The Build Back Better Act may have received a fatal blow as a key senator says he cannot support the bill as it stands. Meanwhile, the Biden administration proposes new guidance as states resume their school accountability plans, and reassesses its deadline to end the moratorium on student loan repayments on February 1. Finally, across the country, parents, teachers, and principals share a deep commitment to working together for our nation’s children, with new federal grants to help them on the way.
Build Back Better At A Crossroads
Over the weekend, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced he would not vote for the Build Back Better Act in its current form, citing an array of concerns from the cost of temporary programs to a lack of work requirements for the expanded child tax credit. As a reminder, Democrats already revised the bill in early November in an attempt to get Senators Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on board. This meant taking the initial $3.5 trillion bill and shrinking or eliminating many of its programs to reach a topline number of $1.75 trillion. For example, funding to close the digital divide fell from $4 billion to $300 million, and the free community college program was cut entirely.
Senator Manchin has now proposed a path forward that could take several months. He wants a complete overhaul, with a new bill going through each of the Senate committees and focused on rolling back President Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. This herculean effort could still result in another clash between centrist and progressive members.
Congressional Democrats are left with the tough decision of how to proceed. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) may still bring the current version of Build Back Better to the Senate floor in January, even though it’s doomed to fail. Others are urging executive action on climate change as opposed to moving forward legislatively. Regardless of where Congressional Democrats land in the new year, we’ll keep you updated.
Student Loan Repayment
Over at the U.S. Department of Education, the agency is reconsidering plans to resume student loan repayments on February 1. Despite calls from advocates and key members of Congress, the White House had been holding firm on the timeline, as the economy was recovering from the worst of the pandemic and borrowers have had ample time to prepare. Yet many borrowers remain unemployed or underemployed compared to early 2020.
However, as cases of the Omicron variant surge across the country, the Department announced it may push back the deadline yet again; expect an announcement later this week.
Update: The White House is extending the student loan payment moratorium to May 1, 2022, giving students an additional three months before repayments resume.
In other Department news, the administration released draft guidance to support states and districts as they resume their accountability systems required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Due to the pandemic, states were invited to apply for waivers from ESSA’s accountability provisions for the last two years. As a result, most states didn’t issue school ratings, identify schools for comprehensive or targeted support, or include certain indicators on their school report cards. Instead, states and districts kept working with schools identified before the pandemic. But this means many schools currently receiving supports were first identified years ago—and lists of identified schools may exclude students who have struggled the most during the pandemic.
That’s why it’s critical for states to resume their accountability systems this year. It provides an opportunity to direct resources and attention to the students who need it most and enhance accountability measures to better reflect lost instructional time and growing needs due to COVID-19. That said, as states prepare to implement their systems and identify new schools next fall, they may need to make adjustments because of the impact of the pandemic. Fortunately, ESSA provides flexibility for states to do just that. The draft guidance will serve as a helpful resource and answer states’ frequently asked questions whether they are making short- or long-term changes.
The Department is providing an opportunity for comment on the draft guidance through January 16. You can submit a comment by emailing OESE.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents & Educators United For Student Success
Recent research from Learning Heroes, “Parents 2021: Going Beyond the Headlines,” highlights increased engagement and strong relationships between parents and educators. Despite many challenges caused by both the pandemic and divisive rhetoric, parents report a desire for more robust connections between school and home. For six years, Learning Heroes has conducted a survey of K-12 parents and, this year, they included teachers and principals. Their analysis found that parents, teachers, and principals are more committed than ever to working together.
This is great news heading into a new year where the challenges of the pandemic on teaching and learning continue to wear on educators, school leaders, and families alike. And in more good news, the Biden administration has also released the 2022 application for the Statewide Family Engagement Centers program. In announcing the $5 million grant program, Secretary Cardona said, “meaningful parent engagement in schools has never been more important than now as we work together to support our learners during a pandemic… these new grants will help support the vital role that parents and families play in nurturing our students’ academic success, mental health needs, and developing critical life skills.” We couldn’t agree more.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the December 22, 2021 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, D.C. The podcast and video versions are embedded above. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, visit all4ed.org/FlashSignup.
Jenn Ellis is director of state government relations and Anne Hyslop is director of policy development at All4Ed.