Enrollment period open for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills for qualifying low-income households.

Eligible households can receive:

  • Up to a $50/month discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals.
  • Up to a $75/month discount if your household is on qualifying Tribal lands.
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50).

Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household.

The FCC has announced that consumers can now begin applying for and enrolling in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. The program will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.

Visit https://www.getemergencybroadband.org for details.

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Federal Update

Monday evening, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously adopted final rules to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Program. The ECF was created through the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This legislation provides $7.17 billion to help students struggling with the Homework Gap, the term that commonly refers to the education digital divide that impacts millions of students who lack adequate internet and broadband connectivity when they are at home or working remotely elsewhere. The ECF will help schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity to assist students, school staff, and library patrons who need assistance in connecting. The link to the FCC press statement can be accessed here.

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Weekly Federal Update

Congressional Update

House Examines ED Budget Proposal

Last month, President Biden released an initial “skinny” budget request to Congress containing high-level information regarding the administration’s funding priorities for the coming 2022 federal fiscal year (FY22). While a more detailed budget request is expected later this month, the release of this skinny budget formally began the wider Congressional budget and appropriations process. This process typically includes opportunities for members of the President’s cabinet to speak to the budget request in more detail before Congressional committees as they consider appropriations legislation for the coming year.

This Wednesday, May 5, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testified before the House Appropriations Committee about President Biden’s vision for the U.S. Department of Education (USED)—a component of the President’s budget request that is proposing a 40 percent increase for the Department and related education programs over current funding levels. Democrats on the committee, led by Chairwoman DeLauro (D-CT), spoke largely in favor of the proposed budget, and applauded the administration for its prioritization of education issues. Committee Republicans, led by Ranking Member Cole (R-OK), primarily argued that President Biden’s proposed $29.8 billion increase for USED was unnecessary and wasteful, particularly on the heels of several large-scale pandemic relief packages which provided billions in additional support for education above and beyond the Department’s regular budget.

Throughout the hearing, lawmakers raised issues ranging from school building reopening’s, to civics education, and career and technical education (CTE). Secretary Cardona’s written testimony can be viewed here and a webcast of the full hearing can be viewed here. Secretary Cardona is expected to similarly testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks, although a date has not yet been set. More recently this week, House Chairwoman DeLauro has said that she expects subcommittee and full committee markups of Congress’ FY22 appropriations bills for USED to occur in June with full bill passage sometime in July.

House Subcommittee Explores Pandemic’s Impact on Students with Disabilities

On Thursday, May 6, the House Education and Labor Committee’s Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee held a hearing focused on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on students with disabilities. Witnesses included disabilities rights advocates and special education practitioners alike who provided first-hand accounts of how students with disabilities have handled the pandemic, with several noting the importance of additional funding that must be used to continue to serve this vulnerable student population. Throughout the hearing lawmakers raised the need to return to in-person instruction to better support more students with disabilities and explored strategies to better serve these groups of students. A recording of the hearing, including written testimony, can be found here.

Administration Update

USED Launches School Reopening Clearinghouse 

Late last Friday, April 30, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) launched the “Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices” clearinghouse, a web portal that contains a slew of examples of how schools, colleges, and universities are safely reopening campuses. The clearinghouse is part of an earlier Executive Order issued by President Biden directing USED to facilitate the sharing of best practices among the education community as the nation collectively works to overcome the pandemic. The clearinghouse is organized around three topical areas—Safe and Healthy Environments, Supports for Students, and Teacher, Faculty and Staff Well-Being—and contains over 180 unique resources to browse. The Department intends to update the clearinghouse as other best practices emerge. To be added to the clearinghouse, submissions can be sent to this link.

Emergency Connectivity Fund Takes Shape

Since the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been working to establish rules implementing a $7.171 billion “Emergency Connectivity Fund” (ECF). The ECF would allow eligible schools and libraries to use these funds to purchase connectivity equipment and devices on behalf of students and educators. As structured, the ECF is intended to help more students and staff gain access to internet-capable devices and reduce the homework gap exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. These efforts are timely especially considering recent research from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) finding that access to such devices is a crucial ingredient to student success.  The FCC had been soliciting public feedback and input for the past several weeks on the ECF. NSBA filed comments in the proceeding and has been working with our national partners to help ensure the agency crafted the rules to defer key decisions about how to best use the funds to school district leaders. Following that comment period, the agency released a draft Report and Order providing a short additional period for stakeholders to weigh-in on the FCC’s proposed approach. The draft Report and Order emphasizes that the FCC is committed to a simplified application process, is seeking to promote price transparency, is willing to forgo competitive bidding, includes Wi-Fi on busses, and is deferential to schools and libraries as to what counts as “off campus” locations for the purposes of the ECF. The FCC is expected to release the final version of this order May 10.

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Federal Update

Congressional Update

Congress Holds Hearings Discussing Child Care, WIOA, and Community College Investments

Earlier this week, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing titled “Strengthening America’s Child Care Sector,” which included discussion regarding the need for significant investment in child care to ensure stable, high quality facilities while providing providers with the wages they deserve.  The hearing discussed reaching the child care “deserts” which refers to a lack of child care supply throughout the country, as well as ensuring affordability and choice for parents.

The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing titled “Building Back Better: Investing in Improving Schools, Creating Jobs, and Strengthening Families” which highlighted the need for investment in the child care sector, WIOA, and community colleges as part of the overall recovery from the pandemic for all Americans.  This hearing largely focused on the key elements of President Biden’s American Families Plan.  Members and witnesses discussed the challenges parents face regarding entering and staying in the workforce without reliable, high-quality, and affordable care for their children.  They also discussed the need for wrap around services like food, housing allowances, transportation, and child care for those attending community colleges as well as four year colleges to ensure they complete their degree and can succeed in finding and maintaining a job.

Administration Update

President Biden Addresses Congress, Introduces $1.8 Trillion Spending Package

On Wednesday, April 28, President Biden addressed, for the first time, a joint session of Congress.  His speech provided a look at the administration’s “American Families Plan” which in combination with his infrastructure based “American Jobs Plan” would invest almost $4 trillion over the next 10 years.  The American Families Plan touts two years of free community college for all as well as free universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-old children. Of particular interest to NSBA, the plan also proposes a $9 billion investment in teacher training, to increase retention rates and broaden the pipeline to the teaching profession. This is an important NSBA advocacy priority. It includes an increase in scholarships for teachers to $8,000 per year while they earn a degree (a $4,000 increase), paid teacher residency programs, $900 million for the development of special education teachers, $1.6 billion investment in teachers to earn additional certifications, and $2 billion to support high-quality mentorship programs.  The proposal also includes $45 billion to address child nutrition and expand free meals for children in high poverty districts.  The next steps regarding how both of these proposals might become law is unclear as garnering support from Republicans is unlikely because the cost of the packages is too high, but there are Democrats who don’t think the American Jobs Plan or the American Families Plan provide enough funding. However, Senate Majority Leader Schumer has indicated that Democrats are willing to move forward with a budget resolution with solely Democratic votes if that becomes necessary.

U.S. Treasury Department Announces New Office of Recovery Programs

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the establishment of the Office of Recovery Programs. Among other initiatives, the new office will oversee implementation of the new $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to carry out broadband and other projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring. Every state will receive at least $100 million through the program with additional funding provided by formula connected to the state’s population.

Department of Education Launches Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative

Earlier this week, the Department of Education held a two-day virtual launch of the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative, which will provide support to much of the nation including 46 states and D.C., and will help to “support as many students as possible through enriching and educational summer programming.”  The Collaborative (a partnership between the Department of Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governors Association, and other national partners) will bring together state and local leaders and key stakeholders to design evidence-based summer programs to address the lost instructional, social, and extracurricular time students have experienced because of the pandemic, especially underserved students and those disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  Secretary Cardona was joined by governors from Illinois and Arkansas, the Illinois State Superintendent of Education and Arkansas Secretary of Education, along with leaders from Education Trust and the National Summer Learning Association, among others.  The Department plans to host planning and regional meetings between May and July with additional technical assistance to states and districts upon request. They also plan to hold a second national convening to discuss implementation success and challenges at the end of summer.

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff in honor of Detention Deputy Mark Anderson

In honor and remembrance of Detention Deputy Mark Edward Anderson, Governor Tim Walz has ordered all United States flags and Minnesota flags to be flown at half-staff at all state and federal buildings in the state of Minnesota, from sunrise until sunset on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

“Detention Deputy Anderson was a gentle giant of a man who was respected greatly by his colleagues and by detainees,” reads the proclamation issued by Governor Walz. “With its deepest gratitude, the state of Minnesota recognizes Detention Deputy Mark Anderson for his dedicated service to and sacrifice for his fellow Minnesotans. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, and the community.”

Detention Deputy Anderson dedicated 11 years to the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office as a Detention Deputy in the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center, serving since 2010. He was fulfilling his duties at work when was found unresponsive by his partner. Per Minnesota Statutes, Section 1.51, flags must be flown at half-staff following the death of a public safety officer or Minnesota military personal killed in the line of duty in Minnesota.

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Minnesota’s flags can go back to full staff

On Monday, April 19, 2021, Governor Tim Walz directed all flags at state and federal buildings in Minnesota to be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of the interment of former Vice President Walter Frederick Mondale, to honor his life and legacy.

The family of Vice President Mondale has notified the Office of Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan that the Vice President has been privately interred.

At this time, all flags at state and federal buildings in Minnesota may be flown at full staff.

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Federal Update

Congressional Update

Senate Republicans Release Infrastructure Counteroffer

Late last month, President Biden unveiled a long anticipated legislative framework to invest roughly $2.3 trillion in infrastructure projects. This proposal, dubbed the American Jobs Plan, would include over $100 billion in funding specifically dedicated to modernizing and building new K-12 school facilities. It would also heavily invest in the nation’s digital infrastructure, proposing $100 billion to expand broadband access and affordability. Congressional Republicans, however, have largely been opposed to President Biden’s vision investments in the nation’s infrastructure, primarily arguing that the proposal is too costly and would raise taxes.

On Thursday, April 22, a group of Senate Republicans led by Sen. Capito (R-WV) released a $568 billion high-level framework outlining the caucus’ counter proposal to President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. Unlike the Biden administration’s plan, Senate Republicans do not intend to invest in the nation’s K-12 schools as part of an infrastructure package. Additionally, the counter proposal envisions $35 billion less for the nation’s digital infrastructure. Unlike the American Jobs Plan, which proposes significant tax increases on corporations and the wealthy to pay for President Biden’s proposed infrastructure investments, the Senate Republican proposal merely provides principles for financing methods (also known as “Pay-fors”). As Congressional discussions continue regarding infrastructure investments, NSBA will continue to advocate for a robust investment in K-12 schools and facilities throughout the country.

Senate Education Committee Advances Nominees

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held an executive session on Wednesday, April 21, to finalize its consideration of a pair of U.S. Department of Education (USED) nominees. The committee voted 14-8 to approve and advance Cindy Marten’s nomination to be Deputy Secretary of Education—the number two slot at the Department. The HELP Committee also advanced James Kvaal’s nomination by a vote of 19-3 to serve as the next Under Secretary of Education, a posting that will oversee postsecondary policy for the Department. Both nominations will now advance to the full Senate chamber for further consideration and a final vote. In addition, President Biden announced his intent to nominate former Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D-FL) to lead USED’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs. Graham’s nomination is still forthcoming and must be considered and approved by the Senate HELP Committee and the full chamber sometime in the future.

Administration Update

USED Unveils New MOE Guidance

On Monday, April 19, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released new guidance pertaining to maintenance of effort (MOE) provisions contained in several pandemic relief funding measures, including the recently passed American Rescue Plan (P.L. 117-7). These MOE provisions require states to maintain levels of fiscal support for K-12 and higher education comparable to funding levels from previous years. In this way, Congress can ensure federal pandemic relief dollars are being used to provide additional support for schools, institutions, and students, rather than being used as a temporary replacement for state funding. This guidance provides an in-depth look at how states should implement the various MOE requirements contained in all three major pandemic relief packages to date. The guidance document also lays out the process for which states can apply to USED to waive this requirement, including a related request form that states must use to formally request a waiver of these provisions from the Department.

USDA Extends Meal Flexibilities Through 2022

On Tuesday, April 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the extension of current flexibilities for school meal programs through June 30, 2022. These flexibilities, aimed at providing maximum access to meals for students struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic, were previously set to expire September 30, 2021. With this action, schools across the country will continue to be able to serve free meals to all students regardless of their family income status.

USED Releases State Plan Template and Additional ARP Guidance

On Thursday, April 22, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released an interim final rule detailing new requirements states and school districts must meet in order to receive the remainder of their American Rescue Plan funding. Late last month, USED released over two-thirds of the total $122 billion authorized by the ARP for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to states and school districts. At the time, USED indicated that the remainder of this funding would be contingent on the submission of plans to safely reopen K-12 schools for in-person instruction. The Department is currently soliciting feedback on this rule and comments can be submitted here.

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff in honor of Walter Mondale

Governor Tim Walz has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings in Minnesota immediately tonight until sunset on the day of the interment of former Vice President Walter Frederick Mondale, to honor his life and legacy.

Minnesota joins states across the nation, in accordance with a proclamation issued by President Joe Biden, in lowering its flags to honor Vice President Walter Mondale. Individuals, businesses, and other organizations are also encouraged to join in lowering their flags.

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff for COVID-19 and Indianapolis victims

Governor Tim Walz has directed all flags at state and federal buildings in Minnesota to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset today (Monday, April 19, 2021). He has directed flags to fly at half-staff on the 19th of every month to remember, mourn, and honor lives lost due to COVID-19.

Also, Governor Walz ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings in Minnesota from sunrise until sunset through Tuesday, April 20, 2021, to mourn the eight victims of the act of violence perpetrated in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Thursday, April 15.

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Federal Update

Congressional Update

President Biden Releases “Skinny” Budget Request

Earlier today, April 9, President Biden released a long-anticipated budget request to Congress, outlining his administration’s desired spending priorities for the upcoming 2022 federal fiscal year (FY 22). During most Presidents’ first year in office, administrations typically release a “skinny” version of this request to provide more time to develop more comprehensive spending plans later in the year. President Biden has carried on this tradition and this skinny budget provides only high-level information regarding the administration’s discretionary spending priorities for the coming year. A more in-depth proposal, providing additional details about these priorities and intended spending levels for key education programs, is expected to be released later this spring.

Of particular note for the K-12 community, this request proposes $102.8 billion for the U.S. Department of Education—a 41% increase over current funding levels. President Biden’s skinny budget also envisions most of these new investments to be devoted to significantly increasing funding levels for Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Specifically, the budget proposes $36.5 billion for this purpose which would amount to a 121% increase over currently enacted levels. The release of President Biden’s skinny budget formally begins the Congressional budget and appropriations cycle for FY22. The next federal government budget is set to start on October 1, 2021.

In response to today’s announcement, Anna Maria Chávez, Executive Director and CEO of NSBA, released a statement in support of the $20 billion increase in Title I grants for disadvantaged students, a $2.6 billion increase for special education, and a $1 billion increase to grow the number of counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals in schools. You can view the statement here.

Administration Update

CDC and USED Release New School Reopening Guidance

This past February, the U.S. Department of Education (USED), along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released “Volume 1” of its two-part guidance series aimed at supporting safe school reopening efforts. This first volume focused on providing education stakeholders with actionable recommendations regarding the specific health and safety measures leaders should consider when reopening schools. Earlier today, April 9, USED released “Volume 2” of this guidance series, focused on evidence- and research-based strategies to mitigate the social, emotional, mental-health, and academic impacts of the pandemic on students, educators, and staff.

USED Responds to More State Waiver Requests

On Tuesday, April 6, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) provided formal responses to several states that have sought waivers from the Department that would, if granted, absolve them of assessment and accountability requirements from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As the department expressed previously, every state that has so far sought to temporarily waive ESSA’s accountability and school identification requirements has been granted one.

On the issue of administering assessments this spring, however, states have variously sought different flexibilities or waivers from these federal testing requirements. USED has been far less receptive to these requests by comparison. For instance, only  Washington, D.C., was granted a full waiver from ESSA’s testing requirements for this school year. Oregon, on the other hand received a narrower approval of their testing flexibility request, conditioned on the completion of a public comment period in the state. Three other states, New York, Michigan, and Montana, had similar assessment waiver requests rejected. For several other states, USED provided feedback on these proposals without providing a formal decision as these states work to further refine these requests.

Of significant note, USED provided a formal response to California’s planned course of action on testing this spring. The state plans to move forward with the administration of its statewide summative assessment this school year, shorten the length of assessments, and extend potential testing windows further into the year. Where the state determines that it is not “viable” for a school district to administer the statewide assessment, these districts will not be required to administer the statewide test (in California’s case the Smarter Balance Assessment or SBAC). USED’s letter makes clear that they hope the state encourages the use of local assessments where the administration of the statewide test is determined by the state not to be viable, but also emphasizes that this approach cannot be in lieu of a statewide test. It also remains unclear what criteria or what process the state must consider or undertake to make a determination regarding the viability of a district to administer the state’s test.  

USED’s Office of Civil Rights Reviews Title IX

Earlier this year, President Biden issued an executive order directing U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to review and potentially replace current Title IX regulations updated by the U.S. Department of Education last May. On Tuesday, April 6, Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Suzanne B. Goldberg, sent a letter to students, educators, and other stakeholders outlining the department’s plans to follow through on President Biden’s directive to review and potentially overhaul these rules. In addition to announcing these efforts, OCR also indicated that the Department plans to provide new guidance for K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions in the coming months to provide further clarity on current Title IX regulations already in effect and stakeholders’ responsibilities under this current regulatory framework. “Today’s action is the first step in making sure that the Title IX regulations are effective and are fostering safe learning environments for our students while implementing fair processes” Cardona said in a press statement released at the same time.

NSBA Update

Annual Conference and Upcoming Advocacy Institute: The NSBA federal advocacy and public policy team hopes you are enjoying the 2021 NSBA Annual Conference. We were pleased to provide five different sessions related to advocacy and public policy. We look forward to our next major event which is the Advocacy Institute scheduled for June 8-10. We urge you to participate in this major online event championing public schools. nsba.org/AI2021

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