Congress may have been on recess for the month of August, but it certainly did not feel like a break. Behind the scenes staffers maintained diligent in their work as Members spent time both in DC and their home states and districts for the opportunity to hear directly from constituents. In mid-August, President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act. The Inflation Reduction Act is the legislation we have formerly referred to as the “reconciliation bill” or “Build Back Better”. That said, the Inflation Reduction Act is much different than any of the previously proposed “reconciliation bills”- including no investments in the educator workforce. You can read more about what is included in the Inflation Reduction Act here.
1. President Biden Announces Plan to Forgive up to $20,000 in Student Loan Debt for Borrowers
Over the August recess, President Biden announced his plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for borrowers and extend the PSLF waiver. The Administration outlined this as a three-part plan offering targeted debt relief. In a statement from the White House, the Administration announced that the Department of Education will complete the following action items:
- Provide targeted debt relief to address the financial harms of the pandemic, fulfilling the President’s campaign commitment.The Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education, and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples). No high-income individual or high-income household – in the top 5% of incomes – will benefit from this action. To ensure a smooth transition to repayment and prevent unnecessary defaults, the pause on federal student loan repayment will be extended one final time through December 31, 2022. Borrowers should expect to resume payment in January 2023.
- Make the student loan system more manageable for current and future borrowers by:
- Cutting monthly payments in half for undergraduate loans. The Department of Education is proposing a new income-driven repayment plan that protects more low-income borrowers from making any payments and caps monthly payments for undergraduate loans at 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income—half of the rate that borrowers must pay now under most existing plans. This means that the average annual student loan payment will be lowered by more than $1,000 for both current and future borrowers.
- Fixing the broken Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program by proposing a rule that borrowers who have worked at a nonprofit, in the military, or in federal, state, tribal, or local government, receive appropriate credit toward loan forgiveness. These improvements will build on temporary changes the Department of Education has already made to PSLF, under which more than 175,000 public servants have already had more than $10 billion in loan forgiveness approved.
- Protect future students and taxpayers by reducing the cost of college and holding schools accountable when they hike up prices.The President championed the largest increase to Pell Grants in over a decade and one of the largest one-time influxes to colleges and universities. To further reduce the cost of college, the President will continue to fight to double the maximum Pell Grant and make community college free. Meanwhile, colleges have an obligation to keep prices reasonable and ensure borrowers get value for their investments, not debt they cannot afford. This Administration has already taken key steps to strengthen accountability, including in areas where the previous Administration weakened rules. The Department of Education is announcing new efforts to ensure student borrowers get value for their college costs
Reaction to the announcement has been mixed, with some praising the President, others saying this is not enough, and others saying this is entirely too much. Just this week, Members of the House GOP called for an oversight hearing on the President’s plans, stating “This student loan debt scheme is not a legal or responsible policy, and the chaos the administration has created is unacceptable.”
2. President Biden Announces Intent to Nominate Danté Allen as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration at the Department of Education
In a statement Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona praised the nomination, stating:
“Danté Allen is exactly the kind of visionary and inclusive leader we need serving as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and I thank President Biden for nominating him. Mr. Allen’s personal experience and impressive career empowering students with disabilities and their families reflect his deep belief that every individual with a disability needs to live with the economic security that comes from accessing an appropriate education that leads to a good job. Mr. Allen is eminently qualified to lead the Rehabilitation Services Administration and will be a welcome addition to our incredible team at the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. I am hopeful the Senate will act quickly on Mr. Allen’s confirmation, so that he can get to work advancing our efforts to provide children and adults with disabilities—and especially those in in our underserved communities—with access to the educational and training opportunities they need to lead healthy, independent, and fulfilling lives.”
Mr. Allen currently serves as the executive director for CalABLE, California’s qualified Federal ABLE Act savings and investment program for people with disabilities. Born with spina bifida, and a fulltime wheelchair user, Mr. Allen is a staunch proponent of disability rights and equity. He has been a champion for the reduction of health/ healthcare and financial disparities, especially among people of color and people with disabilities.
3. The Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Efforts to Address the Critical Shortage of Educators and School Staff Across the Nation
As children across the nation begin the 2022-2023 school year, school districts across the nation are scrambling to find qualified personnel to fill vacancies. While the critical shortage of educators, school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel and others working in schools is nothing new- the current shortage is unlike anything seen before. In response, the Biden- Harris Administration announced new efforts to strengthen the teaching profession and support schools in their effort to address teacher shortages as the new school year begins.
A key component of these efforts includes a partnership between the Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Labor (DOL) who have issued a joint letter to state and local education and workforce leaders encouraging them to take a series of actions to address teacher and school staff shortages and invest in the teaching profession. In the letter, the Departments outline specific avenues for addressing the shortage including:
- Paying teachers a livable and competitive wage. Secretaries Cardona and Walsh are encouraging governors and district leaders to use American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fundsand the $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds to increase teacher pay. Low pay continues to be a significant contributor to a weak teacher pipeline and to a history of high turnover rates. On average, teachers make about 33 percent less than other college-educated professionals. Adjusted for inflation, the average weekly wages of public school teachers have only increased $29 between 1996 and 2021.
- Expanding high-quality programs that prepare and support teachers, including registered teacher apprenticeship programs.DOL is committing to prioritize the education sector in future apprenticeship funding, including its next round of over $100 million in apprenticeship grants, which will provide critical support for states and other partners looking to start and expand teacher apprenticeship programs. Students need qualified teachers who are prepared to teach them, and who reflect the diversity of our students. Teachers need affordable pathways into the profession. Registered teacher apprenticeship programs allow individuals – including those already working in schools, like teaching assistants – to earn while they learn, receiving pay while they gain teaching skills with the supervision of a mentor teacher, and take coursework to earn their teaching license. This allows teachers to gain robust experience in the classroom before leading their own and makes becoming a teacher more affordable. Once registered by DOL or their state apprenticeship agency, state and local workforce boards can use Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I funds to support these programs. The Secretaries also encourage state and local workforce boards to collaborate with education systems to address non-instructional staffing shortages in schools.
- States like Tennessee have already used ARP funds to invest in and expand registered teacher apprenticeship programs, using immediate resources to make long-term investments in teaching programs in the state that also address current needs. registered teacher apprenticeship programs can be used to scale high-quality pathways into the profession, like residencies and Grow Your Own programs. These models provide robust classroom experience for teachers during their training. Grow Your Own programs specifically help districts develop their own teachers, in partnership with institutions of higher education, including by getting teaching assistants, career changers, and high school students on the pathway to becoming teachers.
4. NAEP Scores Decline by the Largest Margin in More Than 30 Years
This month, The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of the national assessments for 9 year-old school age children in reading and mathematics. For the first time since the NAEP tests began tracking student achievement in the 1970s, 9-year-olds test scores declined in math, and scores in reading fell by the largest margin in more than 30 years. While the declines span almost all races there were notable differences among race and income levels. For example, in math, Black students lost 13 points, compared with five points among white students.
Scholars project that the setbacks will have powerful consequences for a generation of children. “Student test scores, even starting in first, second and third grade, are really quite predictive of their success later in school, and their educational trajectories overall,” said Susanna Loeb, the director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, which focuses on education inequality.
In a statement Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona commented on the NAEP scores, saying:
“Today’s data confirm the significant impact the prior Administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic has had on our children’s progress and academic wellbeing. That’s why President Biden, from Day One of his Administration, pushed so hard to get schools reopened and students back into classrooms. In less than six months, our nation’s schools went from 46% being open to nearly all being open full-time in-person. That did not happen by accident: The President fought to get teachers eligible for vaccination early on so they could safely open their classrooms. He fought for the American Rescue Plan, which included $130 billion so schools could stay open and students could get the academic and mental health support they need. Our top priority remains to make sure states, schools, and districts are using these funds on strategies we know work like well-resourced schools, high-dosage tutoring and enriching afterschool programs – and directing the most resources towards students who fell furthest behind. We must repair the damage done by Donald Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic – and we will.”
On the same day the NAEP scores were released, Secretary Cardona published an op-ed in USA TODAY which highlights efforts taken by the Department of Education to drive recovery from the pandemic.
5. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) Announce Plans to Shut Down Operations
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) announced plans to shut down operations by March of 2024- the announcement comes just months after the US Department of Education announced that it revoked recognition of the accreditor. “ACICS was serving its role as an accreditor, providing an important service to institutions of higher education, the students they serve and ultimately, the communities in which they live and work,” ACICS President and CEO Michelle Edwards said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the time has come to initiate the steps necessary to dissolve the corporation. Institutions accredited by ACICS will have 18 months to find a new accreditor or they will lose access to Title IV federal financial aid.
6. In the States
- Students attending the Seattle Public Schools system were slated to begin school this week, but on Tuesday members of the Seattle Education Association voted to authorize a strike. Over 75% of union members participated in the vote with 95% of those who voted, voting in favor of a strike. Schools remained closed throughout the week as negotiations continue the school district said. The Seattle Public School System serves more the 50,000 students with the union representing over 6,000 certified teachers, substitutes, paraprofessionals, and office professionals. One of the major striking points for union members are the need more special education teachers and greater mental healthand behavioral resources for students. As of Friday morning, the district and union have not come to an agreement.
- This week, the Charles Butt Foundation released the results of a survey of nearly 1,300 teachers examining job satisfaction. Of those surveyed, 77% of participants seriously considered leaving the profession in 2022, a 19% jump from the 2020 results and a 9% increase from last year. Among those considering leaving the profession, 93% have taken steps to leave such as preparing resumes or conducting job interviews within the past year. Respondents point to low pay, lack of respect from both the community and elected officials, excessive workloads and pandemic school disruptions as reasons they want to leave the field of education. Additionally, financial burdens contribute to the attrition of teachers- in the classroom for example, about 98% of respondents say they have to buy their own supplies, with the median cost being about $500. Further, the average pay for teachers in Texas has not increased between 2010 and 2019; it instead decreased from $55,433 to $54,192, according to a University of Houston report released earlier this year.
7. New Resources for Educators
- NCLD released a new tool for students, families, and educators to navigate transition entitled: Your Future: A Guide to Transition
- The Learning Policy Institute webinar highlighting the findings of a new brief and forthcoming book on The Civil Rights Road to Deeper Learning. Speakers will discuss the key civil rights actions and education policy conditions essential to ensuring access to a meaningful education that prepares all students to thrive in our modern society.
It feels great to be back.
Wishing you all a joyful weekend, and until next time, see you on Twitter!