Friday, April 30, 2021

100 Days of the Biden Administration: How the USDOED Has Helped More Schools Safely Reopen + Best Practices Clearinghouse Practices for Reopening Schools and Campuses + Financial Literacy Education and Paying for College | USDOED

100 Days of the Biden Administration: How the Department of Education Has Helped More Schools Safely Reopen and Meet Students Needs | U.S. Department of Education
100 Days of the Biden Administration: How the Department of Education Has Helped More Schools Safely Reopen and Meet Students Needs

During the first 100 days of the Biden Administration, the Department of Education's (ED) top priority has been to ensure students can return to schools safely, and has taken significant actions to help schools safely reopen for in-person instruction, address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, and support the needs of all students, teachers, and staff. In less than three months, the Biden Administration has provided unprecedented resources to states and districts to achieve President Biden's goal of safely reopening the majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning and support students, families, teachers, and staff, and institutions of higher education during this challenging time. The Biden Administration has also proposed historic investments to education through the American Jobs Plan, the discretionary budget, and the American Families Plan, all to lead the country not just through recovery, but to transform our education system so students of all ages and backgrounds can access opportunities to receive a high-quality education and achieve their highest potential. The Biden Administration remains committed to accelerating this critical progress in the nation's reopening efforts.

In the first 100 days, the Biden Administration has made significant strides in reopening schools for in-person learning. The Administration has: 

Reopened majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning:

  • About half of elementary and middle schools were open full-time in person, according to the Institute of Education Sciences (49 percent as of February 2021). About 80 percent of public elementary and middle schools were offering some form of in-person instruction (full time and/or hybrid). Dozens of large school districts, serving over two million students have expanded in-person learning options since March 1, including: San DiegoOaklandIndianapolisAlbuquerqueMinneapolis, and Boston
  • There is widespread alignment among data sources, including IES, Burbio, MCH, and the American Enterprise Institute, showing an upward trend in schools offering in-person learning nationally over time.
  • While a significant majority of K-8 schools are offering at least some in-person learning (full time and/or hybrid) to students across the country, access to and enrollment in in-person instruction is not yet equal, with communities of color learning completely remotely at higher rates compared to their white counterparts. Over the coming days and weeks, the Department will continue its focus on understanding the root causes of these gaps, including hesitancy among parents and students in returning to in-person learning, and addressing those gaps. ED will also continue helping states and districts utilize federal funds to accelerate access to in-person learning, particularly in underserved communities, and address gaps in educational opportunities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.  

Provided unprecedented resources and support to PreK-12 schools to help in their reopening efforts: 

  • Distributed $81 billion of $122 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to states for immediate use this spring and planning ahead for summer and beyond. Through ARP's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, states now have access to unprecedented resources to help them safely reopen schools for in-person learning and address the needs of students. The funding can be used to implement the CDC's recommended prevention and mitigation strategies for K-12 schools, meet student and educators' social, emotional, and mental health needs, invest in strategies to address lost instructional time, and boldly address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.  
  • Released two volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook. In February, the Department released Volume 1 of the COVID-19 handbook, which focused on strategies to implement CDC's recommended prevention strategies to safely reopen schools for in-person learning. Volume 2 of the Handbook, released in April, focused on strategies to address students' social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs and advance equity in reopening efforts. These handbooks were created through thoughtful engagement with stakeholders, advocates, and leaders from across the country who are doing the work in opening or supporting the safe reopening of schools.
  • Released a State Plan application for states to access the additional $41 billion in relief funds, to be released this summer, and available to support the 2021-22 school year and beyond. States and districts must engage stakeholders and school communities in developing plans to use ARP ESSER funds to reopen schools, maintain safe and continuous in-person school operation, and address the needs and experiences of students, educators, and families.
  • Prioritized K-12 educator, staff and child care vaccinations. At the beginning of March, President Biden issued a directive to prioritize K-12 educators, school staff, and childcare workers for vaccination, and set a goal of getting all of these essential workers at least one shot in the month of March. By the end of March, over 80 percent of educators and staff had received at least one dose.
  • Awarded $10 billion in ARP funding to support COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded $10 billion to states and jurisdictions to support COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools. By ramping up testing for educators and school staff, the Administration is helping more schools to be able to safely and quickly reopen and more students.
  • Conducted a multi-state school reopening tour to aid in school reopening efforts. Over the past month, Secretary Cardona has traveled across six states to visit K-12 schools to support and highlight their efforts to bring students back for in-person learning. During the tour, Secretary Cardona saw and shared best practices, helped districts identify challenges they are facing, and heard about unique needs facing students, educators, and staff as communities recover from the pandemic.
  • Began distributing $800 million in ARP funds to support students experiencing homelessness. ED distributed $200 million of the $800 million in funding to help states identify students experiencing homelessness, provide wraparound services in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide assistance to enable students experiencing homelessness to attend school and participate fully in school activities. ED announced the distribution of these funds at an event featuring voices of students experiencing homelessness from around the nation. The remaining $600 million in funding will go out this summer.
  • Released nearly $1 billion in pandemic relief and other grant funds to Puerto Rico. In March, ED provided the Commonwealth immediate access to $912 million in federal education funds which had not been available to Puerto Rico as a result of previously imposed grant conditions. The release of funds marked a commitment from ED and the Biden Administration in supporting Puerto Rico as the Commonwealth recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters that have impacted students, families, and educators across the island.
  • Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit and announced the launching of the Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse to share best practices on school reopening efforts. During the summit, states, districts, students, educators, staff, and parents heard from President Biden, Vice President Harris, First Lady Biden, Secretary Cardona, CDC Director Walensky, and engaged with each other about how to safely reopen more schools and support students as they return to in-person learning. Best practices at the summit and in the forthcoming Clearinghouse also focus on utilizing ARP and other federal funds to invest in under-resourced and underserved communities to make sure schools can reopen safely and stay open, and to ensure reopening efforts are advancing equity and rebuilding our education system better than it was before the pandemic.  
  • Launched the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative, a partnership between the Department of Education, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and other national partners to design and launch evidence-based summer enrichment and learning programs for students this summer. The Collaborative brings together state and local leaders and key stakeholders to identify ways to utilize ARP and other federal funding to develop summer programs that address the lost instructional, social, and extracurricular time students have experienced as a result of the pandemic, especially underserved students and those disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Over 46 states and territories have joined the Collaborative to act urgently to prepare programming for this summer.

Provided support and relief to students, borrowers, and postsecondary institutions impacted by the pandemic: 

  • Included $40 billion in emergency relief for institutions of higher education in the American Rescue Plan to provide emergency aid for students and to support institutions in their efforts to keep students enrolled and completing their programs. The funding allows institutions to provide emergency financial assistance to students to help them cover the cost of tuition as well as basic needs like housing, health care, and technology. ARP includes additional funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and institutions such as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), which face additional challenges in serving students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • Extended the pause on federal student loan payments, saving borrowers $5 billion dollars a month so they can focus on covering necessities during the pandemic. ED also expanded the student loan pause to cover defaulted federal loans held by banks and other private companies. The pause affects over 40 million borrowers across the country.
  • Took action to help more than 230,000 borrowers who have received student loan discharges due to total and permanent disability. ED reinstated discharges for 41,000 borrowers and took steps to help another 190,000 keep their discharges. These actions will ensure these borrowers are not at risk of having their loans reinstated for failure to provide earnings information during the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Provided full relief for approved borrower defense claims. The Department announced it will streamline debt relief determinations for tens of thousands of borrowers whose institutions engaged in certain misconduct. This action is anticipated to affect up to 72,000 borrowers who could receive $1 billion in loan relief combined.
  • Provided guidance on unemployment insurance and federal student aid available to students. In January, ED released a letter reminding student financial aid administrators of their ability to make it easier for those who are unemployed or have received unemployment assistance to get federal aid for postsecondary education. 
  • Reached out to millions of students informing them of expanded eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ED released guidance to institutions about the temporarily expanded SNAP eligibility for students in need. ED has since emailed millions of students directly to let them know that they meet certain eligibility for these benefits.
  • Provided support and guidance to institutions of higher education on how to use emergency relief funds to support students during the pandemic. Since the Department's guidance released in March, nearly two-thirds of institutions increased their spending of emergency relief funds to support students and their communities as they work to recover from the pandemic.
  • Discharged over $1.6 billion in HBCUs' capital finance debt, providing relief to 45 institutions across the country that participate in the HBCU Capital Finance Program. The action enabled these institutions to focus their resources on supporting students, faculty, and staff for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency. 
  • Helped small business owners with student loans access the Paycheck Protection Program. ED requested a waiver from the Small Business Administration so that individuals will still be eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan and related loan forgiveness even if they currently or previously defaulted on federal student loans or were previously being delinquent on payments. The waiver immediately helped nearly 30,000 small business owners.

Proposed historic new investments in America's educational system to lead the country through an economic recovery and build the education system back better than it was before: 

  • Make historic investments in high-poverty schools. President Biden's discretionary budget request provides $36.5 billion for Title I grants, a $20 billion increase compared to the 2021 enacted level, and the largest year-over-year increase since the creation of the Title I program. This investment will ensure every student – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – can learn and thrive and advance the President's commitment to ensuring teachers are paid competitively, increasing access to PreK, equitable access to rigorous curriculum, and meaningful incentives for states to examine and address the inequalities in their school funding systems.

  • Modernize and rebuild our nation's schools and early learning facilities. Even before the pandemic, too many students have attended schools and child care centers that are run-down, unsafe, and pose health risks. Through the American Jobs Plan, President Biden is calling on Congress to make investments that will support $100 billion to upgrade and build new public schools, $12 billion to invest in community college infrastructure, and $25 billion to upgrade child care facilities and increase the supply of child care in areas that need it most.

  • Expand reach and access of broadband to ensure all students can compete in a global economy.The American Jobs Plan prioritizes building "future proof" broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage. The President is also committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money.

  • Invest $9 billion in teachers. The investments in the American Families Plan will address critical teacher shortages, increase pipelines for teachers of color, and provide training and support to help teachers grow and keep great teachers in the classroom.

  • Provide universal access to Pre-K for all American families. The President's American Families Plan includes an $200 billion investment to provide access to Pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds.

  • Invest in community colleges and minority-serving institutions. The American Families Plan includes a $109 billion investment to provide two years of free community college to all Americans. The plan also includes tuition subsidies for students from low and middle-income households attending HBCUs and MSIs, which, when paired with free community college, would provide students with four years of free college.

  • Increase investments in Pell Grants to support students most in need. Through the discretionary budget request and the American Families Plan, President Biden is proposing to invest $88 billion in order to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by approximately $1,800.

In the coming days and weeks, the Department of Education will continue supporting states, districts, institutions, schools, students, teachers, faculty, and staff in their reopening and recovery efforts. In addition to helping more schools implement strategies to reopen for in-person learning, ED will work closely with communities to ensure students' social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs and educator and staff well-being are met, and that federal funding is utilized to rebuild our education system back better than it was before March 2020.

100 Days of the Biden Administration: How the Department of Education Has Helped More Schools Safely Reopen and Meet Students Needs | U.S. Department of Education

Today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launched the Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse (the Clearinghouse), a website that highlights the innovative work underway nationwide in continuing to reopen K-12 schools, early childhood centers and postsecondary institutions. Through the Clearinghouse, the Department is providing examples of how schools and other educational institutions can safely reopen as communities continue recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is encouraging to see states, districts and schools serving all levels of students using their best practices and lessons learned from each other and implementing these strategies to quickly reopen schools and campuses—all while keeping our students, teachers, faculty, and staff safe," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. "There is no substitute for in-person learning and the Clearinghouse will be an invaluable resource as we continue the safe return to in-person instruction."

President Biden's Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers called on ED to develop a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse as a way to share lessons learned and best practices from the field for safely operating schools and postsecondary institutions during the pandemic.

By launching the Clearinghouse, ED aims to collect and disseminate innovative, evidence-based, or solutions-oriented approaches to school reopening and make this information available to elementary and secondary schools, early childhood centers, and postsecondary institutions across the country so they can learn from each other. Resources from ED and other federal agencies related to reopening strategies and guidance are also available on the website.

The Clearinghouse includes resources that target the needs of students in, K-12, early childhood, and higher education settings in three main topic areas:

  • Safe and Healthy Environments: School and campus approaches to implement prevention and mitigation strategies and prepare and sustain in-person operations safely. 
  • Supports for Students: School and campus strategies to meet students' academic, social, emotional, mental health, and other needs, including providing access to food, counselors, and financial aid for college students.
  • Teacher, Faculty, and Staff Well-Being; Professional Development; and Supports: School and campus strategies to address skills, trauma and other mental-health needs among educators, faculty, and staff, and other support strategies such as providing access to childcare and professional development for educators. 

ED specifically invited submissions that focus on students most impacted by the pandemic and on strategies that address educational inequities that were exacerbated by the pandemic. Since March 25, ED has received over 500 submissions that include over 1,500 resources. The Clearinghouse currently includes over 180 resources and will continue to be updated.

Examples that reflect the diversity of submissions include:

  • The New Mexico Public Education Department published a resource to improve the identification and protection of students experiencing homelessness, either before the pandemic or as a result of COVID-19. As school districts continue to develop reopening plans and procedures, they must properly identify and support students experiencing homelessness. The resource includes case studies of promising practices on assisting homeless students and their families, and helpful resources for students and educators as they continue to navigate this school year and prepare for the next school year. 
  • Marin County Office of Education in San Rafael, California, developed a "Rethinking Schools" webpage, which serves as a one-stop-shop for parents, students, and educators with public health and education data. The site includes up-to-date information on in-person instruction in schools across the district, public health guidelines on safe in-person instruction, and safety plans for students and staff.
  • Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina developed a resource webpage that includes return to campus information and college updates for students, an FAQ on coronavirus and illness-related questions, as well as information on scholarship programs, local emergency rental assistance programs, COVID-19 vaccination appointment information, and more. Rowan-Cabarrus has included expectations and requirements for students, faculty, and staff to maintain safe in-person learning on campus, including regular health screenings and social distancing. The resource webpage also includes information for students on community resources, including local food pantry locations and hours of operation.

ED has also launched a series of "Lessons from the Field" webinars as part of the Clearinghouse that spotlight promising practices in early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary education. The first three webinars in the series highlighted prevention strategies for safely reopening K-12 schools, new CDC guidance focused on early childhood providers, and family and community engagement during the return to in-person instruction. Future webinars will share best practices and lessons included in the Clearinghouse.

The Clearinghouse is another step in a series of efforts by the Biden-Harris Administration to support the safe reopening of schools and campuses. The Administration is providing $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan to support safe reopening of schools; $10 billion for COVID-19 testing for PreK and K-12 educators, staff and students; and has provided nearly $40 billion for higher education institutions and students.  The Administration has also urged states to prioritize vaccinations for educators; held a virtual National Safe School Reopening Summit, where districts, educators, school leaders, and students from across the country shared their best practices on how to reopen schools quickly and safely; and released two volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook, which provide roadmaps and strategies to support the safe reopening of America's schools and to meet the needs of students, educators, and staff.

ED welcomes additional lessons learned and best practices from the field for consideration for the Clearinghouse, including those with an educational equity focus. Submissions should be sent via email to:

President Biden issued a proclamation deeming April 2021 as National Financial Capability Month. This communication emphasizes the benefits of financial capability, the value of financial literacy, and the importance of access to financial resources. Understanding personal finance topics such as savings, loans, and investments is seldom a straightforward task, especially in the context of paying for college. Subjects, such as borrowing, can be complex for incoming postsecondary students to fully grasp. With the notable year-over-year rising cost of pursuing higher education, some students may be left with a large amount of debt and regrets about how they chose to finance their college education. According to Teach for America, a recent survey suggests that 53% of college students said that they felt less prepared to manage their money than to face any other challenge associated with college. So, how can postsecondary student’s financial literacy be improved and regrets about financing their education minimized? One solution to consider is effective financial literacy education.

According to the Financial Literacy and Education Commission’s 2019 Best Practices for Financial Literacy at Institutions of Higher Education report, effectively engaging students and providing clear, timely, and customized information about student borrowing could be keys to reducing poor financial outcomes. Individuals who receive personal finance education in line with their goals may be more likely to retain the information and use it to make informed decisions. Capitalizing on motivation by providing relevant personal finance education to students at postsecondary institutions makes it more likely that they will put that knowledge to good use. In addition, this report puts emphasis on the significance of choice of major and graduation. Early decisions, like choosing a major, and equating that field’s expected return with the cost of attendance could save some student loan borrowers from default.

Many institutions of higher education already have some type of financial education initiatives in place. At my school, the University of Central Florida, there is a program called Centsible Knights. In addition to having a clever name, this program provides students with the information that they need to enhance their knowledge of personal finance and to make strong financial decisions. The scope of topics covered during meetings range from basic borrowing information to how to file taxes and invest early. However, the burden for providing effective financial literacy education doesn’t just fall on schools. Organizations like the Higher Education Financial Wellness Alliance (HEFWA) bring together professionals and seek to inform national conversations and public policy in the financial wellness field. HEFWA’s efforts are dedicated to helping develop strong financial habits for students by promoting responsible college financing and giving students skills they need to succeed financially while they are in school and after they have graduated.

As an intern for Federal Student Aid (FSA), I have had an inside look at some of the tools and resources that the agency has to offer. FSA is doing their part to provide high-quality information to assist students in more informed decision-making surrounding financing their college education. A few of these resources include:

College Scorecard: The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard is an excellent way to compare colleges and universities to one another to find a student’s best fit. Using the College Scorecard, you can compare side-by-side information on costs, graduation and retention, financial aid, and many more statistics for each college. The information is comprehensive, and the scorecard even lists fields of study and expected salary after completion.

Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement: Whether you are a first-time federal borrower or have existing federal student loans, knowing your balance, and understanding your responsibility and repayment options is important. Loan acknowledgement is a good reminder that borrowing has a direct impact on one’s financial future.

Loan Simulator: Sometimes understanding repayment options and making decisions about federal loans can be confusing or difficult for borrowers. FSA’s loan simulator is a tool that can help borrowers make decisions about repayment strategy and whether to consolidate their loans. Also, it has a feature that individuals can use to simulate borrowing more federal funds. This can be helpful for students who need to borrow additional money for education or someone who might be seeking to return to college.

Overall, choosing how to pay for college can be tricky, and unfortunately there is not a one size fits all solution. However, there are many high-quality resources available to students to help them make strong financial decisions. Places like FSA’s StudentAid website can help with understanding costs and federal borrowing, and many colleges and universities have financial wellness resources available to students who attend at no additional cost. It’s up to each student to take ownership of their finances and make informed decisions on how to fund their education. Developments in the field of financial literacy education are made frequently, and I am personally excited to see how these resources continue to develop and provide guidance to students.

Sean Cannon is an intern for Federal Student Aid under the Virtual Student Federal Service program. He is currently a senior economics student at the University of Central Florida and will be pursuing a Master’s in Applied Economics at Florida State University.