It was a busy and historic week in Washington as Members of Congress prepare to head back to home states and districts for the upcoming two week spring recess. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Justice Jackson is the first Black woman in United States history to serve in such a role. Earlier this week, the National Education Association (NEA) joined a coalition of 27 labor unions calling for the confirmation of Justice Jackson to the Supreme Court. In a statement the coalition notes:
“As the elected leaders of 27 unions and worker organizations collectively representing tens of millions of working people providing essential services across our great nation, we stand together in strong support for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States. This historic nomination demonstrates our nation’s continued path towards becoming a more just society where all children have the opportunity to succeed regardless of what they look like, where they’re from or what their parents do for a living.”
1. Biden Administration Extends Moratorium on Student Loan Payments
This week, the Biden Administration announced that they would once again extend the moratorium on student loan payments through August 31, 2022. The pause on student loan payments was scheduled to expire on May 1st – impacting more than 40 million borrowers across the United States. For months, Democrats and advocates have said that more relief is needed as Americans face higher costs as a result of rising inflation gripping the economy.
“Tens of millions of people with student debt are once again in limbo as Washington plays politics with borrowers’ financial lives,” said Student Borrower Protection Center Executive Director Mike Pierce. “Joe Biden needs to keep his promises to fix the broken student loan system and cancel student debt. As voters head to the polls in November, they will not settle for anything less.”
Monthly payments and interest have been suspended on most federal student loans since March 2020 when Congress passed the CARES Act- with both President Biden and former President Trump using executive action to further extend that relief.
The Administration also announced that at the end of the pause, any borrowers who were previously in default on their loans would receive a “fresh start” and reenter their payment in good standing.
2. Bi-Partisan Pandemic Relief Bill Will Rescind $500 Million of Higher Education Relief Funding
On Monday, the Senate unveiled a bipartisan deal on pandemic relief funding that reprograms billions of dollars in unused cash from other Covid relief bills to deliver funding for therapeutics, testing and vaccine distribution. A half a billion of those dollars will come from unspent Covid assistance money that had been allocated for colleges and universities. The proposal rescinds $500 million dollars of higher education relief funding that has not yet been awarded to institutions of higher education. Federal spending records show that nearly $886 million of K-12 and higher education relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act has not yet been awarded by the Department of Education.
Jon Fansmith, Assistant Vice President for Government Relations at the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities, criticized the proposed funding cuts as “shortsighted.” “We don’t think this is good policy,” he said. “This isn’t the appropriate place to find the additional funding” to support other Covid relief programs. “Just because some of this money hasn’t been drawn down, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plans to spend it,” Fansmith said, adding that the shift would undercut campus efforts to help students during the pandemic.
3. Vice President Harris Announces ‘Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure’
Last week, the Biden-Harris Administration released their FY2023 budget proposal which includes $88.3 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of Education. However, notably missing from the proposal is a previously proposed investment of $100 billion in grants and bonds for K-12 infrastructure.
That said, on Monday Vice President Harris announced the Biden-Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure to upgrade public schools with modern, clean, energy efficient facilities and transportation. The action plan activates the entire federal government in leveraging investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan to advance solutions including energy efficiency retrofits, electric school buses, and resilient design.
In a statement released by the White House, the Administration notes:
“The action plan will save schools and taxpayers money. Public K-12 districts spend roughly $8 billion a year on energy bills — the second largest expense after teacher salaries. Energy efficiency improvements to HVAC systems, lighting, insulation, and other energy upgrades can not only protect the health of our children, but also unlock significant savings to go toward students and learning.”
A Department of Energy grant program will funnel $500 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress last November for school districts to spend on priorities, including: comprehensive energy efficiency audits and building retrofits, HVAC and lighting upgrades, clean energy installation, and raining for staff to maintain these improvements long-term.
The plan also includes a number of resources that may be helpful for school districts as they navigate this funding, including:
- a toolkit that lists all opportunities for federal funds to support school facilities projects,
- a guide from the Environmental Protection Agency to improving air quality in school buildings,
- a guide to using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development grant program to assist with school bus electrification in rural areas,
- a series of webinars detailing the value of electric school buses and the opportunities to purchase them, and
- an invitationto join the Efficient and Healthy Schools Campaign, which is currently providing technical assistance for school modernization projects in at least 26 school districts, including the Charleston schools in South Carolina, the Columbia schools in Missouri, and the Newark schools in New Jersey
4. More than 150 Members of Congress urge President Biden to Address Child-Care Crisis and Access to Pre-K
More than 150 Democratic members of Congress have formally urged President Biden to address the nation’s child care crisis, expand access to pre-k, and make investments in the early childhood workforce and infrastructure.
In a letter to the President the group states:
“We stand ready to work with you to enact legislation through reconciliation that ensures middle-class and working families do not spend more than 7 percent of their income on child care, expands access to pre-K, and invests in the early childhood workforce and infrastructure… Now is the time to make additional comprehensive, long-term investments in affordable, high-quality child care to build on the critical but largely short-term investments made through the American Rescue Plan.”
Signatories included 33 leading Senate Democrats- short of the 50 needed to unlock a possible reconciliation bill.
5. Department of Education Continues Push to Invest in Highly Effective Educators and Address Teacher Shortage
On Thursday, the Department of Education hosted a webinar focused on “Strengthening Partnerships Between States, School Districts, and Higher Education to Increase the Number of Teacher Candidates Prepared to Enter the Classroom and Provide Immediate Support to Schools.” During the webinar, Education Department representatives discussed Secretary Cardona’s recent call to action for states, institutions of higher education, and school districts to commit to using American Rescue Plan and other federal relief funds to help address teacher shortages. Representatives from the Department, higher education, advocacy groups, and state agencies discussed how federal relief funds and opportunities through the U.S. Department of Labor can and are being used to address teacher shortages and provide support to schools by establishing or scaling up teaching residency and apprenticeship programs.
The Department also announced that the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program is now accepting applications for efforts that increase the pipeline of highly effective educators. The SEED program will award $65 million to support the implementation of evidence-based practices that prepare, develop, or enhance the skills of educators.
To learn more about the SEED program, please visit: https://oese.ed.gov/offices/office-of-discretionary-grants-support-services/effective-educator-development-programs/supporting-effective-educator-development-grant-program/ . The FY 2022 SEED grant competition will close on June 3, 2022.
6. In the States: New Mexico Passes Legislation Making Tuition Free at Public Colleges and Universities
Last week, the state of New Mexico passed a law to ensure that residents attending any one of the state’s 29 public colleges or universities will receive tuition free of charge effective July 1, 2022. Residents who enroll in at least six credits can work toward a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree completely tuition-free as long as the students maintain a 2.5 out of 4.0 GPA.
Senator Ben Lujan (D-NM) sent a tweet in support of the state legislation, stating: “New Mexico is the first state to offer free college tuition for all residents. Yes, you heard that right! I’m proud that we have made higher education attainable for all and I hope every other state will follow our lead.”
The legislation coined the ‘Opportunity Scholarship Act’ is created as a “non-reverting fund in the state treasury, consisting of income from investment of the fund and any specified distributions, appropriations, gifts, grants and donations to the fund,” the bill reads. Money in the fund is appropriated to the department for scholarship awards as provided in the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
Building on earlier tuition-assistance programs, the measure allocates $75 million during the 2023 fiscal year, of which $63 million comes from pandemic relief funds. Beyond its first year, legislators will need to draw funds from other sources to keep the program going.
7. New Resources for Educators
- Pen Americais out with a new analysis which found that more than 1,100 book titles have been removed from school libraries, prohibited from classrooms and pulled from circulation amid public disputes or in response to state laws during the past nine months.
- EdAssist by Bright Horizonsreported on the results of new survey that found 59% of employees said anticipation of student loan debt has prevented them from pursuing additional educational opportunities.
- First Book Researchreleased results of a survey that report 98% of educators feeling that the current mental health challenges experienced by students are a barrier to education.
Congress and Washington Update are on recess for the next two weeks- we will return on April 29th.
Until then, see you on Twitter!
Take good care,
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