Distributed via email: September 8, 2020
CONGRESSIONAL SCHEDULEBoth chambers have been off for summer recess for most of the past month. They are both expected to return today and be in session regularly until the election.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND ASSESSMENT WAIVERS UNLIKELY FOR 2020-2021 SCHOOL YEARAt the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) issued waivers temporarily absolving all states from federal accountability and assessment requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for the last school year. Since that time, several states have sought similar waivers for the current 2020-21 school year for the same purpose. On Thursday, September 3, USDE sent a letter to all chief state school officers underscoring the importance of these assessment and accountability provisions in ESSA and stressing that states "should not anticipate such waivers being granted again." Instead, the USDE's letter encouraged states to 'rethink' their existing assessment systems and left open the possibility that states could still shift how the results of their assessments are used for school accountability purposes. While the letter is not an unequivocal rejection of all state waivers of this sort in the future, it nevertheless indicates the direction the USDE is likely to go in in regards to assessment and accountability, at least in the near future.
FOURTH STIMULUS PACKAGE/FISCAL YEAR 2021 (FY21) APPROPRIATIONSBoth sides are still very far apart on reaching an agreement for a fourth stimulus package and FY 21 appropriations for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1. It is being discussed more openly that some pieces for a fourth stimulus package that can be agreed on will likely be included in a Continuing Resolution, which is legislation that will continue to fund federal programs at current levels until a full budget can be agreed upon and passed. It is unclear at this time what those stimulus pieces would be though. Agreement on any big issues becomes more difficult the closer Election Day comes, as neither side wants to give the other any “wins” before Election Day.
FEMA RESTRICTIONS ON PPE FUNDING COVERAGEBeginning September 15, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it will no longer pay for some safety measures related to COVID-19 that it previously covered - including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies - unless they are considered an emergency protective measure. Additionally, FEMA will only provide stockpiling funding for a 60-day supply of PPE from the date of purchase. Previously, a specific date was not given. It is possible that districts that ordered PPE and were counting on FEMA reimbursement may be able to get it if they submit the relevant paperwork before the deadline.
In March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waived the E-Rate program's gift rules until September 30, 2020. On Thursday, September 3, the FCC extended this waiver through December 31, 2020. This temporary regulatory change will allow E-Rate program participants to "solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak."
FCC EXTENDS E-RATE GIFT RULE WAIVER
USDA SCHOOL FOOD SERVICE WAIVERSOn August 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended several flexibilities for school food service programs, originally granted due to the pandemic, until December 31, 2020. The flexibilities allow schools participating in the Child Nutrition Program to continue serving free reimbursable meals to all children, regardless of family income.
HHS FACE MASK DISTRIBUTION PROGRAMThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be providing up to 125 million cloth masks to states for distribution to schools. Please see the Fact Sheet for more information.
On August 23, a federal judge in Washington state temporarily blocked U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from enforcing a controversial rule that directs states to give private schools a bigger share of federal coronavirus aid than Congress had intended. Eight other states, as well as the District of Columbia and four school districts, including the Chicago Public School District, also filed suits over the rule in July, and a federal judge in California ruled the same. The temporary block will remain in effect while the cases are considered in court. It is unclear whether the temporary blocks apply nationwide or only to the jurisdictions included in the suits.
CARES ACT FUNDS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS UPDATE
For more information on this issue, see Federal Legislative Reports 116-14, 116-15, 116-16, and 116-17.
NEW TITLE IX REGULATIONS TAKE EFFECTOn August 14, the USDE’s new Title IX regulations took effect after final efforts seeking intervention by the courts to delay or stop them failed. The new rule directs how schools respond to sexual harassment and sexual violence. Every school district must have new policies and procedures in place, paired with required staff training, to ensure compliance with the changed regulations.
This Federal Legislative Report was written with assistance from the National School Boards Association.