ED Review (11/27/20)

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November 27, 2020


ESF Online Portal

Secretary DeVos recently revealed an online portal that displays how states, local educational agencies (LEAs), and institutions of higher education (IHEs) are using the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) to keep learning going for students during the pandemic.  The portal currently captures awards and expenditures reported as of September 30, six months after enactment of the statute.  It will be updated regularly (press release, blog post, and Secretary’s Twitter thread). 

The portal contains state profiles, which provide information on award recipients and expenditures within each state, with similar functionality available for the Outlying Areas.  Users can view the total amount of funding awarded and spent, disaggregated for each of ESF’s funds: the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.  Users can also view information about more than 12,000 LEAs, 5,000 IHEs, and other entities that were awarded grants and subgrants. 

Of the $13.2 billion ESSER Fund, $1.6 billion, or 12% of the total, was spent as of the end of September.  Of the nearly $14 billion HEER Fund, $9 billion, or 64% of the total, was spent as of the end of September.  And, of the $3 billion allocated to the GEER Fund, $535 million, or 18% of the total, was spent as of the end of the September. 

States have broad discretion over how to integrate CARES Act funding into their overall education funding streams.  They must also ensure that funds are spent consistently with laws and regulations.  However, the Department urges a faster expenditure rate in the best interest of students, families, and teachers. 

In addition to being a source of public information, the portal will also serve as a reporting vehicle for grantees.  Early next year, the Department will expand the portal’s capabilities and allow both state and IHE grantees under ESF to submit their annual reports.  This approach enables the agency to implement a seamless reporting process to facilitate transparency and ensure data quality. 



This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated a significant number of guidance documents to support K-12 schools, IHEs, and child care centers regarding COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, at the November 19 White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Vice President Pence reiterated “our task force, this administration, and our president do not...support closing schools,” and “the CDC never recommended that we close schools at any point this year.” 


FSA Online Enhancements 

On November 8, Federal Student Aid (FSA) enhanced two online tools: the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Help Tool and the Loan Simulator (announcement and blog post). 

The redesigned PSLF Help Tool features a modernized interface and revised format to help borrowers more easily determine their eligibility for the PSLF Program, including a new, single PSLF Form combining the employment certification form and the forgiveness application.  FSA plans to expand functionality within the employer database, and borrowers who have used the tool before will be able to see a history of their submitted employment information.  It will also add a “My Loan Actions” feature, allowing borrowers to answer a series of questions and obtain a customized table of borrower loan information and a personalized review of possible next steps to attain loan forgiveness. 

The new Loan Stimulator module has a “Borrow More” feature that allows borrowers to determine how taking out additional federal student loans -- for continuing in their current programs of study or enrolling in a new one -- will affect their monthly payment amount. 

Throughout 2021, more features and tools will be introduced to improve customers’ understanding of and interactions with Title IV aid programs. 

Also, on November 16, FSA issued its annual report, stating its latest financial and program performance. 


As part of a STEM education briefing last week, the Department announced it had invested $578 million during the previous fiscal year to support high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for students through its discretionary and research grants.  This is on top of more than $819 million in STEM education investments during fiscal years 2018 and 2019.  These investments deliver on President Trump’s commitment to help expand opportunities in high-demand STEM careers and achieve the vision and goals of the five-year federal STEM education strategic plan, entitled “Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.” 

Of the FY 2020 investments, the agency awarded $141 million in new grants and $437 million to continue existing projects that are making substantial progress toward their goals.  For example, funds are preparing the STEM Teacher Corps for careers in the classroom, expanding opportunities for lower-income students to succeed in postsecondary education, and expanding research and training on the improvement of students’ knowledge and skills.  Approximately $156 million specifically supported projects with a focus on computer science, and several investments supported the Administration’s Opportunity Zones initiative (press release). 

Notably, these investments explicitly address STEM and do not include other Department funds that schools and IHEs may use to support STEM education, such as formula funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Perkins V, federal student aid, or the CARES Act’s ESF. 

The agency has also supported STEM education beyond grant-making, through partnerships and innovations, including a collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to launch the “She Can” Summer Camp providing middle school students from low-income families with hands-on STEM experiences (FY 2018); updates to the College Scorecard to help students and families make more informed and personalized decisions about postsecondary education options -- including STEM (FY 2019); and establishment of the Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award to elevate and recognize America’s leading cybersecurity K-12 educators (FY 2020). 

To stay up-to-date on the Department’s STEM work, visit the STEM landing page. 


November 29 marks the 45th anniversary of President Gerald Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

Please join the Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) the week of November 30, as it celebrates 45 years of providing education, supports, and services to infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and their families through the IDEA.  Visit the IDEA 45 Years page, the hub for all OSERS content related to the commemoration; OSERS will post new resources and stories each day of the week.  Also, follow OSERS on Twitter for the chance to test your IDEA knowledge and engage in IDEA trivia. 

To kick things off, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within OSERS released an anniversary-related “OSEP Fast Facts.” 


  • Use the Census Bureau’s Thanksgiving Day Fun Facts resource in the classroom or at home and share a variety of interesting facts with students -- from the number of turkey towns and cranberry counties in the country to the states forecasted to raise the most turkeys!  An accompanying teaching guide has different ideas on how to get students engaged in the conversation.  There are options available for every grade.
  • Secretary DeVos issued a personal video marking International Education Week (November 16-20).  Moreover, the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education released their annual “Open Doors” report on the state of international educational exchange (prior to the impacts of the pandemic).  For the fifth consecutive year, the U.S. hosted over one million international students during the 2019-20 academic year.
  • Don’t miss this readout of the “Rethink Work-Based Learning” event hosted by the Department’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) with the Secretaries of Education and Labor.
  • While on this topic, see the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) brief on the career and technical education (CTE) course-taking of public high school graduates in 2013.
  • See also NCES’s report on principal professional development within public schools during the 2017-18 school year.
  • On November 13, the Department virtually celebrated the 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools -- take some time to watch the Eastern region and Central, Mountain, and Pacific regions
  • Regarding recognition, the Department received 32 nominations from 20 states for the inaugural Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award for classified school employees.  A review is now underway.  The Secretary of Education will select one national honoree in the spring.
  • In a recent Federal Register notice, the Department clarifies its enforcement authority for IHEs’ failure to adequately report funding and resources from foreign sources. 


“The CARES Act was passed to provide schools the resources they needed to protect students and teachers and ensure learning continues.  We awarded the CARES Act money quickly.  This portal provides transparency into what happened next.  States that neglected their obligations to provide full-time education, while complaining about a lack of resources, have left significant sums of money sitting in the bank.  There may be valid reasons for states to be [more] deliberate in how they spend CARES Act resources, but these data make clear there is little to support their claims of being cash-poor.” 

-- Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (11/20/20), unveiling an online portal on the use of CARES Act education funding 


There is still time to register for the virtual 2020 FSA Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals (December 1-4). 

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