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Education Update

Below is the current Education Update.  Click here for a list of other recent updates.

July 13, 2020

In Budget & Finance News...
 
FY 2019-20 Revenues – Pennsylvania ended the 2019-20 fiscal year with $32.3 billion in General Fund collections, Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell reported last week. That total is $3.2 billion, or 9.1 percent, below estimate. General Fund collections for June totaled $2.7 billion, which was $577.4 million, or 17.8 percent, less than anticipated. The department estimates that approximately $133 million of the $577.4 million shortfall in June can be attributed to moving due dates for various taxes. It is estimated that the remaining $444.4 million of the June shortfall is due to reduced economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As expected, June was a month where the pandemic had a significant impact on the commonwealth’s revenue collections,” Secretary Hassell said. “We are also seeing the effects of extending tax filing deadlines to provide taxpayers with relief and more time to file. That includes the deadline for filing personal income tax returns, which is now July 15.”
 
Coronavirus Update…
 
List of Resources – PASA has set up a web page of links to resources concerning the Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparation. This includes links to information about issues such as school athletics and return-to-school, along with updated guidance from the PDE, CDC and USDE, and other important updates from the state and federal levels.
 
White House: Get Kids Back in Schools –
 
* From the White House: The White House will seek to condition future federal COVID-19 federal relief funds on whether or not states reopen school buildings, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday.
The statement presented a possible hairpin turn for states and districts that have relied on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more than a month as they plan for how to reopen schools. Many have already announced hybrid plans under which rotating cohorts of students will learn at home a few days a week to allow for six feet of spacing between desks as the agency recommended.
Pence, who provided few details about possible conditions on relief aid, spoke at a livestreamed briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force hours after President Donald Trump tweeted criticism of those CDC guidelines and made a vague threat to schools' funding if they don't reopen in the 2020-21 school year. Those tweets came as Trump's presidential campaign has sought to make school reopenings a political issue and a day after a White House event on the issue. Read the rest of the story: “White House to States: Reopen School Buildings or Risk Additional Relief Funds” (from Education Week, 7/8/20).
 
*Withholding Federal Money, Pushing School ‘Choice’: A day after President Donald Trump said his administration "may cut off funding" for schools that don't resume face-to-face instruction, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that rather than "pulling funding from education," her department supports the idea that students in places where schools do not reopen should be able to take federal money and use it where they can get instruction. In response to a request for further comment about DeVos' position, Education Department spokeswoman Angela Morabito said: "The Secretary is in full agreement with President Trump. If schools fail to meet their obligations to students and families by not reopening in the fall, they should not receive their full federal funding. Instead, any family should be able to take the tax dollars for their students' education to a school of their choosing. The Secretary believes that funding should follow the individual student, not to a school building—especially if that school is closed." Read the rest of the story: “Trump Team Reinforces Tying Federal Money to School Reopenings” (from Education Week, 7/9/20).
 
Return-to-School Issues –
 
* Year-Round School: With schools rethinking how to educate students in 2020-21, some may turn to options they’d previously dismissed as too disruptive, too unpopular, or too onerous to plan for and execute. The most prominent one? Year-round schooling, or a balanced calendar schedule, its lesser-known but more accurate name. In short, this option extends the academic calendar, shortens the summer break, and builds in regular intersessions for remediation, enrichment, and accelerated programs. Year-round schools have been touted for reducing summer learning loss and improving teacher and student morale. But it’s proven unpopular too, for its disruption to family and communities' routines, which are closely intertwined with the traditional school calendar. An estimated four percent of schools, serving about 3 million students, follow a year-round schedule, according to the National Association for Year-Round Education. But the model provides some clear upsides for schools as the pandemic continues. Read the rest of the story: “Is It Time to Reconsider the Year-Round School Schedule?” (from Education Week, 6/24/20).
 
* Resources Needed for a Return to School: Back in May, many folks were operating on the —well, “assumption” might be too strong, so let’s say “fervent hope”—that life would be more or less back to normal by the fall, and schools with it. But now the first day of school looms, and nobody is quite sure how to manage. Teachers are pointing out and pointing out and pointing out the many ways that school in a Covid-19 world faces some real problems. At the same time, all sorts of folks (most of whom don’t actually work in schools) are declaring that schools need to open. Juliette Kayyem, a former Department of Homeland Security Official, notes that the US has made the mistake of not calling schools “essential infrastructure” and calls for a “groundswell of public support” for schools. But if officials really want US schools fully open and operational—and also reasonably safe—in the fall, they will need to put money where their mouths are. Read the rest of the story: “Want Schools Open In The Fall? Then Pay For It” (from Forbes, 7/7/20).
 
Poll: Parent Satisfaction with Remote Instruction – The parents of nearly three-quarters of students in a recent poll believe their children learned less during remote instruction than they would have if they'd been in school for face-to-face lessons, according to a new Education Next survey released last Wednesday. And parents of a whopping 40 percent of students said their children had no one-on-one meetings with their teachers during that period. Still, a majority of them—72 percent—said they were satisfied with the activities and instruction that their children's schools provided during COVID-19's prolonged disruption of schooling. Read the rest of the story: “Poll: Their Kids Learned Less, But Parents Satisfied With Remote Education” (from Education Week, 7/8/20).
 
Student Transportation Issues
 
* Challenges with Buses: A proposal to construct plastic barriers around school bus drivers as a COVID-19 mitigation tactic was shot down by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, a sign of one particular challenge — among many — schools face as they plan for a fall reopening. The state Education Department told districts last month each can restart in-person instruction with a plan that's approved by the local school board, made public and provided to the state. But Education Secretary Pedro Rivera warned that transportation would be a difficult problem to solve. The great majority of the state's public school districts contract with private companies to provide bus transportation, and those companies have difficulty finding and keeping enough drivers in the best of times, said Mike Berk with the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, a trade group. “Everyone is looking at this very differently. And they all are looking at the science of it. They’re looking at what’s going to work in their district. But there is no single answer to the question. All we know is what we’re trying to do is put options out there for the districts,” Berk said. Read the rest of the story: “Buses Pose Particular Challenge for Pa. Schools' Pandemic Plans” (from NBCPhiladelphia, 7/11/20).
 
* Special Report on Student Transportation: Education Week writers Corey Mitchell and Evie Blad interviewed school superintendents, district transportation directors, national experts, and others across the country concerning issues surrounding student transportation. They also reviewed district and state planning documents and guidelines from state and national agencies for reopening schools to identify strategies schools are using in response to the coming transportation challenge. They found a wide range of creative approaches to assuring students headed back into the nation’s long-shuttered school buildings get there safely and efficiently with a well-supported transportation staff even as the pandemic continues to make planning difficult and uncertain. Click here to read the report. Click here to read additional considerations around student transportation.
 
Interest in Cyber Charter Schools – Cyber charters across the state are seeing an uptick in inquiries from parents for fall enrollment this year following a three-month stint of virtual learning at traditional districts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It's too soon to tell whether those numbers will translate into enrollment, said Richard Jensen, CEO of Montgomery County-based Agora Cyber Charter School — one of the largest in the state, with 5,600 students enrolled. But interest has spiked in the past month as parents are exploring their options, he said. Read the rest of the story: More Pa. Parents Eyeing Cyber Charters Amid COVID-19” (from The York Dispatch, 7/12/20).
 
CARES Act Update…
 
CARES Act Rule Lawsuit – Several Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia have joined in a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, accusing the Trump administration of trying to unlawfully divert pandemic relief funds from public schools to private schools. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Michigan, Maine, New Mexico and Wisconsin have also joined. Last month, the Education Department put out a rule saying that private schools should benefit from a representative share of the more than $13 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act earmarked for public schools. Becerra contends that is an unlawful interpretation of the CARES act, which allows private schools to get a disproportionate amount of Title I funds — traditionally reserved for low-income students. Although a portion of those funds are allocated to private schools to provide "equitable services" to students, the department's interpretation allows it to count all students for purposes of the funding formula instead of just those who qualify for Title I assistance, according to the lawsuit. (from NPR, 7/7/20).
 
In essence, this rule gives the allusion of choice as a cover for a flawed policy proposal. It reaches into how schools USE their CARES funding—something Congress was crystal clear to make very flexible— to force public schools to allocate money from Title I students to private schools. The proposal is anything but choice: if you want to implement equitable services as it has historically been done, and as Congress intended—you can use your CARES funding only in Title I schools. This is a logistical and operational hurdle that unnecessarily complicates the work of safely reopening schools in the fall.
 
The public comment period for the published rule is now in effect through July 31. AASA and PASA, working with both AASA and other state and national stakeholders, will submit comments in opposition to the USDE’s interpretation of the distribution of CARES Act funding.
 
AASA Call to Action: Respond to Equitable Services Rule – U.S. Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos, released her interim final rule on equitable services within the CARES Act. School leaders now have 30-days to mobilize and weigh in, expressing concern with and opposition to her interpretation, and support for the clear-language read of the underlying statute. Access the full background on this issue by clicking here.
 
Using AASA’s template response, follow the prompts in the italic, red font. Make sure to include specific numbers to highlight what the dollar difference would mean in your district, and help to bring to life what that cut means: how many teacher salaries is that? How much PPE would you be able to provide for students in school? If you are going hybrid or virtual, how many hotspots or devices would you be able to provide? We want to really bring to light how much this will impact the work schools need to do to open schools safely. Also consider inserting language about how the policy complicates roll out; it adds confusion to the field. Uncertain of how much money a district will have, can you really move forward with implementation? Comments must be filed by July 31, 2020.
 
Filing Your Comments:

  1. Open the template, personalize, and save. Make sure to include district letter head and that all font in the letter is black (remove red italicized prompts).
  2. Clink on the Federal Register/Equitable Services page (HERE).
  3. In the box labeled comment, type “I submit this comment to express my strong opposition to CARES Act Programs; Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-Public Schools 34 CFR Part 76 [Docket ID ED–2020–OESE–0091] RIN 1810–AB59”
  4. Click on the green box that says ‘upload file’ and navigate through to attach your district’s comment.
  5. Fill out the remaining boxes through email address; you can leave everything else blank.
  6. Click/check ‘I read and understand the statement above.’
  7. Click on ‘Submit Comment’.
  8. If possible, please take the time to submit your comment with your Congressional delegation, as well. Our advocacy team would be happy to get you the email addresses for the education staffers for your representative and senators. Contact jasmine Byrd (jbyrd at aasa dot org). 
  9. If you would like AASA staff to file for you, you need to send us your completed comment no later than Wednesday, July 29 5 pm ET.
  10. Questions? Contact Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org). 
 
Racial Injustice & Inequality…
 
Resources: Conversations about Racial Inequality – In light of recent events in Pennsylvania and across the country, PASA has compiled and posted a list of resources to assist school leaders and educators to facilitate conversations and initiatives addressing racial inequality in schools and communities. Click here for the list.
 
In State News…
 
Chapter 49 Regulations – The State Board of Education last week approved revisions to current Chapter 49 regulations. In November 2018, the Secretary of Education presented recommended amendments to the State Board, recommendations that were informed by multiple stakeholder convenings, along with a report on certification research and recommendations prepared by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI).  Throughout the spring of 2019, the Board’s Teacher and School Leader Effectiveness Committee traveled across the state to gather feedback from interested stakeholders on the Secretary’s recommended amendments to the Chapter. 
 
As described by the PDE, the proposal makes numerous changes in Chapter 49 by adding new language and updating existing language to match practice, policy or statute or to provide clarity. A significant change is that Special Education Certification returns to a PreK-12 certificate.
 
Click here to read a summary of the changes.

The proposed amendments will be published for public comment, and the Board will notify stakeholders when the public comment period opens.  Proposed amendments also will be submitted for review by the House Education Committee, Senate Education Committee, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

In the PA Legislature…
 
Session Schedule – The Senate has scheduled three session days this week (Monday – Wednesday) and the House late last week scheduled two session days (Monday and Tuesday). The specific floor agenda for either chamber is unclear.
 
This Week’s Committee Schedule –
 
Monday, July 13, 2020
 
Senate Rules Committee – meeting off the floor to consider:
* SB 836: EKG Testing. The bill amends and codifies into the School Code Act 59 of 2012, the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, to require information be provided to student athletes regarding electrocardiogram testing and require that students and parents be notified of the option to request the administration of an electrocardiogram in addition to the standard physical examination. The bill requires a parent or guardian the option to request from the family’s medical provider the administration of an EKG, in addition to the comprehensive initial pre-participation physical examination, but at a cost to be incurred by the parent or guardian.
 
Senate State Government Committee – meeting off the floor to consider:
* HB 1069: Public Meeting Agendas; passed by the House, 196-0. The bill would amend the Sunshine Act to require public agencies, including school districts, to post the agenda of action items to be considered at least 24 hours prior to the public meeting and post that agenda on the agencies website and in the “principal office location” no later than the first business day following the meeting at which the agenda was changed.
 
Professional Opportunities…
 
PASA is grateful for the ongoing support of our Sponsors at all levels. Although PASA does not promote or endorse any product or service offered by our sponsors, we are pleased to share information they offer that may be helpful to school leaders. Several of our sponsors are offering free webinars and other unique opportunities to assist PASA members in planning for the next school year. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities as we all work toward the goal of successfully navigating toward a “new normal” with quality educational opportunities for our students. See the PASA website for information.
 
On the PASA Calendar…
 
July 14……..Sponsor Webinar: Horace Mann
July 23……..Sponsor Webinar: Newsela
July 27..……Webinar for New Superintendents: Transitioning to a New Leadership Role
July 30……..National Supt. Certification Program (virtual)

(pdf for printing)