Dear Colleagues:

We have received confirmation that the President will release his budget request on Monday, March 28th – signaling the official “kick-off” to the FY2023 appropriations season. Advocates are anxiously awaiting to see the line item requests for the Department of Education and will work diligently in the coming months to secure meaningful investments to address the critical shortage of educators and lack of diversity across the field. Stay tuned for more details to come in next week’s Washington Update.

1. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona Urges LEAs to Recognize the Critical Importance of Supporting Students with Disabilities

This week, Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona sent an eight page letter to school district officials and parents urging LEAs to recognize the critical importance of supporting students with disabilities. The document comes as many districts are rolling back their Covid-19 mitigation efforts following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The letter is intended to help school district personnel and families design learning opportunities for all students, including students with disabilities. The document reviews key strategies including: Leveraging the IEP or Section 504 Processes to Ensure Protections are In Place to Protect In-Person Learning; Continuing Use of Layered Prevention Strategies to Keep School Communities Safe; and Ensuring Students Receive Education and Services in the Least Restrictive Environment.

The Secretary reiterates that school districts must ensure equal access to in-person instruction and that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education in their least restrictive environment:

“The Department recognizes the difficulties many families have experienced as they strived to balance the need to ensure their child’s physical safety and their child’s need for in-person learning. As we enter this next phase of pandemic response, we urge schools to lead with equity and inclusion to ensure all students have access to in-person learning alongside their peers.”

2. Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services Team Up to Expand School-Based Health Services

On Thursday,  the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services announced that they are teaming up to expand school-based health services to ensure students have the resources to “build resilience and thrive”. Together, the Departments will provide technical assistance, provide guidance on the federal funding available for school-based physical and behavioral health services, improve and strengthen access to physical and behavioral health services,  and help reduce federal administrative burden for states and localities.

“While the pandemic’s long-term impacts on children and youth are not fully understood, working together to build resilience in children, youth, and families can promote equity and support recovery efforts. A major focus of this joint effort is to help states and communities take full advantage of the funding available under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) and together to make accessible, quality health services in schools a reality for all children and youth.”

3. National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine Release Report Suggesting Changes to The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)

On Thursday, the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine released a report suggesting that The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) should administer longer tests and cut expenses by reducing its reliance on paid contractors and outsourced equipment. The NAEP produces what is referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card”- a standardized assessment program that evaluates elementary, middle and high school students’ skills in literacy, mathematics and science.

“NAEP has not kept pace with the more streamlined approach being pursued by other testing programs, and as a result is facing serious cost-containment issues,” said Karen Mitchell, the chair of the committee that wrote the report and a former testing director at the Association of American Medical Colleges, in a statement. “The changes we recommend in our report can bolster the future success of this valuable and respected program,” she said.

The report calls for an independent audit of the program and suggests that the NAEP Governing Board establishes policy for the NAEP set out “clear, consistent, and complete descriptions” of spending on the program.

4. In the States: Pennsylvania Experiences 66% Decline in Newly Issued In-State Teaching Certificates

Tanya Garcia, deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued a statement to lawmakers indicating that there has been a 66% drop  in newly issued in-state teaching certificates over an 11-year period. The number of undergraduate majors in Pennsylvania dropped by the same amount over the last decade. During a House Education Committee hearing, Garcia noted that supply of new teachers has reached a “breaking point” because of plummeting numbers of new educators going into the field and the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those testifying noted that the shortage existed long before the Covid-19 pandemic, but was certainly exacerbated over the past two years. Factors making it worse, they said, include relatively low pay, high student loan debt, a decline in the public image of teachers, and a lack of diversity across the field. Mary Jo Walsh, a principal from a school in Lackawanna County, said 80% of her staff left during the pandemic. “We are currently in survival mode and the mode below that is failure,” Walsh said.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest metropolitan city, school district officials are reporting a 200% increase in teacher resignations during the 2021-2022 school year.  And when teachers are out, substitutes are rarely available. The “fill rate” is 42%, meaning 58% of open sub jobs go unfilled, most often forcing teachers to give up preparation periods to cover absent colleagues’ classes.

5. New Resources for Educators

Wishing you all a joyful weekend.

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