ED Review (05/01/20)

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May 1, 2020


Education Stabilization Fund 

On March 27, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  This $2 trillion package of assistance measures includes $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund.  Previously, Secretary DeVos announced emergency cash grants to college students and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. 

The Secretary announced a third tranche of funding on April 21: more than $6 billion for institutions of higher education to ensure learning continues during the national emergency.  Institutions are encouraged to use these funds to expand remote learning programs, build information technology capacity to support such programming, and train faculty and staff to operate effectively in a remote learning environment.  Institutions are also urged to expand support for students with the most significant financial needs arising from COVID-19.  In order to access the funds, the Department must receive a signed certification from the institution affirming it will use the funding in accordance with applicable law.  Also, an institution must have executed its agreement for emergency cash grants to students before submitting this certification.  Allocations are set by formula prescribed within the CARES Act, weighted significantly by the number of full-time students who are federal Pell Grant-eligible but considering the total student enrollment of the institution and the number of students who were not enrolled full-time online before the outbreak.  (Note: The Department also disbursed $13 million to Howard University and $7 million to Gallaudet University per the CARES Act, which appropriated funding to help these unique institutions address COVID-19 challenges.) 

To support institutions implementing the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, the Department has posted Frequently Asked Questions for both the student aid and institutional aid portions. 

Additionally, in a statement, the Secretary advised, “Congress required by law that taxpayer emergency relief funds be given to all colleges and universities, no matter their wealth.  But as I’ve said all along, wealthy institutions that do not primarily serve low-income students do not need or deserve additional taxpayer funding.  This is common sense.  Schools with large endowments should not apply for funds so more can be given to students who need support the most.”  Indeed, a number of institutions have declined funding (Secretary’s tweet). 

Next, on April 23, the Secretary announced $13.2 billion for state and local K-12 educational agencies.  This Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund is intended for immediate needs, such as supporting distance learning, ensuring student health and safety, and developing and implementing plans for the next school year.  In order to access the funds, the Department must receive a signed certification.  It expects to obligate funding within three business days of receiving a complete form.  Again, allocations are set by formula prescribed within the CARES Act, and states must allocate 90% of their funding to school districts, including charter schools, in proportion to the amount of Fiscal Year 2019 funds the district received under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). 

Then, on April 27, the Secretary announced over $300 million in discretionary grant funding for states under two new programs: Rethink K-12 School Models Grants and Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants.  The former is aimed at opening new, innovative ways for students to access K-12 education with an emphasis on meeting students’ needs during the national emergency.  The latter is designed to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning in order to get Americans back to work and help small business return to being the country’s engine for economic growth. 

Finally, on April 30, the Secretary announced nearly $1.4 billion for Minority-Serving Institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), and institutions serving low-income students.  This funding is provided on top of the aforementioned Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund student aid and institutional aid allocations.  For example, HBCUs will collectively receive an additional $577 million in awards, after receiving about $353 million from previous allocations.  TCCUs will receive an additional $50 million in awards, bringing their total allocation under the fund to $65 million.  More information, including certifications and allocations by institution for each component, are on the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund site. 

Furthermore, as requested by Congress in the CARES Act, the Secretary examined federal education laws to determine what, if any, additional waiver authority she believes is necessary to provide limited flexibility to state and local educational agencies during this unprecedented time.  She is not recommending that Congress pass additional waiver authority concerning the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), reiterating that learning must continue for all students during the national emergency and can be done online through distance education or other alternative strategies.  She is suggesting that Congress consider flexibilities on administrative requirements under IDEA, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and the Rehabilitation Act (press release). 



Over the last two weeks, the White House, the Department of Education, and other federal agencies have released more guidance to support schools, educators, and families regarding COVID-19.  Many of the new documents are listed below.  The Department continues to update its COVID-19 information and resources web page with the most current information, and any questions for the Department may be directed to COVID-19@ed.gov. 

Meanwhile, Secretary DeVos was on Full Court Press with Greta Van Sustren and the David Webb Show to discuss the Department’s COVID-19 response. 


Second Chance Pell 

The Secretary recently announced that the Department is inviting a new cohort of 67 institutions to join its Second Chance Pell Experiment.  The expansion more than doubles the size of the pilot, allowing incarcerated students to use federal Pell Grants at 130 schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia.  After receiving some 180 letters of intent from colleges and universities, the Department selected those determined to be the most qualified.  Nearly two-thirds are two-year institutions, one-third are minority-serving institutions, and all are either public or private non-profit institutions.  At least eight plan to deliver instruction through innovative distance delivery methods, and 18 proposed hybrid models of instruction. 

The Second Chance Pell Experiment, originally created in 2015, provides need-based federal Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in federal and state prisons to enroll in postsecondary programming offered by local colleges and universities or distance learning providers.  In the first two years of the pilot, approximately 9,000 individuals were awarded $36.2 million in federal grants.  And, according to a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice, over 4,000 credentials -- including certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees -- have been awarded to such students over the past three years. 

Moreover, according to the Rand Corporation, individuals who participate in correctional education programs are 43% less likely to return to prison than those who do not. 


On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22), the Department announced 2020 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees.  A total of 39 schools, 11 school districts, and five postsecondary institutions -- nominated by 27 states -- were selected for their progress in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education.  To learn more about the honorees, see the nomination packages and highlights document.  (Note: There are resources available for all schools -- preschool through postsecondary -- through the agency’s Green Strides portal.) 

NAEP 2018 

On April 23, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2018 report cards for U.S. history, geography, and civics at eighth-grade.  Scores declined in U.S. history (by four points) and geography (by three points) since the last assessment in 2014, while scores were unchanged in civics over the same time period.  In fact, in 2018, just 15% of students performed at or above NAEP Proficient in U.S. history, 25% in geography, and 24% in civics.  NAEP also reports scores by lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), middle- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles) performing students.  Compared to 2014, scores decreased in U.S. history for all but students at the highest-scoring percentile and decreased in geography for lower-performing students.  There was no change across the selected percentiles in civics (livestream video release).  (Note: Secretary DeVos issued a strong response, calling the results “stark and inexcusable” and noting that “America’s antiquated approach to education is creating a generation of future leaders who will not have a foundational understanding of what makes this country exceptional.”) 



“If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student.  The current disruption to the normal model is reaffirming something I have said for years: we must rethink education to better match the realities of the 21st century.  This is the time for local education leaders to unleash their creativity and ingenuity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do to provide education freedom and economic opportunity for America’s students.” 

-- Secretary Betsy DeVos (4/27/20), announcing new grant competitions in response to COVID-19 


Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)- and Institute of Education Sciences (IES)-supported educational technology developers are hosting a series of free virtual “unconferences” on different topics for educators, parents, and students.  These events feature innovative models and approaches to teaching and learning during a time of distance education and in-depth looks at learning games and technologies created by the presenters, available at no cost until the end of the school year.  Last week, math teachers joined the all-day #MathUnconference.  The next event -- May 5, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern Time -- is for early childhood educators and parents.  Future events will be shared on this IES blog post. 

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