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Federal Legislative Report 116-21

Deliverd via email: December 14, 2020

FISCAL YEAR 2021 (FY21) APPROPRIATIONS

A one-week stopgap funding measure passed last week to extend government funding until Friday, December 18, and avert a government shutdown. The measure simply extends the current continuing resolution, which was set to expire on December 11. According to reports today, lawmakers have reached an agreement on a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package.  Language is expected within the next few days.

FOURTH STIMULUS PACKAGE

Reports today also signal a bipartisan agreement on additional stimulus spending, with the deal supposedly being split into two votes. The first vote would be consensus spending, including for education. The second vote would include more controversial items: liability protections for employers that Republicans have pushed for, and funds for state and local governments that Democrats support.

Many lawmakers had hoped to attach a pandemic relief bill to the FY21 spending package, but it is uncertain at this point whether that will happen. The $908 billion bipartisan proposal unveiled last week included $82 billion for the education sector, but it is unclear yet how much of that funding would go to K-12 public education. There are concerns over the possible diversion of some of that funding to private education through vouchers. It is also unclear if the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that requires covered employers with less than 500 employees to provide eligible employees with up to twelve weeks of paid leave will be extended. FFCRA is set to expire on December 31, 2020. Additionally, it is uncertain if the recent push to ensure a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks is included in the agreement

CYBERSECURITY

On December 10, a Joint Cybersecurity Advisory was released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC). In the Advisory, the agencies warn that “cyberattackers are targeting kindergarten through 12th grade schools to steal data, disrupt distance learning, and deploy ransomware attacks.” Within the Advisory are mitigation recommendations.

There are free resources available to assist school districts in protecting their IT systems. The Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center offers a free membership which offers government organizations, including school districts, network vulnerability assessment, cyber threat alerts, and other related services. The organization also offers malicious domain blocking at no-cost, which helps prevent IT systems from connecting to harmful web domains.

SCHOOL NUTRITION

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) submitted a proposed rule that would allow meal providers to have permanent flexibility to serve students flavored low-fat milk, reduce by half the amount of weekly whole grains required to be included in an eligible meal, and provide more time for schools to meet lower sodium levels in provided meals. A similar proposal was put forward by USDA in 2017, but that proposed rule was struck down by a U.S. District Court due to procedural errors during the initial federal rulemaking process. Public comments on this proposal are due by December 28, 2020.

Additionally, in mid-October, the USDA formally extended waiver flexibilities to allow schools to continue to provide no-cost meals to children through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through June 30, 2021. More information regarding this extension can be found here.

NATION’S REPORT CARD POSTPONED

On November 25, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) formally moved to cancel the upcoming National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the national assessment of core academic subjects, commonly known as the nation’s report card. The assessments for fourth and eighth graders in reading and math, originally scheduled to begin January 2021, will be postponed until 2022 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Citing school closures and other related restrictions, USDE determined that administering NAEP in January would not be feasible. While USDE has taken steps to cancel NAEP, Congress must still pass legislation providing the agency statutory permission to do so. Congressional education leaders in both chambers appear supportive.

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT (NDAA)

In February, the Secretary of Defense released a memo stating the Department of Defense was going to start rating “school system performance and capacity” based on “quantifiable criteria from reputable sources.” This summer, the Senate included a provision allowing this in their version of the NDAA. The House did not.  IASB communicated with all members of the Illinois delegation and expressed opposition to this provision. The final version of the NDAA, released at the beginning of December, did not include this provision.

This Federal Legislative Report was written with assistance from the National School Boards Association.