Federal Legislative Report 117-05

Delivered via email: May 18, 2021

Congressional Update

House Education Committee Explores Youth Employment Issues

The House Education and Labor Committee’s Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee held a hearing examining how the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) can be improved to create employment opportunities for more of the nation’s youth. As the committee considers making updates to WIOA this year, the hearing was framed as an important way for lawmakers to explore various issues impacting youth programs and activities authorized by WIOA. Participants expressed a willingness to re-examine out-of-school youth requirements as part of current law and emphasized the importance of streamlining the process for identifying eligible learners to better meet their needs. In addition, witnesses emphasized the need to expand WIOA’s conception of work-based learning to better align workforce development and education systems to provide additional employment opportunities for eligible youth.

Senate Confirms Number Two at U.S. Department of Education (ED)

The Senate confirmed Cindy Marten to be Deputy Secretary of Education. Marten is only the second USED nominee to be fully confirmed by the Senate, with James Kvaal’s nomination to be Undersecretary of Education still awaiting a full vote. In addition, President Joe Biden announced on May 13, that he intends to nominate Catherine Lhamon to be Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights — a position she formerly held under President Obama.

Administration Update

Emergency Connectivity Fund Goes Live

The recently passed American Rescue Plan included $7.171 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) intended to allow eligible schools and libraries to purchase connectivity equipment and devices on behalf of students and educators. Since that time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been crafting new rules and related guidance to implement the ECF. On May 11, the FCC released its final Report and Order for these funds, which outlines new rules governing the ECF, including how these funds may be accessed and used. As structured, the ECF was created to help close the digital divide and homework gap. A 45-day application period is expected to open this summer.

FCC and ED Launch Outreach Campaign

On Wednesday, May 12, the U.S. Department of Education and the FCC jointly announced an outreach campaign to raise awareness about another connectivity program — the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program authorized by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) that passed last December — among eligible families and individuals. The EBB provides subsidies for eligible families and households to pay monthly bills for broadband.

CDC/ED Mask Guidance for Schools Remains in Effect for Now

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance on May 13 on the use of masks and face coverings for individuals who are fully vaccinated, the existing CDC and U.S. Department of Education guidance for schools remains in place. Until new guidance is announced, ED advises that students, teachers, and staff should follow the existing guidance.

USDA Extends Meal Flexibilities Through 2022

On April 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the extension of current flexibilities for school meal programs through June 30, 2022. These flexibilities, aimed at providing maximum access to meals for students struggling with food insecurity during the pandemic, were previously set to expire on September 30, 2021. With this action schools across the country will continue to be able to serve free meals to all students regardless of their family income status.

ED Releases State Plan Template and Additional ARP Guidance

On April 22, the U.S. Department of Education released an interim final rule detailing new requirements states and school districts must meet in order to receive the remainder of their American Rescue Plan funding. Late last month, ED released over two-thirds of the total $122 billion authorized by the ARP for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to states and school districts. At the time, ED indicated that the remainder of this funding would be contingent on the submission of plans to safely reopen K-12 schools for in-person instruction.
This Federal Legislative Report was written with assistance from the National School Boards Association.