Dear Colleagues:

On Friday, Congress passed a short term spending measure that keeps the government funded at its current levels through December 16th and averts a government shutdown. Now is the time to flex your advocacy muscles- tell your story and encourage your Members of Congress to advocate for and support the highest possible investments in the educator workforce and pipeline in the final FY23 spending bill.

1. Congresses Passes Short-Term Funding Patch- Averting a Government Shutdown

On Friday, just before the lower chamber left DC for the extended recess leading up to the midterms, the House passed a short-term government funding patch, more commonly referred to as a continuing resolution or CR. The CR keeps the government funded at its current levels and averts a government shutdown. The measure passed with a 230-201 vote, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in support. The stopgap funds will keep the government funded through the midterm elections until December 16th   and provides additional funding for Ukraine and disaster relief. The CR does not include the additional funding the Administration requested for student loan administration, or any other additional funding for the Department of Education.

While the vote is one of the House’s last acts before leaving town until the Nov. 8 midterms- House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro said congressional leaders may also have to consider additional disaster relief funding in response to Hurricane Ian before the end of the year. Republican Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida are already asking appropriators to act swiftly on an aid package for the state “at the earliest opportunity,” noting that Hurricane Ian “will be remembered and studied as one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States.”

 2. NCES Releases Alarming Data on School Staffing

This week, The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released the latest data from the August 2022 School Pulse Panel. The data shows that more than half of U.S. public schools were understaffed to begin the 2022-2023 school year with special education teachers and transportation staff identified as being the hardest to fill.

As of August, when the latest NCES survey was administered to roughly 900 public campuses, close to 80% of schools with at least one job opening reported it was either very or somewhat difficult to hire fully certified special education and math teachers. Ninety-four percent reported those same levels of difficulty when it came to finding transportation staff. School leaders most often identified a lack of qualified candidates as the greatest barrier to filling these rolls. The top five most understaffed positions were special education teachers, transportation and custodial staff, mental health professionals and general elementary school teachers.

In a statement, NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr said  “…while many schools say that the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more challenging to fill positions, 20 percent of schools say that they were already understaffed before the pandemic began.”

3. Biden-Harris Administration Reverses Decision on Student Debt Relief

On Thursday, the Biden-Harris Administration announced  that borrowers who have federal student loans that are owned by private entities would no longer qualify for the debt relief program. The administration had previously said those borrowers would have a path to receive up to $10,000 or $20,000 of loan forgiveness. The Department has said that borrowers who applied prior to September 29, 2022  to consolidate their loans into the Direct Loan program will still be eligible for debt relief, but that the path will no longer be available to borrowers after the new guidance. A spokesperson from the Department said the policy change will affect only a small percentage of borrowers with the most recent federal data showing as of June 30th there were 4.1 million federal borrowers with $108.8 billion in loans held by private lenders.

While it is not entirely clear why the Administration made the decision to reverse course on forgiveness for this subset of borrowers- the announcement comes as a number of states have filed lawsuits against the Administration for taking steps to forgive federal student loans held by private entities. For example, in Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt argued in a lawsuit that the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, which owns and services federally guaranteed student loans, faces economic harm from the debt relief program.

4. In the States

This week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of a complaint of racial harassment filed against Peoria Unified School District in Arizona. Following an investigation, OCR determined that the district failed to address harassment of students on the basis of race, color, and national origin, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations.

The Department noted “…persistent, pervasive, and severe harassment and the district’s ineffective response caused significant and enduring academic, social, and emotional harm…Moreover, OCR found that a schoolwide hostile environment existed because at least a dozen other students of color at the school were likewise harassed based on race, color, or national origin by numerous peers.”

In a statement, Assistant secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said: “Every student in every school deserves to learn free from discriminatory harassment… Peoria Unified School District today commits to come into compliance with longstanding federal civil rights requirements, ensuring that district students learn without discrimination based on race or national origin.”

In a Press Release, the Department announced that the district’s commitments in the voluntary resolution agreement include:

  • Providing supports and remedies, where appropriate, to students who were subjected to peer harassment based on race, color, or national origin at the school.
  • Conducting a climate assessment that examines the prevalence of harassment at the school, the hostile environment created by the widespread harassment, the school’s and district’s handling of reports of harassment, and measures for reducing harassment at the school and for improving the district’s response to reports of harassment.
  • Issuing an anti-harassment statement and issuing a notice to parents about identifying and reporting harassment and about how the district is expected to respond.
  • Reviewing, revising, and disseminating policies, forms, and record-keeping procedures related to harassment based on race, color, and national origin.
  • Training staff about legal requirements under Title VI, reporting and responding to harassment, prohibited retaliation, cultural competency, and implicit bias. And,
  • Providing developmentally appropriate educational programs about how to recognize and report racial harassment for school students.

The letter to Peoria Unified School District is available here and the resolution agreement is available here.

5. New Resources for Educators

  • The Learning Policy Institute released a new blog examining the impact of chronic absenteeism and possible solutions to address the problem.
  • The Office of the Inspector General  released findings from an investigation that indicate children served by more than 25%  of Head Start grant recipients were found to have been abused, left unsupervised, or released to an unauthorized person between October 2015 and May 2020. The investigation documented at least 1,029 incidents across 27% of Head Start grantees.

Until next time, see you on Twitter!