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EDUCATION POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Education Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with school choice, student loans, curriculum reform efforts, teacher unions, students with disabilities, affirmative action, minority students, vocational training and higher education. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Department of Education and state legislatures.

Latest Education Posts

 

Bill S.4112

Brief #44—Education
By Amy Swain
The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities.

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Trump Urges Schools to Reopen Amidst Pandemic

Brief #43—Education
By Amy Swain
Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers.

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Coronavirus Hits Higher Education

Brief #40—Education
By Ivan A Moore
As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, universities have experienced unprecedented disruptions. Over the past few weeks, they’ve emptied classrooms and dorms, with most opting to finish the semester online. A few have cancelled courses altogether. Though extreme, these measures will protect students and staff from the rapid spread that would occur via stadium-like lecture halls, busy cafeterias, and crowded dorms. It was the only safe option, but the fallout will reverberate through America’s higher education system for years to come.

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Education in the Time of Covid—Part 1

Education in the Time of Covid—Part 1

By Emily Carty 

August 19, 2020

Update on School Reopenings:

With the school year already underway in parts of the country, we are seeing a range of responses to school reopening and instructional plans. The CDC suggests community and school reopening with social distancing when there is a 14-day downward trajectory of new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, and when the percentage of positive Covid-19 tests is less than 20% and steadily decreasing. They also advise each school to have a detailed reopening and Covid-19 mitigation plan under supervision of the local public health department.

With the CDC essentially taking a back seat at enforcing these suggestions, states, local educational agencies and public health departments are in charge of creating school reopening guidelines or mandates based on the state or region’s Covid-19 cases and capacity to treat more patients. We are seeing that the majority of states allow the region (county, school district, etc.) to decide on a reopening plan based on state guidelines and local health regulations. This has resulted in many districts beginning the school year with either complete remote-learning or staggered, smaller classes at least part-time. A few states — Texas, Iowa, Missouri, and Florida — have taken it to the other extreme, with state-wide mandates for in-person instruction part- or full-time for all students.

Across the nation very different back-to-school plans are unfolding, despite each decision making body having to weigh the same aspects of reopening: funds, access to technology, benefits of school meals, parents who can’t stay at home for remote learning, or parents who don’t want their kids exposed to Covid. While some suburban, small, or low Covid-rate districts are reopening, it is notable that according to Education Week, “17 of the 20 largest school districts are choosing remote learning only as their back-to-school instructional model, affecting over 4 million students.” New York City, the nation’s largest school district and earliest Covid hotspot, will not allow school reopening until the percentage of “positive tests…is less than 3% using a 7-day rolling average.” The California Department of Public Health on the other hand, allows schools to reopen when their “local health jurisdiction has not been on the county monitoring list for 14 days,” which requires decreasing positive tests and hospitalizations. Responding to educators’ request for concrete metrics, Kansas has declared schools can reopen full-time with distancing when positive tests in a 14-day period are less than 5% and when a given school has less than 3% absenteeism. In Georgia, many schools opted to reopen for in-person instruction, as distanced as possible, which backfired  on the second day of school when students and staff of a suburban school district tested positive and schools were forced to close again.

IS the country doing the right thing?

School reopening comes with a challenging set of decisions, especially with funding still up in the air for many school districts, hindering development of remote-learning or alternatives to in-person and full-sized classes. Lawmakers and national leaders have yet to agree on an updated stimulus package for schools, providing minimal support to educational leaders who are uncertain how far their budget will stretch in a pandemic. Nevertheless, school leaders are making decisions on many levels, and we  are seeing this play out differently in districts and schools across the country, none of which have had enough time or resources to completely perfect this unprecedented new era of learning. A report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that across 477 school districts the majority, especially in rural areas, are setting low expectations for teachers to instruct remotely or monitor student engagement and progress — all of which are needed more than ever to ensure students don’t fall behind.

The first week of school provided a few indications of how successful reopening has been: “sick outs” by two Arizona School districts; several schools in Indiana and Georgia closing just hours or days after reopening; clusters of K-12 and university students with positive Covid tests across the nation; and waves of teacher resignations over reopening policies. Clearly this is not the outcome of a thoughtful or successful reopening, these snapshots are telling that something isn’t working right. Moreover, the  the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teacher union, has recently voiced support of all teachers who want to strike in the wake of hasty reopening plans, anticipating a failure of reopening efforts.

Students are also experiencing the failures of reopening plans first-hand, either by being exposed to the virus or by lack of access to realistic remote-learning plans. The New York Times profiled several students during the first week of school — some were scared to go in-person, some were hit with the new distanced reality once they got to school, some reverted to distance learning, some tested positive for Covid. One mom, also a teacher, was skeptical about kids’ ability to contract Covid until her own daughter tested positive at school, prompting her to take her daughter out of school and re-consider the risks.

Several polls concerning parent feelings about school reopening plans show that the majority of parents surveyed have primarily negative feelings about reopening, and prefer to delay an in-person reopening, despite concerns regarding loss of income and remote-learning oversight. While there are mixed-feelings about the potential pathways of a successful school reopening, what is clear is flexibility and accommodation are key factors to the comfort level of families and school staff. In places that have gone remote, like North Carolina, Tucson, and Oakland, the process has been met with technical difficulties, lack of access to technology, and waning attention spans in Zoom classes without a parent present — something that many parents and schools are struggling to solve. Learning “pods” might be a step in the right direction for those who can afford it, but it puts families at risk of Covid and doesn’t help lower-income families. Forced school reopenings by states or districts hasn’t fared any better, reinforcing what many experts and professionals have argued all along: a hasty reopening is safe for no one and leads to increased Covid cases, more research and resources are needed to reopen schools safely and effectively.

There is certainly no right answer to school reopening plans that will accommodate every stakeholder. The schools that have chosen to reopen in-person while community Covid cases are still high are putting lives at risk and causing harm to communities. The local educational agencies and nonprofits using their resources to develop creative solutions to distanced or remote learning and delaying in-person learning for the majority of students are looking to be the safest path for most. Based on feedback and actions from teachers, administrators, students, and families, the right thing to do is to be careful, take the time to develop a reopening plan with local public health agencies, and ensure that schools and families have the necessary funds and supplies to support new safety measures or new day-time care centers for working parents. As the future is uncertain, flexibility, innovation, science, and alternative approaches to normal classroom learning are the key until we can get our students safely back in the classroom.

RESISTANCE RESOURCES:

Resources for Remote Learning — The Emerson Collective has compiled an excellent, in-depth list of vetted resources for remote learning for students, families, educators, and administrators. From interactive sites, to videos, to toolkits, share with someone in-need or get to know what resources are out there to support you and your community.

Donors Choose — A platform that allows teachers and schools to request money or supplies for specific school-related purposes. Find a local class or project that you want to support, or filter “distance learning” to support students and teachers in navigating new systems of learning.

American Federation of Teachers — Support teachers and students by advocating for policies that will address funding, food security, technology access and more. Their site connects you with a fill-in template that sends emails to your local congress members.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance — A unified voice that supports policy, research, and collaboration to solve the digital divide in schools and beyond. Get involved with them or a local agency listed on their site to help donate, volunteer, or reach out to local government to demand support for internet access and technology for all students.

First Book — Provide in-need students and schools with books through donations and fundraisers for specific funds meant to reach those who need books most.

SOURCES:

The Coronavirus Child Care And Education Relief Act

The Coronavirus Child Care And Education Relief Act

By Emily Carty

August 13, 2020

The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities. The bill, a product of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), clarifies and adds to the CARES Act which was enacted in late March. Though the bill was introduced just over a month ago it remains a proposal and lawmakers have yet to finalize a package for schools, despite the nearing start date.

The bill sets aside $345 billion for education in general, with a little over half going to K-12 schools. Specifically, the bill aims to: direct money to education agencies with more students from low-income families; set aside money for migrant and homeless children and English language learners; increase “liquidity and cash flow” to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) so they can tap into their assets. CCCERA goes further to protect educators, students, and school communities from state budget cuts by requiring that states receiving federal funds maintain or increase state education spending for three years. The bill contains several other points, but generally aims to enact a robust and equitable funding plan meant to tackle the gap in education and technology access for our most vulnerable students and families.

In addition to a greater sum of aid and more thoughtful allocation, the bill condemns Education Secretary DeVos’ implementation efforts to limit aid eligibility for Dreamers and undocumented students and repeals the Secretary’s discretionary spending fund, a percentage of aid to be spent at her discretion under laws written into the CARES Act. In May DeVos distributed over $350 million from the fund to small, private, primarily religious universities whose typically smaller and wealthier student bodies would receive more money per student than universities with more low-income students. She also distributed $180 million in grants for states, with the “absolute priority 1” being the creation of “microgrants” which could pay for technology and services to support remote learning —  but could also be used for private school tuition. Both of these inequitable allocations are remedied in CCCERA which solidifies how money can be spent across the public and private sector and provides an updated formula that places more weight on the headcount of low-income students in a given school. 

Policy Analysis:

As the nation is gearing up for the school year lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on a stimulus package that will not only help the economy, which seems to be their main priority, but also address the inequities in education that have been exasperated by the current public health crisis. Not all families will be able to support remote learning at home or have access to or money for technology required for effective remote learning, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have been going back and forth for months on an all-inclusive proposal while our youth and school communities have been waiting for answers.

CCCERA policies, supported by advocacy groups, educational agencies, professional organizations, and families, provide much needed funding and spending clarifications which address the multiple levels of inequities in our education system. This bill shows that legislators are hearing what the people have been demanding and continue to demand — an educational system that is built to help everyone succeed. The bill also recognizes the people’s calls for transparency and accountability in government, as it seeks to remedy DeVos’ violation of “Congressional intent” when implementing the CARES Act. Instead of “equitable services” for private schools, she gave large grants to private institutions and required that a greater percentage of federal aid goes to private schools than what is normal under the law by counting all students instead of just low-income students — this was not what was intended by the law as equitable and is an abuse of power. Only by bringing accountability and transparency to the forefront and closing these loopholes can lawmakers prevent further misuse of funds and ensure that students’ rights to quality and accessible education are not trampled on.

S.4112 goes above and beyond the stimulus proposals currently being debated. However its passage is by no means assured. For S.4112 to become a law lawmakers from both parties must treat education, especially public education, as a nonpartisan priority. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for additional review, but even if it is forwarded to the Republican Majority Senate for a vote, chances of it moving on to the House are slim. Nor is it likely to be signed by the President — who before COVID was planning on cutting the education budget by about 8% for the next fiscal year. Since the stimulus package as an all-in-one deal is taking the stage, schools and students must patiently wait in hopes that democrats will negotiate for more and equitable funding for schools.

Resistance Resources:

NASSP — The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an action page with education justice issues and a convenient fill-in template that sends emails to your local elected representatives. It also has tools that help you register to vote, find relevant elected officials, and prepare you to vote on relevant educational policies.

NEA EdJustice — The National Education Association’s EdJustice site provides information and resources for addressing injustices in education, including relevant petitions, pledges, and events. Join their “League” to connect with other advocates and organize in your community.

Educators for Excellence — Educators for Excellence connects Educators and school communities with tools to advocate for progressive policies that will help under-resourced schools and students have better access to and quality of education. They have templates, contact info, and links to help you reach out to the appropriate governing bodies and demand justice.

Healthy Schools — Healthy Schools is a 501(c)3 that partners with the CDC and EPA to provide expert advice and action plans to school leaders and governments in order to create healthy and safe schools. They’ve created an extensive plan and action tool-kit to address the pandemic, check out their resources for organizing and assisting in its implementation in your local schools.

Sources:

Bill S.4112

Bill S.4112

The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities. The bill, a product of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), clarifies and adds to the CARES Act which was enacted in late March. Though the bill was introduced just over a month ago it remains a proposal and lawmakers have yet to finalize a package for schools, despite the nearing start date.

The bill sets aside $345 billion for education in general, with a little over half going to K-12 schools. Specifically, the bill aims to: direct money to education agencies with more students from low-income families; set aside money for migrant and homeless children and English language learners; increase “liquidity and cash flow” to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) so they can tap into their assets. CCCERA goes further to protect educators, students, and school communities from state budget cuts by requiring that states receiving federal funds maintain or increase state education spending for three years. The bill contains several other points, but generally aims to enact a robust and equitable funding plan meant to tackle the gap in education and technology access for our most vulnerable students and families.

In addition to a greater sum of aid and more thoughtful allocation, the bill condemns Education Secretary DeVos’ implementation efforts to limit aid eligibility for Dreamers and undocumented students and repeals the Secretary’s discretionary spending fund, a percentage of aid to be spent at her discretion under laws written into the CARES Act. In May DeVos distributed over $350 million from the fund to small, private, primarily religious universities whose typically smaller and wealthier student bodies would receive more money per student than universities with more low-income students. She also distributed $180 million in grants for states, with the “absolute priority 1” being the creation of “microgrants” which could pay for technology and services to support remote learning —  but could also be used for private school tuition. Both of these inequitable allocations are remedied in CCCERA which solidifies how money can be spent across the public and private sector and provides an updated formula that places more weight on the headcount of low-income students in a given school.

Policy Analysis:

As the nation is gearing up for the school year lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on a stimulus package that will not only help the economy, which seems to be their main priority, but also address the inequities in education that have been exasperated by the current public health crisis. Not all families will be able to support remote learning at home or have access to or money for technology required for effective remote learning, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have been going back and forth for months on an all-inclusive proposal while our youth and school communities have been waiting for answers.

CCCERA policies, supported by advocacy groups, educational agencies, professional organizations, and families, provide much needed funding and spending clarifications which address the multiple levels of inequities in our education system. This bill shows that legislators are hearing what the people have been demanding and continue to demand — an educational system that is built to help everyone succeed. The bill also recognizes the people’s calls for transparency and accountability in government, as it seeks to remedy DeVos’ violation of “Congressional intent” when implementing the CARES Act. Instead of “equitable services” for private schools, she gave large grants to private institutions and required that a greater percentage of federal aid goes to private schools than what is normal under the law by counting all students instead of just low-income students — this was not what was intended by the law as equitable and is an abuse of power. Only by bringing accountability and transparency to the forefront and closing these loopholes can lawmakers prevent further misuse of funds and ensure that students’ rights to quality and accessible education are not trampled on.

S.4112 goes above and beyond the stimulus proposals currently being debated. However its passage is by no means assured. For S.4112 to become a law lawmakers from both parties must treat education, especially public education, as a nonpartisan priority. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for additional review, but even if it is forwarded to the Republican Majority Senate for a vote, chances of it moving on to the House are slim. Nor is it likely to be signed by the President — who before COVID was planning on cutting the education budget by about 8% for the next fiscal year. Since the stimulus package as an all-in-one deal is taking the stage, schools and students must patiently wait in hopes that democrats will negotiate for more and equitable funding for schools. 

Resistance Resources: 

NASSP — The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an action page with education justice issues and a convenient fill-in template that sends emails to your local elected representatives. It also has tools that help you register to vote, find relevant elected officials, and prepare you to vote on relevant educational policies.

NEA EdJustice — The National Education Association’s EdJustice site provides information and resources for addressing injustices in education, including relevant petitions, pledges, and events. Join their “League” to connect with other advocates and organize in your community.

Educators for Excellence — Educators for Excellence connects Educators and school communities with tools to advocate for progressive policies that will help under-resourced schools and students have better access to and quality of education. They have templates, contact info, and links to help you reach out to the appropriate governing bodies and demand justice.

Healthy Schools — Healthy Schools is a 501(c)3 that partners with the CDC and EPA to provide expert advice and action plans to school leaders and governments in order to create healthy and safe schools. They’ve created an extensive plan and action tool-kit to address the pandemic, check out their resources for organizing and assisting in its implementation in your local schools.

Sources:

Trump Urges Schools to Reopen Amidst Pandemic

Trump Urges Schools to Reopen Amidst Pandemic

Summary

Despite warnings from top health officials, and a steady increase of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Trump is determined to send students back to school on a normal timeline. There have more than 135,000 COVID related deaths reported at this point, with a constant increase in numbers. The reopening Trump is pushing for would send students and teachers back to classrooms as early as next month. There has been talk of a resurgence of the virus in the fall and winter months since the pandemic began. The numbers have risen so steadily due to quick state re-openings that it may no longer qualify as a resurgence, but now simply as an increase.

A sixty-nine page file created by the Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, marked “For Internal Use Only” was obtained by the New York Times and circulated this week. It was meant to be used by the White House corona virus task force while visiting areas highly impacted by the virus. While most of the file was made up of documents already made public and posted to the CDC’s website, there were some new details that seemingly got the president’s attention. Specifically, it stated that a full reopen of schools put the country on the “highest risk” option.

Analysis

Seemingly in reaction to the documents, Trump began firing off Tweets in favor of school reopenings: “Now that we have witnessed it on a large scale basis, and firsthand, virtual learning has proven to be TERRIBLE compared to In School, or On Campus, Learning. Not even close! Schools must be open in the Fall.” He then took his tweets a step further, with a bizarre claim that those opposing school openings are doing so for political reasons, and that there may be financial consequences: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” He insisted that he would put pressure on governors and local governments to reopen.

While federal funding does not account for a large part of school budgets, most of what it does account for is  aid low income families and students with special needs – populstions deemed to be at high-risk for the corona virus. Most education funding is provided by the states and local government, who will ultimately make decisions concerning reopening. Luckily, Trump does not have the authority to cut funding to schools.However his threat displays a lack of concern for American citizens.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been a champion of local and parental school control , has completely adapted her message to echo Trump’s. In April she stated “If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student.” And just days ago, “I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom, because we know for most kids, that’s the best environment for them.” DeVos is putting her spotlight onto low-income schools and those in communities of color. She insists they do not have the funds to operate properly remotely but contradicts her concerns by continuing to support the threat of removing federal funding from them if they don’t them if they don’t reopen.

The issue has become so publicly political that families and teachers at the heart of the debate are feeling frustrated and left behind. Appropriate and responsible planning has been pirated by making political choices while lives hang in the balance. As President of the National Parents Union Keri Rodriguez put it, “We have so politicized the situation we don’t know who we can trust, and it’s become very clear that we can’t trust her (DeVos)..”

Resistance Resources:

  • National Parents Union is a collection of 200 advocacy organizations across 50 states representing parents from communities of color. www.nationalparentsunion.org
  • American Federation of Teachers is a teachers labor union fighting for more federal funding in order to accommodate safety considerations within classrooms. www.aft.org
Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed.

Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed.

Governments, parents, and even children are itching for schools to reopen, but COVID-19 may keep them closed. Recent events have led districts to second-guess a fresh start this fall: The pandemic’s expected death toll continues to rise as states move to reopen against the advice of scientists; Coronavirus task force advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned against assuming that vaccines and widespread treatments will be available by fall, calling the expectation “a bridge too far”; and in recent weeks, the popular belief that children are “safe” from the virus has been turned on its head by emerging reports of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome.

On May 12th the entire California State University system announced that it will hold the upcoming semester online, and universities around the country are expected to follow suit. As difficult as this situation is for college students, it may be impossible for schoolchildren. Even for those with consistent Internet access, the lack of structure and high stress levels will prevent kids from meeting standard academic milestones. In fact, many analysts are expecting them to lose ground in an intensified version of the “summer slide.”

Meanwhile, President Trump has been pushing for schools to reopen as soon as possible. He rejected Dr. Fauci’s suggestion to remain cautious in the fall, calling it “not an acceptable answer.” Trump added, “We have to open our schools. Young people are little affected by this.”

Analysis

Despite President Trump’s optimism, the risks of a rushed reopening cannot be understated. Setting aside his apparent ignorance of pediatric inflammatory syndrome, children are not the only ones affected by potential outbreaks in schools; staff and students’ families will also be caught in the crossfire.

There is hope that, like the retail sector, schools can reopen earlier if they do so gradually. The United States could follow the example of Denmark, which reopened schools for the lower grades on April 15th. In addition to increased hygiene measures, children are required to stay six feet apart, and classroom sizes are limited to ten. However, questions remain about the viability of doing this in larger schools. Denmark chose to open primary schools first for good reason: they tend to be smaller, and they’re more likely to be within walking distance. In densely-packed high schools, creating a safe plan would present a significant challenge. The cited NPR article suggests staggering schedules to reduce class sizes, meaning kids could attend on alternating days or in daily shifts.

As with every aspect of public life, coronavirus presents an impossible choice for schools and families. Proposed safety measures can only do so much to mitigate the risk, especially since children have more difficulty understanding and adhering to social distancing policies. However, at some point the suffering caused by missed milestones and social isolation rivals that of the virus itself. The spectre of disease is coupled with that of a mass-scale academic and developmental backslide.

While the fall quarter is up in the air, districts should do more to address the drawbacks of distance learning. Some schools are not offering online instruction due to lack of preparedness and equity concerns. This summer is the time to train teachers and administrators, as well as develop an effective online curriculum — preferably at the state level. Some districts have offered wifi and laptops to low-income students, but the current patchwork of resources is hurting children nationwide. Federal and state support for such programs would go a long way towards making phased reopenings possible. A staggered schedule will be much more viable if kids can learn effectively from home.

Perhaps we’ll get lucky and the situation will improve drastically by August, but we need to prepare for the worst now. Having effective digital options will reduce the rush to return to the classroom before it’s safe.

Resistance Resources

  • Khan Academy
  • Scholastic’s Summer Read-A-Palooza program offers free e-books. This year, they’ve also launched Home Base, where kids can create an avatar, track their reading progress, and more.
Coronavirus Deals a Blow to US Schools

Coronavirus Deals a Blow to US Schools

On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19.

On April 2nd, NPR reported that roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren are out of school globally due to COVID-19. In the United States, many children will be out for the rest of the year. Virginia, for example, has already announced that in-person instruction will not resume until fall, at the earliest. According to NPR, experts expect it will take current students at least two years to recover academically. In the meantime, drop-out rates will surge.

School districts have scrambled to roll out distance learning programs, although many students lack the resources to access education online. Low-income students may lack internet at home, and those with disabilities are unable to receive the accommodations they need. In an effort to fill the gaps, telecommunications companies have offered discounted service for some consumers, and certain districts have attempted to make WiFi more accessible via hotspots. Additionally, some teachers have chosen to provide printed worksheets and phone conferences. In the midst of widespread panic and disorder, however, it is impossible to scale these measures to meet the need completely.

Providing for millions of students is a job for the federal government, which has unfortunately given a muted response. In the recently passed CARES Act, $13.5 billion of the $2 trillion package was allotted to education. The funds could be used for a wide variety of needs, including distance learning initiatives, upon Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ approval. Even more concerning, the legislation allows states to fund education at a lower level than previous years “for the purpose of relieving fiscal burdens on states that have experienced a precipitous decline in financial resources.”

Analysis

Like every other facet of society, the American education system is struggling to hold itself together during this crisis. Individual districts have made admirable efforts to support students, but this amounts to a confused patchwork of resources nationwide. Yet again, the most vulnerable Americans will find themselves at a disadvantage. Low-income students from poor and rural areas will have the most obstacles to accessing education, while their schools will have the fewest resources to help.

Additionally, the $13.5 billion given to education in the CARES Act pales in comparison to the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which gave schools $77 billion. The amount allotted in the CARES Act is essentially a pittance given the scale of the crisis; after all, the Obama-era legislation was enacted when schools were operating normally. Not to mention the fact that the oncoming recession may eclipse the 2008 financial crisis, constraining school budgets further.

In the wake of this recession, funding for education should be maintained, not decreased. The federal government’s refusal to guarantee this shows that students, particularly working-class ones, are not a major priority. Wealthier districts, blessed by the neighborhood’s tax base, will continue to provide an education of consistent quality. Meanwhile, poor districts that were already struggling will see their difficulties compounded under CARES Act provisions. In short, the cycle of educational inequality will only intensify, spurred on by the empty gesture of this stimulus package.

Resources

  • The Education Trust is working towards equitable education for low-income and POC students.
  • No Kid Hungry has outlined its response to the crisis and provided additional resources for those looking to help.
  • Khan Academy provides free, high-quality educational resources.
Coronavirus Hits Higher Education

Coronavirus Hits Higher Education

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, universities have experienced unprecedented disruptions.

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, universities have experienced unprecedented disruptions. Over the past few weeks, they’ve emptied classrooms and dorms, with most opting to finish the semester online. A few have cancelled courses altogether. Though extreme, these measures will protect students and staff from the rapid spread that would occur via stadium-like lecture halls, busy cafeterias, and crowded dorms. It was the only safe option, but the fallout will reverberate through America’s higher education system for years to come.

In previous generations, when college was reserved for the well-to-do, campus closures were a frustrating inconvenience. Today, there are literally millions of low-income college students in the US, and these unexpected changes have left them reeling. They’ve been forced to make costly trips home or rent apartments on short notice. These effects are compounded by surging unemployment rates, particularly in the service sector. While some institutions are offering full or partial refunds, it won’t be enough for many low-income students to balance the unforeseen expenses. For those that can’t rely on their family’s coffers, dropping out may become the only option.

Additionally, the transition to online instruction has put financial strain on the universities themselves. Roughly a third of schools were already operating at a deficit due to plateauing enrollment and declining government funds; now they’ll struggle with losses during and after the crisis. After sending out tuition refunds, universities will likely see a marked decline in enrollment. How schools will navigate these dire straits remains unclear; for the hardest hit, it will become an existential threat.

In response to the crisis, American Council on Education (ACE) released a memo asking for federal support. Among their requests were emergency financial aid for students and schools, zero-interest loans for universities, and support in implementing remote instruction.

Analysis

The pandemic has laid bare the already untenable state of American higher education. Soaring tuition and poor job prospects have already led younger generations to question the value of a degree, and these concerns are more salient than ever as online curriculums are rolled out with limited preparation.

In addition, the crisis in higher education has cast yet another spotlight on America’s chasmic wealth gap. Despite our society’s insistence to the contrary, a college degree is a hard-earned privilege, and now thousands — perhaps millions — of low-income students will be unable to afford it.

As ACE’s memo points out, these are the same students that rely on universities for food, housing, transportation, and medical care. Particularly in large public institutions, these basic needs are heavily subsidized. Many students would be unable to access reliable transportation without their school’s shuttle or bus passes, and the university healthcare system provides the only medical care they can afford.

Yet schools were never intended to provide these services on such a massive scale. Colleges have come to offer so much more than knowledge and professional credentials; increasingly, they are the scaffolding upon which poor students build their lives. For too long they have been covering for our government, providing for students’ basic needs when no other institution will. In the aftermath of this crisis, untold numbers of young adults will be facing an economic void that a $1,200 check won’t fill.

Our higher education system deserves all the federal aid it can get, but ultimately it faces deep flaws that our society as a whole must address.

Photo by Anshu A

Proposed Student Debt Overhaul Ignores Loan Servicer Mismanagement Policy

Proposed Student Debt Overhaul Ignores Loan Servicer Mismanagement Policy

Among the propositions in Donald Trump’s budget for the fiscal year of 2021 is slashing $5.6 billion dollars from the Education Department. This includes an overhaul of current student loan forgiveness programs.

The plan for doing this includes canceling Public Service Loan Forgiveness, established by Congress under the Bush administration in 2007, to reward federal student loan borrowers for entering a public service career by forgiving their debt after ten years of monthly payments, or 120 consecutive payments.

The justifications for this, according to Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is to save money that would be lost by forgiving these federal loans. Instead, the White House has proposed a simplified federal loan forgiveness program that, in theory, should allow student loan borrowers to pay them off five years sooner than the current income-based forgiveness program.

Analysis:

With this proposed rule change, the Trump administration is trying to distract from the mishandling of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program by Fed Loan Servicing, a branch of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).The handling of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness by FedLoan Servicing has come under scrutiny in recent years. According to NPR, 99% of applicants to the PSLF program were rejected.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) cited the reasons those with student debt are having issues with the program include  borrowers not having the right loans, unqualified employers, being enrolled in the wrong payment plan, not being eligible in the first place, or being “yet to make any qualifying loan payments.”

When the program was launched in 2007, initial instructions to loan servicers managing this program were vague at best. However, the repeated pattern of mismanagement by FedLoan Servicing indicates a deliberate pattern of misbehavior.

Given the government’s current relationship with  PHEAA, any accountability from the PHEAA seems unlikely. Trump’s former campaign manager for the state of Pennsylvania is a lobbyist for the PHEAA, so in exchange for helping Trump on the campaign trail, one is likely to expect tit for tat.

Also, while the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does have the authority to provide oversight of Federal loans, it has abandoned that responsibility completely. This is largely thanks to the installation of the CFPB’s current ombudsman, Robert Cameron, the PHEAA’s former “deputy chief counsel and vice president of enterprise compliance.” Under Cameron, the CFPB’s responsibilities to oversee Federal Service Loans has been abandoned.

Given this context, it is likely that canceling the very program that the PHEAA has been recklessly mismanaging for years is just another way to protect its interests, instead of holding it accountable for extorting money from thousands of students.

RESISTANCE RESOURCES:

  • Democracy Forward: “In 2017, we founded Democracy Forward to help expose the rampant corruption in the Executive Branch and fight it in court on behalf of the people it hurts.”
  • Student Borrower Protection Center: “The Student Borrower Protection Center is a nonprofit organization solely focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.
  • Student Debt Crisis: “Student Debt Crisis is a non-profit (501c4) organization dedicated to fundamentally reforming student debt and higher education loan policies. Student Debt Crisis (SDC) takes a personal approach to member needs—working directly with borrowers to understand their challenges and fears, repayment obstacles and frustrations. SDC tackles the challenges of loan refinancing and consumer protection policies with media and legislators, as well as educating borrowers and higher education experts with lectures, webinars and special events.”
Betsy DeVos Proposes New Title IX Definitions

Betsy DeVos Proposes New Title IX Definitions

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new rules for Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded educational institutions. The regulations outline definitions for domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence, putting them all under Title IX’s purview. Now schools will be able to investigate and resolve these cases internally, theoretically allowing victims to avoid a lengthy and thorny process in the court system. In the past, such misconduct fell in a regulatory grey area; some schools chose to handle it based on the rules for sexual assault and harassment, while others claimed it did not qualify for Title IX investigations.

The confusion created a frustrating, dangerous legal landscape for victims. In one highly-publicized case, Lauren McCluskey, a student at the University of Utah, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend after filing over 20 reports of abuse. Despite numerous instances of stalking, domestic violence, and harassment. the university refused to investigate. McCluskey’s parents even petitioned University President Ruth V. Watkins repeatedly, all to no avail. The student’s death, and others like it, were cited as a motivation for the new rules.

Analysis

The proposed regulations are a positive development in DeVos’ otherwise controversial tenure; a major blindspot in Title IX has now been covered. However, this does not negate the clear harm DeVos has done by rolling back other Title IX protections. Last year, the Department of Education released several amendments favoring the rights of the accused. Supposedly an effort to encourage “due process,” the changes would require both parties to be cross-examined in person. These proceedings could re-traumatize victims, and would dissuade many from ever reporting a crime. Additionally, the DOE narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and made it more difficult to hold institutions legally accountable for failing to address discrimination.

The new rules are a paltry gesture in the context of this larger picture. Most of DeVos’ updates to Title IX read as pointed attempts to dissuade victims from reporting. Since the majority of gender-based violence goes unreported, cries of “due process for the accused” are myopic at best. Adding these new definitions does very little if victims can’t feel safe coming forward.

That said, defining domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence creates a good legal framework. In the future, a more sympathetic iteration of the DOE can utilize them in a stronger version of Title IX. Unfortunately, these increasingly toothless regulations offer little support to students today.

Resources

 

Student Loan Debt Soars with No Clear End in Sight

Student Loan Debt Soars with No Clear End in Sight

Student loan debt has reached unprecedented levels in the United States. In just 15 years, the amount of debt has tripled to over $1.5 trillion, surpassing credit card and auto debt. The burden is shared between roughly 44 million Americans. Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center, roughly a third of borrowers age 25 to 39 with a Bachelor’s believe that the cost of their degree outweighs its benefits.

The crisis has become a top issue for voters, and many presidential candidates have plans to address it. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have advocated for forgiving all or some debt, respectively. Meanwhile, this week President Trump made another call to end a popular student loan forgiveness program.

In Congress, several bills have been introduced to combat the issue. HR 3448 and S 1947, introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-5) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) respectively, would both cancel all student debt. On the Republican side, S 2339 offers more modest reform; in addition to changing the accreditation system, it would require educational institutions to publish data on student loans and educational outcomes. However, none of these three bills have advanced since their introductions, all in the summer of 2019.

Analysis
With stagnating wages and almost 30% of loan holders in delinquency or default, more aggressive loan forgiveness legislation will likely become a necessity. It’s apparent that an increasing number of loans will never be repaid, and keeping borrowers beholden to them harms our entire country. According to CNBC, it is becoming more common for people to postpone marriage, buying homes, and starting businesses — all activities that produce and signal a strong economy.

However, debt cancellation alone wouldn’t address the web of systematic flaws that perpetuate that debt. As enrollment has grown, state funding has deflated, leaving universities little choice but to pass on higher operating costs to students. After Congress expanded federal student loan programs in the 1970s, it became possible for families to foot the rising bill, which took pressure off states and schools to budget more effectively. Meanwhile, colleges have expanded non-instructional spending on services like counseling and healthcare. Though expensive, these services can be literally life-saving for the growing number of low-income students, who may not have access to care otherwise — demonstrating a bizarre dovetail connecting our healthcare crisis and our student loan crisis.

Ultimately, an issue this complex and urgent demands innovative policy. Sen. Sanders’ call to cancel debt and subsidize university education offers the most direct solution. Although it’s highly unlikely to gain congressional support in the near future, readers should remember that our government spends over half of its discretionary budget on the military every year (almost $700 billion in FY 2019). Our government has the resources to address this issue, and it has a moral obligation to do so.

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