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: CT’s New Education Commissioner-Designate, a Vaccine Mandate for CT Teachers, and News on Federal Student Loan Forgiveness
Congratulations to CT’s New Education Commissioner-Designate
Last week, Governor Lamont nominated Charlene Russell-Tucker to serve as Commissioner of Education, following the State Board of Education's unanimous vote recommending her to the role. Russell-Tucker has been serving as Acting Commissioner since the departure of former Commissioner Miguel Cardona, who left in March to join the Biden administration as US Secretary of Education. Our affiliate, Education Reform Now CT, issued a congratulatory press statement, in which State Director Amy Dowell observed that Russell-Tucker has “already demonstrated a commitment to the state’s students and to equity—leading school districts through a period of tremendous challenges associated with the pandemic, and overseeing the state’s application for federal funding through the American Rescue Plan.” In addition, Amy described Russell-Tucker as an effective partner in securing the passage of the state’s new Right to Read legislation, which is currently in the early stages of implementation by the State Department of Education. We look forward to working with the Commissioner-Designate. Her nomination is now being forwarded to the General Assembly for its advice and consent.
CT’s COVID Vaccine Mandate for Teachers
On Thursday, Governor Lamont issued an executive order mandating that all Connecticut state employees, public and private K-12 teachers and staff, and early childhood staff get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27—or submit to weekly testing. Hearst Connecticut Media's Editorial Board called this the right move, pointing out that the coronavirus may continue to mutate into deadlier, more transmissible variants if steps are not taken to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Indeed, Connecticut's Governor seems to have been ahead of the curve; Mayor Bill de Blasio followed suit Monday, announcing that New York City’s Department of Education employees (including teachers, principals, and custodians) must likewise receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. Later on Monday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 16 and older.
Biden Expands Student Loan Forgiveness for Disabled Borrowers
On Aug. 19, the US Department of Education announced a third round of student loan forgiveness, automatically relieving debt for more than 323,000 borrowers who have total and permanent disability (TBD)—and discharging $5.8B in student loans. This latest change "reduces red tape with the aim of making processes as simple as possible for borrowers who need support,” according to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Specifically, the relief goes into automatic effect in September, relying upon data from the Social Security Administration. The new Department regulations also relax administrative protocols that had previously required borrowers with TBD to report their employment status and earnings. This announcement follows two other rounds of loan forgiveness commitments by the Department in March and July, both of which covered defrauded students who had attended schools that took part in illegal or deceptive practices. In all, the Biden-Harris Administration says it has now approved about $8.7B in student loan discharges for approximately 455,000 borrowers.