Dear Colleagues, 

This week, President Biden delivered his annual State of the Union address- touting economic and legislative achievements made throughout his first two years in office. This year’s State of the Union address was the first time since 2019 that the President and Congressional leaders were permitted to bring guests to the event, which is generally attended by every member of the House and Senate. Five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices were in attendance, along with most of the President’s Cabinet and the Diplomatic Corps. Throughout the speech the President called on Congress to work together to address key legislative priorities and to “finish the job”. The President highlighted education issues, many of which he campaigned on in his 2020 Presidential run- including increasing in teacher pay and universal Pre-K. Following the speech the President again expressed his support for teachers, tweeting “Let’s give public school teachers a raise.” Teacher pay will again be a focus on Capitol Hill on Monday, February 13th when Senator Sanders, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee  will host a town hall on the state of teacher pay in America. The town hall begins at 7:15PM EST and will be livestreamed on Senator Sanders’ official Twitter and Facebook pages.

1. President Biden Delivers State of the Union Address with Renewed Calls for Education Support 

On Tuesday, President Biden delivered his annual State of the Union address- which many political analysts viewed as a precursor to an expected re-election campaign. In his speech, the President returned to key education themes that were a hallmark of his 2020 Presidential run- calls for universal preschool, increasing access to community college programs, and increasing teacher pay. “When we made public education, 12 years of it, universal in the last century, we became the best-educated, best-paid nation in the world…The rest of the world has caught up,” said the President.

The President also emphasized schools’ role in addressing student mental health. This comes as the Department of Education just announced $280 million in grants intended to increase the number of mental health professionals in high-need schools across the nation. The grants mark the first portion of $1 billion in The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act funds that the Department will award specifically for school-based mental health programs over the next five years.

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI)  released a great analysis of the President’s State of the Union address, pulling direct quotes from the President’s speech and highlighting key education priorities and the associated research and policy. For example: “Any nation that out-educates us is going to out-compete us.” How can the U.S. rebuild a world-class public education system? Federal policymakers can learn from promising practices in states, from past federal investments that resulted in equitable advancement, and from high-quality research on what works to improve learning and how federal tools and resources can support efforts at the state and local levels. In this brief, LPI outlines evidence-based policies and strategies to chart a path forward and ensure that all young people have equal access to a high-quality, world-class education. Learn how the federal government can advance education equity and excellence >> 

You can read LPI’s full analysis here.
You can read the full text of the President’s speech and watch a recording of the annual State of the Union address here.

2. House Education and Workforce Committee Holds First Hearing: American Education in Crisis 

This week, the House Education and Workforce committee held their first hearing: “American Education in Crisis” In her opening remarks, committee Chairwoman Dr. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said “From elementary school to law school, the state of this nation’s education system is deeply troubling at every level,” before naming several of her concerns including parental rights in education, learning loss, school choice, transgender student athletes, and student loan forgiveness. Parent rights ultimately emerged as a key theme throughout the hearing and in her opening remarks Dr. Foxx expressed her support for the Parent Bill of Rights Act saying:

“One of my top priorities as Chairwoman of the Education and the Workforce Committee is to protect parental rights. During the pandemic, parents saw firsthand how poorly our current K-12 education system is serving students. These parents witnessed the education establishment put the interests of teachers unions over the interests of their children. Parents witnessed educators spreading political ideology instead of teaching fundamental subjects like mathematics and reading. And parents witnessed their children fall further and further behind academically… That is why I will champion the Parents Bill of Rights Act. Introduced last Congress by Congresswoman Julia Letlow of Louisiana, this legislation will protect the right of parents to know what their child is being taught in the classroom as well as their right to be heard. It is time for the education complex to understand that children belong to their parents, not the state.” 
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) pushed back on the idea that lawmakers don’t want parental involvement in their children’s education.

“I am not aware of any decisions that are being made here in Congress … by local lawmakers, saying that we do not want parents input, we don’t want parents’ involvement, we don’t want parents’ engagement in our schools…And so I just hope that we put this argument — that is not based on the actual facts that are taking place in our communities — to rest.” 

As you will recall, the Parents Bill of Rights Act, H.R.6056 was first introduced in the 117th Congress and requires K-12 school districts receiving federal funding to publicly post their curriculum and annually provide parents with a list of books in the school library, a breakdown of school expenditures, and more.

Also this week, the US Department of Education announced  the launch of the Family Engagement Learning Series. The Learning Series, which will begin on February 28, 2023, is intended to help education leaders and practitioners implement family engagement strategies that support student success. The series will provide attendees with evidence-based strategies and research, bright spots in the field, and information on resources.

3. In the States: School Districts Across Virginia Can Expect to Receive Millions Less than Anticipated Due to Calculation Error  

School districts across Virginia can expect to receive approximately $202 million less than they had anticipated for the current and upcoming fiscal years due to a miscalculation that overestimated state funding. It is reported that he problem originated with an online tool that allows school districts to see how much funding they should expect from the state. School district personnel  have had access to the tool since June 2022 and have built their budgets around the estimations. But, in January, it was found that the numbers being provided by the tool were wrong. The online tool failed to take into account for funding changes connected to the elimination of the state’s tax on groceries. Charles Pyle, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education issued a statement saying:   “We certainly understand that this has caused some consternation…We’re very sorry that this happened in the first place and that it wasn’t caught earlier.”

The funding error will have the greatest impact on districts that rely the most on state aid, such as those in poor, rural communities that cannot depend on a higher property tax base to fund their schools. For some of the districts, state aid makes up 80 percent of the funding used to provide basic educational services. “Unfortunately, this error by [the state education department] may inhibit our ability to make critical FY 24 investments, such as teacher staffing, special education teaching assistants, and crucial safety improvements,” said Diana C. Gulotta, spokeswoman for Prince William County Public Schools.

The funding error comes as school districts across the nation are grappling with critical staffing shortages including teachers, school leaders, bus drivers, and more.

4. New Resources for Educators 

  • NCTQ is out with a new report on elementary teacher preparation and social studies and science content knowledge
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.

Until next time, see you on Twitter!