After 45 years, the Department of Education has announced plans to update Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Stay tuned for opportunities to provide feedback to stakeholders on what you would like to see. Take a read for more information on that and more below.
1. Department of Education Announces Plan to Update Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Last Friday, the US Department of Education announced plans to update Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The forthcoming changes will mark the first update to the regulations in 45 years. The Department’s Section 504 regulations were the first set of regulations issued by the federal government that addressed the treatment of people with disabilities through a civil rights framework, rather than through solely a medical or vocational framework. Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public and private programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including schools and postsecondary institutions.
“While the world has undergone enormous changes since 1977, the Department’s Section 504 regulations have remained, with few exceptions, unaltered,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “As we observe the 45th anniversary of these important regulations this month, it is time to start the process of updating them. Just as in 1977, the voices of people with disabilities must be heard and incorporated as we engage in that work.”
As part of the development of the proposed amendments to the Section 504 regulations, the Department is soliciting public input. Interested parties may go to www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/reg/ocr/ to submit comments. The Department will also hold listening sessions in the coming months.
2. White House Announces Plan to Expand Internet Access to Millions of American Households
On Monday, the White House announced that it had secured commitments from twenty leading internet providers to either increase speeds or cut prices for tens of millions of American households under the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). ACP was introduced as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure law to reduce the cost of internet services to $30 per month for low-income households.
“Here in the United States of America, how many times have you seen a mom or a dad drive up to a parking lot outside a McDonald’s, just so they could get connected to the Internet so their kid could do their homework during the pandemic, literally?” Biden said at a White House event. “It’s just not right. It’s not who we are.”
During comments at the White House, Vice President Harris said that nearly 40% of American households are currently eligible for the program. Households qualify for ACP based on their income or through their participation in one of several federal programs, like Pell Grants, Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program Medicaid, or Supplemental Security Income. Agencies that manage these programs will be coordinating an effort to reach out to households that qualify for ACP through programs they help administer.
Individuals can also check their eligibility status, sign up for ACP and find participating internet providers in their area at www.getinternet.gov
3. GAO Releases Report on Pandemic Learning Across K-12 Continuum
On Tuesday, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report: Pandemic Learning: As Students Struggle to Learn, Teachers Reported Few Strategies as Particularly Helpful to Mitigate Learning Loss. The report notes that during the 2020-2021 school year students across the K-12 continuum, whether learning in person or virtually, struggled with many barriers. These barriers included but are not limited to lack of appropriate workspaces, inadequate support, and chronic absences.
In a nationwide survey of K-12 educators, principals, and parents, a higher percentage of educators who taught students in a virtual or hybrid learning environment consistently reported that their students experienced learning difficulties compared to educators who were teaching primarily in-person. For example, an estimated 60 percent of teachers in a virtual environment had students who displayed more difficulty understanding lessons than in a typical year, compared to 37 percent of teachers in an in-person environment.
The GAO notes that the divergent responses from those teaching in-person versus those teaching virtually or hybrid could reflect factors the agency didn’t measure, such as school resources or student characteristics.
4. In the States: Michigan’s Teacher Shortage
In 2005, Michigan produced so many teachers that State Board of Education stopped authorizing new college and university teacher preparation programs, today, school districts are struggling to hire qualified educators. Principals across the state have said that while fifteen years ago they may have received hundreds of applicants for a single elementary position, today they are lucky if they get any. In 2014 14,749 people enrolled in teacher preparation programs across the state. In 2018-19, the latest year the data is available, enrollment was down to 10,168. Michigan is not alone, nationwide, there were 386,000 teacher vacancies in February 2022, according to the latest data available from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ten years ago there were 108,000 openings.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has acknowledged the problem and wants a comprehensive, well-funded plan to address it. Governor Whitmer proposed a $1.5 billion to cover bonuses for teachers who remain in their districts or transfer to high-poverty schools. The bonuses would gradually increase from $2,000 to $4,000 over four school years. She also wants to invest $150 million in scholarships, tuition reimbursement, and mentorship programs for new teachers. Michigan state Senators for their part budgeted just $25 million in their recently passed spending plan to address the critical shortage of educators- those dollars would go towards providing scholarships to student teachers. House lawmakers have proposed $529 million for recruitment and retention efforts including scholarships, compensation for student teachers, and support for programs that offer pathways for school support staff and high school students to become educators
5. New Resources for Educators
- The Association of School Business Officials International released a report that says schools need extended federal spending timelines to complete facility repair and improvement projects amid nationwide labor shortages, supply chain issues and high demand for general contracting services.
- Gradient Learning released the results of a new poll that suggests 88 percent of teachers from grades 4-12 believe schools need to adopt a broader definition of student success to include both academic and non-academic skills.
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