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A Spotlight on TQP Applications, Mask Mandates, Free Speech, and the Teacher Shortage

A second-grade teacher helps a student with a writing assignment in a hybrid classroom.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

This weekly Washington Update is intended to keep members informed on Capitol Hill activities impacting the educator preparation community. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.   

So much around the world has changed since our last Washington Update. While Congress was on recess all eyes were on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. We suspect Congress will respond to the President’s request and put forth a supplemental funding package that includes critical assistance for the Ukraine and additional support for addressing future variants of COVID-9. We also anticipate an FY 2022 omnibus appropriations package that has a significant increase for both defense and non-defense programs, including education, will pass sometime next week.

President Biden Makes First Formal State of the Union Address 

On Tuesday, before a predominantly mask-less audience, President Biden made his first formal State of the Union  address. The President’s forceful rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine offered a rare opportunity to rally bipartisan support for his Administration. In the days leading up to the address, White House officials had suggested that the President would tout proposals that would address higher education, childcare, and early childhood education. The President made specific mention of some of those plans but fell short in other areas.

President Biden spoke to his plan to cut the cost of childcare and create a universal pre-K program for the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds, telling Congress: “What are we waiting for? Let’s get this done.” The President was expected to urge Congress to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $2000, but instead gave a more general push for higher education investments stating, “Let’s increase Pell Grants and increase our historic support of HBCUs, and invest in what Jill — our First Lady who teaches full-time — calls America’s best-kept secret: community colleges,”

The President highlighted the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the capacity this provides school districts with to hire teachers- messaging that Department has been working diligently on since the President signed the historic piece of legislation. “…The American Rescue Plan gave schools money to hire teachers and help students make up for lost learning. I urge every parent to make sure your school does just that, “ the President said.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds gave the Republican response  which was heavily focused on school closures, parental rights, mask mandates, and the teachings of systemic racism.

“Keeping schools open is only the start of the pro-parent, pro-family revolution that Republicans are leading in Iowa and states across this country,” Reynolds said. “Republicans believe that parents matter, it was true before the pandemic. … They have a right to know and to have a say in what their kids are being taught.”     

Governor Reynolds response aligns with what many GOP strategists have suggested is key for Republicans winning the midterms in November. 

Department of Education Announces Notice Inviting Applications for the Teacher Quality Partnership Program 

Last week , the Department of Education announced a Notice Inviting Applications for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) program  which will award $35 million to bolster teacher preparation programs at the undergraduate or “fifth-year” level (Pre-Baccalaureate Models), as well as teaching residency programs for individuals new to teaching that integrate relevant academic content and meaningful clinical experience. 

“Across the country, we must continue the necessary work of developing a strong, diverse educator workforce for today and tomorrow,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “High-quality educator preparation programs and teacher residencies are integral to this effort. Effective programs have positive effects on teacher candidates—including boosting the likelihood that they will remain in the profession—and they increase the impact that great teachers have on student learning.” 

The Notice Inviting Applications is available here

CDC Changes Masking Guidance for Schools; Congress Looks to the Administration for Protection for LEAs That Have Mask Mandates

On Monday, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona requesting that the Department review the Florida House of Representatives’ budget proposal that if passed, would withhold nearly $200 million in funding from local education agencies that have mask mandates. “The Florida House’s unfounded and retaliatory budget proposal would only serve to put students and staff at increased risk and harm local officials’ ability to best serve their communities,” Wilson wrote, adding that she wants the department to respond with a “comprehensive summary” of the department’s authority to help school districts “that are penalized for implementing science-based strategies.”

The Representative’s request comes as new guidelines  issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that schools in most parts of the U.S. no longer need to require mask wearing. The updated guidance no longer recommends that everyone wear masks in indoor settings — including schools — in areas that have low or medium levels of Covid-19 transmission and sufficient hospital capacity.

However, as the letter notes, several of Florida’s school districts are located in areas with high rates of transmission:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals located in a “high” “COVID-19 Community Level” area continue to “wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk (including in K-12 schools and other community settings).” As of February 25, six of the school districts that would be fined under the Florida House’s proposal are located within such a “high” risk area. Additionally, while designated as medium COVID-19 Community Levels, Miami-Dade, Brevard, and Volusia counties are experiencing a high degree of community transmission, per the CDC.”

Higher Education Advocacy Groups Defend Free Speech on College Campuses

This week, over 100 higher education advocacy groups led by the American Council on Education issued a joint statement  that limiting discourse on college campuses threatens the country’s ability to compete globally. “Efforts to suppress inquiry, curb discussion, and limit what can be studied violate the basic principles of free speech and an open exchange of ideas, and undermine the very purpose of higher education,” the letter states. “Nonetheless, some elected officials have proposed measures foreclosing evaluation of complex and challenging ideas.” The letter comes just weeks after Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed eliminating tenure for all new hires at the state’s public universities. 

Committee for Education Funding Hosts Webinar on Educator and Specialized Instructional Support Personnel Shortage

This week, The Committee for Education Funding (CEF) hosted a webinar: Shortages in the Education Labor Force. The webinar focused on shortages in the education workforce and the impact of proposed increases in federal education investments. This topic is especially timely as schools across the nation grapple each day on how to address the critical shortage of school district personnel while Congress continues to negotiate the level of appropriations for fiscal year 2022 — which includes historic increases for education funding — and awaits the President’s budget request for 2023.

The briefing featured a panel of practitioners who discussed the impact of shortages in early childhood and childcare centers, of specialized instructional support personnel, across school districts covering elementary and secondary education, and in higher education. The panelists include:

  • Miren Algorri, Owner, Little Blossoms Child Care in Chula Vista, California
  • Mark Davey, BOCES District Superintendent, Champlain Valley Educational Services, New York
  • Kari Oyen, Assistant Professor, Counseling and Psychology in Education, University of South Dakota
  • Megan Schneider, Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations, University of Houston System, Texas

 recording of the webinar and slides are available here.

The Learning Policy Institute Releases Blog on the Federal Role in Tackling Teacher Shortages

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a blog this week examining the federal role in tackling teacher shortages. The blog discusses how existing federal tools — created in a bipartisan manner — to support the teacher workforce, such as comprehensive educator preparation programs and service-related grant and loan programs, could be deployed to help tackle teacher shortages. The blog goes on to highlight high-retention pathways into teaching as a key component of stemming teacher shortages while juxtaposing federal underinvestment in these pathways. Similarly, an examination on how federal service-related grant and loan programs could be updated to alleviate student loan debt burdens that contribute to teacher shortages. The blog concludes with a discussion of how pending federal funding and social safety net bills could mark the start of deeper federal investment in the teacher pipeline. Thank you to our colleagues at LPI for this great tool that can be a resource when advocating to support student access to a well-prepared, diverse, and stable teacher workforce.

New Resources for Educators

  • The GAO the released a report highlighting the financial risks associated with virtual schools, particularly virtual charter schools. The report notes Compared to students in brick-and-mortar public schools, 2018-2019 data shows that a lower percentage of virtual school students took state achievement tests, and their scores were significantly lower Also, Education officials said the virtual environment makes it harder to monitor attendance. Certain federal funds are allocated using attendance data, so there’s a risk that virtual schools could get more or less funding than they should.
  • AASA: The School Superintendents Association is out with a new toolkit on Early Childhood and Learning. AASA suggests using the toolkit as a gateway to exploring and defining ways to improve districts and/or organizational practices for children from birth through age eight.
  • The National Institute on Retirement Security released results from a recent national survey that found there is deep public concern surrounding the K-12 public school workforce. Eighty-three percent of Americans expressed concerns about public school staff shortages, while 81 percent are worried about workforce burnout.

Wishing all of you, and those around the world, peace.

See you 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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