January 2020 Issue

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January 2020 Issue

“There’s a reason why the First Amendment comes first. Our country was founded upon the ‘first freedoms’ that it protects. The freedom to express ourselves — through speech, through the press, through assembly, through petition, and through faith — defines what it means to be American.  No American forfeits these freedoms — including the right to pray — to anyone or in any place, especially in public schools. The notion of ‘separation of church and state’ is not an invitation for government to separate people from their faith. …Students may, for instance, read the Bible during homeroom. They may give thanks to God before lunch or a snack. They can pray a decade or two of the rosary at recess. They can be excused from class to fulfill prayer obligations — such as during Ramadan. Students may organize faith-based clubs as they see fit. Students may invite a local rabbi to preach at an assembly. Teachers can pray in the lounge during break. And students most certainly may express their faith in homework or other assignments free from discrimination based on religion.”

— Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (1/17/20), in an op-ed published in USA Today on religious freedom in schools

Protecting Religious Freedom

POTUS Religious freedom

On Religious Freedom Day (Jan.16), President Trump announced nine proposed rules to protect religious organizations from unfair and unequal treatment by the federal government. The Office of Management and Budget also released a memorandum requiring federal agencies to ensure that the grant-making practices of state recipients of federal funding comply with the First Amendment.

The same day, the Department released proposed rules that address five general areas of importance to religious organizations, faith-based institutions, and students. In addition, for the first time since 2003, the Department released guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. The agency is required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to revise this guidance every two years. The guidance explains the ESEA’s requirement that states report to the Department which school districts have not certified that they do not have any policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer.

Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations

On Dec. 20, President Trump signed into law the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, providing funding for the Department for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020. The bill increases the agency’s discretionary funding to $72.8 billion, up $1.3 billion from FY 2019. Among the programs receiving big increases: 

  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I grants to school districts (up $450 million, to $16.3 billion);
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grants to states (up $400 million, to $12.8 billion);
  • ESEA Title II-A Supporting Effective Instruction grants (up $76 million, to $2.1 billion);
  • ESEA Title III English Language Acquisition grants (up $50 million, to $787 million);
  • ESEA Title IV-A Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants (up $40 million, to $1.2 billion);
  • ESEA Title IV-B 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants (up $28 million, to $1.2 billion); and
  • federal TRIO programs (up $30 million, to $1.1 billion).

The bill also boosts the maximum federal Pell Grant award per student by $150 to $6,345 for the 2020–21 academic year, as well as increases funding for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants (up $25 million, to $865 million) and Federal Work-Study grants (up $50 million, to $1.2 billion).

Pursuing Education Freedom

In a tweet, Secretary DeVos encouraged followers to read a Jan. 9 Washington Examiner op-ed by Virginia Walden Ford, titled “Empower parents with school choice.” Moreover, the secretary welcomed Walden Ford, who is the subject of the feature film “Miss Virginia,” to the Department for a discussion on education freedom, followed by a film screening. They were joined by Tiffany Dunston, a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship recipient, who was the first in her family to go to college and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University.

Separately, the secretary appeared on “Fox & Friends” to promote education freedom to help combat the homeless crisis in schools. The secretary also discussed education freedom at the RightNOW Women’s 2020 Leadership Summit.

Investments in Higher Education, STEM

Last month, the president signed into law two education bills. The Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act makes permanent $255 million in annual funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and other Minority Serving Institutions, enables disclosure of tax return information for the administration of federal student aid programs, and increases Pell Grant funding 

The Building Blocks of STEM Act modifies several National Science Foundation programs that provide grants to institutions of higher education and non-profit organizations to support science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education research focused on early childhood.

Federal Student Aid Information Hub

FSA Information Hub

Delivering on the secretary’s promise to improve customers’ experience with the federal student aid process, the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid debuted a centralized hub for borrowers to access student aid information. The revamped StudentAid.gov is the singular place where students and parents can learn about available types of student aid, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), complete loan counseling, and identify the right repayment plan. The site consolidates the student-facing portions of StudentLoans.gov, FSAID.ed.gov, and NSLDS.ed.gov.

Borrowers can now also access all loan servicer contract centers using one number: 1-800-4-FED-AID. This number features an interactive voice response function to direct customers to the appropriate place, reducing confusion and frustration. The myStudentAid mobile application has also been updated and enhanced, so that users can seamlessly switch between completing tasks on the app and the web.

100th Anniversary of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program

VR 100

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first federally funded program to assist people with disabilities who did not acquire their disabilities as a result of serving in the military.  President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Fess Act of 1920, also known as the Industrial Rehabilitation Act and referred to as “The National Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act,” into law June 2, 1920.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) will be celebrating 100 years of vocational rehabilitation. To that end, RSA  launched and dedicated a webpage to house anniversary content. New information will be added to this page throughout 2020.

The Educational Testing Service’s Summer Research Internship Program

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is a major service provider to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) program for the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

ETS is seeking applicants for the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2020 Summer Research Internships. Interns will be exposed to and will contribute to NAEP’s educational assessment efforts and innovations. They will also have the opportunity to attend professional development seminars during their eight-week experience. After completing the program, they will present their findings at a symposium to be promoted throughout the company. If you have questions, please contact us at NAEPInternships@ETS.Org.

Seeking Applicants for Teach to Lead Summit

Teach to Lead

Teach to Lead supports teachers as valued experts in instruction and students’ needs. Teach to Lead summits provide teams with time to collaborate, skills development, and professional consultation to incubate innovative ideas that can make a positive impact for students in their schools, communities, districts, and states. The next Teach to Lead Summit will be held March 27–29 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Any teacher leader with an actionable idea is encouraged to apply by 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb.10. Accepted ideas will be notified the week of March 2. Teams must have three to five members and must be led by one current teacher. Other key stakeholders (e.g. parent, student, community members, school and government officials) are encouraged.

Digest of Education Statistics 2018

The Digest of Education Statistics 2018, from NCES is the 54th in a series of publications initiated in 1962. Its primary purpose is to provide a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of American education — from pre-kindergarten through graduate school — drawn from government and private sources, but especially from surveys and other activities led by NCES. The digest has data on the number of schools, students, and teachers in the U.S., as well as statistics on educational attainment, finances, libraries, technology, and international comparisons.

Civil Rights Center

On Jan. 21, Secretary DeVos announced that the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will launch the Outreach, Prevention, Education, and Non-Discrimination (OPEN) Center to focus on proactive compliance with federal civil rights laws. The OPEN Center will assist and support schools, educators, families, and students to elevate awareness of the protections and requirements of federal nondiscrimination laws. The OPEN Center will be led and staffed by OCR attorneys.  Inquiries may be sent to OPEN@ed.gov.

Seeking Nominations for 2020 Green Ribbon Schools Recognition

Green Ribbon Schools

State education authorities can submit school, district, and postsecondary institution nominees for U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools between now and Feb. 14. The Department will announce the 2020 selectees in May. Honored institutions will be invited to send up to five representatives to a recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C. Schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions are only eligible if nominated by state authorities. State education authorities can find award criteria and other state implementation guidance on the Department website and should contact U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for more information.   

USFWS Career Discovery Internship Program

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is partnering with the Student Conservation Association to recruit approximately 30 students from culturally and ethnically diverse backgrounds for paid internships during the summer of 2020.

Interns will attend a week-long orientation at the National Conservation Training Center followed by 12 weeks of experiential learning at national wildlife refuges across the U.S. — from Alaska to the Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast.  Areas of focus will include visitor services, biology, refuge management and more. For additional information, visit www.thesca.org/cdip.