America Forward Weekly Tip Sheet: Policy and Advocacy (1/25)

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.

Last Week in Washington

Last week, President Joe Biden acknowledged that the Build Back Better reconciliation bill will have to be substantially slimmed down in order to receive enough support to pass the Senate. He specifically named removing the Child Tax Credit and Community College Affordability provisions, but has signaled that he will push to try again on these proposals and others that get removed from the bill. The administration is now working on a $1trillion bill that could garner support from all Democrats in the Senate.

Voting Rights legislation took up a lot of attention in the Senate last week, with Democrats attempting to pass a bill that would among other things make Election Day a federal holiday and restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act that courts have shaved off over the years. The bill needed sixty votes to move forward; however, Senate Republicans blocked the motion to end debate on the bill by a vote of 49-51.

The current Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government expires on February 18th. Congressional appropriations leaders continue to eye options to fund the government. Leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee signaled that there has been progress; and Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that he would like to have an omnibus funding bill completed after the House and Senate return from recess on January 31st.

Update: Biden-Harris Administration Takes Actions to Support Students’ Basic Needs and Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 at Colleges and Universities

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced more resources for students and institutions to help reduce barriers to success in higher education, particularly those created and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcements include: an additional $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds that will primarily support community colleges and other institutions with the greatest needs; new guidance on how colleges can use these new and existing federal funds to meet students’ basic needs such as housing and food security; and guidance on how colleges can use existing data to connect students to other federal benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Affordable Connectivity Program (broadband access) administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

Resource: Fact Sheet on the Biden-Harris Administration’s Department of Education 2021 Successes

The U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet last week detailing the successes that the Department had in 2021. The successes they identify include reopening 95% of public schools for in-person learning, $122 billion investment in American Rescue Plan for K-12 school reopening and safety precautions, $40 billion investment in higher education from the American Rescue Plan, the release of the Return to School Roadmap, discharging $15 billion in federal student loans, and many others. Find the full fact sheet here.

Update: The Biden Administration is Increasing Access to 10 Million More COVID Tests Per Month for Schools

The Biden Administration is doubling down on its commitment to keeping all schools safely open for full-time, in-person learning by taking new actions to increase access to COVID-19 testing in schools. Through new initiatives, it will increase the number of tests available to schools by 10 million per month — more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the country in November 2021. These additional tests will help schools implement screening testing and test-to-stay practices.

Update: Supporting Afghan Refugee Students

A new Dear Colleague Letter from the Department of Education Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten to Chief State School Officers details information about federal funds and resources available to support Afghan children and their families who have recently arrived or may be arriving soon to states and districts throughout the nation. As part of Operation Allies Welcome, a unified approach led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate the federal government’s efforts for vulnerable Afghans, the Department of Education recognizes the immediate and urgent need to provide high-quality, culturally responsive education to Afghan newcomers — inclusive of primary, secondary, and English language learning, as well as social-emotional learning.

Update: U.S. Department of Education Announces Distribution of All American Rescue Plan ESSER Funds and Approval of All 52 State Education Agency Plans

On January 18, the U.S. Department of Education announced the approval of every State Education Agency (SEA) American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan. As a result, the Department distributed all $122 billion of ARP ESSER funds to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. They also shared fact sheets for each state’s ARP ESSER plan, outlining how SEAs will use their funding and links to districts’ plans.

America Forward encourages those who are interested in procuring these dollars to support your work to review the approved plans and leverage your relationships with SEAs and Local Education Agencies to ensure you are ready and able to utilize funding once it is administered to states and districts. As part of America Forward’s support for its Coalition members, we offer trainings and tips for how to do this. Reach out to to learn more about membership in the America Forward Coalition.

Opportunity@Work Report Featured in New York Times

Coalition member Opportunity@Work published a groundbreaking new report, highlighted in The New York Times, on the stark opportunity gap in the labor market for workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) rather than bachelor’s degrees. The report estimates that STARs have been displaced by about 7.4 million middle and high-wage jobs over the past twenty years. Changing hiring practices in 30 key occupations, however, could reverse this trend.

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