December 2021 Issue

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December 2021 Issue

"Especially as students, educators, and school communities continue to heal and recover from the pandemic, we must invest in programs that are innovative and backed by evidence of what works to ensure that our education system can fully and effectively address the academic and social-emotional needs of our children. These grants (Education Innovation and Research Grants) will help to offer rich opportunities to accelerate students' learning and nurture their development. I look forward to seeing how Education Innovation and Research Grants help take promising practices to scale."

— Secretary Miguel Cardona (12/13/21), on the announcement of $182 million in Education Innovation and Research Grants

Introducing executive director Melody Gonzales

The White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics (Initiative) welcomes executive director Melody Gonzales.

Melody Gonzales

Gonzales joins the Initiative from the National Education Association (NEA), where she served as a senior advisor for Latino advocacy and partnership engagement in the NEA’s Center for Racial and Social Justice. She managed policy, grants, partnerships, and advocacy efforts centered on bridging the NEA with Latino, immigration, and civil rights advocates to collectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, improve students’ education outcomes, advance racial and social justice in public schools and communities, and empower educators in excelling in their profession. Her prior experience includes serving on the Biden-Harris transition team’s Office of Personnel Management Agency Review Team; as a Senior Executive Service-level appointee in the Obama-Biden Administration — serving first as the U.S Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration chief of staff and then as deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; as a legislative assistant then director of member outreach for former Congressman Xavier Becerra and founding director of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s Latino Appointments Program.

Gonzales mobilized Latino voters as Virginia state Latino vote director for the 2012 Obama-Biden re-election as well as Governor Ralph Northam’s 2017 election; Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva’s 2010 Get Out the Vote director; and on the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign in Colorado. As part of her more recent community service, she served on Governor Ralph Northam’s Virginia Latino Advisory Board, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement National Board, the University of California San Diego’s national Alumni Board and Leadership Fairfax Equity Council.

Gonzales began her career in her hometown of San Diego, California, where she was an NBC 7/39 news writer and Chula Vista Convention and Visitors Bureau general manager. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California San Diego, a Master of Public Policy in international policy development and an executive leadership coaching certificate from Georgetown University, and leadership certificates from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Center for Creative Leadership.

Applications for our White House commission and administration

President Joe Biden’s Executive Order establishing the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity calls for a 21-member presidential advisory commission, housed within the Department, to support the President, Secretary of education and Initiative staff on matters pertaining to educational equity and economic opportunity for the Hispanic and Latino community.

If you are interested in being considered for this commission, apply at Select the Department of Education as one of your areas of interest, and note in the narratives your interest in this commission. Commission candidates may flag their interest by emailing with the subject line “WH Hispanic Commission Applicant.” Please note, this email is just for awareness and our internal processing purposes. All candidates must still officially apply at

In addition, the White House Fellows Program is accepting applications for its 2022–23 cohort. The application deadline is Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, at 5 p.m. ET.

Department Announces Education Innovation and Research grant recipients to improve academic achievement for underserved students

On Dec. 13, the Department announced $182 million in new grant awards to 30 school districts, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit organizations across the United States as part of the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program. These grants will support local efforts to develop, implement, and take to scale entrepreneurial and evidence-based projects that have the potential to improve academic achievement for underserved students. The EIR grantees are exploring innovations for potential models for how the nation can address the impact of school closures and lost instructional time resulting from the pandemic.

Fighting COVID-19: Winter plan

Safe School Checklist

On Dec. 2, President Biden announced new actions to combat COVID-19 as the country heads into the winter months and with the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Among other actions, the President’s plan emphasizes vaccinations to protect children and keep schools open by

  • launching hundreds of family vaccination clinics to get the whole family vaccinated or boosted at one trusted and convenient location;
  • requiring Medicaid to pay health care providers to talk to families about getting children vaccinated;
  • reviewing school COVID-19 prevention policies to avoid closures of entire classrooms or schools when there is a positive case;
  • having the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention release findings on quarantine and testing policies in schools;
  • issuing the new “Safe Schools Checklist” to give schools a clear game plan for how to get as many of their students and staff vaccinated as possible; and
  • providing every resource to the federal Food and Drug Administration to support the timely review of applications for vaccines for children under the age of 5.

Department launches new communities of practice to address the impact of lost instructional time

The Department recently launched two communities of practice to support states and school districts in addressing the impact of lost instructional time from the pandemic on students’ social, emotional, and mental health and academic well-being.

The Evidence-Based Interventions: Using American Rescue Plan (ARP) Resources to Accelerate Learning Community of Practice — with the National Comprehensive Center — will work with states and communities in accelerating learning using ARP funding in sustainable ways. The Department invites state educational agencies, local educational agencies, and community-based organizations to participate. They will explore different evidence-based strategies to accelerate learning and build their organizational capacity to support districts and schools in implementing these practices with fidelity, using ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for interventions, such as high-dosage tutoring and expanding learning time.

The Toward an Equitable Education and Recovery: Transforming Kindergarten Community of Practice — in partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Department’s T4PA Center, as well as others — will engage a cohort of state and district teams to share best practices, policies, and initiatives that allow the kindergarten year to become a more effective path to early school success and learning recovery, especially for those children who have been historically underserved and most impacted by the pandemic.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness and return to payment

On Oct. 6, the Department enacted a limited Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program waiver. The new waiver means that past periods of repayment will now count toward PSLF, regardless of whether a borrower had the wrong type of loan, made a payment on time, made a payment for the full amount due, or made a payment toward a qualifying repayment plan. The PSLF Help Tool is available to guide borrowers through a limited PSLF waiver process and can help easily determine employer eligibility.

As it has been announced that repayments on federal student loans with could restart as early as Feb. 1, 2022, the Department’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office has begun communicating important information and providing online tools and other resources to help borrowers confidently manage their student loans.  Federal student loan borrowers may find the most up-to-date information at Additionally, FSA created a “Return to Repayment Toolkit” for partners, with a fact sheet, video, and sample social media posts. Any questions may be emailed to 

Executive Order improving customer experience and government services for the American people

On Dec. 13, President Biden signed an Executive Order that directs federal agencies to put people at the center of everything the government does. It includes 36 customer experience improvement commitments across 17 federal agencies, all of which aim to improve people's lives and the delivery of government services. 

Under the Executive Order, the Department will ensure the following for the approximately 45 million people who are managing their student loans:

  • Direct Loan borrowers will need to navigate only a single repayment portal on, so that they can apply for, manage, and repay their loans without having to visit multiple websites and manage multiple sets of credentials for different aspects of their student loans.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness candidates, including civil servants and active-duty service members, will be able to apply for the program with less paperwork than currently and without having to fill out forms with information they have previously provided to the federal government.
  • Students and borrowers can receive relevant recommendations for other benefits and services they may qualify for, like healthcare subsidies, broadband support, and food assistance, in order to lower additional economic barriers to postsecondary education completion.

Grant opportunity: Small Business Innovation Research Program

The Department’s Small Business Innovation Research Program provides non-dilutive seed funding to for-profit small businesses to develop and evaluate new education technology products to improve education and special education. The submission date for proposals under both solicitations is Feb. 1, 2022.

The Phase I solicitation seeks proposals for $250,000 for eight-month awards for the research and development (R&D) and evaluation of new prototypes of education and special education technology products.

The Direct to Phase II solicitation seeks proposals for $1,000,000 for two years for R&D and evaluation of new education technology products to prepare existing researcher-developed evidence-based innovations (products, interventions, practices) for use at scale and commercialization. Direct to Phase II projects can be awarded without a prior Phase I award.

Holiday greeting

The Initiative would like to wish you and your families a safe and wonderful holiday season. It is inspiring to see how so many of you have joined the administration in facing the COVID-19 pandemic with heart, resilience, and expertise in service of students, educators, and families. We thank you for supporting the administration’s vaccine campaign and working to get shots in arms that keep our schools and communities safe. A new study shows vaccines have saved over 1 million lives, prevented over 10 million hospitalizations, and prevented over 35 million COVID cases. We urge you to please use time with your colleagues, community, and loved ones to encourage them to get vaccinated and boosted so all can enjoy many more holidays together to come.

We also thank you for your support in the reestablishment of the Initiative We look forward to working together to advance educational equity, excellence, and economic opportunity for our community in 2022.

Happy hol-ED-days!

Happy Hol-ED-Days

To highlight U.S. Department of Education (Department) milestones and memories in 2021, check out the Department's Twitter page as it celebrates 12 Days of Hol-ED-Days.

Advancing Equity in Career-Connected Education Summit

The Department will host the Advancing Equity in Career Connected Education Summit on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, from noon to 4 p.m. ET.

The virtual summit will bring together individuals from the Department, other federal agencies, state and local agencies, institutions of higher education, advocacy organizations, foundations, and research and evaluation organizations. Participants will obtain and share information on research, evidence-based strategies, and innovative practices that advance equity across career-connected education. Breakout sessions will feature presentations from experts from the field and interactive discussions.

2021 Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award recipients

On Dec. 1, the Department and the National Security Agency announced the 2021 recipients of the Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award. Kristina L. Rice, of Spotsylvania High School in Spotsylvania, Virginia and Sergio de Alba, of Miano Elementary School in Los Banos, California, were selected for the award for instilling in their students the skills, knowledge, and passion for cybersecurity.

The Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award, now in its second year, is presented annually to one elementary educator and one secondary educator. Awardees are selected for their superior accomplishments as educators, academic achievement indicators, and leadership contributing to the field of cybersecurity.

Lessons from the Field

The Department continued its "Lessons from the Field' webinar series featuring experts sharing lessons learned and best practices in approaches to operating schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find the recordings and supplemental materials for both webinars below.

AmeriCorps Superintendent's Toolkit

Through its competitive grant funding opportunities and volunteer programs, AmeriCorps helps school districts with tutoring, mentoring, and classroom support. This past year, it focused on helping districts mitigate the impacts of school closures and education disruptions due to COVID-19. Download the “Superintendent’s Toolkit” to learn how to partner with AmeriCorps and tap into its federal resources.

Higher education grant opportunities

Multiple federal agencies have open grant competitions for which Hispanic-serving institutions are encouraged to apply:

U.S. Department of Education:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

National Assessment of Education Progress Doctoral Student Internship Program

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Doctoral Student Internship Program is seeking applicants for its summer 2022 internship. During the 10-week internship program, interns will work directly with researchers from the National Center for Education Statistics and American Institutes for Research on research in such topic areas as psychometrics and statistical methods, process data, policy-relevant research, and re-envisioning quantitative information (data visualization). The deadline to apply is Jan. 10, 2022.