September 7, 2005
September 7, 2005
Dear Chief State School Officers:During the past few days, as we have been in close and constant contact with State and local officials in the Gulf Coast region and surrounding States, one thing has been clear -- local schools are working hard to make sure all students are back in school as soon as possible. Displaced children are being enrolled in order to return their lives to normal as quickly as possible. Institutions of higher education have responded similarly, as colleges and universities across the country have offered admission to displaced students, in many cases offering free or reduced tuition. I am proud of America’s educators’ efforts and intend to do everything within our power to assist where appropriate and where needed to enroll every child in school with the necessary resources to ensure a high-quality education. As you know, neighboring districts as well as many of your States are working tirelessly to welcome displaced students, including waiving State and local requirements that might impede the immediate enrollment of these students due to such difficulties as lost records.
We are working to assess and respond flexibly to the needs of the most directly affected States, especially Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Texas and other States that have received large numbers of displaced students. These States, districts, and schools have our full support, and we are working with them to determine student and school-related needs and to coordinate and deploy resources.
Given the differences in the nature and extent of the damage and circumstances among States, we believe an individualized, case-by-case approach is the most effective means for meeting the needs at this time. However, I wanted to describe for you some of the available resources and examples of the areas in which flexibility will be available.
- Waivers and Modifications. The Department will
consider promptly requests for waivers under the waiver authority in the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left
Behind Act of 2001, including, among other things, waivers of maintenance-of-effort
requirements. For discretionary grant programs, the Department will work with
individual grantees if they wish to modify their grants to refocus their grant
activities on relief efforts. The Department will also consider requests for
waivers of fiscal and administrative requirements of the Education Department
General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). A streamlined process for waiver
submissions by affected States and other grantees will be developed immediately.
Further, States already have authority to allow school districts to increase
the percentage of funds that may be carried over to the next fiscal year under
Title I, Part A of the ESEA and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program.
- Highly qualified teacher requirements. The Department
will work with affected States and school districts to determine what flexibility
will be needed in affected areas with regard to highly qualified teacher requirements,
while ensuring that students are receiving appropriate instruction. We will
work with you on situations such as displaced teachers working in your State.
In all of these matters, we will always keep the best interests of the students
and teachers in mind.
- Reallocation of funds. We will work with States
and school districts that want to transfer or reallocate Federal funds between
districts, when a particular district or districts are unable to use funds
they previously received. This could include the transfer of funds to districts
in other States that are serving displaced students. In addition, we will
identify Federal funds that have not yet been obligated by the Department
and determine whether they can be made available to the affected areas. Districts
receiving additional funds under certain programs will need to ensure that
program services are provided on an equitable basis to eligible students who,
due to the hurricane, have transferred into private schools in their district.
- Supplemental appropriations. Funds for the specific purpose of providing disaster relief are already available. Congress has just enacted the President's request for $10.5 billion in disaster relief for the Gulf Coast, of which $10 billion is to be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and $500 million is to be administered by the Department of Defense. President Bush has called this “a down payment” on future resources and assets to be provided. We recognize the particular need for temporary educational facilities, and we want to make sure that affected jurisdictions are aware that FEMA funds can be used for portable classrooms, as well as for student transportation costs. School district officials should work with State and FEMA representatives to request assistance for these costs. In addition, the Department is working closely with the Office of Management and Budget as the President prepares further supplemental requests for relief to ensure that schools have the resources they need to provide high-quality education for these students.
These are examples of the major areas in which flexibility and resources are available. The Department welcomes your input on other areas in which accommodation may be necessary.
We are also coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine the immediate immunization needs of displaced students. We want to be certain that the most appropriate procedures are in place for ensuring that students have up-to-date immunizations without creating barriers that will prevent students who do not have their records from enrolling in and attending school.
I also want to share with you a few of the Department’s efforts to coordinate the outpouring of support for the affected schools and students from around the country. The Department has launched a “Hurricane Help for Schools” website (http://www.ed.gov/news/hurricane/index.html) that will serve as a nationwide clearinghouse to address the needs of affected schools in coordination with the National Response Plan already activated by the Department of Homeland Security. The website is interactive, allowing affected schools to post their specific needs and allowing students from schools across the nation, as well as others, to be active participants in meeting those needs. I am also convening a meeting this week of the major national education organizations so that we all may coordinate efforts to deploy resources most efficiently. Finally, I am sending senior-level Department officials to affected areas to provide direct and personal contact to make sure local and State needs are being adequately addressed.
I am deeply moved by the efforts already under way to ensure that those who
have lost so much are swiftly provided with as much educational support as possible.
I look forward to working with all of you in the coming days, weeks, and months
on this critical effort.