act to get the right supports to the right students to enable them to succeed in school. Next-generation student success systems, also known as early warning/on-track systems, should be a key part of the solution. These systems help schools rapidly identify student needs and respond in proactive and preventative ways to put all students on a path to postsecondary success.     

  

The GRAD Partnership, a collaboration of nine organizations, will work with state departments of education, school districts, and community partners to implement high-quality student success systems—moving them from a new concept to an everyday school practice.  

  

The GRAD Partnership is hosting a virtual event on May 17 at 2:00 p.m. ET to share how you can work with them to provide all students with the learning experiences, social-emotional development, and supportive environment they need to thrive. Hear from districts that are effectively using student success systems to help their students graduate ready for their next steps. Register here

 

Schools, school districts, and state departments of education either seeking to improve existing early warning/on-track systems or implement them for the first time will learn how they can get the technical assistance they need to implement next generation student support systems and participate in learning communities with others engaged in the work. Community partners will learn how they can be advocates for high quality student support systems and support schools in their implementation. 

 

GRAD Partnership is a collaboration among American Institutes for Research, BARR Center, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, Talent Development Secondary, the University of Chicago Network for College Success, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Rural Schools Collaborative, and the Schott Foundation.  

EPA Announces Details for Electric School Bus Rebates

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EPA Announces Details for Electric School Bus Rebates

Today, the EPA held a webinar on their new $5 billion electric school bus program. In case you missed the presentation, you can find the slides and content here.

EPA is opening the funding with rebates for districts because it’s the quickest way to spend the money and get districts the buses. The rebate program is designed to be straightforward. It is for bus replacement and infrastructure only. When compared to a grant proposal, it is straightforward and short and the EPA says the online application that is simple and easy to complete. The application should be posted in early May and the application window will be 3 months long. Districts that are interested in the grant process should immediately register for an account with SAM.gov so they can receive a notice when the grant process opens and other TA that will be associated with the grant. Grants will be awarded in the fall and districts will have until April 2023 to submit purchase orders for EPA to refund.

Districts are among several entities that are eligible and can also partner with eligible contractors. Private school bus fleets can’t apply directly, but districts can partner with a private fleet that owns and operates their buses to replace buses that serve a district as long as they have an active contract. The company would need to continue serving the district for a minimum of 5 years from day of delivery.

Rebates for districts will be prioritized for districts that meet one or more criteria: they are a high needs school district in low-income areas (defined as having at least 20% SAIPE data from 2020); they are rural districts with NCES locale codes 43 and 42, or they are tribal school districts. 

Buses eligible for replacement must be 2010 or older diesel-powered school buses that will be scrapped if selected for funding. If a fleet has no eligible 2010 or older diesel school buses and is requesting zero-emission school buses up for replacement the fleet can either: scrap 2010 or older buses, scrap/sell/donate 2011 or newer internal combustion engine buses.

Buses eligible for replacement must have a gross vehicle rating of 10,001 lb or more; be operational at time of application submission; be owned by fleet receiving bus and must have provided bus service for district for at least 3 days/week during SY20-21 (note: this requirement exempts COVID-related school closures).

New replacement buses must have a battery electric, CNG or propane drivetrain; be EPA certified vehicle model year 2021 or newer; have a GWR 10,001 lb or more and not be ordered prior to receiving official notification of selection for EPA funding. The replacement bus must serve school district for 5 years; must meet federal safety standards; not be funded with other federal funds and be made available for inspection by EPA.

A class 7 or higher sized electric replacement bus that serves a prioritized district would be eligible for a $375,000 rebate. Applicants for a non-prioritized district would be $250,000 rebate. Prioritized districts can get a rebate of $20k for infrastructure cost/per bus. $13,000 for non-prioritized districts. Start reaching out to your electric utility right now if you are interested in this electric school bus infrastructure piece.

AASA Joins Groups in Letter Supporting Biden Admin New Public Charge Rule

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AASA Joins Groups in Letter Supporting Biden Admin New Public Charge Rule

After the Biden Administration announced it would take steps to rectify the harm to children in immigrant families created by the Trump Administration’s previous public charge rule, AASA joined 110 children’s advocacy and child-serving organizations in support of the Biden Administration’s new proposed rule on public charge. The new proposed rule corrects the gravest errors of the 2019 rule and would be a critical step to securing the health and wellbeing of millions of children in immigrant families.

The 2019 rule’s harm on children was largely due to its inclusion of non-cash benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing and health insurance, all of which can significantly improve children’s health and ability to learn, and we support DHS removing these benefits from a public charge consideration. We support the proposed rule’s narrow definition of what constitutes “receipt” of countable public benefits, which explicitly excludes adults who have applied for benefits on behalf of their children or whose children are currently receiving benefits. Making it clear that it is safe to apply for and receive health care, nutrition assistance and other assistance on behalf of children without public charge consequences, will help DHS achieve its goal of establishing a rule that does not cause undue fear or confusion and that mitigates the documented chilling effect that has harmed millions of children.

Finally, we recommend that DHS establish a presumption that children are not a public charge and that the use of benefits by a child does not indicate their likelihood to be a future public charge.

 

AASA Asks Congress to Invest in $3 Billion Title II, Part A

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AASA Asks Congress to Invest in $3 Billion Title II, Part A

On April 21, AASA joined 51 education organizations in asking Congress to invest in retaining and recruiting teachers, principals and other school leaders by providing $3 billion in FY23 appropriations for the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program – Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

These investments help bolster the infrastructure districts rely on to recruit high-quality educators and provide them with job-embedded practice, mentoring, and coaching opportunities that sustain them in their careers.

Title II, Part A is a critical support for the growth and development of educators’ instructional practice to improve their teaching and ultimately boost student learning. Unfortunately, the program remains severely underfunded and demand for services provided by it has only increased. A larger investment in Title II, Part A will help accelerate student learning, provide support through professional learning to keep educators in the profession, and recruit new individuals into the educator workforce. Read the full letter here

President Biden, USDA Forest Service Announce more than $238 Million to Support Rural Schools, Roads, Other Services

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President Biden, USDA Forest Service Announce more than $238 Million to Support Rural Schools, Roads, Other Services

President Biden and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced the SRS funding to invest more than $238 million to support public schools, roads, and other municipal services through the Secure Rural Schools Program, which will deliver SRS payments to 742 eligible counties in 41 states and Puerto Rico. The program was reauthorized for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The bill was signed by President Biden and became Public Law 117-58 on November 15, 2021. USDA National Forest Service has completed all necessary reviews and is releasing the FY 2021 funds.

“The Secure Rural Schools program is one of many ways USDA supports rural communities and provides a consistent source of funding in areas near national forests,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said. “In addition to funding for schools and counties, the program also reimburses counties for emergency services on national forests and is instrumental in the development of community wildfire protection plans.”

Section 41202: Extension of Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act:

The bipartisan Infrastructure bill includes a 3-year, FY 2021, FY 2022, FY2023, extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS). SRS is authorized and funded for FY 2021, 2022, and 2023. The infrastructure bill, P.L. 117-58, provides that for Fiscal Year 2021 and each fiscal year thereafter the amount is equal to the full funding amount of FY 2017. Five percent reductions are not continued. The bill’s SRS provisions also includes regional pilots for Montana and Arizona.

You can read the full announcement from the USDA National Forest Service, including a list of states receiving funding, here.

Webinar Series on the Community Eligibility Provision

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Webinar Series on the Community Eligibility Provision

AASA is co-hosting a series of webinars with Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and 12 education organizations to support districts interested in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP allows high-poverty schools and districts to provide breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP): Overcoming the Loss of School Meal Application Data

Thursday, April 21, 3 pm ET

Community eligibility eliminates the need to collect school meal applications, which have long been used for a wide range of education and funding purposes. Join us for this webinar to learn how schools across the country have been able to successfully overcome the loss of this data in order to offer free meals to all of their students. Register here.

Making CEP Work with Low ISPs and Partial District Implementation

Thursday, May 5, 3pm ET

The pandemic has highlighted the value of offering school meals at no charge to all students. Community Eligibility provides an excellent opportunity for high poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students beyond the 2021-2022 school year. The community eligibility reimbursement formula determines what percent of meals are reimbursed at the free and paid rates. Thousands of schools and districts across the country have experienced the benefits of community eligibility by participating with ISPs below 60 percent and by having individual schools participate within a district. Join this webinar to learn about the strategies and resources available for making community eligibility work with low ISPs and/or partial district implementation. Register here.

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP): Implementing in States that Require Alternative Forms

Thursday, May 19, 3pm ET

Community eligibility eliminates the need to collect school meal applications, but there are some states that require schools to collect alternative forms to receive state education funding. Join us for this webinar to learn about successful strategies to collect the forms and implement community eligibility. Register here.

Get Your CEP Questions Answered

Thursday, June 9, 3pm ET

More details to come. We will update this post with more information as it is available. 

U.S. Dept of Education Announces ARP Summit on April 27

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U.S. Dept of Education Announces ARP Summit on April 27

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, we’d like to invite you to join us at the From Recovery to Thriving: How the American Rescue Plan is Supporting America’s Students summit. We will host this virtual event on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Department, in partnership with the National Public Education Support Fund, will bring together education leaders, advocates and philanthropic partners to discuss how to help students and schools recover from the pandemic. The opening panel and learning sessions will create opportunities to support school districts and states in utilizing their federal funds to deepen and scale strategies to address learning recovery, mental health support and labor shortages beyond the three years of ARP funding so students can recover and thrive in the future.

  • 4:00 p.m.: Opening Panel: “From Recovery to Thriving: How the Education Ecosystem Can Support America’s Students”
  • 5:00 p.m.: Learning Recovery Concurrent Sessions
  • 6:00 p.m.: Labor Shortages Concurrent Sessions
  • 7:00 p.m.: Mental Health and Well-Being & Social and Emotional Learning Concurrent Sessions

If you are interested in joining the summit, please register here. Upon completing your registration, you will receive an email with your registration details from Special.Events@ed.gov.

AASA-Endorsed HERE Act Introduced

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AASA-Endorsed HERE Act Introduced

On Thursday, April 7, Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the Hispanic Educational Resources and Empowerment (HERE) Act. The bipartisan, bicameral bill creates a new grant program to support partnerships and collaboration between Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and school districts with high enrollments of Hispanic and Latino students. Among the activities allowed for the partnerships is the creation of Grow Your Own programs to encourage students to pursue careers in education and provide pathways into the teacher workforce.

The inclusion of Grow Your Own programs in the HERE Act will not only help to address the overall teacher shortages but also increase diversity among the teacher workforce by investing in Hispanic-serving institutions. AASA is excited to endorse the HERE Act and support programs aimed at building a diverse, high-quality pipeline of future educators. Read the full press release here

The Advocate April 2022: Child Nutrition Waivers

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The Advocate April 2022: Child Nutrition Waivers

At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress granted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to provide waivers for child nutrition programs to allow critical flexibilities for program operators to continue operations and feed children despite school closures and supply chain challenges.

Without Congressional action, these waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022. Although schools remain open, districts continue to need these flexibilities to ensure students receive the healthy meals they need as programs face challenges caused by the pandemic.

Advocates were hopeful that Congress would include an extension of the USDA waiver authority in the FY22 omnibus bill but that did not come to fruition. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was the greatest opponent to the inclusion of the waivers, with the position that they were meant as pandemic relief and no longer necessary. Additionally, the Biden Administration was not adamant that having the waivers extended was a priority while Congressional Democrats were willing to sacrifice the waivers to get the omnibus passed.

However, standalone bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would extend the waivers through SY22-23 and we continue to urge Congress to do the right thing and take action on this important issue. In the House, the Keeping School Meals Flexible Act (H.R. 6613) was introduced by Reps. Spanberger (D-VA) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA). In the Senate, the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act (S.3979) was introduced by Sens. Stabenow (D-MI) and Murkowski (R-AK).

The expiration of the waivers on June 30, 2022, will be detrimental to school meal programs and their ability to serve students. Here’s what the end of waivers means:  

One of the most significant impacts for school meal programs will be financial. The current Summer Food Service Reimbursement Rates waiver allows schools to be reimbursed with the Summer Food Service Program rate which is higher than the normal rate. When this waiver expires on June 30, 2022, school meal programs will receive substantially less reimbursements while the cost of food, labor and supplies continues to increase. Returning to the normal reimbursement rate will increase meal program losses and cut into education budgets, impeding efforts to meet the needs of students.

Additionally, in recognition of the significant challenges that school meal programs were facing to get the necessary food to meet the meal pattern requirements of the NSLP and SBP, USDA provided flexibility around these requirements, including sodium, whole-grain, milk variety, vegetable subgroups and planned menus for specific age/grade groups. When these waivers end, schools must meet all of these requirements in order to receive reimbursement from the Federal government despite ongoing challenges of getting the foods necessary to be in compliance. Food companies and distributors have streamlined offerings and reduced the geographic areas they serve, leaving many meal programs without access to foods that meet highly specialized meal pattern requirements.

The waivers also provided flexibilities to the requirement that meals be served in a congregate setting and allowed parents and guardians to pick up meals. Districts were granted the ability to quickly pivot programs and ensure students were still receiving meals even when schools were closed, or students had to quarantine. Across the country we saw schools jump into action to ensure their students continued to be fed even when they couldn’t come to school. Districts delivered meals to families or provided to-go meals that could be picked up by guardians. When this waiver ends, schools will no longer be able to provide meals to students outside of school, even if schools close or a student must quarantine due to COVID-19. Meal programs will no longer have the regulatory flexibility they need to serve all their students safely and quickly adapt operations.

And finally, the Seamless Summer Option allowed schools to provide free meals to all students. Schools will now have to gather Free and Reduced Priced Lunch applications for the first time in two years. We have already heard from our members that they are experiencing difficulties in getting this paperwork, meaning students may lose access to meals unnecessarily.  

We urge Congress to extend the waiver authority through SY22-23 and provide schools and community-based organizations with the security necessary to plan for the summer and following school year. Without the extension, millions of children will lose access to the healthy meals they need to learn and grow. If you would like to take action on this and tell your Members of Congress to support the extension of waivers, draft language and contact information can be found on the AASA Advocacy App (see how here). While we remain hopeful that the waivers will be extended, districts should prepare for a SY22-23 without the flexibilities that were provided over the past two years. 

White House Announces Actions for Bolstering Clean School Infrastructure and Transportation to Support Student Learning and Health

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White House Announces Actions for Bolstering Clean School Infrastructure and Transportation to Support Student Learning and Health

Today, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure to upgrade our public schools with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation—delivering health and learning benefits to children and school communities, saving school districts money and creating good union jobs. The action plan activates the entire federal government in leveraging investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan to advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses and resilient design. Of particular interest, the plan includes an amazing toolkit listing all the financial resources in various federal agencies that districts can utilize to make improvements to school infrastructure and transportation.

The Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure will:

  • Invest in More Efficient, Energy-Saving School Buildings: The Department of Energy (DOE) is launching a $500 million grant program for schools that will lower energy costs, improve air quality and prioritize schools most in need, enabling schools to focus more resources on student learning.
  • Improve Classroom Air Quality through the American Rescue Plan: The Administration is supporting states, school districts and local communities in leveraging American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief resources to address school infrastructure needs—like repairing, upgrading or replacing of ventilation systems; purchasing air filters and portable air cleaning devices; and fixing doors and windows so that schools can stay open for in-person learning.

Expand Clean and Safe School Transportation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with support from the Department of Energy (DOE), is releasing new online resources to help school districts and other eligible recipients prepare for the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—with the first opportunity to fund clean and electric buses opening later this spring.

  • Help Schools Access Resources and Best Practices: The new toolkit will further support school participation in the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which the Administration recently launched to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and improve indoor air quality in buildings of all kinds, including schools. The Department of Energy is also announcing the inaugural honorees of the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which provides technical assistance to school districts seeking to implement high-impact indoor air quality and efficiency improvements that will reduce energy bills and improve student and teacher health.

Spread the Word about Changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

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Spread the Word about Changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Last year, the Department of Education (USED) issued a Limited Time Waiver to improve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and help those who qualify get closer to forgiveness. So far, more than 70,000 individuals have already received full forgiveness due to these changes. Anyone who has federal student loans and is employed full-time by a school district qualifies for the program.

However, action may be needed in order to take advantage of the waiver before it expires on October 31, 2022. AASA has created a template for district leaders to share with their staff that explains the new changes to the program and outlines what they must do to participate.

The PSLF program provides full forgiveness to those employed in public service careers after 10 years of service and 120 qualifying payments. According to a 2021 NEA report, nearly half of all educators have student loans averaging $58,000. PSLF is a great opportunity to relieve educators of a significant financial burden and show appreciation for their service to students across the country. 

AASA Leads Amicus in Key School Prayer Case Before SCOTUS

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AASA Leads Amicus in Key School Prayer Case Before SCOTUS

AASA, along with our friends at the National Associations of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, filed an amicus brief in a pivotal Supreme Court case that will be heard later this month called Kennedy v Bremerton.

For more than seven years, Joseph Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, delivered prayers to students on the 50-yard line immediately after games. When the Bremerton School District learned what Kennedy was doing, it sought to accommodate his religious beliefs by offering him time and space to pray before and after games where students would not feel coerced to participate. But Kennedy refused, insisting instead that he must be allowed to continue having the midfield prayers with students at games. After he announced to the media his plan to continue having the prayers, community members stormed the field to join him after the game, knocking over some students in the process. The School District was thus left with no choice but to place him on paid administrative leave. And instead of reapplying to be a coach the next year, Kennedy sued the School District in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Kennedy lost at the district and appellate levels and the case is being heard in a few weeks by the Supreme Court, which surprised many by taking up the case.

The decision to hear the case has led many to speculate that the Court will side with the Kennedy, which would open the door to numerous first amendment issues for district leaders relating to when prayer is and is not acceptable by a school employee and how to draw a line that protects the employee’s religious freedom but protects students from religious coercion and proselytizing. As soon as the case is argued, we will provide an update as well as when a decision is made.

AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update with Sasha Pudelski

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AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update with Sasha Pudelski

We had a blast at yesterday's AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update with Sasha Pudelski. We were pleased to be able to walk you through the latest funding and policy changes included in the FY22 omnibus, answer questions about ARP implementation and what superintendents need to understand about upcoming ESSER data collection requests from USED, and discuss legislative bills this year to reauthorize the Child Nutrition law and improve teacher shortages.

You can access an archive recording of the webinar here and the presentation here.

We are happy to share some related resources:

The next AASA Quarterly Federal Policy Update will be June 30 at 2 p.m. EDT. AASA members can register by clicking here.

AASA Releases Fourth Installment of the Learning Recovery and Redesign Guidance: Using ARP to Support Homeless Students

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AASA Releases Fourth Installment of the Learning Recovery and Redesign Guidance: Using ARP to Support Homeless Students

This week, AASA has released the fourth installment of the AASA Learning Recovery & Redesign tools.

This actionable checklist, developed in partnership with SchoolHouse Connection, is designed to help district leaders take full advantage of new and existing federal resources to meet the significant needs—greatly exacerbated by the pandemic—of students experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

The resource includes:
  • Ideas for better collaborating with your district’s homeless education liaison
  • Tips for assessing current strategies in supporting this student population
  • Planning tools to help you meet the specific needs of your students experiencing homelessness
As more states are set to distribute to school districts new federal funds targeted at supporting students experiencing homelessness (specifically, ARP-HCY part II funds), it is imperative that schools accept them. This checklist will help them make effective use of these additional dollars.

The checklist is available here. If you have already declined your district’s share of ARP-HCY funds for whatever reason, the checklist items mostly apply to other resources you can still use to support these students!

The full list of tools is available here.

New EPA Rebate Program for School Buses

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New EPA Rebate Program for School Buses

Want some new clean school buses? Here’s your chance to get them! As part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law in 2021, the EPA was granted $5 billion over 5 years to encourage the electrification of school bus fleets. The EPA is in the process of beginning to roll out the $1b that is available to districts, contractors, and tribes over the next few months and they released a quick PowerPoint presentation that details the basics of the rebate program.

First, the program funding is divided into two halves: zero-emission buses and alternative-fueled buses. Districts can apply for rebates for either program as long as they are replacing current diesel-fueled school buses. 

Second, the application process will prioritize bus rebates for districts in high needs school districts and rural and low-income areas. 

Third, they plan to open the application window in late April and districts will have 3 months to apply for rebates, but there are steps you can take now to get your application ready for the portal. Details are here: https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus/prepare-clean-school-bus-funding.





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