Federal Legislative Report 116-08

Delivered via email: January 30, 2020


Several members of the Illinois delegation sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on January 15 urging action at the federal level regarding seclusion and restraint based on the recent horrific exposé of some school districts and special education facilities that were inexcusably not following current law. The letter they sent and the IASB response, a version of which was sent to everyone in the Illinois delegation and Secretary DeVos, is here.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) invited public comment on proposed changes to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs (NSLBP). Separately, the department is seeking comments on proposed changes to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
According to the USDA, the following are highlights of the proposed changes to the NSLBP:
  • Allow local schools to offer more vegetable varieties, while keeping plenty of veggies in each meal;
  • Make it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrées for a la carte purchase, thereby reducing food waste;
  • Provide schools options to customize meal patterns to best serve children in different grades or smaller schools who eat together;
  • Support a more customized school breakfast environment by letting schools adjust fruit servings and making it simpler to offer meats/meat alternates, ultimately encouraging breakfast options outside the cafeteria so students can start their day with a healthy breakfast; and
  • Shift to a performance-focused administrative review process that is less burdensome and time-consuming, which would increase collaboration with operators to improve program integrity. 
According to the USDA, the following are highlights of the proposed changes to the SFSP:
  • Providing more flexibilities in choosing meal offerings, meal service times, and allowing children to take certain nonperishable food items offsite;
  • Granting tested and proven flexibilities that make it easier for sponsors and sites to participate by reducing paperwork and streamlining the application process for high-performing, experienced operators;
  • Balancing program integrity and flexibility with stronger monitoring to help sponsors maximize their resources; and
  • Clarifying performance standards and eligibility requirements for sites. 
Public comments in both proceedings must be submitted to the USDA no later than March 23.


The Supreme Court heard arguments in a potentially landmark education case last week that could finally settle whether vouchers blur the constitutional line between church and state.  A ruling is expected by the end of June. IASB opposes the payment of any public funds directly or indirectly to non-public schools and has maintained a position statement for the last 50 years (POSITION STATEMENT 2.59 NON-PUBLIC SCHOOL FUNDING).


In mid-January, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced updated guidance titled "Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools." In addition, the law requires that as a condition of receiving Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) funds, school districts must certify in writing to its state education agency that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as detailed in this updated guidance.


Though the ink is not yet dry on the FY20 appropriations process, the focus shifts quickly to FY21, which begins October 1, 2020. The White House recently announced that the President will send his annual budget request to Congress on February 10. Following submission of the President's proposed budget, cabinet members and agency leaders testify in the Senate and House about their budget needs and respond to questions posed by legislators. The House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) asked Education Secretary DeVos to testify before his committee on either March 24 or April 1. The USDE has not yet confirmed when the secretary will appear before the committee. 


The USDE announced that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will launch an Outreach, Prevention, Education and Non-discrimination (OPEN) Center. The Center will focus on proactive compliance with federal civil rights laws and provide support to schools, educators, families, and students. The USDE said, "While OCR typically enforces federal civil rights laws through the traditional complaint-resolution process, OCR will, through the provision of targeted support to recipient institutions and the public, also be able to work more proactively - prior to the filing of complaints - to ensure that schools are aware of their obligations under federal civil rights law. By investing resources in technical assistance and public education, OCR will provide not only much-needed assistance to recipients, but also better support students, families, and stakeholders."