ED Review (01/07/22)

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January 7, 2022 (Happy New Year!)


Keeping Schools Open 

On December 21, President Biden announced additional actions to protect Americans and help communities battle the COVID-19 omicron variant. 

“We know a lot more today than we did back in March 2020,” the President emphasized.  “For example, last year, we thought the only way to keep children safe was to close our schools.  Today…we have more resources to keep those schools open.  You can get 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated -- a tool we didn’t have until last month.  Today, we don’t have to shut down schools because of a case of COVID-19.  Now, if a student tests positive, other students can take the test and stay in the classroom if they’re not infected, rather than closing the whole school or having to quarantine.  We can keep our schools open -- and that’s exactly what we should be doing.” 

Among other actions, the President is significantly expanding access to free COVID-19 testing, by standing up new federal testing sites and distributing half-a-billion at-home rapid tests to Americans. 

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken several steps of relevance to K-12 communities. 

First, as directed in the President’s winter plan announced earlier in December, it released reports (1 and 2) highlighting the use of test-to-stay practices in schools to minimize absenteeism and learning loss and added test-to-stay information to its K-12 school web pages (CDC press release and testing in schools page and Secretary Cardona’s statement). 

Second, motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, it shortened recommended periods of isolation (for those infected with COVID-19) and quarantine (for those exposed to COVID-19) for the public (CDC press release and overviews for K-12 schools on isolation and quarantine). 

Third, it endorsed expanding eligibility of COVID-19 vaccine booster doses to those 12- to 15-years-old (CDC press release). 

Additionally, Secretary Cardona has been on the airwaves urging schools to do everything they can to remain open amid the omicron surge: MSNBC, CNN, “Good Morning America,” “Face the Nation,” “Fox News Sunday,” CBS News, NewsNation, ABC News, and NPR. 

“Our expectation is for schools to be open full-time for students, for in-person learning,” the Secretary stressed.  “We remember the impact of school closures on students last year.  And our science is better.  We have better tools.  We have $10 billion in the American Rescue Plan for surveillance testing.  Vaccinations are now available for children ages five and up.  We recognize that there may be some bumps in the road, especially this upcoming week [when students return from winter break]….  But the goal is full time in-person learning for our students.  They’ve suffered enough.” 

To support superintendents and school leaders on staying safe and in-person in the new year, the Department issued a resource with reminders on (1) getting students vaccinated, (2) testing, (3) collaborating with local health agencies, and (4) monitoring community transmission levels. 

In mid-December, the Department also released key findings from its School Pulse Panel, a study tracking the impact of the pandemic on a nationally representative sample of public schools (Secretary’s statement). 


Loan Repayment Pause 

As 2021 came to a close, the Department announced a 90-day extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections -- through May 1, 2022.  This extension will allow the Administration to fully assess the impacts of the omicron variant on borrowers and give borrowers more time to plan for the resumption of payments and reduce their risk of delinquency and default after restart.  The agency will continue its work to transition borrowers back into repayment, including by improving student loan servicing (President Biden’s statement and video and Department’s Twitter thread). 

The pause will help 41 million borrowers save $5 billion per month.  Borrowers are encouraged to use this time to ensure their contract information is up-to-date and consider enrolling in electronic debit and income-based repayment plans.  More information can be found at StudentAid.gov. 

This action is one in a series of steps the Administration has taken to date to support students and borrowers, including providing nearly $13 billion in targeted loan relief to over 640,000 borrowers. 

Also, the Affordability and Student Loans negotiated rulemaking committee reached consensus on four of the Department’s regulatory proposals: making it easier for borrowers with a severe disability to have their federal loans forgiven; eliminating interest capitalization on federal loans in some events; streamlining loan discharges for borrowers whose institutions falsely certified that they were eligible for loans; and implementing Congress’s restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students. 

Plus, the Department announced its intention to establish an Institutional and Programmatic Eligibility negotiated rulemaking committee, requested nominations for individual negotiators and advisors, and set a schedule for committee meetings. 

Furthermore, President Biden signed an Executive Order on December 13 to promote fiscal stewardship by improving the federal government’s delivery of services to the American people.  The order directs 17 agencies to take 36 actions that aim to improve people’s lives and make it easier and simpler to access government services and benefits.  The order also creates a sustained, cross-governmental service delivery process that aligns to the moments that matter most in people’s lives (White House fact sheet and Secretary Cardona’s statement). 

Under the order, for the one in six Americans -- or approximately 45 million people -- who are currently managing their student loans, the Department of Education will make sure:

  • Direct Loan borrowers only need to navigate to a single repayment portal on StudentAid.gov to apply for, manage, and repay their loans;
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) candidates, including civil servants and active duty servicemembers, are able to apply with less paperwork and without having to fill out forms with information they have already provided to the federal government previously; and
  • students and borrowers can receive relevant recommendations for other government benefits and services they may qualify for, such as healthcare subsidies, broadband support, and food assistance, thereby lowering economic barriers to postsecondary education completion. 


American Rescue Plan 

The Department announced approval of outstanding American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund state plans -- Florida, Mississippi, and Vermont -- and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funding to those jurisdictions.  These 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.  Last year, the agency distributed two-thirds of ARP ESSER funding, or $81 billion, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with remaining funding made available to states once plans were approved (see state-by-state press releases and highlights online). 

Moreover, the Department approved 13 additional ARP Homeless Children and Youth (HCY) State Plans, bringing the total to 41.  These plans represent commitments to using $800 million in ARP funding designated to identify and support students experiencing homelessness and connecting them to wrap-around services.  Many states and school districts have already begun to utilize ARP HCY funds, following the agency’s disbursement of funding last year (blog post -- with a few examples). 

In a Dear Colleague Letter, Secretary Cardona outlined (1) evidence-based and promising short- and long-term strategies for addressing teacher and staff shortages that may be funded through ARP ESSER and (2) examples of how ARP and past relief funding are already being used to attract and retain teachers and staff. 

Separately, the Department shared that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is giving states the option of waiving a portion of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test requiring applicants identify “under the hood” engine components, with the aim of alleviating the school bus driver shortage. 

The Department also issued a FAQ supplement on using ESSER and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the pandemic and a revised Notice of Proposed Requirements (NPR) and updated FAQs for the ARP’s Maintenance of Equity provisions. 

The Department’s Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) Transparency Portal now displays award and expenditure data by state for all four major ESF programs: ESSER, GEER, the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund, and the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) Program. 


Happy Hol-ED-days!  Last month, the Department celebrated 12 days of moments and milestones from 2021. 

“[December 22] marked one year since @POTUS announced my nomination.  I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished so far, but there is more to do.  And I remain committed to building better paths for the next generation of students to explore & thrive.”  -- Secretary Cardona’s tweet with video 

“In 2021, @SecCardona marked major observances, supported COVID19 safety in schools, advocated for students, teachers & staff, & visited school communities across the country.  Here’s a look back at some of the Secretary’s work this past year.” 

“From honoring students’ & teachers’ successes to safeguarding schools against COVID19, & from improving Public Service Loan Forgiveness to protecting students’ mental health -- here are some of our stand-out moments at @usedgov in 2021.” 

“It’s a new year, but I have the same resolutions -- focusing on making public education better for everyone.  How do we deliver on these resolutions?  Let’s break it down.”  -- Secretary’s Twitter thread 


The Biden Administration’s Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions details the actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long term.  Among other actions, the Department of Education anticipates issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) for Title IX by April 2022 -- a month earlier than the date listed in spring 2021.  “The Department is deeply committed to ensuring that schools are providing students with educational environments free from discrimination in the form of sexual harassment; ensuring that schools have grievance procedures that provide for the fair, prompt, and equitable resolution of reports of sexual harassment and other sex discrimination; and addressing discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity in educational environments,” asserted Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon.  “Today’s step reflects the Department’s commitment to work as speedily as possible toward appropriate and effective regulation in recognition of the importance of ensuring equal access to education for all students and addressing the threat to equal access posed by all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment.” 


  • On December 14, President Biden and Secretary Cardona marked nine years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, remembering the lives lost and affected by gun violence since that shooting (White House fact sheet on efforts to reduce gun violence and Justice Department’s new rule on safe and secure storage of firearms).
  • On December 16, Vice President Harris announced the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan -- activating federal agencies to help get lead out of schools, daycare centers, and homes.
  • The White House issued a fact sheet on the Administration’s historic investments and support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) (see also Secretary Cardona’s message on threats to HBCUs).
  • Secretary Cardona finalized his six priorities for use in any agency discretionary grant programs, and the Department issued a revised set of common instructions for grant applicants.
  • The Secretary recently traveled to Louisiana to spotlight education provisions within the President’s Build Back Better framework and discuss how students can recover from the impact of COVID-19 on their academic progress and mental health (Twitter thread and video with parents).
  • Soon thereafter, the Department released an application for Statewide Family Engagement Centers. This program will award $5 million in grants to organizations that offer technical assistance and training to states and districts in the implementation of effective family engagement policies, programs, and activities that lead to improvement in student development and academic achievement.  As students continue to recover from the pandemic, it is critical that states and districts work in partnership with parents and families to help address the impacts (press release).
  • The Department also announced $182 million in new grant awards to 30 districts, institutions of higher education, and non-profit organizations as part of the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program.  These grants support local efforts to develop, implement, and take to scale entrepreneurial and evidence-based projects with the potential to improve academic achievement for under-served students.  Twenty-six of the grantees address at least one of the priorities in the competition for responding to the impact of the pandemic or promoting equity in student access to high-quality educational opportunities and resources (press release and Twitter thread).
  • And, in a preview, the Secretary announced the creation of Innovat(ED) to pair education leaders with experts in the field to work on solutions for student and educator needs.
  • The Department released draft FAQs and a state plan addendum template to aid states, districts, and schools implementing accountability and school improvement requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) using data from the 2021-22 school year.
  • The Department will continue to collect data through the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) about incidents of sexual misconduct by school staff members.
  • The President announced his intent to nominate LaWanda Toney as the Department’s Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach (Secretary’s statement of support).
  • The agency also welcomed Valerie Williams as Director of the Office of Special Education Programs.
  • Per Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Director Mark Schneider’s latest blog post, IES will shortly announce two new prize competitions: one to incentivize innovation in middle school science instruction, and another to improve mathematics achievement for elementary students with disabilities.
  • IES also announced seven new contracts for Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs), which work with educators and stakeholders to bridge research, policy, and practice in education.
  • Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced up to $1.5 billion for states and districts to help school meal program operators deal with the challenge of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic. 


“For parents who still haven’t gotten your kids vaccinated, please get them vaccinated.  Look out for their interests here.  It’s the best way to protect them.  And for parents with kids too young to be vaccinated, surround your kids with people who are vaccinated.  And make sure you’re masking in public so you don’t get COVID and give it to your kids.  Look, we have no reason to think at this point that omicron is worse for children than previous variants.  We know that our kids can be safe when in school, by the way.  That’s why I believe schools should remain open.  They have what they need.  Because of the American Rescue Plan…that I signed in March, we provided the states with $130 billion to specifically keep our students safe and schools open….  I encourage states and school districts to use the funding that you still have to protect your children and keep the schools open.” 

-- President Joseph Biden (1/4/22), in remarks before meeting with his COVID-19 Response Team 


January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  Trafficking can involve school-age youth, particularly those made vulnerable by challenging family situations, and may take a wide variety of forms, including forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sexual exploitation.  A Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center document shares resources on integrating human trafficking with school emergency operations plans. 

January is also National Mentoring Month. 

This weekend, Secretary Cardona will travel to Indianapolis to join the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers Summit and other events honoring educators from across the country. 

There is still time to apply for the 2022-23 cohort of the Department’s School Ambassador Fellowship -- the application portal closes on January 14 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. 

AmeriCorps is asking Americans to appropriately honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy on January 17 by making the holiday a day ON -- versus a day off.  MLK Day became a national day of service in 1994, when Congress passed legislation to give the holiday even greater significance.  A web page offers resources and enables individuals to find volunteer opportunities and organizers to register projects nationwide. 

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