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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant

Can Congress Deliver on a Much Needed COVID Relief Package

Financial aid concept, Life buoy lifebelt with money bagSenate Republicans Reveal Proposal for Next COVID Relief Package—a Nonstarter for Democrats

We ended the week with the chasm between Democrats and Republicans looming as the clock ticks toward recess and campaigning, not to mention expiring unemployment benefits, expired eviction prohibitions and schools and higher education struggling with reopening plans. Leader McConnell revealed the HEALS Act—the Senate Republican response to the House Democratic HEROES Act—as the opener for negotiations on the next COVID relief package. A third proposal, CCERA, was put forward by Senate Democrats. A comparison of education spending in the three bills reveals the following:

Congress Stalls in Developing Next COVID Relief Package

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.

COVID Relief Package Progress Stalled

The Congress is scheduled to go into recess in two weeks.  The election is about 100 days away.  The nation is in crisis.  Yet this week brought us a back and forth between the White House and Senate Republican leadership that yielded leaks of morsels about a proposed COVID relief package followed by retractions, clarifications and proclamations by individual Republican Senators that they have not seen any proposals nor been able to weigh in. Democrats are growing antsy—with two proposals on the table—HEROES Act in the House and  the Coronavirus Childcare and Education Relief Act in the Senate. they are ready to negotiate.  But no one is at the table yet.

A Senate Republican leadership bill was promised this week. A sketch of a proposal was leaked with the caveat that nothing had been finalized or agreed to. With Monday and Tuesday focused on honoring Rep. John Lewis in the Capitol, the business week will be short.  The promise of that August recess is looking dim. With the federal unemployment checks scheduled to end at the end of the month and 1 in 5 workers now collecting unemployment benefits, much is at stake. Educators in both higher education and K-12 are struggling to make decisions now about school openings with little clear guidance and no sure knowledge of when or if there will be additional federal support.

Educators Disrupting Racism: One Journey

Jane West and Ashley WhiteIn Part 2 of this Q&A feature, AACTE consultant Jane West, a former teacher with a doctorate in special education and 30 years of policy experience in the nation’s capital, and Holmes Program Alumna Ashley L. White, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and 2019-20 Joseph P. Kennedy Fellow, share their mentoring/mentee relationship and how it has evolved over time to address race. (Read Part 1.)

Q:  Describe a good white ally.

White: This is not an all-encompassing definition and I am not the monolithic expert—I am speaking from my experiences in dealing with White people all my life, some who get it and many who do not. Allies of any kind have to accept the reality of system and practices that have put them in a position of privilege while disenfranchising others (e.g., the notion of heterosexuality or “able-bodies” as superior forms of existence). Allies must value the whole over the self. Allies must recognize that if one suffers, all suffer, even if not immediately. Allies must embrace their ignorance and lack of understanding in order to counteract these.

As it pertains to the subject of racism in society, racism in education, White allies have to accept the reality of racism in every system and they also have to accept that no matter the topic, particularly as it relates to education, issues of race cement long-standing inequities that cannot be resolved without centering the issues of race.  In other words, White allies don’t avoid our country’s foundation, which is built upon individual and systematic racism for the gain of the dominant class. White allies must learn to be quiet when Black and Brown folks are speaking about their experiences and perspectives. White allies must learn not to interrupt and to question themselves, especially when they feel defensive, undermined, or fearful. White allies have to stop hiding behind rhetoric of equity and understanding when their actions demonstrate the very opposite. White allies have to be willing to ask questions, not to prove they are right, but because they know they are wrong.

Educators Disrupting Racism: One Journey

In Part 1 of this Q&A feature, AACTE consultant Jane West, a former teacher with a doctorate in special education and 30 years of policy experience in the nation’s capital, and Holmes Program Alumna Ashley L. White, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and 2019-20 Joseph P. Kennedy Fellow, share their mentoring/mentee relationship and how it has evolved over time to address race.

Q: What is the nature of your mentoring relationship?

Jane West and Ashley WhiteWhite:  Through my doctoral work, I became very interested in disability policy. It was through this interest that I met Jane.  Anyone who knows about SPED/disability policy knows Dr. Jane West. What I didn’t know before interacting with Jane is that, while she was an advocate for the interests of special education and students with disabilities, she was aware of the structural and ideological inconsistencies that float right beneath the surface of the equity rhetoric that dominates disability advocacy.     

West:  I had the good fortune to meet Ashley as a doctoral student through her work with The Higher Education Consortium for Special Education—an organization with which I consult. Ashley was keenly interested in advocacy and policy—my areas of focus—so we formed a natural alliance. I was, and am, pleased to mentor her in those areas as she navigated her doctoral work and her career.

Senate Debates Funding for Re-opening Schools

Students wearing masks outside school building

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.

Action Expected in July on Next COVID Relief Bill: Education in the Crosshairs

Beginning next week, we expect to see the Senate take up the next COVID relief bill.  The House has passed their version of the bill and Senate Democrats have introduced their version of the bill, so the next move is up Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  His bill may be unveiled next week.

Education has become a high profile and contentious matter for this bill, as the president has determined that the economy cannot move forward unless schools are fully open in person so that parents and college employees (and workers in related businesses) can return to work in person. Multiple agendas are woven through this debate, which will become even more prominent as decisions are made about whether to apply conditions to any further COVID relief funding for education. 

Opening Schools in the Fall Is a Political Hot Potato

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.

U.S. Capital Rotunda

It’s been a busy — if not dizzying — week in DC – from movement on funding bills in the House to Trump Administration threats to withhold education funding and withdraw non-profit tax status from schools that do not fully open in the fall.  The rest of July will likewise be action packed and fraught as Congress sprints to the August recess. 

House Appropriations Subcommittee Adopts Education Funding Bill for FY 2021
On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations, chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), adopted a spending bill for FY 2021, which begins October 1. 

Because the bill was required to stay within previously agreed upon budget caps, there were only modest increases for education. Overall, education spending was increased by 1.7%, or $1.2 billion, bringing federal education spending to a total of $73.5 billion.

Will Congress Provide Support to Reopen Schools During COVID-19?

Student and Teacher in classroom wearing masks

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.

Re-opening Schools During COVID-19:  Will the Federal Government Help?  

The topic of reopening schools is demanding attention at all levels of government—both for K-12 and higher education. The questions far outnumber the answers and the keywords seems to be flexibility and local decision-making. With governors, public health agencies, state and local school leaders, parents, and teachers all weighing in, the web of perspectives is complex. Finding a path to ensure public safety, equity and access to effective education is the challenge of the day. And finding the money to do what needs to be done—and in the midst of a polarizing election cycle—is looking like a herculean task.    

This week, the House Committee on Education and Labor held its second hearing related to education and the pandemic, Inequities Exposed: How COVID-19 Widened Racial Inequities in Education, Health and the Workforce.  In his testimony about education, John B. King Jr, president and CEO of the Education Trust, highlighted ongoing inequities in both K-12 and higher education and how COVID-19 has exacerbated them.  He urged the federal government to act and recommended the following provisions for the next COVID-19 relief bill:

Schools Struggle to Reopen During Pandemic: Will Congress Help?

Law and Education ConceptThis 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.

Police Reform in the Wake of George Floyd’s Death: Is it Coming?  How Will it Affect Schools?

The purview of state and local government police reform is rapidly moving into the realm of the federal government. House Democrats have acted quickly, introducing a sweeping bill, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 with 200 sponsors. Republicans in both the House and Senate are feeling the pressure and discussions are underway, albeit for a far more limited approach. The White House is sending mixed messages, on the one hand calling for reform and on the other, calling for law and order. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is taking the lead for Republicans in the Senate and has been in conversation with the White House. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a top Trump ally in the House, said he will release his own plan shortly. Senate proposals appear to feature the improvement of federal data collection on the use of force and no-knock warrants as well as police training. White House spokespersons said that ending qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits, was a nonstarter.

Keeping an Eye on COVID-19 Relief, the Education Workforce

Financial aid concept, Life buoy lifebelt with money bagThis 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.

Educators Step Up for Racial Justice

Educators are responding to the killing of George Floyd and the racism it highlights by stepping up with a variety of initiatives and a renewed sense of urgency. Both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Public Schools have cut their ties with the Minneapolis Police Department.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is urging school leaders to address racial disparities in discipline policies and the use of resource officers in response to the George Floyd killing and subsequent events. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 400 other organizations, including both teachers’ unions, issued a letter calling on Congress to pass police reform legislation. They urge changes in areas including the use of force, policy accountability, racial profiling, militarization, data collection, and training.

COVID-19 Raises Multiple Education Policy Questions

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.

How Will the Senate Respond to the House Passed $3 Trillion HEROES Act?

Last week the House passed its follow up to the $2 trillion CARES Act by adopting the HEROES Act— the next COVID-19 relief bill. The Senate does not appear to be in a hurry to act and has clearly articulated different priorities from those in the HEROES Act.

Educators and their congressional allies are weighing in for a strong infusion of cash for education in the next bill.  In the House, Reps. Tlaib (D-MI), Hayes (D-CT) and Pressley (D-MA) are circulating a letter to their colleagues that requests $305 billion be targeted to K-12 education in the next COVID-19 bill.  In comparison, the HEROES Act targets $58 billion to K-12 education. Many education organizations are supporting their request, including the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and AASA: The School Superintendents Association.

On the higher education side, almost 80 education organizations have requested that the maximum for the Pell Grant be doubled, anticipating that students will be facing unprecedented struggles when starting the new academic year and beyond.

Education Funding and Next COVID-19 Relief Bill: The HEROES Act

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

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.

Speaker Pelosi Unveils Next COVID-19 Relief Bill with a $3 Trillion Price Tag

The House of Representatives is in town and scheduled to vote late today on the next COVID-19 relief bill—dubbed the HEROES Act. Considered by many to be a messaging bill and the wish list of Speaker Pelosi (D-CA), it is not expected to receive Republican support.  Even so, a number of progressive Democrats believe it does not have enough relief and may vote no.  Likewise, there may well be a few Republicans who cross over to support it. 

The 1815 page bill includes almost $1 trillion to support state and local governments and another $100 billion for education. Key features include the following:

Congress Begins to Reconvene: What’s Next for COVID-19 Relief Funding?

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

Financial aid concept, Life buoy lifebelt with money bagThis 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.

Senate Reconvenes in Person; House Next Week?

The Senate reconvened in person this week despite warnings from medical experts and despite the fact that the DC area remains a COVID-19 hot spot.  In order to enable this convening without it violating emergency limitations on large gatherings, the Mayor of DC—Muriel Bowser—anointed members of Congress as “essential workers,” bringing them into the ranks of grocery store workers and front line health care personnel.  

New to the Capitol were plexiglass shields, boxes of masks and hand sanitizer. COVID-19 testing for all Members was made available by President Trump, but in a rare bipartisan move declined by both House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). They recommended that the tests be prioritized for front line workers.

Will Voucher Initiatives Prevail?

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.

Senate to Reconvene May 4 as House Stays Home—Mostly

Congress has been on recess for a month leaving a scant few Members in town to hold down the fort. This week both the House and Senate announced they would return full force on May 4, but only a day later, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) retracted the announcement for the House saying the Capitol physician advised against it. Members are still regrouping from the whiplash announcement and retraction—assessing the political fallout—but relieved about the health risks had they returned. 

Sen. McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader, has not backed down despite push back from several Senators, and the full Senate is scheduled to be in town May 4. They will likely be in town until May 22, recessing for Memorial Day. Many unanswered questions remain.  Will staff be required to report to work? Will social distancing be enforced? What are the cleaning procedures for office spaces and the Capitol? Will masks and gloves be worn? We shall see.

Beware the Solution That Is Not About the Problem: Reflections on Education and the COVID-19 Shock

Empty classroom

A horizontal image of an empty primary school classroom. The setting is typically British.

In the last few weeks U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has put forward three initiatives intended to privatize the provision of public education. Given her long known and widely declared conviction that vouchers and related schemes to deliver public dollars into private hands are the panacea for all that ails education, this is not surprising. Watching her leap into the breach caused by the COVID-19 emergency is troubling, though not unexpected.

In her book, Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), Naomi Kline describes the phenomenon of a crisis precipitating the redistribution of public dollars into the waiting hands of private players who offer a seemingly undeniable remedy. Years earlier, economist Milton Friedman popularized the notion that only a crisis produces real change, enabling reforms that were not previously thought possible. “When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable,” wrote Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom (1962, ix). Kline’s research led her to coin the term “disaster capitalism,” which she describes as “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities.” (6)

Congress Passed Fourth Pandemic Relief Bill. Will There be a Fifth?

Financial aid concept, Life buoy lifebelt with money bag 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.

This Week in COVID-19 Relief Funding

Today the President will sign the fourth COVID-19 relief bill. Passed by a voice vote in the Senate and a live vote in the House of 388-5, the bill adds $484 billion bill to COVID relief funding. Funds are to be distributed as follows:

  • $321 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (small business fund which ran out of money last week
  • $60 billion in economic disaster loans for small businesses
  • $75 billion for emergency relief for hospitals
  • $25 billion for more coronavirus testing

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