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CSCU Invests in Student Relief, New Resource on CT’s ‘Right to Read,' + Vax/Mask Mandates in School

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: CSCU Invests in Student Relief, New Resource for CT’s ‘Right to Read’ Implementation, and the Latest on Vax and Mask Mandates for Schools.

CSCU Uses Federal COVID Funds to Invest in Student Relief

Yesterday, Terrence Cheng, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU), announced that CSCU will spend about $58M in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding on a Student Support Program. According to the CT Post, the program provides relief payments to students throughout the academic year in order to encourage their continued education. While this effort specifically targets community college students, the state universities have already paid out $27M to students and anticipate adding another $37M through a similar initiative this year. This latest news about the Student Support Program also follows an announcement from CSCU last month that it would forgive $17M of community college student debt for those who cannot pay because of the pandemic.

RESOURCE: Implementing CT Students’ New “Right to Read”

In June 2021, the Connecticut legislature passed the “Right to Read'' legislation through the budget implementer bill. It systematizes a statewide reading response—based on the Science of Reading—by requiring the state to oversee all state and local efforts related to literacy, including:

  • Setting reading curriculum requirements for districts,

  • Providing professional development,

  • Hiring external literacy coaches, and

  • Coordinating with teacher preparation programs.

A newly established Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success will be the hub of that work.

Now that the legislation has passed, what happens next? This new document from the Right to Read CT Coalition outlines some of the state’s new requirements, followed by a timeline of key action steps.

Vax and Mask Mandates for Teachers and Students?

The nation is contending with an increase in COVID infections and hospitalizations, and leaders across the country are weighing the place for masks and vaccines in schools. Last week, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics penned a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), asking the FDA to move more quickly on approving a vaccine for children under 12. But, as NY Times columnist Michelle Goldberg observed on Monday, institutional incentives favor extreme caution on the part of the FDA—which won't be blamed for the pandemic, but will be blamed if there are any side effects to the vaccine.

Nevertheless, many key figures have lately begun to speak up about the need for masks in schools and vaccinations among educators. The US Department of Education’s newly released "Return to School Roadmap" encourages vaccination for school staff and students who are 12 and older, as well as mitigation strategies like masking and distancing in school. Ignoring this advice, Republican Governors Ron DeSantis (Florida) and Greg Abbott (Texas) each banned mask mandates last week—but US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has responded, "Our kids have suffered enough. Let's do what we know works."

And on the topic of educator vaccinations, DFER National President Shavar Jeffries released a statement last week, pointing to a national imperative to get students safely back to in-person learning this fall. Indeed, AFT President Randi Weingarten is herself newly backing COVID vaccine mandates for teachers, announcing on Sunday that she supports the effort "as a matter of personal conscience." Dr. Anthony Fauci also weighed in yesterday, opining that vaccines for teachers should be mandatory. We agree: Educators have a responsibility to get themselves vaccinated for the health of their students and for the sake of minimizing disruptions to their learning.

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