Washington Update, September 15, 2023

Dear Colleagues:


As expected, it was another busy week in our nation’s capital-with agenda items ranging from appropriations to artificial intelligence. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held a forum on AI for members of the upper chamber with c-suit tech giants like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates joining to offer insights on the rapidly developing technology. As you will recall, last week Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Ranking Member on the HELP Committee, released a white paper on AI and a request for comment from stakeholders. Expect artificial intelligence to continue to be a topic of conversation on the Hill as Members grapple with the role of Congress in regulating this ever changing technology. The House Education and Workforce Committee marked up and approved a slate of both bills and resolutions- including one that would block the new income-driven repayment plan known as SAVE (H.J. Res. 88) and H.R. 4259. This measure would require schools or state education agencies to notify a parent who has a child with a disability that they have a right to bring an advocate or personnel to individualized education program meetings. It’s a bipartisan bill with Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) leading the bill and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) co-sponsoring. All the while, the number of legislative days remaining for Congress to pass an FY2024 budget or a continuing resolution to keep the government open, funded and avoid a shutdown continues to dwindle.  If you’re still with me, let’s take a look through what else happened this week.


1. RSA Announces Funding for Model Demonstration Projects Focused on Improving Economic Self Sufficiency for Children and Youth with Disabilities


The U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) announced it will fund 20 model demonstration projects focused on improving economic self-sufficiency for children and youth with disabilities by creating systemic approaches to enhance post-school outcomes. As outlined in a press release from the Department, the nearly $199 million in funding for the Pathways to Partnerships innovative model demonstration project supports collaborative partnerships between state vocational rehabilitation agencies, state and local educational agencies, and federally funded centers for independent living to help individuals with disabilities seamlessly transition to life after high school, preparing them for independent living, competitive integrated employment and community integration. Pathways to Partnerships is the largest discretionary grant ever administered by RSA.


In a statement, Glenna Wright-Gallo, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) said in part:

“The Department is committed to providing children and youth with disabilities the supports they need to access self-advocacy training, career pathways and independent living. The Pathways to Partnerships will bridge gaps from school to adult life, independent living, and career success…This investment will not only require state and local agencies to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities by finding innovative ways of working together, but it will also look to unlock post school and career success for those individuals.”


More information about the Disability Innovation Fund and the new Pathways to Partnerships projects can be found by accessing any of the links below.


2. Biden-Harris Administration Announces Further Actions to Accelerate Academic Success 

This week, the Biden-Harris Administration announced that it is building on its record of investment in K-12 public schools and announcing additional actions to improve instruction and accelerate academic success nationwide as students begin the new school year. The announcements include actions to:

  • Improve reading and math outcomes for students, including about $50 million in funding to States for literacy interventions and supports;
  • Expand school capacity by building a diverse educator workforce and infusing approximately 187,000 new tutors and mentors into schools;
  • Support evidence-based strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism in schools; and
  • Support states in leveraging funding through President Biden’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to meet the growing mental health and safety needs of students.\


In a statement Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona said:


“As students across America head back to school, the Biden-Harris administration is building upon our efforts to ensure students’ academic success and meet our collective need, as a country, to Raise the Bar in education…To address years of decline in core areas like math and literacy, made worse by challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital for schools to focus relentlessly on strengthening instruction, providing targeted supports such as extended learning time, and working intentionally with families and caregivers to ensure our children and youth are present and fully engaged in school. From continued investments to strengthen literacy instruction, to exciting progress towards recruiting 250,000 tutors and mentors through the National Partnership for Student Success, to historic support for students’ mental health and wellness, the Department of Education will continue to partner with educators, school leaders, and state and local education officials to increase successful academic outcomes for all students.”


You can read more about the Administration’s announcement and actions here.


3. In The States: Teacher Vacancies Leading to Classes Cancelled

Last month, the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada- the nation’s fifth largest school district- was forced to cancel classes at two elementary schools due to teacher vacancies. Currently, Clark County has upwards of 1,100 teacher vacancies- however, that number nearly doubles when you account for positions being filled by substitute teachers, many of who are often un or underqualified for the role. Additional disruptions to the academic year occurred the Friday before Labor Day when another elementary school was forced to cancel classes due to a high volume of teachers calling in sick leading to staffing concerns. Similarly, a Las Vegas middle school reported combining classes due to the lack of personnel. This trend is not unique to Clark County- school districts across the nation are grappling with teacher shortages.


Last year, a Kansas State University education professor Dr. Tuan Nguyen, set out with two colleagues to collect statewide data on teacher shortages. They counted more than 36,500 vacancies in 37 states and D.C. for the 2021-2022 school year. Last month, they published updated data and found that teacher shortages had grown 35 percent among that group, to more than 49,000 vacancies. In states who are seeing a decline in vacancies- there is significant concern over who is filling those positions. Jackson Green, the principal of Charles M. Sumner Education Campus in rural Maine, reported to the Washington Post that he started the year with just one vacancy. But that achievement was possible only because about 80 percent of open teaching positions this year were filled with long-term substitute teachers after he was unable to find qualified educators. It is not a requirement for long term substitutes in Maine to complete a  teacher training program or have a college degree. Many of Green’s new hires reportedly lack both.


4. New Resources for Educators

  • US Department of Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona issued a Dear Colleague letter to Chief State School Officers affirming school district’s responsibilities to serve immigrant students.


  • NCES Equity in Education Dashboard compiles key findings and trends on the current state of educational equity in the United States.


Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.

Until next time, see you on X (formerly known as Twitter)