SAFELY REOPENING AMERICA’S SCHOOLS
This week, in several different settings, President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary DeVos, and other senior Administration officials emphasized the importance of safely reopening America’s schools this fall (fact sheet).
“It’s clear our nation’s schools must fully reopen and fully operate this school year,” the Secretary noted. Anything short of that robs students, not to mention taxpayers, of their futures — and their futures represent our nation’s future. So, it’s not a question of ‘if’; it’s just a question of ‘how.’”
First, the Vice President and the Secretary held a briefing for the nation’s governors on the COVID-19 response and best practices on safely reopening America’s schools (readout).
Next, the White House hosted a Summit on Safely Reopening America’s Schools, with remarks by White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Secretary DeVos; panel discussions on the ABCs of reopening schools safely and implementing safe school reopening plans featuring state and local officials, healthcare professionals, school teachers and administrators, higher education leaders, and parents; and a roundtable discussion with President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence, and stakeholders from K-12 schools and higher education institutions (1600 Daily recap with video excerpts, remarks by the President, and full summit video).
Then, the White House Coronavirus Task Force held a meeting at the Department (press briefing transcript and video), and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan spoke on the White House briefing call for state and local officials.
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
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Interim Considerations for COVID-19 Testing for K-12 School Administrators and Institutions of Higher Education Administrators
- Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) June 29 Technology as a Tool in Education webinar recording
- OESE’s resource page compiling K-12 planning and learning tools from Technical Assistance Centers grouped by topic and audience (initial collections are most relevant to support learning at this time)
- Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) June 29 Highlighting Strategies and Practices in Providing Related Services to Enhance the Continuity of Learning During COVID-19 webinar recording
- OSEP Questions and Answers: Implementation of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Use of Funds for Part B and Part C, as well as Flexibility on Part B Fiscal Requirements, in the current COVID-19 environment
- OSEP Q&A: Implementation of IDEA Procedural Safeguards for Part B and Part C in the COVID-19 environment
- OSEP Q&A: Implementation of IDEA Part C Evaluation and Assessment Timelines in the COVID-19 environment
- Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and COVID-19 — Frequently Asked Questions Part #3
- Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center TA Snapshot: Ensuring the Well-Being of the Whole School Community During School at Home
Meanwhile, Secretary DeVos announced a new challenge to advance high-quality technology instruction in rural communities. The Rural Tech Project, with a total cash prize of $600,000, invites high schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) to develop competency-based distance learning programs that enable students to master skills at their own pace, with the goal of preparing them for the in-demand, well-paying jobs of today and tomorrow. To learn more, register for the virtual information session on July 21.
RACIAL EQUITY LETTER
In a June 26 letter to education leaders excerpted below, Secretary DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Ken Marcus commemorated the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and emphasized the Department’s “resolve to realize the law’s full promise: racial equity for all.”
“We have been deeply affected by the recent events that have contributed to racial discord and strife throughout our county. Like so many of you, we continue to be concerned about the impact of these events on our children and on the future of country. Racism has no place in our nation or in our schools. In each generation, ordinary Americans have fought to secure equality in our laws and in our lives. Their hard-earned victories enshrined equal protection in our Constitution and banned discrimination in our schools, workplaces, and public facilities.”
“Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits entities receiving federal funds, including our nation’s schools, from discriminating based on race or national origin. For decades, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has worked to investigate race discrimination faced by students. Each day, we work to ensure all students have equal educational opportunities regardless of race, color, or national origin.”
“Now, more than ever, OCR is committed to ensuring that no student is treated differently because of the color of their skin. In the last three fiscal years alone, OCR has entered into 520 resolution agreements requiring schools to make changes to address racial discrimination concerns. Of these resolution agreements, 165 addressed racial harassment, and 50 resolved racial bias in school discipline” (see OCR’s latest annual report).
“As a nation, we must do better for our children and for all students. Racial discrimination is wrong and illegal. As education leaders, you must confront and address race discrimination in your schools. We encourage you to speak up for equal treatment, promptly address discrimination, and work proactively to promote educational excellence for all students in our schools. Schools alone cannot end racism, and neither can the Department of Education. But creating a safe and inclusive learning environment is a key step towards making equality more powerful and permanent for all Americans.”
Subsequently, Secretary DeVos praised Assistant Secretary Marcus for his strong leadership of OCR and remarkable results achieved after he announced his upcoming departure from government service to return to the private sector.
SUPPORTING INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES
As required by law, the Department issued annual determinations regarding states’ implementation of IDEA (fact sheet). Each state was evaluated on key indicators under Part B (ages 3 through 21) and Part C (infants through age 2) and placed in one of four categories: meets requirements, needs assistance, needs intervention, and needs substantial intervention. Most states fell into the top two groups. A total of 21 states met requirements for Part B, and 25 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico met requirements for Part C. Determinations are part of the agency’s ongoing effort to improve education for the nation’s more than 7.5 million children and youth with disabilities. (Note: Determination letters were sent to states and will be posted online later this month.)
RETHINKING HIGHER EDUCATION
On July 1, several new regulations based on the Secretary’s Rethink Higher Education agenda took effect, including rules forged by consensus negotiated rulemaking on accreditation and state authorization reform. This comes as the Department publishes a new regulation, also agreed to by a diverse panel of negotiators, to guarantee the constitutional rights of religious organizations participating in Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs and improve Teacher Education Assistance for College Higher Education (TEACH) grants.
The Department’s Accreditation and State Authorization regulations expand educational options for students, protect schools with religious missions, lower accreditation costs borne by institutions, clarify an institution’s responsibility for determining where a student resides and what distance learning rules impact that student, and ensure occupational-focused education meets current workforce needs. These regulations also replace the idea of a one-size-fits-all standard with accountability requirements that align with an institution’s mission and program offerings. And, the regulations recognize that students and accrediting organizations are not limited to a specific geographic region, so they end the dated concept of regional accreditation and clarify that the Department holds all accreditors to the same standards.
Additional regulations now in effect include the Department’s overhaul of the previous Administration’s Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense rules. In their place, the current Administration promulgated new regulations that protect individual borrowers from fraud, ensure accountability across institutions, require due process, and protect taxpayers.
Moreover, the Department’s new Faith-Based Institutions and TEACH Grants final regulation guarantees the constitutional rights of religious students who participate in FSA programs and institutions that participate in the agency’s various funding opportunities. Student loan borrowers will no longer have to forfeit their access to public benefits, such as loan forgiveness, simply because they choose to work at faith-based, non-profit institutions. And, teachers will be able to focus on teaching rather than burdensome paperwork requirements with random deadlines, ensuring that their grants will not be erroneously converted to loans (fact sheet).
Separately, in a third post in his “Keeping the Promise” series, FSA’s Chief Operating Officer shares exciting new features on StudentAid.gov to navigate federal loan repayment, including an employer database in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Help Tool and an Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement.
ODDS AND ENDS
- Last month, President Trump signed an executive order transforming the federal hiring process. The order requires federal agencies to increase the use of skill assessments and interviews with subject matter experts to determine an applicant’s qualifications, rather than only looking at educational achievements. Degree requirements will not go away entirely, and certain positions will still require advanced degrees, but the intent is to create a broader pool of federal employees and a more equitable hiring process (fact sheet). (Note: Secretary DeVos applauded the President’s order in a statement.)
- Also, this month, the President signed an executive order establishing the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, housed at the Department of Education. (Note: The Secretary’s statement is online.)
- OSEP released its third “OSEP Fast Facts” on infants and toddlers with disabilities.
- In the last two weeks, the Secretary announced the approval of 11 additional career and technical education (CTE) state plans under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). Each state — June 26: Arkansas, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee and July 1: Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, West Virginia, plus Puerto Rico — crafted a plan to fulfill its promise of offering a robust CTE option for students, following consultation with key constituents representing education and workforce, business and industry, and parents and community leaders. Nine other states combined their CTE plans with their Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) plans, which have also been approved — Alabama, Delaware, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. To date, 51 plans have been approved. California was granted an extension to submit its plan due to COVID-19 disruptions.
- The Department’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) awarded 24 entities a total of $10.3 million to develop and test commercially viable education technology products as part of its Small Business Innovation Research Program (blog post and YouTube playlist).
- Also, IES released data on postsecondary tuition, fees, and degrees and a report on the completion and employment outcomes of beginning postsecondary students in sub-baccalaureate programs.
- The National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Big Read initiative announced $1.16 million in funding to 84 organizations for the community activity of reading and discussing a book from the NEA library.
- The White House Office of National Drug Policy and senior Administration officials recently launched the Rural Community Toolbox web site, a clearinghouse for funding and resources from over a dozen federal agencies to help rural leaders respond to addiction.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“Today’s decision is an historic victory for America’s students and all those who believe in fundamental fairness and freedom. Each and every student needs the freedom to find their education fit, and, today, the ‘Highest Court in the Land’ has protected that right by ensuring that families can use taxpayer funds to choose schools that match their values and educational goals, including faith-based schools. I applaud the court’s decision to assign a manifestation of the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ to the dustbin of history where it belongs…. This decision represents a turning point in the history of American education, and it will spark a new beginning of education that focuses first on students and their needs. I’m calling on all states to now seize the extraordinary opportunity to expand all education options at all schools to every single student in America.”
— Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (6/30/20), in a “Religious Discrimination is Dead” statement on the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case
The 2020 FSA Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals (December 1-4) will be delivered virtually, with dynamic keynote addresses, engaging general forums, and informative breakout sessions.