Safely Reopening America's Schools
Help is Here Tour
Supporting Higher Education
Data Release: Graduation Rates
Celebrating Remarkable Women
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Safely Reopening America's Schools
On March 24, the Department hosted the National Safe School Reopening Summit, gathering key education stakeholders from across the country to discuss best practices on reopening schools quickly and safely. The program featured remarks from President Biden, Vice President Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary Cardona, and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Welensky. It also featured panels of students, educators, and school district leaders engaged in discussion about their strategies for reopening and the impact the pandemic has had on their in-person instruction. The summit concluded with the Secretary announcing the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. He also announced a nationwide tour of schools to highlight needs for reopening and begin the process of reimaging education (readout).
The summit was one in a series of steps the Department is taking to provide support and resources to K-12 schools as they work to reopen and equitably address the academic, social, and emotional needs of students most impacted by the pandemic.
On the same day, the Department announced the release of two-thirds of the American Rescue Plan's (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to support their efforts to get students back in the classroom safely for in-person learning, keep schools open once students are back, and address the critical needs of all students. The agency is encouraging states to develop and implement plans to immediately utilize this funding to get more schools opened this spring and work to close the gaps in equity that the pandemic has exacerbated. The remaining one-third of ARP ESSER funding will be released after states submit their reopening plans (Department letter to Chief State School Officers and allocation table).
This week, the Department and the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety at WestEd hosted a virtual discussion on "Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 through Summer Learning and Enrichment." The webinar elevated the evidence-based components of high-quality summer and enrichment programming, described how ARP funds can be used to support their design and implementation, and detailed how these opportunities may be available this summer and beyond by building capacity, including the role of philanthropy and community-based partners.
Also this week, the Department hosted the first in its "Lessons from the Field" webinar series, running bi-weekly through June and focusing on key topics across early childhood, K-12 education, and postsecondary education: safe and healthy environments; providing supports for students; and teacher, faculty, and staff well-being, professional development, and supports. This initial webinar, "Safely Reopening and Sustaining In-Person Instruction," provided a brief overview of how to implement mitigation strategies and featured a panel of practitioners from several districts sharing lessons learned on preparing for and returning to in-person learning and information on how they overcame complications. (Note: A reminder that the agency is seeking information submitted to email@example.com for its Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse.)
In related news:
- The Department issued the first data from the 2021 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) School Survey, finding that three-quarters (76%) of U.S. public schools with fourth- and eighth-grade students held instruction in classrooms, either through full-time, in-person learning or a hybrid model. Rates of full-time, in-person learning varied by race and ethnicity: more than half of Black, Hispanic, and Asian fourth-graders learned in a fully remote environment, while nearly half of white students learned in-person full-time. Survey results are available on an interactive dashboard where one can explore data for participating states and districts, and the dashboard will be updated every month until the end of the 2020-21 school year. (Note: Secretary Cardona issued a statement on the findings.)
- The CDC revised its Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Prevention to reflect the latest science on physical distancing between students in classrooms. It now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least three feet in classroom settings. In turn, the Department is updating the first volume of its K-12 COVID-19 Handbook.
- For the final week of School Staff COVID-19 Vaccination Month, the CDC also posted videos of teachers and child care providers sharing why they got vaccinated and how they feel to be vaccinated (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7); launched a #SleeveUpforSchools Social Wall, with inspiring social media messages from school staff; and shared a recent briefing for school- and system-based leaders.
Help is Here Tour
In the wake of the above announcements, senior Administration officials hit the road to spotlight how the ARP addresses education and child poverty.
On March 25, Vice President Harris and Secretary Cardona traveled to New Haven, Connecticut, where they participated in a listening session at a local Boys and Girls Club and visited the West Haven Child Development Center.
Next, on March 30, the Secretary traveled to Boston, where he toured an elementary school that had reopened, participated in a roundtable discussion with the mayor, superintendent, principal, and local educators, administrators, and staff, and visited a school staff vaccination site.
Then, on March 31, he traveled to Laurel, Delaware, where he visited another reopened elementary school.
Secretary Cardona will share what he is learning on these trips with other states and districts, as well as across the Administration, to help more school reopen quickly and safely and reach the President's goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days.
Supporting Higher Education
Over the last two weeks, the Department announced benefits, outreach, flexibilities, and guidance to assist students, federal student aid borrowers, and institutions of higher education.
First, the Department issued guidance regarding the use of funds received under the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund grant program. This guidance reflects a change in the agency's position, which previously only allowed funds received under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, 2021,to be used for costs incurred on or after December 27, 2020, the date of the law's enactment. Now, institutions may use HEER Fund grants to reimburse themselves for lost revenue and expenses incurred back to March 13, 2020, the start of the COVID-19 national emergency. Moreover, the agency is supplementing this change of interpretation with additional guidance about how grantees may calculate and charge "lost revenue" to HEER Fund grants and releasing additional Frequently Asked Questions for Public and Private Non-profit Institution Grants and Proprietary Institution Grant Funds for Students.
Second, the Department informed institutions they can conduct direct outreach to students who may meet temporarily expanded eligibility criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). (The Department's Federal Student Aid [FSA] office has also begun its own direct outreach to students.) Under regular SNAP eligibility requirements, students enrolled at least half-time in an institution are typically ineligible for benefits, unless they meet certain specific exemptions. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, temporarily expands eligibility to include students who (1) are eligible to participate in state or federal financed work-study during the regular academic year, as determined by the institution, or (2) have an expected family contribution of 0 in the current academic year (including students who are eligible for a maximum Pell Grant). (Note: More information is posted on the SNAP benefits for students web page.)
Third, the agency announced relief for certain federal student aid borrowers who have received loan discharges due to total and permanent disability. This action will help more than 230,000 borrowers. Over 41,000 of these borrowers — who had $1.3 billion in loans reinstated — will get their discharges back, have any payments made during the COVID-19 national emergency refunded, and will not be asked to submit earnings documents. The other 190,000 borrowers who remain in the monitoring period will not be asked to submit earnings documentation. These income monitoring requirements are waived for the duration of the emergency.
Fourth, the agency announced an expansion of the pause on federal student loan interest and collections to all defaulted loans in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, which will help more than one million additional borrowers burdened by debt during the COVID-19 national emergency. This is retroactive to March 13, 2020. The Department will work to automatically return any tax refunds seized or wages garnished over the past year. Also, borrowers who made voluntary payments on any of these loans during the past year may request a refund of those amounts. Plus, any of these loans that went into default this past year will be returned to good standing.
Note: FSA also unveiled a new portal for institutions and partners, designed to streamline and modernize user experiences, in part by centralizing information.
Data Release: Graduation Rates
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released national and state-level high school Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates (ACGR) for the 2018-19 school year. The national ACGR for all students was 85.8%, an increase of 0.5 percentage points from the 2017-18 school year. The ACGR for all racial and ethnic subgroups, economically disadvantaged students, and English learners also increased from the previous year, and students with disabilities showed the highest year over year increase with a 1.1 point improvement.
Celebrating Remarkable Women
In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History and the Office of the First Lady, the White House is honoring and celebrating the achievements of women during and beyond Women's History Month with a special exhibit housed in the White House. Using the Smithsonian's virtual Learning Lab, users can stroll through the White House's Center Hall and get an intimate look at the extraordinary women and the objects symbolizing their achievements currently on loan from the museum. From performing heroic work in World War II to demonstrating groundbreaking athleticism in sports, these women have forged paths for future generations to follow (First Lady Biden's video, Secretary Cardona's video, and Homeroom blog post).
Odds and Ends
- Among its provisions, President Biden's proposed American Jobs Plan would modernize schools, community colleges, and child care facilities.
- On March 22, Secretary Cardona provided Puerto Rico with immediate access to $912 million in federal education funding.
- Then, on April 1, the Secretary joined Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren for a roundtable discussion with student loan borrowers and advocates, who shared stories about the impact of student loan debt. The Secretary listened, asked many questions, and promised to take the information he learned back to the Department to inform decisions regarding student loans.
- In honor of Music in Our Schools Month, the Secretary shared some songs that keep him energized.
- "Let's make this abundantly clear: trans right are human rights," the Secretary emphasized in a tweet.
- The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) announced its first sponsorship of an XPRIZE. The Digital Learning Challenge is designed to incentivize digital learning platform developers to build, modify, and test an infrastructure to run rigorous experiments that can be implemented and replicated faster than traditional on-ground randomized control trials.
- IES's What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released a new practice guide that focuses on implementing career pathways at community colleges associated with improving postsecondary student learning and labor market outcomes.
- The Department of Labor announced last month the availability of $87.5 million for grants to expand Registered Apprenticeships. Up to $40 million may be awarded to states that implement diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and demonstrate a commitment to adopt, expand, and promote them.
- A first-ever report from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center examines 67 plots to conduct a school attack that were averted in the U.S. from 2006 to 2018, identifying a number of qualitative findings and commonalities across the incidents.
- At the President's request, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), via the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is extending access to the special enrollment period (SEP) for individuals and families for marketplace coverage in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency through August 15 — providing consumers more time to take advantage of savings through the ARP.
Quote to Note
"Today, I am calling on all states, school districts, schools, and community partners to work to ensure that all children have access to high-quality…learning and enrichment opportunities this summer and beyond. This is essential for all students, particularly those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, students of color, English learners, students with disabilities, homeless students, and all those who went without in-person instruction this school year. The American Rescue Plan provides the resources schools need to do this."
President Joseph Biden (3/24/21), from remarks during the National Safe School Reopening Summit
Among other observations, April is the Month of the Military Child, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Financial Capability Month, National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and Second Chance Month.
Reminder: The 28th Annual Federal Inter-Agency Holocaust Remembrance Program, "A Chance to Survive," will be held virtually on April 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Time.
The Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education, will present a virtual Jazz Informance on April 13 at 1 p.m. ET. Hosted by Secretary Cardona and 14-time GRAMMY Award-winning legend Herbie Hancock, the event — a combination of performance with educational information — will feature seven of the country's most gifted high school music students and renowned jazz educator Dr. J. B. Dyas. It will focus not only on what jazz is and why it is so important to America but also on the American values that jazz represents: teamwork, unity with ethnic diversity, the correlation of hard work and goal accomplishment, perseverance, democracy, and really listening to one another. (Note: Register at the site above to obtain a unique "join" link.)
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