ED Review (08/18/23)

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August 18, 2023


Automatic Loan Forgiveness 

On August 14, after a federal judge rejected a legal effort to stop the action, the Department announced the beginning of automatic discharges for 804,000 borrowers who qualify for $39 billion in student loan relief.  These discharges are the result of fixes implemented by the Biden Administration to address historic failures in the administration of the federal student loan program, in which qualifying payments made under income-driven repayment (IDR) plans that should have moved borrowers closer to forgiveness were not accurately accounted for.  Borrowers are eligible for forgiveness if they have accumulated the equivalent of 20 or 25 years of qualifying months (press release and state-by-state data). 

“Today, the Biden Administration is beginning to discharge loans for those borrowers who never received the forgiveness they rightfully earned through decades of payments,” noted Secretary Cardona.  “We are standing up for borrowers who did everything right, but whose progress toward forgiveness went unaccounted due to past administrative failures that the Biden team has worked tirelessly to correct.  From day one, President Biden has focused on fixing the broken student loan system, and we will not back down or give an inch when it comes to fighting for debt relief for working families.” 

President Biden also issued a statement on the action. 


Also this week, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division jointly issued two resources -- a Dear Colleague Letter and a questions and answers document -- to help colleges and universities understand the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on affirmative action and lawfully pursue efforts to achieve a student body that is diverse across a wide range of factors, including race and ethnicity (press release). 

“For higher education to be an engine for equal opportunity, upward mobility, and global competitiveness, we need campus communities that reflect the beautiful diversity of our country,” Secretary Cardona declared.  “The resources issued by the Biden Administration today will provide college leaders with much-needed clarity on how they can lawfully promote and support diversity and expand access to educational opportunity for all following the Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling on affirmative action.  This is only the first step, and our Administration will continue to work to ensure we prepare students of all backgrounds and income levels to lead our multi-racial democracy together.” 

“Ensuring access to higher education for students from different backgrounds is one of the most powerful tools we have to prepare graduates to lead an increasingly diverse nation and make real our country’s promise of opportunity for all,” added Attorney General Merrick Garland.  “These resources provide universities with the information they need to determine what lawful tools remain available to them to promote diversity in higher education.  The Justice Department remains committed to working with our partners across government to help advance educational opportunity for all Americans, regardless of their background.” 

The questions and answers document distills the Supreme Court’s core holding and offers examples of steps institutions may lawfully take to achieve a diverse student body, such as targeted outreach, recruitment, and pathway programs; evaluation of admission policies; and retention strategies and programs. 

Last month, the Education Department hosted the National Summit on Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, bringing together senior Administration officials, advocates, student leaders, college and university administrators, researchers, and state, local, and Tribal officials to discuss innovative strategies that enable institutions to promote educational opportunity (video recording).  And next month, the Department will release a report elevating promising practices to build diverse, inclusive student bodies, including how institutions may consider measures of adversity when selecting among qualified candidates.  This includes accounting for the financial means of a student or their family; where a student grew up and went to high school; and personal experiences of hardship or discrimination in their admissions process. 


Unlocking Pathways Summit 

Over the last two weeks, the Department continued its Unlocking Pathways regional summits in Aurora, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin.  The summit series, co-hosted with Jobs for the Future and supported by the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Labor, and Transportation, consists of four education-workforce convenings to spotlight workforce priorities and opportunities that are growing due to recent federal investments, like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act.  This includes expanding access to high-wage, high-demand pathways and skills-based learning opportunities, such as Registered Apprenticeships and community college programs, within sectors like advanced manufacturing, clean energy, construction, and cybersecurity (press release). 

In Aurora, Secretary Cardona announced the launch of a new $25 million Career-Connected High School Grant program.  This program offers grants to consortia of local educational agencies (LEAs), higher education institutions, and employers to pilot evidence-based strategies to increase the integration and alignment of the last two years of high school and the first two years of postsecondary education to boost education and career outcomes for all students.  Grantees may use funds for a variety of different activities based on the need of the region, including additional dual enrollment classes; covering the costs of tuition, books, supplies, and other related expenses for low-income students; tutoring; other academic supports; transportation for students to work-based learning sites; the development of new career and technical education (CTE) programs in high-growth fields; or to support teacher training and buy new equipment needed to launch such programs (Homeroom blog). 

In Madison, Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten and Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal announced the semifinalists for the Career Z Challenge.  This competition is designed to identify LEAs interested in creating and/or enhancing work-based learning opportunities and building collaborative ecosystems of educators, employers, industries, and community leaders to engage secondary students in meaningful career exploration, development, and preparation.  The 81 semifinalists represent 34 states serving more than 1.5 million students. 


ED-Green Ribbon Schools

Earlier this month, representatives from the 2023 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, District Sustainability Awardees, and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees were celebrated in a special ceremony at the Department sponsored by the Spencer Foundation.  Senior Administration officials from the White House, Departments of Education and Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency offered keynote remarks, and representatives participated in discussion sessions on topics ranging from green schoolyards and climate-ready schools to environmental education and healthy school environments.  As the capstone, representatives received their plaques and banners and subsequently attended a reception on Capitol Hill hosted by the Center for Green Schools (Homeroom blog). 

The ceremony plenaries (morning and afternoon) were livestreamed so that partners could view remotely. 

Representatives also participated in educational events offered by various federal agencies during the week. 

Meanwhile, for the eighth year since 2013, the Department will host a Green Strides tour -- September 19-21 in northern and central California.  This year’s theme is “Schools for Climate Solutions.”  The tour is an opportunity for the agency to bring additional attention to honorees’ achievements in whole school sustainability to inspire other schools. 

The annual ceremony is a reminder of the many new initiatives afoot at the Department, the result of decades of nationwide advocacy and the growing green schools movement.  For example, the agency has two new programs related to school infrastructure that will address sustainable school practices: the Supporting America’s School Infrastructure grant and the National Center on School Infrastructure grant.  The Department has also engaged for- and non-profit stakeholders via an infrastructure and sustainability challenge (see some of the commitments on the agency’s Infrastructure and Sustainability resource page). 


As students, educators, and families go back to school, the Department announced key K-12 cybersecurity resilience efforts.  The measures include the upcoming creation of a Government Coordinating Council (GCC) and the release of three K-12 digital infrastructure briefs.  Along with the “Back to School Safely: Cybersecurity Summit for K-12 Schools” held at the White House, these efforts aim to unite leaders from the Administration, education, industry, and advocacy groups to make advancements on a critical issue. 

Specifically, the Department will establish the GCC to coordinate activities, policy, and communications between and among federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial education leaders to strengthen the cyber defenses and resilience of K-12 schools.  By facilitating formal, ongoing collaboration between all levels of government and the education community, the GCC is a first step in the agency’s strategy to protect schools and LEAs from cybersecurity threats and for supporting LEAs in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from cybersecurity attacks. 

Also, the Department and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) jointly released “K-12 Digital Infrastructure Brief: Defensible and Resilient,” the second in a series of guidance to assist educational leaders in building and sustaining core digital infrastructure for learning.  Furthermore, the Department released “Adequate and Future-Proof” and “Privacy Enhancing, Interoperable, and Useful.” 



“When we were at the height of the pandemic, it wasn’t board games that got my kids through it.  It wasn’t books or sports.  For my son, it was his Xbox -- playing Madden with his cousins.  For my daughter, it was an app called Houseparty -- where she could see her friends.  I mention this because it shows how technology can benefit our young people.  At its best, technology can help students avoid social isolation and connect with each other and their learning in a way nothing else can….  As I always say: devices are the new pencils.  Last school year, the average number of unique educational technology tools accessed per school district was over 2,500.  And keep in mind: that’s just edtech.  Those numbers don’t even capture the social media apps students are using or the digital infrastructure and systems our schools rely on.  So, when schools face cyber attacks, the impacts can be huge.”

-- Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (8/8/23), from remarks at the “Back to School Safely: Cybersecurity Summit for K-12 Schools” at the White House 


The 9/11 National Day of Service is one of only two federal days of service on the U.S. calendar, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in January.  To honor those lost and the heroes who helped us persevere, join AmeriCorps and 911Day.org in service on 9/11.  Americans, of all ages and backgrounds, are invited to join and inspire a new generation of civic-minded leaders.  (Note: To download the 9/11 Day Teachers Guide and access a full suite of educator tools, visit 9/11 Day’s Teachers resource page). 

The ED Games Expo is a public showcase of game-changing education technology innovations developed through programs at the Department, including the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), and across government.  This year’s expo will take place September 20 and 21 at the REACH at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  Events are free, but registration is required. 

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