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Budget on School Construction, Updating Regs on Sex-Based Discrimination + Impact of Remote Learning

Budget Wins for School Construction

In case you’ve missed the headlines over the past few months, a federal investigation is underway into the school construction grant program most recently overseen by the Office of Policy Management’s staff. The Lamont administration has been working with the State Department of Administrative Services to review the school construction office. With their support, the legislature’s recently passed budget included some important reforms to tighten the process for bidding on school construction grants.

The state awards hundreds of millions of dollars a year in school bonding resources. One of the updates in the new legislation bans construction management firms from performing the construction work themselves on school projects, rather requiring them to bid it out to subcontractors. A second legislative fix adds a deadline by which the state must audit each school construction project so that municipalities properly use the grants they are awarded.

In addition, the budget implementer included wins for municipalities that faced difficulties after the state apparently miscalculated the percentage of school construction projects that would be covered. When a municipality wishes to begin a new school construction project, it applies for a reimbursement from the state. The rate of reimbursement—anywhere from 10%-80%—is determined through a formula that considers the town’s wealth. Hartford and Farmington were each assured, incorrectly, that they would receive a higher rate of reimbursement than they should have. On Monday, the Hartford Courant quoted Senator Doug McCrory as saying that this was the result of a state-level problem and that the state therefore bears the responsibility to fix it.

The budget also sets aside $50 million for Norwalk to fund the construction of a new high school and roughly $206M for Stamford’s new Westhill High School project. Moreover, according to CT Insider, Stamford's reimbursement rate for future school construction projects has jumped from 20 percent to 60 percent, reflecting local need, which will be a real game changer for school construction projects in the city.

Biden Updating Regs on Sex-Based Discrimination

The Biden Administration will soon be proposing regulations to Title IX—the civil rights law that prohibits education programs receiving federal funding from discriminating, or excluding anyone from participation, on the basis of sex. USA Today explains that the forthcoming proposals are expected to address two issues: whether schools must allow transwomen to compete in female athletics; and how colleges should investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Obama administration had been tough on sexual assault in colleges and had issued non-binding guidance that called for allowing transgender students to use locker rooms and bathrooms aligned with their gender identities. But the Trump administration reversed both stances, taking measures that many think silenced survivors of misconduct and encouraged bias against transgender students. Politico’s write-up observes that with these imminent new changes, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona seems likely to undo much of the legacy of his predecessor, former Secretary Betsy DeVos.

New Study: Impact of Remote Learning on Students

A Washington Post story on Monday unpacked the exacerbating impact that remote learning has had on students in high-poverty schools throughout the pandemic. New research from Harvard's Center for Education Policy Research finds that students living in poverty both: (a) lost more ground during periods of virtual learning than their higher-income peers; and (b) spent more time learning remotely. The New York Times' coverage also observes that schools in major cities controlled by Democrats were more likely to go remote and that Republicans were quicker to reopen—though not so here in Connecticut. According to the research, academic losses resulting from the pandemic will have "major impacts on future earnings and intergenerational mobility," if not addressed. These findings make it all the more clear that districts and schools must respond to the crisis by directing federal funding through the American Rescue Plan toward proven academic interventions, like high-dosage tutoring, before the funds run out.

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