Federal Student Aid
Blue Ribbon Schools
Competitive Grant Awards
Rethinking Adult Education
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Federal Student Aid
The 2021-22 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) launched on October 1. New and returning students who plan to attend college between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. To assist students and parents in the process, the Department's Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has been sharing tips @FAFSA, and new blogs note "7 Things You Need Before You Fill Out the 2021-22 FAFSA Form" and "8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA Form."
Students and parents can complete the form online at FAFSA.gov on a desktop or mobile device, and, this year, enhanced help topics provide even more guidance through the form. As a result of user feedback, many financial help topics feature images of the form with relevant line numbers visually highlighted. Also, skip-logic functionality means applicants see only the questions that pertain to them. And, by the end of the year, FSA will launch an enhanced myStudentAid mobile application. It will have an entirely new look and feel and additional features (press release).
In related news, the Department released the latest federal student loan cohort default rate, which decreased (from 10.1% to 9.7%) for students who entered repayment between fiscal years 2016 and 2017. This new cohort default rate represents the lowest national rate since the three-year rate was first released in 2012. Schools with high default rates may lose their eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.
The White House, the Department, and other federal agencies continue to release guidance to support schools, educators, and families regarding COVID-19. Many of the latest documents are listed below. Please visit the Department's COVID-19 information and resources web page for the most current information, and any questions for the Department may be directed to COVIDemail@example.com.
- Coronavirus.gov, CDC.gov/Coronavirus, and USA.gov/Coronavirus
- Letter from President Trump to the nation's governors on distribution of 100 million rapid, point-of-care Coronavirus tests in the coming weeks to support efforts to reopen their economies and schools (another 50 million tests will go to support the most vulnerable communities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] and tribal nation colleges — President's remarks and video)
- From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Considerations for Monitoring and Evaluation of Mitigation Strategies Implemented in K-12 Schools, Considerations for Monitoring and Evaluation of Mitigation Strategies Implemented in Institutions of Higher Education, Monitoring and Evaluation Checklist for K-12 Schools, and Case Investigation and Contract Training in Non-Healthcare Workplaces: Information for Employers
- Letter from Secretary DeVos to Chief State School Officers on calculating the proportional share for equitable services under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- Department Homeroom blog addressing "May CARES Act Funds be Used to Purchase Personal Protective Equipment?"
- Initial state reports for both the CARES Act's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund
- Readout and video of the Department's virtual panel on successful strategies to reopen schools this fall
- Letter and template for State Education Agencies (SEAs) about flexibility under the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers program to provide supplemental activities when school is "in session" but students are not receiving in-person instruction
- Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Questions and Answers: Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B Provision of Services in the current COVID-19 environment
- Memorandum and template for SEAs about waiver authority for the period of availability of IDEA Part C funds for Federal Fiscal Year 2018
- Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Questions and Answers for K-12 Public Schools in the Current COVID-19 Environment
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Opens Second E-Rate Application Window — through October 16 — for Funding Year 2020
Meanwhile, Secretary DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan are engaging with school leaders, teachers, students, and families to learn about the challenges and opportunities they have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretary traveled to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and Jefferson County, West Virginia, and the Assistant Secretary recently visited Wilmington Christian School in Delaware. Plus, Brogan has been hosting virtual showcases — including one with Clinton City Schools in Tennessee that was joined by Governor Bill Lee.
Blue Ribbon Schools
On September 24, via video, Secretary DeVos announced 367 schools as 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools. This program honors public and private elementary, middle, and high schools where students perform at the highest levels or where progress is being made on closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Chief State School Officers nominate public schools. The Council for American Private Education nominates private schools. This year's awards ceremony will be held virtually November 12 and 13. In its 38-year history, the program has bestowed almost 10,000 awards on more than 9,000 schools, with some sites winning multiple awards — schools are eligible to be re-nominated every five years. (Note: School profiles and applications are posted online.)
Competitive Grant Awards
Before the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30), the Department awarded a significant number of competitive grant awards.
For example, two weeks ago, the agency announced funding under two grant programs focused on meeting students' unique learning needs and improving student outcomes. The Expanding Access to Well-Rounded Courses Demonstration Grants program (six awards to SEAs totaling $9.6 million) supports school districts' efforts to develop distance learning opportunities, expand their course offerings, and ensure that students have access to a broad range of advanced, career and technical, and other courses. The Well-Rounded Education through Student-Centered Funding Demonstration Grants program (two awards to local educational agencies [LEAs] totaling around $1 million) supports development and implementation of student-centered funding systems. (Note: Both of these grant programs were funded through a 2% set-aside for technical assistance and capacity building under Title IV, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA].)
Also, last week, at Hampton University in Virginia, Secretary DeVos announced more than $126 million in funding for eight states to provide students the opportunity to develop new skills in high-demand areas. Reimagine Workforce Preparation (RWP) grant recipients will leverage the expertise and facilities on college campuses to spur entrepreneurship and foster business development and innovation as the country begins to recover from COVID-19-related disruptions to education. All projects must address one of two priorities: expanding educational opportunities through short-term, career pathways, or sector-based education and training programs or supporting college sustainability and local entrepreneurship through small business incubators. (Note: This grant program, as well as the previously announced Rethink K-12 Education Models Grants program, were funded under the CARES Act.)
This week, the agency announced nearly $100 million in grant awards to school districts, institutions of higher education, and non-profit organizations that build upon the Secretary's commitment to elevating the teaching profession and empowering teachers.
Moreover, Secretary DeVos announced this week 40 new grant awards to expand education options for American Indian and Alaska Native students. Accessing Choices in Education (ACE) grants will help Native communities set up a variety of education options and services, including additional course options, apprenticeships, tutoring, and other programs, from which students or families may choose. Projects will support activities such as culturally relevant career exploration; skills development; on-the-job training; hands-on learning with a focus on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics (STEAM); counseling and mentorships; family engagement; and test preparation.
Rethinking Adult Education
As part of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, the Secretary issued the Rethink Adult Ed Challenge to expand career opportunities for adult learners through pre-apprenticeship programs. Community colleges, correctional facilities, libraries, community organizations, and other adult education providers interested in entering the challenge — with prizes totaling $750,000 — should complete a Stage 1 submission no later than November 25. The online submission seeks a preliminary design for a pre-apprenticeship program, including a description of the target learners, the activities the program may provide, and local industry needs.
A review panel will select up to 100 finalists to join Stage 2, which will run from February to July 2021. Finalists will have access to a wide range of digital resources — such as case studies, activities, and webinars with subject matter experts — to help them refine their designs and develop more detailed proposals. A judging panel will select one grand prize winner (awarded $250,000) and up to five runners-up (awarded $100,000 each).
Odds and Ends
- President Trump signed into law a Continuing Resolution (CR), extending funding for education programs and other parts of the federal budget at Fiscal Year 2020 levels through December 11, 2020.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and White House launched safetypledge.org, containing practical toolkits about internet safety and a Safety Pledge that individuals may sign digitally to make their formal commitment to safeguarding children online.
- During National HBCU Week, the nation celebrated the achievements of HBCUs and their students, while pledging continuing support to the nearly 300,000 students pursuing their dreams at HBCUs. Among other activities, Secretary DeVos honored this year's chosen cohort of HBCU Competitiveness Scholars, selected for their outstanding work as campus and community leaders. Be sure to view their online profiles #HBCUweek and @WHI_HBCUs.
- FSA is soliciting feedback on its draft five-year strategic plan, which describes its goals of improving customer service, strengthening cybersecurity measures, and improving contractor oversight. (Note: Public comments are welcome through October 23.)
- Final regulations on improving free inquiry, transparency, and accountability at colleges and universities, outlined in a previous issue, were published in the Federal Register, effective November 23, 2020.
- Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Director Mark Schneider penned another blog post: "On Learning and Loss in a Time of COVID."
Quote to Note
"Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an inspiration to all Americans. Having lost her older sister and mother before graduating high school, she entered law school as a wife and mother, and one of the few women in her class. After graduating from law school in 1959, she worked tirelessly for more than 34 years as a litigator and jurist, and, in 1993, she became just the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. Renowned for her dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg epitomized powerful yet respectful argument; that you can disagree with someone without being disagreeable to them. Her work helped bring about greater equality for women, secure [more] rights for the disabled, and will continue to influence our nation for generations to come. In addition to her quick mind, she brought flair to the bench with her stylish jabots and her warm friendships among colleagues, even those with whom she often disagreed, most notably with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. A fighter to the end, Justice Ginsburg defeated cancer and the odds numerous times -- all while continuing to serve on the court. Her commitment to the law and her fearlessness in the face of death inspired countless ‘RGB’ fans, and she continues to serve a role model to countless women lawyers. Her legacy and contributions to American history will never be forgotten."
President Donald Trump (9/19/20), from a Proclamation on the Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Among other education-related observations, October is National Principals Month, Learning Disabilities Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.
The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) will present the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results in twelfth-grade reading and math on October 28 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Nominations are now open (though December 18) for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
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