Rural Tech Project
Joint Rule: Equal Treatment
Open Data Platform
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
At the time of publication, President Trump is reviewing a $1.4 trillion omnibus funding agreement and $900 billion COVID-19 relief package approved by Congress. Both pieces of legislation include not only significant education appropriations but also education policy riders, especially regarding higher education. ED Review will break down the funding and policies in a subsequent issue.
In the meantime, the President signed into law the Further Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, extending current federal funding levels through December 28.
Secretary DeVos issued updated waivers and modifications of statutory and regulatory provisions governing federal student financial aid programs under the authority of the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003. This act requires the Secretary to publish waivers or modifications to assist individuals who are affected by a national emergency. On March 13, 2020, the President declared a national emergency based on the COVID-19 outbreak.
New from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Operational Considerations for Schools (updated December 15, 2020); Estimated Resource Costs for Implementation of CDC's Recommended COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 Public Schools; Guidance for K-12 School Administrators on the Use of Masks in Schools (updated December 18, 2020); Screening K-12 Students for Symptoms of COVID-19 -- Limitations and Considerations (updated December 14, 2020); Strategies for Protecting K-12 School Staff from COVID-19 (updated December 16, 2020); Considerations for Institutions of Higher Education (updated December 14, 2020); and Testing, Screening, and Outbreak Response for Institutions of Higher Education (updated December 16, 2020).
The Federal Partners in School Health, an alliance of the CDC, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, developed a new web site -- studenthealth.ed.gov -- with resources to support the physical and mental health of all students and promote healthy school environments.
Rural Tech Project
Last summer, the Department launched the Rural Tech Project to advance quality technology instruction in rural communities. Rural K-12 schools and school districts nationwide were invited to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning, with the goal of preparing students for the in-demand, well-paying jobs of today and tomorrow.
Teams from 34 states developed proposals. The Department ultimately selected five finalists: Woodlake High School (California), iLead Academy (Carrollton, Kentucky), Ravenna High School (Michigan), Premont Independent School District (Texas) collaborating with both Brooks County and the Freer independent school districts, and Louisa County Public Schools (Mineral, Virginia) (Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education Scott Stump's announcement video).
The finalists were recommended by a judging panel, and each was awarded a $100,000 cash prize. During Phase 2, which runs from January to July 2021, they will have access to a community engagement manager, expert mentorship, and virtual resources as they plan, run, refine, and report on their programs.
On December 15, Secretary DeVos announced $185 million in new grants for 28 school districts, institutions of higher education, and non-profit organizations as part of the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program. These grants are intended to accelerate locally driven innovation and improve academic achievement among high-need students across the country.
This year's funding supports a dedicated effort to empower teachers to personalize their professional development, rather than have it imposed on them by their state or district. More than $72 million in funding will help develop systems to enable teachers to select options that meet their professional development needs, without cost to the teachers and beyond the one-size-fits-all training typically offered.
In addition to promoting teacher empowerment, the funding also supports other Administration priorities, including over $79 million in grants serving rural areas; over $66 million in grants focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, such as computer science; and over $77 million in grants for social and emotional learning (SEL) projects.
Joint Rule: Equal Treatment
Also last week, the Department announced a joint final rule with eight other federal agencies to implement Executive Order 13831, on the establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative (May 3, 2018). This rule aims to ensure that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally in agency-support programs, and it clarifies that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights (e.g., the rights to accommodations and conscience protections under the First Amendment) just because they participate in federal programs and activities. The rule also removes requirements in prior regulations that placed unequal burdens on religious organizations (see Federal Register notice).
At the same time, the rule preserves most existing regulations governing participation of religious organizations in the Department's financial assistance programs, including provisions barring providers from discriminating against beneficiaries based on religion and requiring that any religious activities be separated in time or location from any services directly funded with federal funding.
The nine agencies worked collaboratively to draft notices of proposed rulemaking that were published or delivered to Congress in January 2020. They received more than 95,000 public comments from a range of interested parties, including Members of Congress; state and local governments, agencies, and officials; faith-based service providers and umbrella organizations; advocacy groups; and individuals. They considered those comments, modified their rules to address concerns raised, and drafted responses that are recorded in the final rule.
This action follows past Department actions to protect religious liberty: ending enforcement of a restriction barring religious organizations from serving as contract providers of equitable services solely due to religious affiliation, updating the agency's guidance on constitutionally protected prayer and religious expression in public elementary and secondary schools, issuing guidance to protect the religious liberty of individuals and institutions participating in Department programming, promulgating new rules to level the playing field for faith-based entities to participate in federal student aid programs, and implementing a rule to protect free inquiry and religious liberty on college campuses.
Open Data Platform
The Open Data Platform (ODP), at data.ed.gov, brings together the Department's valuable data assets in one place, along with metadata and other documentation describing them, making it easier for educators, researchers, and the public to find exactly what they are looking for. It also introduces users to data that they may not have known the agency produced, further informing policy (blog post).
The site's functionality allows users to search by broad categories, like "graduation rates" or "teachers," as well as to target searches using the CKAN tagging method. Moreover, the inventory indexed will continue to grow as the agency publishes new data and further catalogues older data.
ODP is managed by the Department's Office of the Chief Data Officer (OCDO). It asks users to review the site and provide feedback on its features and functionality, suggest additional data sets of interest and use to the research community and the public, and offer other ways to improve the site at ODP@ed.gov.Odds and Ends
- Winter break is an opportunity to explore new subjects and continue learning, and many organizations across the federal government have free education resources available for use -- check out these five!
- A Homeroom blog highlights how performing arts teacher Julie Pappas works with students who have language-based learning difficulties, detailing her experience planning a socially distanced program that allows students to use their voice to instill confidence.
- The Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) is seeking peer reviewers for the upcoming School Ambassador Fellowship application review and selection process. Reviews are tentatively scheduled to take place virtually between January 29 and February 12, 2021, following training. Those interested in being considered as a reviewer must complete a questionnaire no later than January 5, 2021. (Note: Be sure to take some time to "meet" the 2020-21 Fellows.)
- The Department's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is seeking public comment on proposed guidance that addresses state and local responsibilities under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for providing equitable services to parentally placed private school children with disabilities.
- Also, OSEP released its latest "OSEP Fast Facts" on Asian children with disabilities and Hispanic/Latino children with disabilities.
- According to a new Institute of Education Sciences (IES) report, "The Transition to ESSA: State and District Approaches to Implementing Title I and Title II-A in 2017-18," states made little substantive change to content standards, broadened measures to identify struggling schools, and increasingly used performance data to support effective teaching between 2014 and 2018.
- Another IES report, "The Effects of Expanding Pell Grant Eligibility for Short Occupational Training Programs: Results from the Experimental Sites Initiative," finds that expanding the foundational federal aid program's eligibility criteria improved postsecondary enrollment and completion among low-income students.
- The What Works Clearinghouse released a webinar on how its practice guides and other resources can support educators in using evidence-based instructional practices in any setting, including remote learning. (Note: On its Resources for Educators page, don't miss the five infographics on using evidence-based practices in remote learning settings.)
- The Department of Labor recently launched a web site, TrainingProviderResults.gov, that provides key outcome data associated with training programs funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
- In a December 10 advisory, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) warned that cyber actors have been targeting K-12 distance learning education -- causing disruption and stealing data -- and will continue to do so throughout the 2020-21 school year.
- A General Accountability Office (GAO) report explores children's savings account programs.
- President Trump announced his intent to appoint individuals to his Advisory 1776 Commission (see Press Secretary's statement).
Quote to Note
"The day will come when we put the Coronavirus in the past, but it will be a combination of all the efforts that I just described: a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people but also the ongoing vigilance of every American. As we reach this extraordinary and historic moment in the life of our great nation, let me urge every American to continue to do your part: put the health of your family, your neighbors, and your community first; practice good hygiene; wash your hands; practice social distancing or wear a mask whenever it's indicated or you're unable to practice distance; and listen to your local authorities. As President Trump often says, we are rounding the corner. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the light of American innovation and creativity. It is the light of lifesaving medicines and a safe and effective vaccine. After a year of heartbreak and hardship, the American people can be encouraged."
The application period is now open for the 2020-21 President's Environmental Youth Award and Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. These programs recognize outstanding environmental projects by K-12 students and innovative approaches to environmental education by K-12 teachers, respectively. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will select up to two students from each of its 10 regions -- one winner for grades K-5, and one winner for grades 6-12. EPA will also select up to two teachers from each of its regions. All applications are due by February 19, 2021.
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