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Addressing Teacher Shortages, Civil Rights, and Loan Servicing

A horizontal image of an empty primary school classroom. Teacher shortage conceptIt was another busy week in Washington as lawmakers prepared for the congressional recess  the following week. Conversations are heating up behind the scenes surrounding FY22 appropriations and a new iteration of the Build Back Better Act. Advocacy work will be critical in the coming weeks to ensure the historic proposals for education funding are included in both pieces of legislation.

School Districts and Lawmakers Grapple with Omicron Variant while Experiencing Critical Shortage of Educators 

As school districts across the nation contend with the fast-moving omicron variant, district and elected officials are under pressure to keep schools open. Just this week, Oklahoma announced it will allow state employees to work as substitute teachers while keeping their current jobs. California Governor Gavin Newsome announced an executive order that expedites the hiring process for teachers and gives school more flexibility in staffing — allowing policies that extend contracts for often under or unqualified substitute teachers and removing barriers for recently retired teachers to return to the classroom. In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham asked the National Guard to serve as substitute teachers — the first state in the nation to make such a request.

On Wednesday, President Biden touted  the work of his Administration, which provided a massive infusion of pandemic funding to schools as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. President Biden credited the nearly $130 billion in relief funding for K-12 education as the reason many districts have been able to remain open for in-person learning during the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases. At the same time, President Biden expressed disappointment with some states who have not yet spent their funds. The President noted that some states were not “ particularly competent” about their spending plans, but that he also does not “have the authority to do anything about that.”

This comes as results of a recent survey. suggest that nearly 52% of parents report they have or are considering new schools for their children. In the past year, 19 states have expanded school choice options. “Parents being able to have a greater role in where and how their children are educated is a winning political issue, and we intend to promote it as much as possible in the coming year,” said South Carolina GOP Chair Drew McKissick.

Higher Education Rulemaking Committee Adds Civil Rights Representative; Denies An Additional Representative on Behalf of For-Profit Colleges

 Last week, the Department of Education continued with their massive review of higher education regulations. At the time, the Biden administration had finalized the 13 members of the rulemaking committee who see to achieve consensus over the policies put forth by the Administration. But on Tuesday, the committee agreed to add a civil rights representative to its ranks while denying a proposal to add an additional seat that would represent for-profit colleges enrolling fewer than 450 students. In an unanimous vote, the committee agreed to add Amanda Martinez, senior education policy analyst at UnidosUS to the panel as a representative of civil rights organizations. 

Conduent Education Services Agrees to a $7.9 Million Settlement with DOJ 

On Friday, the Department of Justice announced that it had reached a settlement agreement with Conduent Education Services, which owns the loan servicing business that previously operated as ACS Education Services. As part of the agreement Conduent will pay $7.9 million to the government — this includes $1.4 million that the company has already paid under a previous agreement with the Department of Education. James Kvaal, the undersecretary of Education who oversees Federal Student Aid, said in a statement that he was “pleased that improper conduct at Conduent Education Services got the oversight and investigation it deserved. “  Kvaal said, “We are grateful to the Department of Justice for working with the Education Department to ensure that CES is held accountable to borrowers and taxpayers.” 

Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Reaches Agreement to Resolve Restraint and Seclusion Compliance Review 

This week, The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a compliance review of the Huron Valley Schools in Michigan. As reported by the Department, the district entered a voluntary resolution agreement to ensure students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The primary focused of the review was on the district’s use of restraint and seclusion and how this impacted students with disabilities. “Huron Valley Schools has agreed to take important steps to ensure that students with disabilities in its schools receive the free and appropriate public education to which federal law entitles them,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. In a statement, the Department notes that the district made significant commitments in the agreement, including the following:

  • Assessing whether students with disabilities who were subjected to restraint and seclusion from September 2017 through January 2022 were denied a FAPE and require compensatory education.
  • Implementing a policy regarding the appropriate use and documentation of restraint and seclusion.
  • Implementing a monitoring program to assess the district’s use of restraint and seclusion on a monthly basis and developing a policy and forms for documenting and tracking the restraint and seclusion of district students. And,
  • Providing training to staff on restraint and seclusion, the district’s documentation policy and forms, and the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

The letter to Huron Valley Schools is available here and the resolution agreement is available here.

Events 

  • EdPrepLab 2nd Annual Policy Summit will be held virtually on Tuesday January 25 from 1:30-3:00 p.m. EST. The Summit will examine effective policies and practices to address acute and long-term teacher shortages by developing a strong, stable, and diverse workforce. At this virtual summit, teacher preparation policy and practice experts will discuss approaches to teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention that are effective, sustainable, and ultimately foster equity for the nation’s students. The event is free and you can register here.
  • AASPA National Educator Shortage Summit will be held Monday February 7 and Tuesday February 8 in Kissimmee, FL. This is an interactive event that convenes focused groups of PK-12 and higher education stakeholders to address the challenges of the national shortage of educators and the educator pipeline to share ways to replicate practices via a national strategy. You can register here. 

New Resources for Educators 

  • The Department of Education released a Fact Sheet titled “In One Year of the Biden-Harris Administration, the U.S. Department of Education Helped Schools Safely Reopen and Meet Students’ Needs.” The fact sheet outlines initiatives spearheaded by the Department over the past year to support student learning and keeping school buildings open for in person instruction.
  • Learning Policy Institute has issued a new brief summarizing a 2019 study of educator supply, demand, and quality in North Carolina. The study found that access to qualified teachers and administrators was increasingly limited and inequitable across the state. The brief offers recommendations for guaranteeing more equitable access.

Congress and Washington Update are on recess next week. We will return on February 4 with an undoubtedly chock-full update.  Follow me on Twitter @brennan_kait.

Do you have a question about Washington Update? Want additional information? Email me at kaitlynbrennan88@gmail.com.

 


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