ED Review (12/10/21)

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December 10, 2021


This is the final issue of ED Review for 2021.  Publication will resume January 7, 2022.  We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. 


Safe School Checklist 

On December 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. 

“I pledged to always be straight with the American people and tell you the truth,” the President explained.  “Here’s the truth about the new omicron variant: while it is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic.  Experts say that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead this winter and that we will see more omicron cases here in the U.S. in the days, weeks, and months ahead.  Our best scientists and doctors are on the case and gathering data, but early indications are that our vaccines will provide a measure of protection against this strain.  We have the tools to protect ourselves and battle this virus, and I’m laying out a plan to do just that this winter. 

“We are going to fight COVID-19, not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.  We will beat it back with science and speed, not chaos and confusion -- just as we did in the spring and again with the more powerful delta variant in the summer and fall.” 

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 (CDC) release findings on quarantine and testing policies in schools;
  • issuing a 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 (FDA) to support timely review of applications for vaccines for children under the age of 5. 

Meanwhile, with the emergence of the omicron variant, the CDC strengthened its recommendations on boosters and encouraged everyone ages 16 and older to get a booster shot. 

Also, in a video, Senior Advisor to the Secretary Nick Simmons walked through the Department’s COVID-19 data dashboard -- a tool educators and administrators can use to keep students safely in class. 

Additionally, as part of the latest #ConversationsWithCardona, the Secretary sat down with school and community leaders in Maryland to hear about their success in keeping classrooms safe. 

Finally, Enzo, a kindergarten student in Virginia, shared why he is excited to be back in school and how getting vaccinated makes that possible. 


POTUS in Minnesota 

Also last week, the President kicked off a nationwide tour to showcase the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. His first stop -- underscoring how postsecondary institutions are training the next generation of workers who will help rebuild America -- was Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota.  Secretary Cardona joined him for the visit (video and remarks). 

A day later, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding that states, territories, and tribes will receive under the law to expand access to clean drinking water and upgrade water infrastructure.  This funding will create jobs and address challenges like lead in drinking water and PFAS contamination.  In a letter sent to governors, EPA Administrator Michael Regan encouraged states to maximize this unprecedented $50 billion investment to address environmental burdens in historically underserved communities across the country. 


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 Education Agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), 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 (ESSER) funds for interventions, such as high-dosage tutoring and expanding learning time.  They will address students’ needs by equipping educators, staff, partners, and leaders with the skills they need to design and deploy interventions that work for all students to recover lost instructional time, with a focus on those most impacted by the pandemic. 

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.  This community of practice will consist of a series of virtual convenings on topics such as social-emotional development, family engagement, and supportive transitions that respond to disparities in access to in-person learning and the under-enrollment of young children. 

Moreover, the Department will continue to support the 49-state Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative through the Strategic Use of Summer and After-School Set-Asides Community of Practice. 

Separately, the agency announced approval of two more ARP ESSER Fund state plans -- Washington and Wisconsin -- 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.  To date, 49 plans have been approved (see state-by-state press releases and highlights online). 

And, in an op-ed, Secretary Cardona noted actions taken by the Administration to address school staffing shortages. 


Return to Repayment

A big thanks to the financial aid community for participating in the virtual 2021 Federal Student Aid (FSA) Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals.  With more than 19,000 registrants, the event raised the bar for virtual collaboration and ensured the success of FSA’s second-ever virtual training conference.  There is an opportunity to remain engaged and continue learning with on-demand access to programming.  Visit the event platform and navigate to the “On-Demand” page from the main menu.  All sessions will be available through March 2, 2022. 

This year’s conference featured keynote addresses by Secretary Cardona, Under Secretary James Kvaal, and FSA Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray -- plus 35 engaging sessions on the latest policies and operational updates from subject matter experts. 

Plus, a new Twitter thread outlines everything borrowers should know about changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. 


To keep the fight to end human trafficking at the forefront of the national security agenda, the Administration released a new “National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.”  Globally, an estimated 25 million people are subjected to human trafficking and forced labor, which is responsible for an estimated $150 billion annually in illicit profits.  It erodes the safety and health of communities and transportation networks, the security of the nation’s borders, the strength of the nation’s economy, and the rule of law (fact sheet). 

As human trafficking disproportionately impacts some of the most vulnerable and undeserved members of society, the updated plan responds by addressing the needs of such individuals, families, and communities.  As such, it reflects the Administration’s commitments to gender and racial equity.  The plan also reflects the Administration’s commitment to workers’ rights and ending forced labor within global supply chains. 

The plan remains grounded in an integrated federal response and close collaboration with state and local governments, the private sector, and non-governmental partners and retains a central focus on foundational pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships (see Department resources). 


  • President Biden signed into law a Continuing Resolution (CR), extending funding for education programs and other parts of the federal budget at Fiscal Year 2021 levels through February 18, 2022.
  • This month, Vice President Harris convened the Administration’s inaugural National Space Council meeting and laid out the whole-of-government approach to ensure that space activities create opportunities that benefit the American people and the world.  In conjunction with the meeting, President Biden signed an Executive Order on the membership, duties, and responsibilities of the council.  That order added a number of new members, including the Secretary of Education (Secretary Cardona’s tweet).
  • Also this month, Dr. Vivek Murthy issued the “U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health,” outlining the pandemic’s unprecedented impacts on the mental health of America’s youth and families -- as well as mental health challenges that existed long before the pandemic -- and providing recommendations that individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments, and others may take to improve the mental health of children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • In recognition of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the White House issued a fact sheet on advancing disability inclusive democracy.
  • Similarly, in a blog post, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Katy Neas marked the 46th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) with some reflections.
  • The Department and the National Security Agency jointly announced the 2021 recipients of the Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award: Kristina Rice of Spotsylvania High School in Virginia and Sergio de Alba of Miano Elementary School in Los Banos, California.
  • PEOPLE magazine recognized 2021 National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey and America’s educators for their transformative work throughout the year (Department’s tweet).
  • Secretary Cardona issued a statement on the Senate confirmation of Sandra Bruce as the Department’s Inspector General.
  • 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 educational disruptions due to COVID-19.  Download the “Superintendent’s Toolkit” to learn how to partner with AmeriCorps and tap into its federal resources.
  • Students from 58 schools across the country and abroad designed one-of-a-kind ornaments for the 2021 National Christmas Tree display on the Ellipse in President’s Park (gallery and video). 


As we learn the full details [of the school shooting in Michigan], my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one.” 

-- President Joseph Biden (11/30/21), from remarks at an event in Minnesota 

My heart is with the families, community, classmates, and all those grieving the lives lost today at Oxford High School.  We stand with and support the community and those impacted by today’s tragic events.” 

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (11/30/21), in a tweet on the school shooting in Michigan 


Please join FSA on December 15, from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern Time, for a webinar on preparing borrowers to restart student loan payments.  The webinar is intended for higher education professionals and stakeholders to learn about what borrowers can do now to prepare for student loan payments to restart, repayment plans, recent changes to PSLF, how to help borrowers avoid student loan scams, and resources available to help borrowers return to repayment.  Register today! 

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