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Feds on Food Insecurity; House Passes Bill on Religious Exemptions; and The Missing Data on Literacy

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: Feds Address Food Insecurity; House Passes Bill to End Religious Exemptions to Vaccines; and The Missing Data on Literacy Intervention.

Appropriations Meeting Today on Right to Read Bill (H.B. 6620).

Follow Us on Twitter for Updates on this and the Appropriations Budget!

Federal Extension of Meal Flexibilities for Kids

Yesterday, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended Child Nutrition Program waivers through the end of the 2021-22 school year, allowing meal service flexibilities that will address ongoing issues of food insecurity for children during the pandemic. The waivers facilitate greater social distancing, extend free meals outside of normal meal times, permit curbside pickup and drop-offs, and remove pre-pandemic application processes. In addition, the USDA has increased the rate of reimbursement to school meal operators, to cover the costs of to-go options and keep meals nutritious.

The Biden administration has also tackled food insecurity by increasing emergency nutrition assistance to the lowest income households. A year ago, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act enabled the USDA to give families a grocery stipend in lieu of a meal pick up at school through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also provided extra SNAP allocations. However, the Trump administration’s interpretation was to deny this additional benefit to families that were already receiving the maximum pre-pandemic SNAP amount. The Biden administration reversed that position early this month, and extended a 15% increase in SNAPamounting to over $1.1B per monththrough September 2021 via the American Rescue Plan.

House Passes Bill to End Religious Exemptions to Vaccines

On Monday night, the House passed H.B. 6423, An Act Concerning Immunizations, which would remove non-medical exemptions to school vaccination requirements. Every public school student deserves a safe and healthy classroom, as a precondition of learning. Arguing the public health angle on Monday, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas observed, “We've seen a slow and steady increase in exemptions from required childhood vaccinations. We do not know when community immunity might be compromised.”

The chamber's passage of this controversial legislation is a significant milestone, albeit with a concession: the House also passed an amendment to the bill that will grandfather-in any student whose family has already secured a religious exemption. To us, this effectively means postponement of full implementation for twelve years. Nevertheless, the amended bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Governor Lamont has said he’ll be ready to sign the bill.

The Missing Data on Literacy Intervention

It’s a big day for Appropriations and for Literacy! The Appropriations Committee releases its budget today. And the Committee is also meeting to consider 21 bills, including the funding formula update (S.B. 948) and the Right to Read Bill (H.B. 6620), which seeks to systematize the use of research-based literacy instruction in every school and for every child in grades K-3. The bill is based on the science of reading, a body of cognitive, psychological, and educational research representing the most effective way to teach early literacy skills. We know that, before students can read to learnbefore they can love to readthey must learn how to read, how to decode the letters and sounds on a page.

Although this science is settled, we often hear about the success of students in well resourced districts that are still not using research based approaches. So what’s going on in these wealthy districts? Currently, we can’t find any state-level data that tracks enrollment in tiered interventions. When wealthy districts tout impressive literacy outcomes, we’d be interested to see how many of their students are receiving tiered reading interventions in schoolessentially critical tutoring support provided by the district. Conventional wisdom dictates the number is high. This is another example of how where you live can impact how you learn.

And that’s exactly the issue. ALL students have a right to read. We look forward to the Appropriations Committee allocating meaningful resources for this much-needed legislation.

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