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Challenges in Education: Parent Bill of Rights, Loan Forgiveness, Educator Shortage and Rural Access

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.

It was a busy week in Washington as lawmakers prepared to head back to their home states and districts for the two-week spring recess. From oversight hearings to the Congressional Review Act, we have much to cover this week — let’s dig in.

Education Leaders Push Back on Attacks Against the Public Education System

This week, following House Republicans passing the “Parent Bill of Rights,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten and several Democratic Members of Congress and advocacy groups have pushed back on what they are calling a dangerous effort to undermine and politicize public schools.

In a statement, Secretary Cardona said:

“It’s heartbreaking, for example, to see politicians trying to prevent students from learning about the history, arts and culture, contributions and experiences of African Americans — especially when Black history is a vital part of our shared American story. They want to ban kids from learning the truth when it doesn’t align with their political agenda. But it’s vital for all of us to understand our full history — the triumphs and the tragedies — so we can build a stronger, shared American future.”

The Secretary also spoke to the calls among Congressional Republicans for steep cuts to federal funding. The Secretary noted that at the levels proposed, the cuts could mean cutting funding for schools in communities of concentrated poverty by as much as $3.7 billion-negatively impacting up to 25 million students. “I think there are deliberate attempts to make sure that our public schools are not functional so that the private option sounds better… don’t doubt that’s intentional,” said the Secretary.

On Tuesday, AFT President Randi Weingarten shared the Secretary’s sentiment during a speech for the National Press Club. 

“This is an organized and dangerous effort to undermine public schools…These same governors who are pushing vouchers and culture wars are also trying to defund and weaken teachers’ unions, so educators don’t have the wherewithal to fight back against censorship, attacks on their academic freedom, threats to their livelihoods and potential criminal prosecution.”

In her remarks, Weingarten announced the opening a “Freedom to Teach and Learn” hotline. Parents, educators, and the public can use the toll-free number to report classroom political interference and censorship.

“It’s a place to call if you’ve been told to remove a book from the curriculum or from the library, or that there are topics that can’t be discussed in your classes, or that you cannot teach honestly and appropriately, or if politicians in your district or state are targeting vulnerable student groups to score political points,” said Weingarten.

As a reminder, since 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, and 22 states have introduced measures restricting education about gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Freedom to Teach and Learn hotline number is 888-873-7227.

Senator Cassidy Introduces Resolution to Overturn Loan Forgiveness Proposal

This week, Senator Cassidy (R-LA) Ranking Member on the HELP Committee introduced a resolution, S.J. Res. 22 (118) that would overturn the Biden-Harris Administration’s proposal to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for eligible borrowers and end the pandemic pause on federal student loan payments.

In a statement, Senator Cassidy said:

“President Biden’s student loan scheme does not ‘forgive’ debt, it just transfers the burden from those who willingly took out loans to those who never went to college, or sacrificed to pay their loans off.”

Under the Congressional Review Act resolution, lawmakers can block recently enacted executive branch rules with a simple majority vote. The Ranking Member reportedly has 39 other GOP senators supporting the resolution and has signaled that he may have Democratic votes as well — with such a slim margin in the Senate any Democratic support would be significant. Top House Republicans have also introduced a companion resolution, H.J. Res. 45 (118), led by Rep. Bob Good (R-VA).

The legislative effort comes as the Supreme Court also weighs whether to strike down the policy.

House Labor HHS Education Committee Holds Hearing on Addressing the Challenges of Rural America with a Focus on the Educator Shortage

This week, the House Labor Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Services agency held an oversight hearing focused on addressing the challenges of rural America. A major theme throughout the hearing surrounded the critical shortage of special educators and specialized instructional support personnel. Ruth Ryder,  Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy and Programs — Formula Grants in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) at the U.S. Department of Education highlighted that while most schools reported starting the school year short-staffed, this is especially true when it comes to special education personnel. “We know there were shortages before the pandemic and our schools still have a long way to go before they’re fully staffed,” Ryder said. Brittany Hott, Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma underscored the remarks made by the Assistant Secretary — pointing to data that shows 98% of school districts in the U.S. lack a full complement of special education teachers, which she said makes it difficult for schools to provide early intervention services. “I have districts that do not have a special education teacher, no counselor, no school psychologist and no social workers…There are waiting lists of children to be evaluated for special education of over a hundred students,” said Hott.  Throughout her testimony and questions Hott advocated for increased funding from the federal government to address the critical shortage of special educators and specialized instructional support personnel.

You can watch the hearing in its entirety and read all witness testimony here. 

Department of Education to hold Virtual Public Hearings on Higher Education Rulemaking

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will hold virtual public hearings on April 11, 12, and 13 to receive stakeholder feedback on potential issues for future higher education rulemaking sessions.

The announcement is the first step in the process of issuing new higher education regulations. Following the public hearings, the Department will finalize the issues to be addressed through rulemaking and solicit nominations for non-federal negotiators who can serve on the negotiated rulemaking committee(s), which will convene in fall 2023.

The Department suggests the following topics for regulation in the hearing notice but invites comment on any regulatory issue that can improve outcomes for students. Potential topics may include:

  • The Secretary’s recognition of accrediting agencies and related issues
  • Institutional eligibility, including State authorization
  • Third-party servicers and related issues
  • The definition of distance education as it pertains to clock hour programs and reporting students who enroll primarily online
  • Return of Title IV funds
  • Cash management to address disbursement of student funds
  • Federal TRIO programs

The Department also invites public input on how the Department could, through its Title IV regulations, help improve borrowers’ understanding of repayment options and ensure borrowers select an income-driven repayment plan—instead of enrolling in deferment or forbearance — if doing so would be in their best interest.

The virtual public hearings will be held from April 11-13 from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Individuals who would like to make comments at the public hearings must register by sending an email message to negreghearing@ed.gov no later than noon Eastern Time on the business day prior to the public hearing at which they wish to speak. The message should include the name and email address of the speaker, the general topic(s) to be addressed, and at least two dates and times during which the individual would be available to speak.

Jane West’s book: Advocating for the Common Good: People, Politics, Process, and Policy on Capitol Hill is Available Now for Pre-Order

Pre-Order is now available for Jane West’s book: Advocating for the Common Good: People, Politics, Process, and Policy on Capitol Hill. The book offers a rich and accessible guide to policy-making in the nation’s capital, beckoning us to get to the table, make our voices heard, and reinvigorate our policy making institutions. West parts the curtains and brings us behind the scenes with a simple framework which enables both the novice and the experienced to deftly navigate the Washington maze. The 4 P’s — people, politics, process, and policy — are each examined with an eye toward what a successful advocate needs to know. Informed by her forty years of experience as part of the policy-making apparatus in education and disability, expert interviews with those in the room where it happens, a deep dive into congressional procedures and the scholarship on public policy, West delivers a powerful call to action. This affordable, jargon-free guide provides students and professionals with practical tools and a proven step-by-step process for analyzing past policies to understand how and why they became what they are, and then creating an advocacy strategy for a cause in order to change policy going forward.

“Dr. Jane West has done something remarkable: she has made policy and the political process accessible and relatable. Her expertise, combined with her lived experiences, results in a book that should serve as a primary resource for anyone interested in learning the keys to advocacy, policy, and politics.” – Corey D. Pierce, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, University of Northern Colorado

On a personal note, I have had the honor and privilege of learning from and working with Jane over the past 8 years. Much of what I know and how I navigate the policy landscape I learned and continue to learn from her. I have always been in awe of how generous Jane is with sharing her knowledge and expertise, and this book is no exception. I highly recommend this text for anyone looking to not just have a seat at the table, but to move the needle.

You can read more reviews and pre-order West’s book here. 

New Resources for Educators

  • US Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter calling for end to corporal punishment in schools and offers guiding principles on school discipline.

  • OSEP released a new fast facts sheet focused on students identified with a traumatic brain injury.

Congress and Washington Update are on recess for the next two weeks, returning April 21st.

Until next time, see you on Twitter!

Kait @brennan_kait

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