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Emerging Plans for Federal Ed Relief; Federal Priorities for Higher Ed; + Literacy Legislation in NC

This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: Emerging Plans for Federal Ed Relief; Federal Priorities for Higher Ed; and Literacy Legislation in North Carolina.

Plans Emerging for Federal Ed Relief Funds

On Monday, Governor Lamont launched Connecticut's "Learner Engagement and Attendance Program" (LEAP), a $10.7M initiative to address absenteeism and disengagement, funded through the Governor's Education Emergency Relief Fund. It will use home visits to engage directly with families and students in 15 districts—encouraging them to return for the end of school, supporting enrollment in summer camp and summer learning programs, and facilitating a transition back to school for the coming school year.

Connecticut is also expecting another $1.1B in K-12 federal funding through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the third major federal law delivering COVID relief aid and the largest bucket of funds to date. (See ERN CT’s March 24th briefing on the ARP funding and how it is earmarked for state and local use.) Although district applications for the previous round of relief funding are only coming due on April 19th, the Connecticut State Department of Education is already working on a process for districts to get their ARP funding as well. Don’t miss ERN CT’s guide on meaningful state and district uses of these incoming funds; they should be leveraged in a way that is realistic, effective, and targeted to benefit students. (Also, check out this OpEd in The Hill by former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan regarding the opportunity to use transparency about these funds to rebuild trust with families and communities.)

Higher Ed Policy Under Biden and Cardona

In last week’s Inside the Room podcast with Representative Brandon McGee, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona provided an update on the Biden administration's approach to higher education policy. The US Department of Education announced in March that it will provide about $1B in debt relief for 72,000 students who have been defrauded by their colleges and $1.3B in student loan cancellation for 41,000 students who are permanently disabled. According to Forbes, an emerging trend is that the administration is providing targeted relief to certain groups of students and is focusing on federal cancellation, not private.

But there’s likely more news coming on higher ed. In his conversation with Rep. McGee, Secretary Cardona reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Moreover, Senator Elizabeth Warren held a hearing yesterday on the burden that student loan debt broadly has on families and the economy, arguing that these debts are crippling and disproportionately impact people of color. President Biden has reportedly tasked Secretary Cardona with preparing a memo on the legal authority to cancel student debt via presidential executive order.

North Carolina’s Students Have a Right to Read. Do CT’s?

Last Friday, Governor Cooper of North Carolina signed the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021. The legislation explicitly defines the "science of reading,” requires literacy instruction to be based upon this body of knowledge, requires educator preparation programs to include coursework on it, mandates that continued licensure programs for current elementary school teachers cover it, and directs the State Board of Education to develop literacy instruction standards aligned to it.

Here in Connecticut, don’t our students deserve the same requirements and funding for implementation? We’re facing a literacy crisis in which, by 3rd grade, nearly half of the state’s public school students aren’t meeting grade-level expectations. And although we know there is a right method for literacy instruction, most Connecticut schools simply aren’t using it. The Right to Read bill, which recently passed out of the Education Committee, would follow a burgeoning national trend by addressing the need for state leadership on the science of reading. We need the legislature to identify funding for this foundational skill. Every student has a right to read. Learn more about Connecticut’s efforts here and follow the campaign on Twitter here.

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