ED Review (06/25/21)

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June 25, 2021


Equity Summit Series 

This week, the Department held the initial installment in its Equity Summit Series.  It featured welcoming remarks by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden (video), keynote remarks by Secretary Cardona (video), and participation by Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten, school leaders, and educators from across the country (photo and voices).  It also featured several student performances (mariachi band). 

This first installment, subtitled “Building Equitable Learning Environments in Our Schools,” explored how schools and communities can reimagine their systems so every student has a voice in their school and classroom, particularly students from underserved communities.  Participants discussed the historic investments in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) -- aimed at advancing equity in school reopening efforts -- and how proposals outlined in President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request, the American Jobs Plan, and the American Families Plan can address inequities that were exacerbated by the pandemic and help build truly equitable schools nationwide.  They also discussed how students can access a high-quality education responsive to their needs and how schools can develop more culturally and linguistically inclusive learning environments (readout). 

The Department will hold additional installments over the coming months focused on how, as schools and campuses continue to reopen and bring back more students for in-person instruction, they must not return to the status quo. 


Harvey Milk 

Last week, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Notice of Interpretation explaining that it will enforce Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex to include: (1) discrimination based on sexual orientation and (2) discrimination based on gender identity.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity offered by a recipient of federal financial assistance. 

OCR’s interpretation stems from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, issued one year ago, in which the court recognized that it is impossible to discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity without discriminating against that person based on sex. 

As OCR recently reported, LGBTQ+ students often face additional challenges in schools, including disproportionately experiencing persistent bullying, harassment, and victimization.  The vulnerability of LGBTQ+ students has increased during the pandemic, leaving them without access to school-based mental health services and other supports. 

More information and resources for LGBTQ+ students are available online. 

In recognition of the 49th anniversary of Title IX on June 23, Secretary Cardona issued a clear statement.  He called Title IX “the strongest tool we have to protect every student’s right to equal access to educational opportunities free from sex discrimination.”  He added, “Because of this landmark rule, our nation has made important progress toward realizing our self-concept as a land of opportunity for all -- from increasing equality in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; to enabling and encouraging more women and girls to participate in sports; to ensuring fairer funding in athletic programs; to protecting students from sex discrimination, including sexual violence.  [Yet], amid this progress, we recognize there is still more to do, when we know that students experience harassment, exclusion from school activities, and other forms of discrimination that stand in the way of them reaching their full potential and their dreams.” 

For its own observance, OCR issued a Dear Educator Letter, and, in conjunction with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, released a fact sheet: “Confronting Anti-LGBTQI+ Harassment in Schools: A Resource for Students and Families.” 

Earlier this month, Secretary Cardona visited Harvey Milk High School in New York City to speak with LGBTQ+ students about Pride Month and ways the agency can support them (tweet). 

Meanwhile, the Secretary recently sat down with his cousin Alex, a transgender college student, to discuss misconceptions and learn more about his experiences (video). 


American Rescue Plan 

Also last week, the Department posted 28 plans submitted by State Education Agencies (SEAs) describing how they will use ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to support schools, students, and educators.  The ARP ESSER Fund provides $122 billion to SEAs to help schools safely reopen and sustain in-person operations while meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students impacted by the pandemic.  The release came shortly after data published by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) found 59% of K-8 schools were offering in-person instruction full time in April -- up from 46% since January. 

In April, SEAs received access to two-thirds of their ARP ESSER allocation -- a total of $81 billion.  The remaining $41 billion will become available following the agency’s approval of each state’s plan.  Every plan will be reviewed by the Department to determine whether it addresses published requirements, including seeking input from key stakeholder groups in the development of the plan and addressing the needs of students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  The agency will work with each SEA to revise its plan, as necessary, to meet all requirements, so it can expeditiously release the remaining funds. 

The Department’s press release offers highlights from the plans in the areas of accelerating and sustaining a safe return to in-person instruction; implementing COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies, including expanding access to vaccinations for school staff and students; offering summer learning and enrichment programs; providing social, emotional, and mental health supports to students; and addressing the academic impact of lost instructional time.  (Note: New guidance explains how ARP funds may prevent and respond to crime and promote public safety.) 

In a Twitter thread, Secretary Cardona shared additional examples of how state plans direct ARP funds. 

A reminder: the public can track how states, school districts, and institutions of higher education are using federal recovery aid through the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) Transparency Portal, which currently captures awards and expenditures reported as of April 30. 


In a Homeroom blog post, Federal Student Aid (FSA) Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray outlines big changes ahead for how the Department awards federal student aid.  Recent legislation passed by Congress will expand access to Pell Grants and subsidized loans, including making incarcerated students eligible for Pell Grants; change the methodology FSA uses to calculate how much federal student aid students and families will receive; improve the exchange of tax data to help applicants file an accurate Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form; and eliminate negative consequences related to questions about drug convictions and Selective Service registration for federal student aid.  However, to deliver on these new opportunities, FSA needs to upgrade the technology system the FAFSA form is built on (which is 45 years old!).  As early as October 1, some of these improvements will become evident.  More improvements will be made as soon as possible. 

The Department announced the approval of 18,000 Borrower Defense to Repayment claims for individuals who attended ITT Technical Institute.  These individuals will receive 100% loan discharges, resulting in approximately $500 million in relief.  To date, the Biden Administration has approved borrower defense claims by 90,000 individuals for an estimated $1.5 billion in relief, as well as suspended requests for earnings documentation from those who receive a total and permanent disability discharge. 

FSA released two new sets of quarterly portfolio reports on its Data Center web site.  The reports reflect the novel flexibilities applied to borrower accounts as prescribed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and extended by executive actions through September 30.  As a result, payments are paused, interest is waived, and collections are stopped on all Department-held student loans, as well as defaulted loans administered by guaranty agencies. 


On June 15, Secretary Cardona held a virtual roundtable discussion with early childhood stakeholders and leaders (tweet). 

Next, on June 21, the Secretary held a virtual roundtable discussion with middle and high school students who live in rural communities (tweet). 

Then, on June 24, students from Michigan, New York, and Tennessee led a virtual conversation with Secretary Cardona, asking about policy changes they seek in their schools, districts, and communities. 

In between, three local educators talked in-person with the Secretary about a wide variety of topics, including teaching during a pandemic (video). 

Moreover, next week, Secretary Cardona will be the first Cabinet member of the Biden Administration to travel to Puerto Rico, where he will meet with government and education leaders and the students of the Commonwealth. 


  • June 21 was Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, bringing attention to the ARP’s significant tax relief for working families.
  • Secretary Cardona and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra spoke with parents and students at Anacostia High School about getting vaccinated.
  • Secretary Cardona testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee on the President’s budget request for FY 2022 (text and video) and before the House Education and Labor Committee on the Department’s policies and priorities (text and video).
  • President Biden announced his intent to nominate Sandra Bruce as the Department’s Inspector General (see the Secretary’s statement of support), and the Department shared information about new political appointees that will lead parts of the agency.
  • The Department is inviting new applications under the Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth This authority allows pilot sites to blend FY 2021 federal funds and obtain waivers of program requirements to test innovative strategies to achieve significant improvements in educational, employment, and other key outcomes for disconnected youth.  The deadline for applications is August 23, and prospective applicants may obtain technical assistance prior to applying.
  • The Department also announced opportunities for individuals to participate in its peer review process by reviewing applications for competitive grant funding.
  • A new and unique National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report examines the impact of COVID-19 on postsecondary students in the first academic semester of the pandemic, describing disruptions to students’ enrollment, housing, and finances, as well as how institutions informed and supported students.
  • The Administration’s Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions reports on the actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long term. 


“This is our moment to have the difficult conversations about how to build back better, how to lead transformatively, and how to use every penny provided by the President and Congress to ensure that those most impacted by the pandemic receive the most support….  Are we going to lead through this and come out stronger?  Or is the temptation of complacency going to dissipate our call to action?  I remember growing up listening to hip hop icons Public Enemy, and they encouraged challenging the system and ‘Fighting the Power.’  Well, now, we are the system.  It’s on us to make the change we need in our country.  In many places, small incremental change is not enough.  We will need innovative and creative leadership fueled by urgency….  These next months and years will determine the trajectory of success for millions of students in our care.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (6/22/21), from keynote remarks for the first installment of the Department’s Equity Summit Series 


The next “Lessons from the Field” webinar (June 30, 3-4:15 p.m. Eastern Time) will focus on indoor air quality and ventilation in K-12 schools, offering guidance and strategies for improved results. 

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