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Massive Funding Will Soon Flow into Schools and IHEs

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE. 

The Biden Agenda Continues to Unfold

The Biden Administration is on the brink of distributing the nearly  $122 billion  in new COVID relief funding for the nation’s K-12 schools, which the Education Department said would be made available  to states “this month.” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona notified state officials on Wednesday about the share of funding they would receive from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that President Biden signed last week. States and school districts “should plan to expend these funds to safely reopen schools as expeditiously as possible this spring, sustain their healthy operations, and address the significant academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of their students,” Cardona wrote in the letter to state school chiefs.

Cardona joined White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki for her daily press briefing  on Wednesday. During the Q&A with the press pool, Cardona touched on COVID-19 relief, school reopening, and standardized testing. The Secretary told reporters  he didn’t plan to change the Education Department’s decision on standardized testing, which was announced in February before he was confirmed by the Senate. “The guidance that we provided at the agency last month is the guidance that we’re going with moving forward on assessments to see where students are after this pandemic,” Cardona said.

The Education Department will convene a summit on school reopening on March 24, as part of its push to reopen a majority of the nation’s K-8 classrooms for in-person instruction by the end of April. Cardona, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky plan to speak at the event, called the National Safe School Reopening Summit. The program will feature three panels with federal health experts, school district leaders, teachers and students. The goal according to Cardona, is to share best practices, connect with leaders, educators, and students from across this country who are navigating this challenge together, and find solutions to support students and bring them back to in-person learning.

Melanie Muenzer, who was recently named chief of staff in the Education Department’s Office of the Under Secretary, offered some insights into the new Administration’s plans for higher education during a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution on Tuesday. Muenzer noted that the Department is working with the CDC on new COVID-19 guidance for colleges and universities. That information is expected to be released in the next few weeks and would complement a coronavirus “best practices clearinghouse” ordered by President Biden. Additionally, federal partnerships with minority-serving institutions and community colleges could aid COVID-19 vaccine distribution, she said. Working with these institutions “could go a long way in helping to ensure that people within the community are getting vaccinated both on campuses and within the general community itself,” she said. Muenzer also noted the possibility for new flexibility and details on how higher education institutions can spend their share of coronavirus relief funds.

President Biden kicked off a week of high-level Administration efforts to tout the benefits of his $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief package as he seeks maximum political benefit from his first major legislative victory. With “shots in arms and money in pockets,” Biden is hoping not only for partisan advantage but—more broadly—to restore Americans’ trust in their government. Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Senior Administration Officials hit the road this week, visiting politically critical states in what amounts to the Administration’s first sustained barnstorming tour since the Inauguration.

The First Lady, an educator herself and a champion of teachers and public education, opened the weeklong effort on Monday. Dr. Biden stopped by Samuel Smith Elementary School  in Burlington, NJ, as the first stop on the   “Hope is Here” tour.  “I’m here to tell you, with the American Rescue Plan, help is here to open schools, and we’re going to do it safely,” she said. In addition to reopening schools, the relief package also helps childcare providers open safely and creates solutions for childcare to be more affordable for parents, the First Lady said. The visit was a chance to recast the reopening debate “away from questions about priorities and the influence of teachers’ unions and onto the avalanche of resources tucked into the relief bill.”

While the Administration celebrates the passage of ARPA, a group of Democrats are reigniting their calls for President Biden to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt. Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) on Monday said a tax provision  added to ARPA would allow President Joe Biden to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower through executive action. Schumer and other progressive lawmakers have been urging the Biden Administration to make this move; however, the Administration has been reluctant.

I can’t say enough about the great work of Kaitlyn Brennan as she contributes to Washington Update. She is such an asset to our field! 

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information.


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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant