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Washington Update: A Flurry of Activity on Capitol Hill

Capitol building Washington DC sunlight USA US congressThis 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.  

Congress may have been on recess for the past two weeks, but it certainly did not feel like that behind the scenes. There has been a flurry of activity surrounding the President’s FY2023 Budget Request. Education advocates are working diligently to get their appropriations requests to Members — hopeful to see historic increases for education funding making it across the finish line. 

The Debate over Student Loan Forgiveness Continues as the Department Cancels $238 Million in Debt for 28,000 Borrowers

On Thursday, President Biden confirmed  reports that he is considering canceling “some” amount of federal student loan debt. “I am considering dealing with some debt reduction,” The President said in remarks at the White House. “I am not considering $50,000 debt reduction.”

The President’s comments come as Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday said that he thought the President was “moving in our direction”. Leader Schumer has repeatedly called on the Biden Administration to use executive authority to cancel at least $50,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower.

While the Biden Administration has not used executive action to cancel federal student loan debt for all borrowers, the Department of Education announced on Thursday their most recent round of forgiveness for nearly 28,000 borrowers. The Administration will forgive $238 million in student loan debt owed by former students who attended a now defunct for-profit cosmetology school.

Just last week, the Administration also announced changes to the federal student loan income based repayment plan- making it easier for millions of borrowers to have their debt forgiven.  The Department will make a one-time adjustment to borrower accounts that provides credit towards loan forgiveness under income-based repayment for any month in which the bower made a payment, regardless of the type of repayment program they were enrolled in.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Testifies before the House Appropriations Committee

On Thursday, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testified before the House appropriations committee in support of the Biden Administration’s  FY2023 budget request The President’s request calls for $88 billion to go to the Department of Education with significant increases proposed for funding high need schools, mental health supports, special education, and addressing the critical shortage of educators and specialized instructional support personnel across the nation.

The hearing touched on a range of topics but focused heavily on the newly proposed regulations for charter schools. The proposed regulations would require charter schools that are seeking federal funding to demonstrate widespread community interest in the program with the help of a survey and data showing over-enrollment in local public schools.

During the hearing, Members also highlighted the contentious battles across the nation over critical race theory and sexuality. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) asked the Secretary how he would address the new laws, making note of her home state of Florida where Rep. Frankel said a district recently canceled a workshop on the civil rights movement over concerns of the possible repercussions. The Secretary in response said, he office for civil rights will conduct investigations in cases where students’ rights appear to be violated. Schools shouldn’t be dragged into the “culture wars”, said Secretary. Cardona.

Notably, during the hearing, committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announced that she will be holding a separate hearing on the critical shortage of educators across the nation.

Office for Civil Rights Reaches Resolution Agreement with Nation’s Second Largest School District to Meet Needs of Students with Disabilities during COVID-19 Pandemic

On Thursday, the Department of Education announced that its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) had reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District with an agreement requiring it to take steps necessary to ensure that students with disabilities receive educational services, including compensatory services, during and resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The investigation found that the district failed to fulfill the promise of IDEA for students with disabilities during remote learning. OCR found that, during remote learning, the district:

  • Limited the services provided to students with disabilities based on considerations other than the students’ individual educational needs.
  • Failed to accurately or sufficiently track services provided to students with disabilities.
  • Directed district service providers to include attempts to communicate with students and parents—including emails and phone calls—as the provision of services, documenting such on students’ service records.
  • Informed staff that the district was not responsible for providing compensatory education to students with disabilities who did not receive FAPE during the COVID-19 school closure period because the district was not at fault for the closure. And,
  • Failed to develop and implement a plan adequate to remedy the instances in which students with disabilities were not provided a FAPE during remote learning

The district has agreed to resolve the above violations and will create and implement a plan to address the educational need of students with disabilities. In a statement, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said,

“Today’s resolution will ensure that the more than 66,000 Los Angeles Unified students with disabilities will receive the equal access to education to which federal civil rights law entitles them, including compensatory education for any services the district did not provide during the COVID-19 pandemic…I am deeply grateful for the district’s commitment now to meet the needs of its students with disabilities.”

The letter to Los Angeles Unified School District is available here, and the resolution agreement is available here.

State-Funded Pre-School Enrollment Drops for the First Time in 20 Years

On Tuesday, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) released the  2021 State of Preschool Yearbook 2021 State of Preschool Yearbook . The report notes that 298,000 fewer children enrolled in preschool programs during the 2020-2021 school year. This is the first time in 20 years that enrollment in state-funded preschool dropped  and total state funding for preschool programs declined for the first time since 2014.

“The pandemic erased an entire decade of progress in preschool enrollment,” NIEER Founder Steve Barnett told reporters on a Monday press call. “Challenges such as health risks, closed classrooms and remote preschool disrupted an already fragile system.” 

Super PAC Supporting School Choice Launches Fundraising Platform

Last week, the “Parent Party”  a super PAC whose goal is to support candidates who “support school choice and oppose defund the police policies” announced the launch of their fundraising platform. The group has already endorsed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio’s reelection campaigns in Florida. The PAC was founded in October by Patrick Donohue, a former finance director for former New York Governor George Pataki. In an interview, Donahue said “Our goal is to empower parents…This is shifting the power dynamic from the current unaccountable educational bureaucracy to the parents.”

Donahue went on to say “The platform’s purpose is to be the ‘ActBlue’ for school choice and safe streets.” ActBlue is referring to the primary platform for Democratic fundraising. “The party function itself is to support candidates. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Democrat or Republican, as long as they support the Parent Party pledge.” The pledge states that the candidate supports school choice and a full audit of the education system and schools to provide parents and the public with full transparency. They must also oppose any efforts to defund the police and public safety.

NPR Releases Two-Part Series on the Special Educator Shortage

Last week, NPR released a two-part series  on the special education teacher shortage. The series highlights that the critical shortage of special educators is leading to students with disabilities not having access to a fully certified special educator- even with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandating as such. The report also highlights concerns over the increasing number of provisional licenses issued to unqualified special education teachers in recent years.

New Resources for Educators 

  • The Education Trust- West released a new fact sheet highlighting that Black students in California lack equal access to learning opportunities. 
  • National College Attainment Network in a new brief notes that as of the end of March, FAFSA applications for the 2022-23 cycle were down 8.9% year-over-year. More specifically, FAFSA renewals from currently enrolled college students declined 12.3%, and renewals from Pell Grant-eligible students fell by 15.6%. 
  • EdWeek Research Center released findings from a new survey on teacher satisfaction rates that found just 12% of teachers report being highly satisfied with their jobs. Four out of every 10 teachers indicated they were very or fairly likely to leave the profession in the next two years.

Wishing you all a joyful weekend. See you on Twitter at Kait@brennan_kait 

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


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