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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Bill Introductions – Week-ending April 9, 2021

Bill Introductions HF 2436-2470 and SF 2323-2389

The following bills were introduced in the Minnesota Legislature April 5-9, 2021.  Every Friday, we will publish bills that have been introduced during the week.

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/Bill-Intros-4-9-2021.pdf

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff in honor of Congressman Alcee Hastings

Governor Tim Walz has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings in the state of Minnesota effective immediately until sunset on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, to remember, mourn, and honor the life of Congressman Alcee Hastings.

“I had the privilege of working alongside Congressman Hastings during the time we served together in the United States House of Representatives, and remember him fondly as a friend and former colleague,” said Governor Walz.

Minnesota joins states across the nation, in accordance with a proclamation issued by President Joe Biden, in lowering flags at half-staff in honor of the life of Congressman Hastings. 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 to honor victims of attack on U.S. Capitol

Governor Tim Walz has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings in Minnesota effective immediately until sunset on Tuesday, April 6, to honor the victims of the attack on the United States Capitol on Friday, April 2, including William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the United States Capitol Police.

Minnesota joins states across the nation, in accordance with a proclamation issued by President Joe Biden, to remember, mourn, and honor the victims of the attack. Individuals, businesses, and other organizations are also encouraged to join in lowering their flags.

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Federal Weekly Update

Congressional Update

House Releases Community Project Funding Guidance

On Tuesday, March 23, the House Appropriations Committee formally published guidance regarding the process for Members of Congress to request “Community Project Funding”—the committee’s new term for appropriations earmarks. As previously shared, House appropriations leaders have sought to ensure the new process for requesting earmarks ensures transparency and accountability as reflected in this new guidance. Of note for the K-12 community theInnovation and Improvement” account for elementary and secondary education, composed of programs most recently funded at $1.1 billion, is eligible for requests from Members of Congress for the upcoming FY 2022 appropriations cycle—a process that must be completed by October 1, 2021 before current funding is set to expire.

Senate HELP Committee Considers Deputy Secretary of Education Nomination

On Wednesday, March 24, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing to consider President Biden’s nomination of Cindy Marten to be the next U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. Since 2013, Marten has been the Superintendent of San Diego’s Unified School District in California. During the hearing, Marten promoted summer learning programs as an effective strategy for districts to consider when determining how best to combat student learning loss due to the ongoing pandemic. In addition, she highlighted her own experiences as superintendent when addressing the issue of school reopening’s. Marten also voiced support for the U.S. Department of Education’s recent decision to require states to move forward with federally mandated standardized assessments. The committee is expected to formally vote on Marten’s nomination in the coming weeks and she is widely expected to be confirmed by the full Senate shortly thereafter.

House Hearing Explores Educational Equity Post-Pandemic

On Thursday, March 25, the House Education and Labor Committee’sEarly Childhood, Elementary,

and Secondary Education Subcommittee held a hearing titled, “Lessons Learned: Charting the Path to Educational Equity Post-COVID-19.” Witnesses included:

  • Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League
  • Jennifer Dale, Parent, Lake Oswego, OR
  • Selene A. Almazan, Legal Director, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.
  • Alberto M. Carvalho, Superintendent of Schools, Miami-Dade County Public Schools

The hearing focused on a slew of K-12 education topics and issues brought to the forefront due to the ongoing pandemic. Much of the discussion centered on schools returning to in-person instruction, along with an exploration of how states and school districts plan to make use of federal pandemic aid made available through the recently passed American Rescue Plan. The topic of standardized assessment was also brought up a number of times—by both witnesses and subcommittee members—with some arguing that testing should be suspended during the pandemic, while others defended testing as a key way to ensure an equitable educational recovery for all students. An archived video of the hearing, along with written statements, is available here.

Administration Update

USED Hosts School Reopening Summit

On Wednesday, March 24, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) hosted a “National Safe School Reopening Summit” which brought together education stakeholders from across the country to discuss and share best practices related to school reopening’s. The summit was comprised of three separate sessions focused on implementing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) K-12 operational strategy regarding school reopening’s (recently updated by the CDC on March 19), lessons learned during these efforts, and how schools and districts can best address students’ academic, social, and emotional needs throughout the pandemic.

In addition to these discussions, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona also announced that his department was making nearly two-thirds of the approximately $122 billion in K-12 funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) available to states and school districts ($81 billion total). In a related press release, the department noted that “The remainder of ARP [K-12] funds will become available after states submit the plans they are developing and implementing for using ARP. . .” funding to safely reopen schools.

Following the summit, the department also announced plans to launch a school reopening listening tour and “Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative” which will seek to share best practices for summer learning. This announcement came after 11 Senators, led by Sen. Murphy (D-CT) wrote to Cardona urging his department to provide further information and guidance regarding how states and school districts can best provide summer enrichment activities.

USED Releases New School Survey Data

Shortly after his inauguration, President Biden signed an executive order supporting the reopening of K-12 schools. As part of this order the President directed USED’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to survey K-12 schools and districts regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including collecting data on the status of in-person instruction at schools. On Tuesday, IES released the first in what will be a series of findings from an ongoing survey of public schools throughout the country. This newly released survey showed that more than three-quarters of all fourth and eight grade public school students attended schools that provided hybrid or in-person instruction during the past few months. The survey and related data collection will continue monthly through June of this year with additional results published periodically. The full survey results from this most recent release can be accessed here.

Bills

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Bill Introductions – Week-ending March 26, 2021

Bill Introductions HF 2326-2435 and SF 2200-2322

The following bills were introduced in the Minnesota Legislature March 22-26, 2021.  Every Friday, we will publish bills that have been introduced during the week.

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/Bill-Intros-3-26-2021.pdf

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Governor Walz orders flags at half-staff in honor of Boulder shooting victims

Governor Tim Walz has ordered all Minnesota flags to be flown at half-staff at all state buildings effective immediately until sunset on Saturday, March 27, 2021, to honor the 10 victims of the acts of violence perpetrated in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday, March 22, 2021.

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

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