Weekly Federal Update

Congressional Update

House Budget Committee Kicks-off FY22 Funding Cycle

After delays throughout the year, budget and appropriations activity started in earnest in the House this week. On Monday, June 14, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) filed a “deeming resolution” to establish a topline figure for funding the federal government, along with related programs, for the upcoming 2022 federal fiscal year (FY22). This measure was later approved by the chamber and allows appropriators in the chamber to begin to craft the 12 individual spending bills that compose the discretionary side of the federal budget. The topline figure—about $1.5 trillion— is slightly below President Biden’s budget request due to technical adjustments related to changes in mandatory federal spending.  

More recently, House Democrats have unveiled an ambitious markup schedule for the coming month, aiming to prepare all 12 bills for consideration by the full House by mid-July. At present, the Labor-HHS-ED appropriations bill—legislation that provides funding for the U.S. Department of Education and the programs it oversees—is scheduled for July 7. Progress on appropriations has been far slower in the Senate and it remains unclear when the upper legislative chamber will commence work on comparable legislation to fund federal operations for the upcoming fiscal year, set to begin October 1, 2021.

Infrastructure Talks Drag on Without a Clear Path Forward

Lawmakers from both parties and both legislative chambers continue to debate potential investments in the nation’s infrastructure. Most recently, a bipartisan group of 21 Senators, led by Senators Sinema (D-AZ) and Portman (R-OH), has begun to coalesce around a high-level “framework” for a potential infrastructure deal. The group, composed of nearly equal amounts of Democrats and Republicans, is currently attempting to develop a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure package—a topline figure slightly above a proposal offered by another group of Senators earlier this month. However, the framework lacks detail. A list of 11 mechanisms to finance the legislation, including repurposing previously appropriated pandemic aid dollars and simply expanding the eligible uses of existing pandemic aid funding, has been floated, but many of these proposals have already been rejected by the Biden Administration and many Congressional Democrats.

As these talks continue, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sent a memo to the White House outlining the immense infrastructure needs of K-12 schools across the nation after visiting many since his confirmation. Although a resolution on infrastructure remains unclear at this time, NSBA’s advocacy team will continue to impress upon lawmakers in both parties the significant infrastructure needs of the K-12 community as part of any investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

Senate Examines Biden Administration’s FY22 Budget

On Wednesday, June 16, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-ED) held a hearing examining President Biden’s FY22 budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education. Secretary Cardona testified before the committee arguing that the administration’s proposed budget is a bold effort to address chronic underinvestment in K-12 education and would address significant inequities facing far too many of the nation’s learners. Much of the day’s discussion focused on the administration’s proposed “Title I Equity Grants” which, if enacted, would direct $20 billion in new funding to local education agencies based on a new formula different from the one used in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition, several other issues were explored at length, including the ongoing implementation of the American Rescue Plan’s K-12 funds and efforts to reopen schools. Cardona’s full testimony can be found here.

Administration Update

USED Releases Tranche of ESSER Plans

The American Rescue Plan (ARP), passed earlier this year, provided nearly $122 billion in additional aid to K-12 schools via the existing Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. These funds were intended to help schools weather the effects of the pandemic and facilitate the safe reopening of K-12 facilities for in-person instruction. About two-thirds of this funding ($81 billion) was sent to states this past April, with the remainder to be delivered after states submitted plans for how the funds would be used.

On Monday, June 14, USED released plans for 28 states, including the District of Columbia,  as the Department reviews and later approves them. Although the statutory deadline for these plans was June 7, USED has extended limited flexibilities to the remaining states that have yet to submit an ESSER plan. The Department anticipates that the remaining plans will be submitted for consideration on a rolling basis in the weeks ahead. Once approved, a related letter along with the remaining funding will be released to states for further use. More information regarding the plans can be found here.

FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Goes Live at the End of June

On Tuesday, June 15, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that eligible schools and libraries may begin to apply for a slice of the $7.2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) on June 29. Authorized by the American Rescue Plan, the ECF provides funding to schools and libraries to purchase broadband plans and devices for students, school staff, and library patrons. The initial application period will last 45 days, ending August 13, and may be used for “reasonable costs associated with eligible equipment and services” purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. More information on the announcement, including how to apply for funding, can be found here. In related news, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a new publicly available map displaying key indicators of broadband need throughout the nation.

USED Clarifies Title IX Interpretation

On Wednesday, June 16, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notice of interpretation clarifying that it intends to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex to include protections from discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. OCR’s announcement is based on a recent Supreme Court ruling, Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently discriminatory against a person based on sex.

Biden Administration Continues to Staff Key Education Roles

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) announced a series of new appointees to fill key roles within the Department. Around the same time, President Biden announced his intention to nominate Sandra Bruce to be the next Inspector General for USED. In addition, Gwen Graham, who President Biden recently nominated to be Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs at USED, was advanced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Wednesday for full consideration by the chamber at a later date. While a full vote has not yet been scheduled on her nomination, she is expected to be confirmed in the near future.

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Bill Introductions – June 14-15, 2021

HF 1-38 and SF 1-38

The following bills were introduced in the Minnesota Legislature Special Session #1 – June 14-15, 2021. 

We hope that you monitor these posts, as it keeps you updated and informed about the bills under consideration that may impact school boards and school districts across the state.  Whether it is a new mandate, or more/less funding for certain programs it is important for you to know how these bills may impact your district. http://www.mnmsba.org/Portals/0/PDFs/Special%20Session%20Bill%20Intros%20-%20June%2014-15%202021.pdf

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Weekly Federal Update

Congressional Update

House Education Committee Explores Child Nutrition Reauthorization

Yesterday, June 10, the House Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services held a hearing titled, “Ending Child Hunger: Priorities for Child Nutrition Reauthorization.” Lawmakers on the panel explored several issues related to the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs among other nutrition programs aimed at children and students. This hearing was especially timely considering the pandemic, which necessitated significant, if temporary, changes to these programs in order for them to continue to meet the needs of students. Witnesses included representatives from Chicago Public Schools, a nonprofit focused on childhood hunger, a childhood nutrition advocate, and a celebrity chef. An archived webcast of the event, including witness testimony, can be viewed here.

Infrastructure Talks Continue

As previously shared the past few weeks, lawmakers in Congress and the Biden Administration continue to negotiate on a potential investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Last week, President Biden ended talks with Senator Capito (R-WV) after both sides failed to find common ground on a proposal. More recently, a bipartisan group of ten Senators announced that they have reached agreement on a different infrastructure package. However, details regarding this proposal have been scarce and the topline figure—just shy of $1 trillion—remains short of President Biden’s goal of at least that amount in “new spending” rather than repurposing existing federal resources. This has been a recurrent issue throughout the infrastructure debate, with Democrats favoring a larger investment and Republicans favoring a narrower approach.

With time running out before the long summer recess in August, it remains unclear how or when these talks will be resolved.

Administration Update

USED Publishes “Maintenance of Equity” Guidance  

On Wednesday, June 9, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) published new guidance providing important details for states and local school districts regarding the implementation of so-called “Maintenance of Equity” (MOEq) provisions contained in the recently passed American Rescue Plan (ARP). This provision is intended to prevent states and school districts from disproportionally reducing funding to the highest poverty school districts and schools. The guidance, in the form of an FAQ, explains how districts and states should go about implementing various aspects of the MOEq provision, including how to appropriately calculate poverty levels and ensure wider compliance with both the spirit and intent of the law. In addition, USED also published a new report exploring the disparate impacts of the pandemic on students and also announced an upcoming summit, open to the public, focused on related equity issues.

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Weekly Federal Update

Infrastructure Negotiations Continue with No Clear Resolution

Since the release of President Biden’s full fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request last week, attention has returned back to the most hotly debated issue over the past few months—investments in the nation’s infrastructure. Earlier in the year, President Biden released two interrelated infrastructure proposals, totaling nearly $4 trillion, and known respectively as the American Jobs and Families Plans. These proposals outline the President’s ambitious vision for infrastructure investments, including $100 billion for the construction and upgrading of K-12 school facilities.

Following the release of these proposals, President Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders have sought to garner Congressional Republicans’ support for this priority. Negotiations over a potential infrastructure package have largely been spearheaded by President Biden who has engaged a revolving cast of Senators whose support will be needed to pass this proposal via the regular legislative process. However, both sides continue to remain far apart on key issues including the appropriate size of the investment, what should (or should not) be included within an infrastructure package, and how to pay for these proposals.

These differences, however, have yet to be overcome. Both sides remain about $750 billion apart in their respective visions for an infrastructure package and, equally as important, remain bitterly divided over how to pay for the proposal. As these talks continue without resolution, the likelihood that Congressional Democrats make use of budget reconciliation—a legislative mechanism that would allow lawmakers to pass legislation by a simple majority in the Senate—increases substantially. Using budget reconciliation would allow Congressional Democrats to advance a version of President Biden’s infrastructure proposals without Republican support. However, all 50 members of the Democratic majority in the Senate would need to agree on such an approach. This week, President Biden continued one-on-one negotiations with Senator Capito (R-WV) who has been representing Senate Republicans in some of these negotiations. These talks have, at least so far, have not resolved any of these key differences between the two parties.

As these efforts continue, NSBA’s advocacy team will continue to impress upon lawmakers the substantial infrastructure needs of the K-12 community.

Next Week: House Education Subcommittee to hold Child Nutrition Hearing

Next Thursday, June 10, the House Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services will hold a hearing titled, “Ending Child Hunger: Priorities for Child Nutrition Reauthorization.” Lawmakers are expected to explore issues related to childhood nutrition programs as they consider making updates to these programs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Witnesses have not yet been announced. The hearing will be livestreamed here.

Administration Update

USED Publishes Report on Student Home Connectivity

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) Office of Education Technology published a new report titled, “Keeping Students Connected and Learning: Strategies for Deploying School District Wireless Networks as a Sustainable Solution to Connect Students at Home.” The report examines strategies school districts can consider when deploying off-campus wireless networks to ensure more students have access to the internet. The brief explores six district’s experiences in undertaking this work and provides several best practice recommendations for school districts to consider. A related webinar exploring the findings of this brief will be held next week. Registration information for the event can be found here.

USED Seeks Information on School Discipline 

Earlier today, June 4, the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a request for information, seeking written input from the public on the administration of school discipline in K-12 schools. This information is intended to inform OCR’s future efforts to provide policy guidance and technical assistance to help schools improve school climate and safety while ensuring equitable access to education programs and activities. This request comes in the context of earlier OCR data collections showing persistent disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline among students of color. More information on the request can be found here.

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Weekly Federal Update

Congressional Update

President Biden Releases Full FY22 Budget Request

Earlier today, May 27, President Biden released his widely anticipated budget request to Congress. In an unusual move, the request included both the President’s desired budget for federal fiscal year (FY) 2022 as well as details regarding the administration’s previously announced American Families and Jobs Plans—proposals that outline the administration’s infrastructure priorities beyond the proposed federal government’s FY22 budget. The budget request provided significant new details regarding the Biden administration’s spending priorities, particularly regarding K-12 education.

Specifically, President Biden’s FY22 budget proposes $102.8 billion for the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) discretionary budget. This requested amount is a 41 percent increase over current funding levels or $29.8 billion total. President Biden’s budget request also includes $20 billion in new funding for Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) via the creation of a new “Title I Equity” grant program—above and beyond current funding levels proposed for the remainder of Title I. In addition to this specific proposal, the administration’s budget request also includes a proposed $50 billion in additional mandatory spending investment in the nation’s K-12 infrastructure over five years. Outside of the K-12 education space, the administration is also proposing a new $100 billion investment intended to increase broadband access over ten years.

The release of this more detailed version of the Biden Administration’s FY22 budget, further increases pressure on Congress to begin the formal budget and appropriations process. As this effort continues to take shape, NSBA’s advocacy team will continue to work with lawmakers to ensure adequate investments are made in the nation’s K-12 education systems and schools.

Administration Update

USED Updates Guidance for K-12 ARP Funding

On Wednesday, May 26, the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) released an updated FAQ providing guidance to states, school districts, and schools for how they may make use of funding provided by the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The guidance sheds new light on a wide array of issues including explicitly outlining the roles and responsibilities for each eligible recipient of this funding. Additional guidance documents and resources from USED and OESE can be found here.

President Biden Nominates General Counsel for Education Department

President Biden announced his intent to nominate Lisa Brown to be the next General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Education (USED). Brown was most recently the Vice President and General Counsel for Georgetown University and has also served in various roles for the Obama Administration. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a statement following the announcement, expressing his support for Brown. The Senate must still consider and approve Brown’s nomination sometime in the future, although a date has not yet been set.

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff for victims of San Jose tragedy and Sarah Grell

In accordance with a proclamation issued by President Joe Biden, Governor Tim Walz has ordered all United States and Minnesota flags to be flown at half-staff at all state and federal buildings in Minnesota effective immediately until sunset on Sunday, May 30, 2021, to honor the lives lost to gun violence in San Jose, California, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

A few hours prior to the San Jose proclamation, Governor Walz had ordered flags at half-staff from sunrise until sunset on Friday, May 28, 2021, in honor and remembrance of Conservation Officer Sarah Grell.

Conservation Officer Grell died in the line of duty on Monday, May 24, 2021. Conservation Officer Grell dedicated 16 years of exemplary service to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and leaves behind her husband, Gene, and her children, Will, Jordyn, and Geno, and many other relatives and friends.

At the direction of the Governor, Minnesota flies its flags at half-staff following the death of Minnesota first responders fallen in the line of duty.

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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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