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Remembering Sandy Hook, the US Student Debt Crisis, and Federal Guidance on COVID Relief Spending

Remembering Sandy Hook

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Connecticut—the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school in US history. Yesterday, CNN and Connecticut Public Radio each had stories from the parents of Sandy Hook victims. In a tweet today, Barack Obama shared that he considers December 14th, 2012 to be the single darkest day of his presidency.

Although the pace of change since that awful tragedy has often felt slow and schools have remained plagued by the terror of mass shootings, there have been inklings of hope. "It's clear our work is far from over," Obama wrote in his statement. "But of late, I've sensed that slowly, steadily, the tide is turning: that real change is possible. And I feel that in no small part because of the families of Sandy Hook Elementary." Yesterday, US Senator Chris Murphy also joined MSNBC to discuss the progress of the gun safety movement. Over the summer, Congress finally passed the first federal gun safety law in 30 years, making it harder to buy assault weapons and offering states “red flag” grants.

Moreover, 525 significant gun safety laws have been adopted at the state-level since Sandy Hook—according to a report released this week by The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (Giffords). Giffords’ gun law scorecard, which ranks every state on the strength of its gun laws, gives Connecticut an “A” grade and says it ranks 3rd in the nation—after California and New Jersey.

The Latest on the US Student Debt Crisis

Over the weekend, the first episode of a new documentary by Director Blake Zeff, “Loan Wolves,” premiered on MSNBC. The piece examines the student loan and student debt crisis in the U.S. According to this episode, federal student loans are unique because they cannot be discharged through bankruptcy; the absence of a threat of bankruptcy, according to one interviewed expert, has led to widespread abuse by college lenders, which are empowered to lend out as much money as they can.

The must-watch show is especially timely given the Biden administration’s ongoing battle to secure student debt relief for borrowers. The legality of President Biden's loan debt relief plan has been challenged before the US Supreme Court. Consequently, the administration has extended the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections—while we await a decision.

Updated Federal Guidance on COVID Relief Spending

On December 7, the US Department of Education (USEd) released a new "Frequently Asked Questions" document about how funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, including the American Rescue Plan ESSER (ARP ESSER) program, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund may be used in response to the pandemic’s impact on pre-K–12 education.

Future Ed calls the document "expanded guidance" and observes that most of the guidance relates to rules regarding facilities projects (construction, building stadiums, HVAC systems, etc.). From our perspective, however, far more important are the changes regarding academic and socio-emotional needs. Here, the guidance confirms, for example, that districts "can include the costs of implementing an evidence-based practice in their calculation of spending 20 percent APR ESSER funds on academic recovery." (Ahem! Purchasing state-approved curricula and corresponding professional development programs that are aligned to the state's new "Right to Read" law comes to mind, for instance!)

K-12 Drive notes in its coverage that, “As the education system hits the halfway mark of the ESSER lifecycle, education leaders are being urged to assess their spending practices to date and make decisions about the use of remaining funds.”

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