AF Weekly Tip Sheet: Policy and Advocacy (9/9)

Below is the latest America Forward “Tip Sheet,” a weekly update on Federal activity related to education, workforce development, and other priorities of the America Forward Coalition.


What’s Next in Washington

Last week in Washington, congressional leaders and the White House agreed to move forward with a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2021. The CR will need to be voted on and approved before the beginning of the next fiscal year which starts October 1st. The negotiators did not announce how long the CR will last, but it could last past the November election or even extend into 2021.

No agreement has been reached on another COVID-19 related relief measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate will vote on a pared-down COVID relief bill this week. The Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act package provides approximately $500 billion in funding, including $105 billion for education, $10 billion for the US Postal Service, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, and provide an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits; however, the funding is well below the $3 trillion in the House-passed HEROES’ bill and does not include some of the Democrats top priorities including relief for state and local governments. With Congress expected to wrap-up any legislative work prior to the November election by the end of this month, final action on a COVID relief bill remains uncertain.


Update: School Reopening Guidance from the White House

Early last week, President Donald Trump released a memo outlining his policies for re-opening schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on data underlying the policies, general recommendations for all schools, and guidance on how to protect high-risk teachers and high-risk students. You can read the full memo here.

Additional school re-opening guidance can be found in the CDC’s Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School (updated August 26, 2020), Operational Considerations for Schools (updated August 31, 2020), and Considerations for Operating Schools during COVID-19 (updated September 1, 2020).


Update: USDA to Extend School meal Program

On August 26, “House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the Department to reverse its decision to not extend school meal flexibilities through the entire 2020-2021 school year,” per an update from Education Counsel.

After facing bipartisan pressure from congressional leaders, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would extend the school meal program that has allowed millions of children to access free meals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, despite school closures.

A Washington Post article explains, “The program allows families to pick up free food from any convenient school campus, regardless of whether their child is enrolled there and even if they do not qualify for free and ­reduced-price meals. It’s a form of meal delivery typically offered only during the summer months. But due to the pandemic, the Agriculture Department — which oversees the nation’s school lunch program — launched the program ahead of schedule in March and has kept it running ever since.”


Update: Department Extends Student Loan Relief Until 2021

In August, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos directed the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office to extend student loan relief to borrowers through December 31, 2020. Borrowers with federally held student loans will have their payments automatically suspended until 2021 without penalty. In addition, the interest rate on all federally held student loans will be set to 0% through the end of the calendar year. Borrowers will continue to have the option to make payments if they so choose. Doing so will allow borrowers to pay off their loans more quickly and at a lower cost.

This action extends the actions taken by Secretary DeVos at the start of the national emergency and maintained under law by the CARES Act, which allow borrowers to temporarily defer their payments without accruing interest. FSA is working in partnership with its student loan servicers to notify borrowers of this extension of loan relief measures.


Update: Guidance on Summative Testing for 2020-21 School Year

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos informed states that they should not count on getting the same waivers from federal testing mandates for this school year that they got last spring as the pandemic shut down schools. In a letter to chief state school officers, DeVos said that these annual, summative assessments in English/language arts, math, and science are “at the very core” of the bipartisan agreement behind the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 education law. And at a time when vulnerable students have been hurt the most by the pandemic, such tests are “among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school.”

You can read the full text of Secretary DeVos’ letter to chief state school officers here.


Resource: Secretary DeVos Launches Grant Program to Promote Institutional Resiliency and Expand Educational Opportunity for Students

Secretary Betsy DeVos announced a new grant program, the Institutional Resilience and Expanded Postsecondary Opportunity (IREPO) program, designed to help institutions of higher education emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic more resilient and better able to expand educational opportunities for students.

These grants can be utilized in a variety of ways, including resuming operations, supporting students, reducing disease transmission, and developing more agile instructional delivery models for students who cannot or choose not to attend classes in person. This program also recognizes the benefits to high school students of starting their college career early – while still in high school – and gives priority to applicants who plan to expand those opportunities to students who live or attend high school in an Opportunity Zone or rural community. You can find more information on the grant program here.


Resource: New Guide from Results for America

America Forward’s partner Results for America recently released “The Power of Evidence and Data to Advance an Equitable Economic Recovery: An Implementation Guide for the 2020 OMB Transition Team.” This memo outlines how the White House Office of Management and Budget can use evidence and data to advance economic mobility at the pace and scale our country needs through a 2021 recovery package and beyond.

The memo describes evidence-based policymaking in the current federal landscape, proposes ideas for how OMB might prioritize evidence and data within a transformative economic recovery package in early 2021, and outlines how OMB can promote innovation, continuous improvement, and replication of proven solutions through strategic evidence-building plans. The memo is closely aligned with many of America Forward’s top priorities for evidence-building, evidence-scaling and data-driven government.


Resource: Advocating for America Forward’s Key Priorities

Last week, we shared with you a Call to Action, identifying opportunities to engage with your Members of Congress and their staff while they continue to debate and pass important legislation, including bills intended to aid in the recovery from COVID-19, as well as federal appropriations.

While the normal cadence of congressional activity – like so many other things – has been profoundly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains important that elected representatives hear from you. In many communities, the town halls, constituent meetings, and community events that would normally define congressional recesses have been replaced with Zoom meetings, conference calls, and socially distant gatherings.

Despite many of the interactions with lawmakers and staff, that would normally happen in person, moving online, there are still a number of ways that leaders and organizations can engage effectively and advocate for timely and relevant policies, including:

  • Participating in virtual advocacy efforts (including virtual “Hill Days,” briefings, and other opportunities);
  • Attending community events (like virtual town halls and community forums);
  • Setting up one-on-one meetings with legislators and/or staff via video conference or over the phone;
  • Regularly sharing important research, updates, success stories, and other resources with policymakers; and
  • Sending letters/emails or making phone calls to lawmakers to advocate for specific policies;

You can read more about how to engage and also ways the America Forward team is engaging in these important issues here.


From the America Forward Coalition

Opinion: Racial justice requires that we reimagine citizenship

Carla Javits, President and CEO of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), explores racial equity and reimagined citizenship in this piece from the East Bay Times: “Perhaps with our renewed citizenship we would seize our rights by behaving as though we are each entitled to dignity and equitable treatment by our neighbors, our community, our government. Perhaps we would embrace our duty by undertaking service to others. It is time for us to take responsibility and drive change. We must have more courage to speak up and more humility to listen.” Read Carla’s full piece here.

Opinion: We’ve asked kids to show up — Congress must do the same

Lorén Cox, PhD, senior director of policy, advocacy and community engagement at the KIPP Foundation, writes about the deep need for federal education funding and support, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, in this piece from The Hill: “Congress is asking more of our children – to show up and save our economy – than they are willing to give of themselves. As students return to school, Congress has gone on recess, ignoring calls to fund the needs of schools across the country. And while the House has come back amid outcries about the U.S. Postal Service, I question why they didn’t feel that same obligation to the more than 56 million public school students and 3 million teachers across the country. We’ve already seen K-12 schools and higher education institutions being forced to shut down within days or weeks of reopening because of COVID-19 outbreaks. We’ve heard from parents and teachers that they are not comfortable having children return to in-person classes. And we’ve heard directly from students about their fears of attending school this year. And yet all of those cries were not loud enough to keep Congress in session to pass the next stimulus bill, including critical funding for education to help make in-person schooling safer and virtual schooling better.” Read Lorén’s full piece here.

Opinion: Camera ON or Camera OFF? It’s a Complicated Question

Dr. Beth Holland, who leads Research & Measurement as a Partner at The Learning Accelerator, addresses considerations around whether or not students should use video during virtual classes, as schools across the country return to remote learning, in this piece from Getting Smart: “When classes pivoted online last spring, video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, GoogleMeet, and Microsoft Teams filled the physical void. In this new virtual environment, video cameras became the primary gateway for educators to see their students. As the new school year starts across the country, email lists, social media, and even newspapers have featured conversations and questions around the use of cameras during video conferences: What if students do not turn on their cameras? Should there be a policy requiring their use or is it better to give students the option? What about privacy and equity?” Read Beth’s full piece here.

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