Legislative Update: ED Releases Actions to Advance Equity and COVID-19 Handbook Volume 3


Legislative Update: ED Releases Actions to Advance Equity and COVID-19 Handbook Volume 3

This week the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced new actions that will be taken to advance equity in education. Read below to learn more about the initiative, including an Equity Summit Series launching on June 22nd, as well as the third COVID-19 (coronavirus) handbook from ED and a status update on the expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to short-term programs. 
ED Announces Actions to Advance Equity in Education 
On Thursday ED announced new actions that will be taken to advance equity in education to ensure each learner is served. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the following regarding this announcement: “This is our moment as educators and as leaders to transform our education systems so they are truly serving all of our nation’s students. While COVID-19 has worsened many inequities in our schools and communities, we know that even before the pandemic, a high-quality education was out of reach for too many of our nation’s students and families. Our mission at the Department is to safely reopen schools for in-person learning, dramatically increase investments in communities that for too long have been furthest from opportunity, and reimagine our schools so that all students have their needs met. We must take bold action together to ensure our nation’s schools are defined not by disparities, but by equity and opportunity for all.”
Below are the actions that are part of this initiative.

  • The Department will launch an Equity Summit Series starting on June 22nd.
    The Educational Equity Summit Series will launch virtually on June 22nd with a focus on how schools and campuses can make positive changes as they continue to reopen for in-person instruction, instead of returning to the status quo. The first session of the series will explore how schools and communities can reimagine school systems so that each learner has a voice- particularly those from underserved communities, including communities of color, students with disabilities and multilingual students. The session will also include discussions on how each learner can access a high-quality education that is responsive to their needs, and how schools can be responsive and inclusive of all learning environments. 
  • The Department released a new report highlighting the disparate impacts the coronavirus has had on underserved communities.
    ED’s Office of Civil Rights released a new report that highlights how the pandemic threatens to deepen the divides in educational opportunities across the country if the impacts are not fully addressed. It discusses how learners who already had the fewest educational opportunities, and are often from marginalized and underserved communities, are disproportionately affected. The report shows how the coronavirus furthered disparities in access and opportunities facing learners of color, multilingual learners, learners with disabilities and LBGTQ+ learners- at the K-12 and postsecondary levels. There is also data showing an increased risk of harassment, discrimination and harm for Asian American and Pacific Islander learners. 
  • The Department released new guidance to support states as they invest American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds in communities and schools with the least access to educational opportunity.
    ED released its Maintenance of Equity guidance regarding a provision of the ARP. These requirements will ensure that districts and schools that serve a large number of students from low-income families will not experience disproportionate budget cuts, and that districts with the highest poverty levels do not receive any decrease in state per-pupil funding below the pre-pandemic level. These schools will also be protected from disproportionate cuts to staffing. This follows last month’s guidance on how states and districts can use ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to advance educational equity in pandemic response.  
  • President Biden’s budget proposes historic investments in Title I to address entrenched disparities in the education systems.
    The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget proposes $36.5 billion in formula grants for Title I schools, which is a $20 billion increase from the 2021 enacted level. The point of this investment is to enable states and communities to reinvest in historically under-resourced schools and reimagine their education systems so all students can access high-quality education and have the support they need to succeed. 

ED Releases COVID-19 Handbook Volume 3
ED announced the release of the COVID-19 Handbook Volume 3: Strategies for Safe Operation and Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education Students, Faculty and Staff. This handbook provides additional strategies for institutions of higher education (IHEs) and communities to equitably reopen for in-person instruction. It also provides strategies on how postsecondary institutions can use funds from the ARP and previous relief bills to meet the needs of each learner, increase vaccination rates on campus, address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, etc. 
This third volume addresses some priority areas for the postsecondary level, with an emphasis on response and recovery that will position IHEs  and students to be stronger than before the pandemic. This includes: 

  • Providing practices to aid IHEs in implementing CDC guidance, such as ways to offer and promote the coronavirus vaccine, and mitigation strategies to pursue for campuses where everyone is fully vaccinated, as well as campuses where not everyone is fully vaccinated. The Handbook also identifies common prevention strategies and provides examples of actions IHEs can take with Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) grant funding from the three relief bills to pursue these efforts;
  • Describing the ways in which IHEs have responded to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic—particularly challenges faced by underserved student populations—by supporting students’ transition to online learning and addressing basic needs such as broadband access, financial assistance, housing and childcare;
  • Noting ways in which IHEs have already been and can continue to be sources of support to their communities’ ongoing response and recovery from the pandemic— including in vaccination efforts; and
  • Providing a catalog of the resources and administrative flexibilities offered to IHEs as they address rapidly changing conditions and needs on the ground, including resources that support both learners and IHEs under the ARP.

This handbook includes feedback from IHEs and over 40 organizations representing stakeholders and institutions across 15 listening sessions. 
Senate Passes China Competitiveness Bill Without Short-Term Pell Provision
Written by Michael Matthews, Government Relations Manager, Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). Full post can be found here
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a sweeping proposal that would provide more than $200 billion to aid American manufacturing, technology, research and development, in an effort to quell China’s growing economic influence worldwide. Last week an amendment introduced by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) that would expand Pell Grants to short-term Career Technical Education (CTE) programs was accepted into a larger package of amendments that was closely negotiated between party leadership. The goal was to have them included into the larger manager’s amendment offered by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), by making a simple unanimous consent (UC) procedural request, then passing everything in the final bill. Unfortunately, the package that included the short-term Pell amendment was defeated when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the UC request offered by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the bill moved on to final passage without the amendment package.
Although the short-term Pell amendment was not ultimately included, there was another provision that was included in the bill related to dual enrollment. The provision would create a new grant program that would provide states with grants to expand Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) pathways for high school students into postsecondary education through expanding advanced coursework like dual enrollment and early college. The program is a rewrite of the state grant component of the Fast Track to and Through College Act introduced by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Todd Young (R-IN). The original bill has been changed by focusing the funding on expanding STEM pathways and removing the provisions around expanding Pell eligibility for high school students taking dual enrollment. ACTE and Advance CTE endorsed this bill when it was originally introduced. 
The House is expected to take up the proposal in late June or July and it is likely to be split into smaller pieces rather than as one package. Past that, it is unclear whether House leadership will write their own version of the legislation or take the more traditional route of trying to negotiate the differences between the chambers through a conference committee. As for the short-term Pell amendment, there is no indication as of now if the House plans on trying to include it in their version of the legislation, or if the Senate tries to revive it in conference or pursue another vehicle. ACTE and Advance CTE support the expansion of Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality short term programs.
Meredith Hills, Senior Associate for Federal Policy