ED Review (11/12/21)

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November 12, 2021



On November 5, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a once-in-a-generation investment in the nation’s physical infrastructure and competitiveness.  This bipartisan legislation will rebuild roads, bridges, ports, and rail; expand access to clean drinking water; help ensure every American has access to high-speed internet; address the climate crisis and advance environmental justice; and support communities that too often have been left behind.  Combined with President Biden’s Build Back Better framework, it will also add, on average, 1.5 million jobs per year for the next 10 years (fact sheets 1 and 2). 

Among the highlights for education:

  • Clean water.  Currently, up to 10 million households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water.  The legislation invests $55 billion to expand access to clean drinking water, eliminate the nation’s lead service lines, and help clean up the toxic chemical PFAS.
  • Broadband access and affordability.  Reliable, high-speed internet is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, participate equally in school learning, and stay connected.  Yet, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds.  The legislation invests $65 billion to help ensure that every American has access to reliable, high-speed internet through an investment in broadband infrastructure deployment.  It will also help lower prices for service and help close the digital divide.
  • Clean school buses.  The legislation will deliver thousands of electric school buses, replacing the yellow school bus fleet.  Investments in zero- and low-emission public transit will drive demand for American-made batteries and vehicles, creating jobs and supporting domestic manufacturing.  It will also help the more than 25 million children and thousands of bus drivers who breathe polluted air on bus rides.  Air pollution is linked to asthma and other health issues that cause students to miss school. 

The President will host a signing ceremony on November 15, joined by Members of Congress who helped write the bill and a diverse group of leaders who fought for its passage, including governors and mayors of both parties and labor union and business leaders. 


COVID-19 Vaccination 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommends children ages 5- to 11-years-old be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer-BioNtech pediatric vaccine.  This recommendation comes after months of rigorous review and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to authorize emergency use of the vaccine for children.  The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to keep students safe and protect them against COVID-19, including the delta variant.

Starting this week, the pediatric vaccination program is fully up and running, and there are approximately 20,000 convenient locations where families can go to get their children vaccinated, with more sites coming online in the weeks ahead.  The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are supporting schools and communities with setting up vaccine solutions that work best for families, including hosting thousands of school-located vaccine clinics; matching school districts with local pharmacy providers; and supporting collaboration between schools, families, and local pediatricians and children’s hospitals.  A joint letter from the agencies delineates three requests of school communities and shares information and resources to help fulfill them.  (Note: First Lady Dr. Jill Biden recently visited a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia -- which was the first school to administer the polio vaccine in 1954.) 

The Department of Education and CDC are also providing resources to states and schools for testing and other mitigation efforts.  A partnership among the agencies and the Rockefeller Foundation specifically aims to accelerate school-based screening testing for students and staff.  It is making staff available to state health departments to coordinate, execute, and expand school-based testing, contact tracing/case investigation, and related public health activities; holding weekly “office hours” to help schools set up and sustain testing programs; and releasing guidance for districts on using American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to provide incentives to families to participate in testing programs. 

Meanwhile, the Department, in collaboration with CDC, launched a COVID-19 data dashboard to help the public track the impact of COVID-19 on K-12 schools.  The dashboard aggregates -- in one location -- data on pediatric cases, youth vaccination rates, and schools operating in-person, remotely, or a hybrid of those two.  Data will be updated each week, and, where possible, the information is presented geographically, so that educators and families can understand the impact within their communities. 

Furthermore, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced an emergency temporary standard to protect more than 84 million workers from the spread of COVID-19 on the job.  Under this standard, covered employers must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory vaccination policy or adopt a policy requiring employees to choose to either be vaccinated or undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.  The standard covers employers with 100 or more employees -- firm or company-wide -- and provides options for compliance.  (Note: Across the 26 states and two territories with OSHA State Plans, the standard will also cover public sector workers employed by state and local governments, including educators and school staff.) 

And, to implement the President’s Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, which ensures that parties that contract with the federal government -- including many colleges and universities -- provide COVID-19 safeguards to their workers, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force site has been updated with a dedicated “For Federal Contractors” page. 

Finally, Secretary Cardona and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy penned a summative op-ed, calling for a renewed focus on children as the nation recovers from the pandemic. 


American Rescue Plan 

Last week, the Department announced approval of two more American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund state plans -- California and Colorado -- and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funding to those jurisdictions.  The plans detail how states are using and intend to use ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen and sustain the operations of schools and classrooms and address the essential needs of students, including by equitably expanding educational opportunities for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  Earlier this year, the agency distributed two-thirds of ARP ESSER funding, or $81 billion, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The remaining funding is being made available to states once plans are approved.  To date, 46 plans have been approved (see state-by-state press releases and highlights online). 


Secretary Cardona traveled to Middletown, Connecticut, late last month, joining Governor Ned Lamont, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and Alphabet Inc. Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat, to discuss opportunities for workforce development programs available to high school and community college students throughout the state.  The programs support career readiness and connections to further postsecondary opportunities.  The Secretary toured the new media and ophthalmology centers at Middlesex Community College and participated in a panel discussion with students and educators about innovative ways external partners are working with public institutions to offer career pathways (video). 

Then, last week, the Secretary traveled to Manchester, New Hampshire, to spotlight transformational changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.  The latest updates will eliminate barriers for military servicemembers to receive PSLF, and the newly implemented PSLF waiver will result in at least 22,000 borrowers who have consolidated loans -- including previously ineligible loans -- being immediately eligible for $1.74 billion in forgiveness without any further action on their part.  The Secretary toured Manchester Community College before meeting with members of the veteran community (video). 


The National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) The Big Read, established in 2016, supports Americans reading and discussing a single book in their communities.  Local governments, libraries, school districts, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations are encouraged to apply for one of an estimated 75 grants to be awarded for programming occurring between September 2022 and June 2023.  Besides the grant, communities will receive resources, including reader’s guides, teacher’s guides, and audio guides featuring commentary from artists, educators, and public figures, and publicity materials. 

For this cycle, communities will choose from 15 titles:

  • The Bear (novel) by Andrew Krivak
  • The Best We Could Do (graphic memoir) by Thi Bui
  • Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (graphic memoir) by Roz Chast
  • Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (poetry) by Ross Gay
  • Circe (novel) by Madeline Miller
  • The Cold Millions (novel) by Jess Walter
  • Deaf Republic (poetry) by Ilya Kaminsky
  • Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (memoir) by Sarah Smarsh
  • Homegoing (novel) by Yaa Gyasi
  • Infinite Country (novel) by Patricia Engel
  • Interior Chinatown (novel) by Charles Yu
  • Nothing to See Here (novel) by Kevin Wilson
  • Postcolonial Love Poem (poetry) by Natalie Diaz
  • Sitting Pretty: The View from my Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body (memoir-in-essays) by Rebekah Taussig
  • There, There (novel) by Tommy Orange

The application deadline is January 26, 2022. 



“Today, we pay homage to the unrelenting bravery and dedication that distinguish all those who have earned the title of ‘American veteran.’  It’s an honor that not only a small percentage of Americans can claim, and one that marks those who are able to claim it as brothers and sisters.  It’s a badge of courage that unites across all ages, regardless of background -- because to be a veteran is to have endured and survived challenges most Americans will never know.  You’ve come through the trials and testing, braved dangers and deprivations, faced down the tragic realities of war and death.  And you’ve done it for us.  You’ve done it for America -- to defend and serve American values, to protect our country and our Constitution against all enemies, and to lay a stronger, more secure foundation on which future generations can continue to build a more perfect union…  You are the very spine of America -- not just the backbone.  And all of us owe you.  And so, on Veterans Day and every day, we honor that great debt and recommit ourselves to keeping our sacred obligation as a nation to honor what you’ve done.” 

-- President Joseph Biden (11/11/21), from remarks at the National Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery 


The next webinar in the Department’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) briefing series, focused on the Department of Energy’s programs, student competitions, and workforce development efforts to deliver results in the fight against climate change, is scheduled for November 30, from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern Time.  Anyone may watch live or archived sessions.  Previous briefings are posted on the agency’s STEM landing page. 

Celebrating National STEM Day (November 8), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invited students, parents, and educators to sign up for its first-ever STEM-a-Thon -- a free, virtual event that will take place on November 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. 

Federal Register notice sets forth the schedule and agenda for the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) quarterly meeting on November 18 and 19. 

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