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Education Update

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

January 18, 2021

Budget, Finance & Funding News…
 
State Distribution of Additional COVID Funds – (from the PDE) The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II) will deliver more than $2.2 billion in emergency relief to Pennsylvania’s school districts and charter schools. Preliminary allocations and answers to FAQs are available on PDE’s website.
 
To promote equity, efficiency, transparency, and local flexibility, all ESSER II funds will be distributed through the Title I, Part A formula. However, ESSER II funds are not Title I, Part A funds. Like the first round of ESSER funding awarded last spring, ESSER II funding can be leveraged for a wide range of activities, including all uses permitted by ESSER I as well as initiatives associated with measuring and remediating learning loss and efforts to ready school facilities for reopening. In developing local plans, remember that ESSER funding is non-recurring emergency aid. Accordingly, consider how ESSER II funding might interact with your other federal funding, and the role of enhanced funding flexibilities, to promote sustainable use. School officials should continue to prioritize equity in your planning and consider how such investments can accelerate opportunities for students and families living in deep poverty, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
 
Biden Administration’s Proposed COVID Aid – President-elect Joe Biden is calling for $130 billion in additional COVID-19 relief funding for schools, ramped up testing efforts, and accelerated vaccine distribution strategies to help reopen “the majority of K-8 schools” within the first 100 days of his administration. The proposals, which Biden announced in a speech on January 14, are part of a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that also seeks $350 billion in aid to state, local, and territorial governments. “We can [open schools] if we give school districts, communities, and states the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they will need that they cannot afford right now because of the economic crisis we are in,” Biden said. “That means more testing and transportation, additional cleaning and sanitizing services, protective equipment, and ventilation systems in the schools.” Read the rest of the story: “Biden Calls for $130 Billion in New K-12 Relief, Scaled Up Testing, Vaccination Efforts” (from Education Week, 1/14/21).
 
Of the $170 billion for K-12 and higher education, $130 billion would be earmarked for elementary and secondary education, about twice what Congress has already enacted in K-12 relief funding. The funding could be used for a range of costs to make in-person education safe, including technology to close the homework gap, offer counseling and address social and emotional needs in addition to academic needs, create smaller classes, provide personal protective equipment, cover extra transportation and cleaning costs, and other new costs. There will be some requirements that states use the funds in low-income and areas hit hardest by COVID-19. Districts must ensure that funds are used to not only reopen schools, but also to meet students' academic, mental health and social, and emotional needs in response to COVID-19, (e.g. through extended learning time, tutoring, and counselors), wherever they are learning. Funding can be used to prevent cuts to state pre-k programs. The plan also would provide $5 billion in funds for governors to use to support educational programs and the learning needs of students significantly impacted by COVID-19, whether K-12, higher education, or early childhood education programs.
 
Biden’s plan also would mount a national vaccination program, contain COVID-19, and safely reopen schools, including setting up community vaccination sites nationwide, scaling up testing and tracing, eliminating supply shortage problems, investing in high-quality treatments, providing paid sick leave to contain spread of the virus, addressing health disparities, and making the necessary investments to meet the president-elect’s goal of safely reopening a majority of K-8 schools in the first 100 days.
 
Cost of the Pandemic – Getting students to where they’d be academically if the pandemic hadn’t occurred could cost schools an average of $12,000 to $13,500 per student over the next five years, according to a new estimate that assumes most will need some additional learning time. Conducted by Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting firm that works with districts on financial issues, the projections account for the kind of “high-dosage” tutoring needed for students who have fallen the furthest behind and hiring more staff devoted to schoolwide social-emotional learning efforts. The costs, roughly $2,500 per year, follow recent research showing that while declines in student performance weren’t as steep as predicted earlier, the students expected to be the most impacted by school closures didn’t even take tests that would determine where they stand. Read the rest of the story: “Caught in a Financial ‘Triple Squeeze,’ Districts Could See Annual Costs of $2,500 Per Student to Address Pandemic-Related Learning Loss” (from the72million.org, 1/12/21).
 
2021-22 State Budget – Gov. Wolf will release his proposed state budget for FY 2021-22 on Tuesday, Feb. 2. The House and Senate will begin appropriations hearings on the proposal beginning March 15.
 
Guidance, Reports and Resources…
 
Student Social/Emotional Health – Closing in on a year of the pandemic, many students have experienced illness and the deaths of loved ones, ongoing family financial and housing instability, and disconnection from school and friends. While these toxic stressors can take their toll on all children, a new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests young adolescents may be the most vulnerable to long-term problems as a result. Read the rest of the story: “What Student Age Groups Are Most Vulnerable to Pandemic-Related Trauma?” (from Education Week, 1/14/21).
 
From Pennsylvania PBS – In collaboration with the seven PBS stations across the state (collectively known as Pennsylvania PBS) the following resources are available across Pennsylvania:
* On-air broadcasts of educational, standards-aligned programs Monday - Friday from 10am-3pm to supplement your distance learning. Programming is aligned by grade bands and color-coded by Learning Goals so that you can easily find the program that's right for your child/student. If students have access to the internet, they can also livestream their PBS station’s channel.
* Weekly educational activity sheets for pre-k and elementary grades. Ten days of pre-packaged, standards-aligned curriculum in math, science, English language arts, and social studies for grades K-12 through WQED’s Support our Schools.
* Short Webinar Series that will help you understand how to use these resources.
Pennsylvania PBS education directors that can call you directly to help you understand how to use these resources.
 
PASA Resources – PASA’s web page concerning the Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparation includes links to information about COVID-related issues, along with updated guidance from the PDE, CDC and USDE, and other important updates from the state and federal levels. In addition, PASA has compiled and posted a list of resources to assist school leaders and educators to facilitate conversations and initiatives addressing racism and inequity in schools and communities. Click here for the list.
 
Resources from PASA Sponsors – 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, particularly concerning return-to-school issues. PASA sponsors have offered free webinars and other unique opportunities and resources to assist PASA members in planning for the school year. A recording of several of these webinars and a list of additional FREE resources and information is available on the PASA website.
 
In Legislative News…
 
Session Update – The House and Senate are in recess this week. Both chambers return to session next week Monday.
 
Last Week’s Legislative Action – Most House committees held organizational meetings only during the week of January 11, with a few exceptions.
 
* House State Government Committee: The committee considered numerous bill that also were introduced in the last session, primarily bills that have been priorities for the Republican Caucus. They include:
* HB 55 – a Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution, in declaration of rights, for prohibition against denial or abridgment of equality of rights because of race and ethnicity (does not include sexual identity or sexual orientation); and placing time limitations on a governor’s emergency declarations (21 days) and then giving the General Assembly the authority to review the declaration and determine whether it should continue (would require a 2/3 vote). Reported along a party-line vote. Constitutional amendments are not subject to a governor’s approval or veto and require approval in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval by the voters through a referendum. This would be the second time this bill is adopted, and depending on the timeframe of its adoption, it could be provided to voters as soon as the primary election.
* HB 51 – a Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution, in taxation and finance, providing that the state treasurer shall transfer the surplus of operating funds into the Budget Stabilization Reserve Fund. Constitutional amendments require approval in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval by the voters through a referendum. Reported along a party-line vote. 
* HB 52 - a bill establishing a Council on State Finances to conduct monthly meetings to discuss the Commonwealth Annual Financial Report and financial condition of the commonwealth and submit a yearly report to the governor. The Council would include four legislators, three private individuals, one each selected by the Governor, House Speaker and Senate Pro Tempore, and five state officials. Reported along a party-line vote.
* HB 104 – a bill providing that the assessment of improper payments by commonwealth agencies (Medicaid) shall be conducted no less than once every two years. Establishes criteria for the review of programs and activities of commonwealth agencies. Provides for corrective action plans of commonwealth agencies and Legislative Budget and Finance committee audits of commonwealth agencies. Reported along a party-line vote.
* HB 71: State Spending Limitations; reported along a party-line vote. The bill is a Joint Resolution proposing a constitutional amendment, in taxation and finance, providing for spending limitations on the commonwealth. The bill places an annual limitation on the percentage increase of state spending as determined by a formula based on a three-year average of the Commonwealth's inflation and population growth. Specifically, it establishes that the spending limit for any fiscal year shall be equal to the spending during the immediately prior fiscal year, adjusted by the sum of the average of the percentage change in the annual United States Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers and the average percentage change in the resident population in the commonwealth. The cap could only be increased by a 2/3 vote in both chambers of the legislature. PASA opposes HB 71, the “Taxpayer Protection Act.” PASA believes that doing so will not account for unanticipated increases in many costs, including education, does not account for years of perpetual underfunding resulting from past appropriations and funding policies, and, with the 2/3 vote requirement, guarantees that the cap will never be exceeded, no matter the need. An identical bill did not muster sufficient votes for passage in the 2019-20 session. Constitutional amendments are not subject to a governor’s approval or veto and require approval in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval by the voters through a referendum.
 
* House Judiciary Committee: The committee considered several bills, including HB 38. The bill is a Joint Resolution proposing integrated amendments to the Constitution organizing the Judiciary into representative districts and further providing for residency requirements. In essence, the bill would change the process of voting for justices on state courts from at-large to regionally selected. The bill is favored by the Republican Caucus to provide for more “politically representative” justices rather than justices in an independent judiciary selected at-large in a statewide vote by all Pennsylvania voters. The bill was reported as committed, with two Republicans and all Democrats opposed. Former state Supreme Court justices have warned that geographic districts would “destroy the judiciary,” potentially incentivizing justices to rule not for what is legally sound, but what is politically popular in their district, according to the Associated Press. Constitutional amendments are not subject to a governor’s approval or veto and require approval in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval by the voters through a referendum.
 
General Assembly News Last Week –
 
* Death of State Senator: Sen. David Arnold (R-Lebanon), 49, died on January 17 after a battle with brain cancer. He had served as a senator for only one year after winning a special election last January to fill the seat of former Sen. Mike Folmer, who had resigned.
 
* Seating Sen. Brewster: A federal district judge has rejected a challenge to the state-certified election results in the PA Senate’s 45th district that gave a win to Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) by less than 100 votes. When the Senate convened in early January, Republicans had refused to seat Sen. Brewster, insisting that they would wait until the federal court ruled. Following the ruling, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) called the Senate back to session on Jan. 13 to swear in Sen. Brewster.
 
* Filling a Vacancy: Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler announced that a special election will be held on May 18 in conjunction with the spring primary to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of Rep. Mike Reese. The district covers parts of Westmoreland and Somerset counties.
 
House and Senate Education Committees – Both the House and Senate have made most appointments to their respective education committees for the 2021-22 session. Three of the four chairs are new to the position (*):
 
* House Education Committee
REPUBLICAN
Curt Sonney (Erie), Majority Chair; Rosemary M. Brown (Monroe/Pike); Valerie S. Gaydos (Allegheny); Mark M. Gillen (Berks/Lancaster); Barbara Gleim (Cumberland); David S. Hickernell (Lancaster/Dauphin); Joshua D. Kail (Beaver/Washington): Andrew Lewis (Dauphin); Milou Mackenzie (Northampton/Lehigh/Montgomery); Jason Ortitay (Allegheny/Washington); Michael J. Puskaric (Allegheny/Washington); Meghan Schroeder (Bucks); Craig T. Staats (Bucks); Jesse Topper (Bedford/Franklin/Fulton); Tim Twardzik (Schuylkill)
DEMOCRAT
Mark Longietti* (Mercer), Minority Chair (position formerly held by James Roebuck); Joe Ciresi (Montgomery); Ed Gainey (Allegheny); Carol Hill-Evans (York); MaryLouise Isaacson (Philadelphia); Patty Kim (Dauphin); Summer Lee (Allegheny); Maureen E. Madden (Monroe); Napoleon J. Nelson (Montgomery); Mike Zabel (Delaware)
 
* Senate Education Committee
REPUBLICAN
Scott Martin* (Lancaster) has been appointed Majority Chair, a position formerly held by Wayne Langerholc. Remaining committee members have yet to be determined.
DEMOCRAT
Lindsey Williams* (Allegheny), Minority Chair (position formerly held by Andrew Dinniman); John Blake (Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (Allegheny/Westmoreland), Tim Kearney (Chester/Delaware)
 
In National News…
 
School Fallout after the Insurrection – As teachers scramble to put last week’s violent attack on the U.S. Capitol in context for their students, school district leaders are discovering that some of their own employees and school board members were among those supporting, attending, and even participating in the insurrection. Several districts have suspended employees as they investigate potential wrongdoing. The fallout from the insurrection highlights the tricky complexities district leaders face as they attempt to separate constitutionally protected speech from illegal activity and behavior that’s inconsistent with school values or violates employee codes of conduct. Law enforcement agencies are warning that more violence is possible in Washington and elsewhere in the coming days and weeks—and district leaders are taking heed, according to Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “With the conditions that we’re seeing, and what’s happening in our country, all superintendents are beginning to start to do their homework and say, ‘More of this could happen and many more of our staff could be involved in this kind of thing. We’ve got to set a game plan,’” Domenech said. Read the rest of the story: “Disciplining Educators: How Schools Should Tackle Conduct Concerns After the Insurrection” (from Education Week, 1/13/21).
 
USDA Meal Waivers and FRPL – (from AASA) Due to the impact of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nationwide waivers – which support students’ access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to COVID-19 through June 30, 2021 – last week the U.S. Dept. of Education (USED) released a document that provides Local Education Agencies (LEA) and State Education Agencies (SEA) with guidance on how to carry out the data collection activities for the education programs associated with the federal school meals programs. Specifically, this guidance pertains to the National School Lunch Program data collection activities associated with Title I, Part A – Improving Basic Programs; Title II, Part A – Supporting Effective Instruction; and Title V, Part B – Rural and Low-Income School Program (RLIS) for the 2021-2022 school year. The good news here is that according to the guidance, using data from the 2019-2020 school year is allowable for all circumstances, which means that ED has essentially created a hold-harmless provision for school districts and states that have seen a decline in free and reduced-price lunch forms.
 
On the PASA Calendar…
 
Jan. 20………Informational Webinar for Superintendents: Liability Issues
Jan. 21-22…..New Superintendents’ Academy Part 3 (virtual)
Jan. 25………Informational Webinar for Superintendents: HR Issues
Jan. 28………Board of Governors meeting (virtual)
Jan. 30………Superintendent Licensure Exam Prep Session (virtual)

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