President Biden released a preview of his proposed federal budget for the 2022 fiscal year, which includes $20 billion in new funding for Title I, $2.6 billion to support students with disabilities, and another $1 billion in new funding for students’ social and emotional wellbeing. It also increases Pell Grants and expands Pell eligibility to DACA recipients. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education made another round of waiver decisions related to state assessments, published guidance for educators and administrators in its second COVID-19 handbook, and opened a review of Title IX regulations finalized by the Trump administration.
President Biden’s FY2022 Budget Request
Last week, President Biden released his proposal for discretionary spending in fiscal year 2022. As is typical in a transition year, this “skinny budget” gives Congress a high-level summary of the White House’s priorities and proposed funding levels in advance of the appropriations process.
The request includes nearly $103 billion for the U.S. Department of Education. If enacted, this would increase the Department’s budget by 41 percent, the largest proposed for any agency. All4Ed is particularly excited to see $20 billion in additional funding for Title I—which would more than double the size of the program. There is also new funding for school counseling, wrap-around services and Full Service Community Schools, and students with disabilities, as well as a 10% increase for the Office for Civil Rights. We’re also pleased to see that Pell Grants would be increased by $400 and that DACA recipients could receive them.
This budget demonstrates President Biden’s strong commitment to improving public education. As All4Ed’s President and CEO Deborah Delisle put it: “This budget proposal from the Biden Administration puts students first and make the largest investment in the U.S. Department of Education since its inception…. Our budgets show what we value and this budget is very clear that students and families are a priority.”
With this blueprint, Congress will now work to draft spending bills to send to President Biden’s desk. Typically, the majority of a President’s budget request never becomes law. However, with Democrats also in control of Congress, final appropriations may more closely resemble the President’s request than in previous years.
Assessment Waiver Decisions
Shifting gears, the U.S. Department of Education announced another round of decisions regarding states’ requests to waive federal assessment requirements due to the pandemic. As we’ve covered on several recent Federal Flash episodes, All4Ed, along with 40 other organizations, urged the Department to continue to require states to administer statewide tests this year. In guidance from late February, the administration provided some flexibility, but maintained the underlying testing requirement. Nevertheless, some states submitted waiver requests that went beyond that guidance.
First, the Department informed New Jersey that it does not need a waiver since it plans to administer a shorter statewide test in the fall, one of the flexibilities in the February guidance. Other states, like Maryland and Pennsylvania, made similar plans without asking for a waiver.
Second, the Department denied waiver requests from New York, Montana, and Michigan to forgo administration of state tests. Denying these blanket requests aligns with earlier decisions for Georgia and South Carolina. However, the Department made what some advocates are calling a contradictory decision by approving Washington, D.C.’s plan to cancel its statewide assessments. In giving the okay, the Department cited the District’s unique circumstances, such as the nearly 90 percent of students who were still attending school remotely in late March.
Oregon’s revised request was also approved, based on feedback from the Department to ensure its plan included statewide assessments and would produce comparable data. In its new plan, Oregon—like Colorado—will administer the state math, reading, and science assessments in alternating years for grades 3–8. Parents can opt-in to have their children assessed in all subjects.
Finally, the story in California is somewhat complicated. The Department informed the state that it doesn’t need a waiver, because it understood California’s plan is to administer statewide tests except in districts where the state determines test administration isn’t viable. However, the California Department of Education doesn’t appear to be set on making determinations or officially approving when assessments are viable in a district. Instead, it plans to issue criteria for districts about viability and leave the official decision on which test to use up to them. We’ll keep you posted.
New COVID-19 Guidance
Sticking with the Department, last week it released the second volume of its COVID-19 handbook. The first volume focused on helping schools implement CDC recommended health and safety measures. This volume covers strategies to open schools safely and address inequities created and exacerbated by the pandemic. This includes evidence-based approaches to addressing students’ social and emotional wellbeing and academic needs, like early warning systems to target engagement and recovery strategies, as well as ensuring that interrupted instruction due to COVID-19 does not narrow students’ opportunities. The Handbook also highlights policies and practices to help students transition from high school to postsecondary education despite the pandemic’s disruptions, including college advising, summer bridge programs, and counseling on FAFSA completion and financial aid.
Title IX Review
Finally, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began a comprehensive review of Title IX regulations to ensure schools are free from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. This comes after President Biden’s executive order in early March requesting the review of the May 2020 rule issued by former Secretary DeVos which raised the evidence threshold in sexual harassment and assault cases on college campuses.
As a part of the review, OCR will gather public input on the issue to help them determine what, if any, additional changes to Title IX may be necessary to fulfill the executive order. To gather this feedback, OCR will hold a public hearing to receive oral comments and written submissions. More info about the hearing will be published in the coming weeks on OCR’s website.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the April 15 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and Ziyu Zhou is a policy analyst at All4Ed.