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Federal Legislative Report 116-01

Delivered via email: March 5, 2019

HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION BILL

The U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor passed the Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019 (H.R. 865) last week by a vote of 26 to 20. The Act would invest $100 billion through grants and tax-exempt municipal bond programs to states and school districts for school infrastructure repairs, modernization, and new construction. H.R. 865 would reinstate tax credit bonds for school infrastructure projects (such as the Qualified Zone Academy Bond program) that was rescinded as part of a cost-savings measure in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The legislation would also support enhanced broadband for school buildings and would increase funding for infrastructure in Impact Aid districts. Specifically, H.R. 865 would authorize $70 billion in appropriations for grants to school districts from Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) to FY29 and would authorize $30 billion in bond authority to states and school districts for calendar years 2020-2022.

IASB supports the proposal, but opposes the provision regarding wage and labor rates (Davis Bacon) that would impact local school board governance and authority over contracts with service providers. Local school boards should retain all necessary decision-making authority when contracting with private companies and IASB urges an exemption of the Davis Bacon provisions applicable to the school bond programs.

House Democratic leaders would like H.R. 865 to be a component of a broader federal infrastructure package that may be considered later in the year. A similar bill is being crafted in the Senate.

HIRING FLEXIBILITY FOR NUTRITION DIRECTORS

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a final rule that “adds four flexibilities to the hiring standards for new school nutrition program directors in small local educational agencies (LEAs) and new state directors of school nutrition programs under the professional standards regulations for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.” The final rule will take effect in 60 days.

E-RATE SPECIAL CONSTRUCTION DEADLINE EXTENSION

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau extended a key deadline for some E-rate special construction applicants. During March 2018, some E-rate special construction applicants, for funding year 2016 and 2017, received incorrect program information from the Universal Service Administrative Company. That information caused those applicants to miss key implementation deadlines. The Wireline Bureau’s action this week protects the integrity of the funding provided to program participants affected by the error. School districts with 2016 or 2017 E-rate special construction applications should review the Wireline Bureau’s decision, which can be accessed here.

FAMILY EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS AND PRIVACY ACT (FERPA) GUIDANCE

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) released a new guidance document in mid-February, titled “School Resource Officers, School Law Enforcement Units, and FERPA.” The document aims to help school leaders understand how to protect students’ personally identifiable information, while also taking steps to better promote school safety. The new material arose out of the School Safety Commission’s December 2018 recommendations, which were based on school management’s call for the department to provide greater clarity to school districts about federal education data privacy requirements, especially regarding complexities of sharing student data with health officials or law enforcement in an effort to avoid violence or other dangerous situations that threaten students health and safety.

EDUCATION, INNOVATION, AND RESEARCH PROGRAM GRANTS

The USDE is accepting applications for the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program. EIR provides funding to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students; and rigorously evaluate such innovations.” The program features three funding tiers: Early-Phase, Mid-Phase, and Expansion. Each level, which increases in funding to provide incentives to applicants, is based on the types and amount of evidence to help support the development, implementation, and evaluation of the programs. Applications are due by April 2, 2019. Information on “Early-phase” grants is available here, “Mid-phase” grant information is available here, and “Expansion” grants are available here.

DECREASING SECLUSION AND RESTRAINT INITIATIVE

In mid-January, the USDE launched an initiative intended to address the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion. The project will be led by the Office for Civil Rights in partnership with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Activities will include compliance reviews, data quality improvements, and additional technical assistance for schools. Speaking about the project, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, “This initiative will not only allow us to support children with disabilities but will also provide technical assistance to help meet the professional learning needs of those within the system serving students.”

NON-REGULATORY GUIDANCE FOR ENGLISH LEARNERS AND TITLE III

The USDE released an Addendum to Non-Regulatory Guidance for English Learners and Title III of ESSA, focused on entrance and exit of English Learners from language instruction educational programs, reporting, and former English Learners. The original Non-Regulatory Guidance was published in 2016 and is available here. According to this addendum, the purposes of this document are to:

  • Assist Stage Education Agencies (SEAs) in establishing and implementing entrance and exit procedures; and
  • Provide responses to questions the Department has received regarding standardized statewide entrance and exit procedures for English Learners.

ELIMINATION OF SCHOOL DISCIPLINE GUIDANCE

In January, the USDE withdrew non-binding guidance aimed at closing racial disparities in school discipline. Secretary DeVos said, "In too many instances...I’ve heard from teachers and advocates that the previous Administration’s discipline guidance often led to school environments where discipline decisions were based on a student’s race and where statistics became more important than the safety of students and teachers."

Those opposed to the rescission are concerned it will undermine access to a quality education for students of color and students with disabilities. The withdrawn guidance can be accessed here.

SCHOOL NUTRITION FLEXIBILITIES

In January, the USDA published a final rule providing schools with relief from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requirements related to milk, whole grains, and sodium. The new regulations will take effect on July 1, 2019. The Department’s changes represent official action on a plan that was announced by the Secretary of Agriculture in May 2017. Under the new rules, schools will be able to offer students flavored one-percent milk (not just unflavored skim milk), reduce the current 100 percent whole grain requirement to just 50 percent – ending the exemption process that some school districts utilized when having trouble meeting the 100 percent requirement, and maintain the current Target 1 sodium level until 2024. The next round of sodium cuts (Target 2) will begin in 2025. The rule also eliminates the final Target 3 sodium level entirely.