America Forward Weekly Tip Sheet: Policy and Advocacy (4/26)

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 New in Washington

Last week in Washington both the House of Representatives and Senate were in session and voted on a number of bills. Most notably, on Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to address the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States by a vote of 94-1. The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. President Biden has signaled he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk. The legislation would create a new justice department position to more quickly review hate crime reports linked to the coronavirus pandemic and provide support to state and local officials responding to hate crimes.

In the House of Representatives last week, by a vote of 216-208, the House passed a bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C. It now heads to the Senate, where it is not expected to advance with the 60-vote filibuster threshold still intact. The House vote was the second time in history Washington, D.C. was added to the union; the first time was in June of last year.

Also on Thursday, Senate Republicans unveiled a five-year, $568 billion infrastructure plan as an alternative to President Biden’s eight-year, $2 trillion proposal. The GOP plan narrows the definition of infrastructure and includes funding for roads and bridges, public transit, railroads, and drinking and wastewater. The chief sponsor of the GOP bill, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) stated that the plan is a starting point for negotiations on the President’s American Jobs Plan. “We want to have this sooner than later — that’s why I went ahead and insisted that we go ahead and put something out that our members can talk about.”

Also last week, the Biden-Harris Administration continued to roll out guidance and make other announcements as it works on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan. You can read more about these activities and more below.

Statement from New Profit and America Forward on the Chauvin Trial Verdict

New Profit and America Forward released the following statement in response to the Chauvin Trial Verdict last week:

The guilty verdict returned in the case against Derek Chauvin cannot bring George Floyd back to his family or his community, but it represents another small step towards the kind of accountability that’s necessary if our nation is to realize its full promise of equal treatment and opportunity for every person. This is a testament to the many courageous people across the country who are advocating for an end to the disproportionate brutality faced by Black people at the hands of law enforcement, and fighting for further reforms that would make the American legal system more humane and equitable. Today’s decision is an important milestone, but the work continues and we are committed to being active, engaged partners in it for the long term.

The CORPS Act and Advancing National Service in Response to COVID-19

In a new blog post, America Forward’s Advocacy Manager, Melina Kiper, writes about the importance of advancing critical policies that will create a more robust, accessible, and inclusive national service system – including the recently reintroduced CORPS Act: “COVID-19 has exposed – and worsened – deep educational and socioeconomic disparities in many communities, and strained public systems almost to the breaking point, especially in historically under-resourced and underserved communities. Recovery will not be easy – it will require intentional, collective effort; but, at the same time, we must seize this opportunity to build greater equity and resilience into systems for the long term. As the country continues to build back better, national service not only offers a way to support relief and recovery efforts in our communities, but also provides a powerful force to create more accessible, equitable, and sustainable opportunities for students, workers, and seniors. National service at scale can and should be part of the solution.” Read Melina’s full piece here.

Update: Van Hollen, Levin Introduce Bicameral Subsidized Jobs Legislation

Last week, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and U.S. Representative Andy Levin (D-Mich.) introduced the Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act, bicameral legislation to create an “innovative federal program to generate real job opportunities for people who have been unemployed for six months or more, getting them back on their feet and into the workforce.”

America Forward’s Executive Director, Deborah Smolover, was quoted in the release from Senator Van Hollen’s office: “America Forward is proud to support the Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act, which would make critical, targeted investments in proven approaches to reach, engage, and support workers experiencing prolonged unemployment. Directing resources specifically to eliminate barriers and create pathways back into the workforce for people who’ve been unemployed for six months or more is essential to driving an inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a more equitable, sustainable economy in the long term, and moving all of America forward.”

Read the full press release here.

Update: U.S. Education Department Announces State Allocations of $800 Million in American Rescue Plan Funds to Support Students Experiencing Homelessness

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced plans to “distribute $800 million to help support the needs of students experiencing homelessness under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief – Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) fund.”

Additionally, the Department issued a letter to Chief State School Officers “underscoring the urgent need to use this funding to identify homeless children and youth, provide wraparound services in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide assistance to enable homeless children and youth to attend school and participate fully in school activities, including in-person instruction this spring and upcoming summer learning and enrichment programs. The remaining funds will be allocated to states as soon as June.”

Additional information about this funding can be found here.

Update: U.S. Education Department Releases State Plan Template for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released the application that states will need to submit, describing how they will use resources under the ARP ESSER fund in order to “continue to safely reopen schools, sustain their safe operations, and support students—especially those most impacted by the pandemic.” States have already received two-thirds of their ARP ESSER allocation ($81 billion) and will have access to the remaining $41 billion after the Department approves states’ plans.

According to a press release from the Department: “States must submit their ARP ESSER State plans by June 7, 2021. The Department will begin approving applications and disbursing the remaining ARP ESSER funds expeditiously once plans are received and reviewed.” Additional information can be found here.

Update: U.S. Education Department releases interim final requirements for the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER)

On April 22, the Department of Education released interim final requirements for state and local education agencies’ use of ARP ESSER funds. These requirements are intended to ensure “each State educational agency (“SEA”) meaningfully engages in stakeholder consultation and takes public input into account in the development of its ARP ESSER plan; [ensure] that each local educational agency (“LEA”) develops a plan for the use of its ARP ESSER funds and engages in meaningful consultation and seeks public input as it develops the LEA ARP ESSER plan; and [clarifies] how an LEA must meet the statutory requirement to develop a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services.” These interim final requirements are open to public comment through May 24, 2021. The interim final requirements and directions for how to submit comment, can be found here.

Update: USDA Issues Pandemic Flexibilities for Schools and Day Care Facilities through June 2022 to Support Safe Reopening and Healthy, Nutritious Meals

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued “a broad range of flexibilities to allow school meal programs and childcare institutions across the country to return to serving healthy meals in fall 2021 as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to reopen schools safely.”

According to the USDA press release, “Schools nationwide will be allowed to serve meals through USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO), which is typically only available during the summer months. This option maintains the nutrition standards of the standard school meal programs – including a strong emphasis on providing fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, whole grains, and sensible calorie levels, while allowing schools to serve free meals to all children. In addition, schools that choose this option will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will support them in serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges. This option also affords schools the financial flexibility to further customize their meal service design to fit their local needs.”

Additional information about the school meal flexibilities can be found here.

Resource: FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit

The FCC has released a new program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, “to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, and virtual classrooms.”

The Emergency Broadband Benefit will “provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.”

Additional information about the program can be found here.

Resource: EducationSuperHighway & ExcelinEd – Let’s Increase Access to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

ExcelinEd and EducationSuperHighway have partnered to develop “a step-by-step guide for states that highlights how to increase awareness, participation and enrollment of students and their households” in the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Connectivity Program, as the enrollment process opens on April 26. Additional information can be found here.

Resource: FCC’s Speed Test App to Help Improve America’s Internet

The FCC has developed a new speed test app, “an official way to test out the speeds of your mobile and in-home broadband networks.” According to Tech.Co, “All the results will go straight to the FCC, giving them the data they need to build equitable internet policies across the nation.” Additional information about the app and its uses and implications can be found here.

Resource: 2021 Summer Learning & Enrichment: State Guidance for District and School Leaders

The 2021 Summer Learning & Enrichment: State Guidance for District and School Leaders “offers state education agencies (SEA) practical guidance, which they can adapt and share with their local education agencies (LEA) as they plan for summer 2021 learning opportunities to meet the most pressing needs of students and teachers in this uniquely challenging school year. The resources and considerations in this document are based on leading research and evidence-based, best practices for summer learning and closing learning gaps. It also includes guidance on how to use ESSER funding to integrate school and community resources to create innovative summer learning programs.”

Resource: State Plans for Accelerating Student Learning: A Preliminary Analysis April 21, 2021

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors Association (NGA) analyzed “emerging state efforts to accelerate student learning this summer and during the 2021-22 school year,” and recently published this memo, providing an “overview of notable strategies and trends that were identified through this analysis.”

The memo is organized around four key steps:

  1. Getting organized and understanding what needs to happen
  2. Using summer 2021 to accelerate learning
  3. Supporting more students to be successful learners
  4. Tackling other challenges: Future considerations

    The memo also includes “a range of state examples and links to related resources” and can be read here.

Resource: College in High School Alliance Request for Proposals

The College in High School Alliance, in partnership with the National Governors Association (NGA), is releasing a Request for Proposal for “three engagement opportunities for state policymakers to advance their policies for college in high school programs like dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, and early college high school. These opportunities include:

  • Customized State Support: CHSA is looking to partner with five states to provide those states with 12 months of technical assistance to advance policies designed to expand access to low-income and underrepresented students in higher education. Participating states will receive a $25,000 grant. Launching July 2, 2021
  • Peer Learning Network: CHSA will launch a peer learning network for state policymakers interested in college in high school programs to provide an ongoing forum for state policymaker collaboration. Launching July 2, 2021

Both the Customized State Support and the Peer Learning Network projects will launch with a:

  • National Virtual Convening: To launch both of these engagements, CHSA is partnering with the National Governors Association to host a virtual cross-state workshop focused on the role of college in high school programs as part of the recovery agenda from COVID-19. June 29 – July 1, 2021 (2:00 PM – 4:30 PM ET)

    Additional information about these projects can be found here.

From the America Forward Coalition

Social Finance Memo: American Rescue Plan: How Outcomes-Based Practices Can Maximize Community Impact

Last week, our Coalition member Social Finance released a new memo: “American Rescue Plan (ARP): How Outcomes-Based Practices Can Maximize Community Impact.” The memo lifts up three specific strategies governments can use to maximize the impact of their ARP funds: develop outcomes scorecards, implement Active Performance Management (APM) strategies, and create Pay it Forward Funds (PIFFs). The memo also references sections of the ARP that are well positioned to incorporate outcomes-based strategies. Social Finance is socializing this memo with key contacts; we would encourage our PFS & Evidence Task Force and Coalition to review it as well.

Opinion: Want to Make Education More Innovative? Let’s Invest in R&D

Transcend’s Sujata Bhatt and Jeff Wetzler urge schools and systems to invest a small portion of relief funds in community-based innovation, in this piece from EdSurge: “What if we…were to commit to spending even just 2.8 percent of our ESSER funding to catalyze deep, broad, local, community-based innovation? What if we used this tiny percentage of our massive federal windfall to reinvent our education system by building strong local conditions, particularly the capacity of each and every school to apply evidence-based approaches to reinventing teaching and learning?

With this small investment, we could leapfrog our nation’s PK-12 system from our current inequitable industrial era learning model to equitable, 21st century learning—and thereby create an education sector that is prepared to be flexible, agile, and resilient when the next crisis comes along. It starts with a small step: take evidence-based methods and models that we know work now, and seed and sustain them in local contexts so they can take root, grow, and spread.” Read their full piece here.

Opinion: Rethinking what’s normal in meeting this moment in K-12 education

Aurora Institute’s Susan Patrick writes about the importance of personalized learning as we rebuild from the pandemic, in this piece from Richmond Times-Dispatch: “The time is ripe to reimagine education as a lifelong learning ecosystem, one that would place every learner on a personalized path to graduation and guarantee access to a meaningful, chosen career that will build social and economic capital over the course of their lives. This is the true purpose — and promise — of public education. Today’s one-size-fits-all K-12 system, however, was not built for this. It was designed with efficiency for the adults in the system in mind rather than the children, and it’s not the right tool for the task of supporting learners to succeed in a modern world. We can fix this.” Read Susan’s full piece here.

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