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Federal Legislative Report 116-16

Delivered via email: June 30, 2020
 

CARES ACT FUNDS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS UPDATE

As reported in the last two Federal Legislative Reports (116-14 and 116-15), in mid-May, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) published Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act guidance that took an expansive view of the law's equitable services requirements language. Under the Department's interpretation, school districts are required to use a portion of their K-12 Emergency Relief Funds to provide all private school students with equitable services, not just those students who are disadvantaged or at risk.
 
Due to significant opposition to the non-binding guidance, including states that publicly stated they had no intention of following the guidance, the USDE will publish a rule in the Federal Register tomorrow, July 1, to force compliance. The rule will be here once posted.
 
One important note – on a phone call with USDE officials on Thursday (June 25), Assistant Secretary Jim Blew said that the earlier guidance stated one approach. However, for some school districts that "only want to serve their low-income students," the published rule would allow schools to calculate the proportional share for this purpose -- to "only serve their low-income students" [rather than all students]. This would be an extremely important change if it is reflected in the published rule.
 
Districts may wish to submit comments if the published rule deviates in any way from current practice regarding equitable services.
 

USDE IDEA GUIDANCE

 
The USDE posted additional guidance last week regarding compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The guidance covers areas including due process hearings, extended time for mediation procedures, and virtual meetings. Part B and Part C guidance is posted online.
 

USDA EXTENDS WAIVER

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an additional waiver extension with regard to area eligibility, which will allow all children in all areas to receive free meals through USDA’s summer meals programs, rather than limiting eligibility to low-income areas.
 

NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE LEGISLATION

The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act. The bill addresses national infrastructure issues and includes several provisions for school infrastructure, online learning, school transportation, and school financing mechanisms for capital improvements.
 
A few areas to note from H.R. 2 include the following:
  • Division K – The Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act (Sections 70000 – 70118, 70121 - 70122, and 70201 – 70205);
  • School Construction Funding for Schools Receiving Impact Aid Funds (Section 70301);
  • School Bus Safety and Efficiency (Sections 4401, 4401, 1215, and 33311);
  • Broadband/Digital Equity (Sections 31161, 31143, 31121, 31122, 31141, 31142), including support for Wi-Fi on school buses (Section 31341);
  • Voluntary School and Child Care Program Lead Testing Grant Program (Section 33103);
  • Energy Efficiency Improvements, Retrofitting, and Renewable Energy for Public School Facilities (Sections 33221 and 33222);
  • Assistance for Repair of School Foundations Affected by Pyrrhotite (Section 70401);
  • Advance Refunding for Municipal (School) Bonds (Section 90102);
  • Reinstatement of Qualified School Construction Bonds (Section 90111);
  • Establishment of a new School Infrastructure Bonds program (Section 90112); and,
  • Use of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit for Public School Buildings (Section 90307).

GRANT OPPORTUNITIES

The USDE Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has invited applications for the "Educational Technology, Media, and Materials for Individuals with Disabilities Program – Stepping-Up Technology Implementation." The program seeks to "(1) improve results for children with disabilities by promoting the development, demonstration, and use of technology; (2) support educational activities designed to be of educational value in the classroom for children with disabilities; (3) provide support for captioning and video description that is appropriate for use in the classroom; and (4) provide accessible educational materials to children with disabilities in a timely manner." This discretionary grant competition will focus on 2 priorities: (1) Providing Technology-Based Professional Development to Trainers of Special Education Teachers to Support Children with Disabilities, and (2) Improving Social Skill Development for Students with Disabilities Through the Use of Socially Assistive Robotics (SAR). The estimated available funds for this program total $2,500,000 contingent upon the availability of funds and quality of applications. Applications are due by August 14, 2020, and further information is available on the Federal Register website.
 
The USDE Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has invited applications for the “Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities” grant program. The program seeks to address needs for personnel preparation in special education, early intervention, related services, and regular education to work with children as well as ensure that personnel have “necessary skills and knowledge, derived from practices that have been determined through scientifically based research, to be successful in serving those children.” The estimated available funds for the competition are $4,000,000, contingent upon the availability of funds and quality of applications. Applications are due August 17, 2020, and further information is available on the Federal Register website.
 
This Federal Legislative Report was written with assistance from the National School Boards Association.
 
Susan Hilton
Director of Governmental Relations
shilton@iasb.com
(217) 528-9688, ext. 1135