E-Update for the Week of December 13, 2021

E-Update for the Week of December 13, 2021


  • On December 10, the Unified Agenda for Fall 2021 was released, including the agendas for USED and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • On December 9, the Senate passed a measure that would fast-track the process for increasing the debt limit, ending a weekslong partisan impasse.
  • On December 9, USED released the Secretary’s final supplemental priorities and definitions for discretionary grant programs in the Federal Register.


Build Back Better talks continue in Senate, Schumer still hoping for Senate passage by Christmas: During the week of December 6, the Senate continued to prepare its version of the Build Back Better Act, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) saying that Democrats have made “very good progress” towards the party’s goal of passing the legislation before Christmas. In a Dear Colleague letter published on December 6, Majority Leader Schumer wrote that the Senate committees are currently making necessary technical and “Bryd proofing” edits to the House bill to ensure that all provisions in the legislation have a budgetary impact, as required for budget reconciliation. Majority Leader Schumer expressed his hope to finalize texts from all the committees by this week before moving to the bipartisan “Byrd Bath” with the Senate Parliamentarian, which could result in some provisions being removed from the bill. Majority Leader Schumer’s letter is here, and his comments are here.

Additionally, because Democrats are attempting to pass the bill on a partisan basis and not anticipating any Republican support, Democratic leadership is continuing to actively negotiate with moderate Democratic Senators to craft a package that will win their support. This could force the Christmas deadline to slip, particularly considering comments made on December 7 by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), indicating that he still wants to see the final bill text before deciding whether or not to support the legislation. “The unknown we’re facing today is much greater than the need that people believe in this aspirational bill that we’re looking at and we’ve got to make sure we get this right,” Senator Manchin said. More information on Senator Manchin’s comments are here (note: a subscription to POLITICO Pro is required).
Week of December 6

Senate Republicans help Democrats in advancing measure to fast-track increases to debt limit: The Senate passed a measure that would fast-track the process for increasing the debt limit, ending a weekslong partisan impasse. The bill, which was passed in the Senate on a 59-35 vote with the support of 10 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), grants a one-time exemption to Senate rules to allow the temporary debt ceiling increase to move straight to final passage on a simple majority vote. It is anticipated that the Senate will vote via a simple-majority threshold to increase the debt limit on Monday with the House following and voting on Tuesday, one day before the debt limit deadline set by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
December 9, 2021

Coronavirus Updates (as related to education):


U.S. Department of Education (USED):

Cardona addresses staffing shortages, calls on districts to use ARP funds to support recruitment, retention efforts: U.S. Department of Education (USED) Secretary Miguel Cardona published an op-ed in The Hill titled, “School Staffing Shortages Can’t Wait: The Biden administration is Taking Action.” In the op-ed, Secretary Cardona acknowledges the critical staffing shortages many schools are facing, attributing the gaps to “basic supply and demand” with schools “competing for talent, not just with the district down the road, but with other sectors as well.” In the piece, Secretary Cardona outlines actions the Biden administration has taken to support schools in addressing these shortages, including by providing “historic” investments through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), as well as technical assistance and resources so that districts and states know how to use relief funding to attract and retain staff.  But while acknowledging the challenge of investing in increased compensation using short-term recovery funds, Secretary Cardona ultimately urges states and districts to use ARP and other relief funding to increase wages by offering hiring bonuses and providing permanent salary increases or premium pay. “Our administration is also committed to working with states and school districts to find long-term solutions that help educators receive the compensation they deserve; including through a proposed historic increase in funding for Title I schools,” Secretary Cardona writes. “But the time to act is now.”  The op-ed is here.
December 7, 2021

Department approves Wisconsin ARP ESSER plan, bringing total to 48 states approved: USED announced the approval of Wisconsin’s plan detailing the states’ proposed use of American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funding. Earlier this year, the Department distributed two-thirds of the ARP ESSER funds to 50 states and the District of Columbia. To receive, the remaining third of the funding states are required to submit their state plans to the Department for approval. With this most recent approval, 48 states, including the District of Columbia, have now received both tranches of their ARP ESSER fund allocations. The remaining states will receive their full funding once the Department approves their state plans. A list of approved state plans is here.
December 6, 2021


Schumer, Warren, Pressley call on Biden to extend student loan repayment freeze: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) wrote a letter to President Biden, urging the administration to extend the freeze on federal student loan repayments before it expires on February 1. In the letter, the Members write that the administration should extend the freeze on loan payments “until the economy reaches pre-pandemic employment levels.” The Members cite a new analysis from the Roosevelt Institute that found that the resumption of payments “will strip more than $85 billion from approximately 18 million American families over the next year.” The payments would “hurt individual families and the economy as a whole and will have a significant negative effect if the administration ends the payment pause as scheduled.” The full letter is here, and the Roosevelt Institute analysis is here (note: a subscription to POLITICO Pro is required).
December 8, 2021

Congressman Jordan calls for subpoenas of School Boards Association, Administration staff: Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) introduced a resolution that subpoenas the National School Boards Association (NSBA), along with certain members of the Biden administration, for documents related to the administration’s use of federal law enforcement “to target concerned parents at local school board meetings.” The resolution subpoenas Dr. Viola Garcia, President of NSBA, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray, and USED Secretary Miguel Cardona for all documents and communications related to the previous memorandum detailing the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) response to violent threats against school board members and teachers. The resolution is here.
December 8, 2021

Non-Coronavirus Updates:


U.S. Department of Education (USED):

Administration releases Fall 2021 unified agenda, expects action on Title IX regulations by March 2022: The Unified Agenda for Fall 2021 was released, including the agendas for USED and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Unified Agenda provides information on the status of regulatory and deregulatory activities under development within each of these agencies and across the federal government. The Fall 2021 Unified Agenda for USED includes a new notice that the Department plans to issue a proposed Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Rule in March 2022, which will “rescind certain regulations under 34 CFR parts 75 and 76 that place additional requirements on postsecondary institutions that receive Federal research or education grants as a material condition of the Department’s grant.” Additionally, USED’s Office of Civil Rights anticipates issuing a Title IX notice of proposed rulemaking by April 2022, a month earlier than the May 2022 date listed in the Spring 2021 Unified Agenda. The Fall 2021 Unified Agenda for HHS includes a new notice of an interim final rule that HHS is planning to release in January 2022 on Vaccine and Mask Requirements to Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in Head Start Programs. The Unified Agenda for USED is here and for HHS is here. Notice on USED’s proposed Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Rule is here. Notice on HHS’s planned interim final rule on Vaccine and Mask Requirements To Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in Head Start Programs is here. Press release from the USED Office of Civil Rights is here.
December 10, 2021

Affordability, Student Loan neg reg committee completes work on 8 of 12 issues: Members of USED’s negotiated rulemaking (“neg reg”) committee met for the third time in the past few months to discuss regulatory changes to several federal student aid programs. After meeting twice in October and November, the Affordability and Student Loans Committee convened to evaluate how the Department incorporated feedback from the first two sessions into draft regulations for twelve issues, including income-driven repayment plans, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, and multiple borrower defense issues. While the goal of the session was to reach consensus on the proposed language, it remained unclear whether negotiators would find common ground on all the issues. So far, negotiators have voted on eight of the twelve issues and only reached consensus on two: total and permanent disability discharge and interest capitalization. Recordings of the session, as well as copies of materials used, are here. An article from Inside Higher Ed is here (note: a subscription to Inside Higher Ed is required).
December 10, 2021

USED releases final secretarial discretionary grant priorities: USED released the Secretary’s final supplemental priorities and definitions for discretionary grant programs in the Federal Register. The final supplemental priorities are notable as the Department will have the discretion on whether it includes an entire priority within any discretionary grant program or one or more of the priority’s subparts.  Though not a guarantee for receiving a grant award, grant applications that align with the Department’s selected priorities will have a stronger probability of being awarded funding through the discretionary grant program given their increased competitiveness.  The notice can be found here.

In the notice, the Department includes the following six final priorities: (1) Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Students, Educators, and Faculty; (2) Promoting Equity in Student Access to Educational Resources and Opportunities; (3) Supporting a Diverse Educator Workforce and Professional Growth to Strengthen Student Learning; (4) Meeting Student Social, Emotional, and Academic Needs; (5) Increasing Postsecondary Education Access, Affordability, Completion, and Post-Enrollment Success; and (6) Strengthening Cross-Agency Coordination and Community Engagement to Advance Systemic Change.
December 9, 2021



House panel examines economic disparities, impacts of family care systems: The House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth held a hearing titled, “Growing our Economy by Investing in Families: How Supporting Family Caregiving Expands Economic Opportunity and Benefits All Americans.” In the hearing, members examined the link between federal investments in affordable family care and inclusive economic growth, while also discussing the impact of family care access and affordability in relation to the nation’s economic stability and labor force. Witnesses included Michelle Holder, President and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth; Ai-jen Poo, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Melissa Boteach, Vice President for Income Security and Child Care/Early Learning at the National Women’s Law Center; Elliot Haspel, Program Officer at the Robins Foundation; and Denise L. Johnson, a mother from Summerville, SC. During the hearing, witnesses emphasized the importance of investing in the early childhood education infrastructure, particularly as a strategy to support women in the workforce. “Women have fought tooth and nail for gains in the workforce, but the lack of care infrastructure and stress of navigating the demands of breadwinning and caregiving with little support has taken an enormous toll on women’s well-being and the well-being of their families,” said Boteach. A recording of the hearing is here.
December 8, 2021

Foxx calls on colleges, universities to protect free speech: House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) spoke on the House Floor in support of the right to free speech at colleges and universities, which she argued is being threatened. “Too many students and faculty alike are being intimidated into silence or even worse, punished for speaking out about their religious or political beliefs,” Ranking Member Foxx said. “Universities should encourage a diverse set of viewpoints and open dialogue—not stifle the expression of ideas they may oppose.” A press release is here.
December 7, 2021

SCOTUS/Federal Courts:

SCOTUS hears arguments on second case related to state funding of private schools: The Supreme Court heard arguments for Carson v. Makin to determine the merits of state-funded parochial education. The case focuses on Maine’s tuition assistance program, which allows parents in towns without public high schools to send their children to secondary schools of their choice, except for religious schools, which are ineligible to receive public funds. During the hearing, the justices discussed discrimination against religious people, as well as the role of religious “neutrality” within school funding policies. More information on the case is here.
December 8, 2021

Biden Administration urges Court to reject appeal in Harvard, North Carolina race-conscious admissions cases: The Biden Administration, through the Solicitor General, Elizabeth Prelogar, filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to reject a request from Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) to hear the Harvard and University of North Carolina admission cases. The Solicitor General urged the Supreme Court to not overrule the precedent set forth by the Court with respect to race in admissions, and rather asked that they maintain the right of universities to consider race as one of many factors in admissions. The brief highlighted that SFFA has not shown that there are any special justifications that were presented that would necessitate the urgency to overturn precedent. The brief can be found here.
December 8, 2021

Upcoming Events (Congress and Administration):

  • On December 8, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released an official notice announcing the Department’s plan to establish a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on Institutional and Programmatic Eligibility. The upcoming committee meetings focused on accountability will address the following topics: 90/10 rule; Ability to Benefit; certification procedures for participation in Title IV (student aid); change of ownership and change in control of institutions of higher education (IHEs); financial responsibility for participating IHEs; gainful employment; and standards of administrative capability. The Institutional and Programmatic Eligibility Negotiated Rulemaking Committee will meet for three sessions on the following dates: January 18-21, 2022, February 14-18, 2022, and March 14-18, 2022. Additionally, the notice seeks nominations to the Committee, which must be received within seven days of the upcoming date of official publication of the notice. The notice is here. Nominations for negotiators will be able to be submitted to negregnominations@ed.gov.
  • On December 15 at 2:00 pm, USED’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) will hold a webinar on preparing borrowers to restart student loan payments. The webinar is intended for higher education professionals and stakeholders to learn about what borrowers can do now to prepare for student loan payments to restart, repayment plans, recent changes to Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, how to help borrowers avoid student loan scams, and resources available to help borrowers return to repayment. More information and registration are here.

Upcoming Events (Outside Organizations):

  • On December 13 at 1:00 pm, Democrats for Education Reform will hold an event titled, “Education and the Midterms.” The webinar will feature a conversation to unpack polling showing voters’ and parents’ concerns, opportunities for candidates to embrace an education agenda, and the role of education in next year’s midterm election. More information and registration are here.
  • On December 14 at 1:00 pm, Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab will hold a webinar titled, “Will We Ever Know How ESSER is Being Spent?” The webinar will discuss how relief funding is being spent and lessons learned from the field. More information and registration are here.
  • On December 15 at 2:00 pm, the Progressive Policy Institute will hold an event titled, “Voting with Their Feet: Responding to Increased Demand for Innovative Schools.” The webinar will focus on enrollment trends during the pandemic. More information and registration are here.

Publications (Outside Organizations):

  • On November 4, Curriculum Associates released a report titled, “Understanding Student Learning: Insights from Fall 2021.” The report analyzed data gathered from the company’s i-Ready Assessment tool on reading and mathematics learning from three million Grades 1–8 students over the last two years. Key findings include identifying that fewer elementary and middle school students are starting the 2021 school year reading and doing math on grade level than in the three years before the pandemic; that the majority of students experienced some academic setbacks, but the pandemic is not affecting all students in the same way; and that fewer students are prepared to learn sophisticated mathematics skills, with more unfinished learning in Grades 4–6. The full report is here.
  • On December 6, the Center for American Progress released a report titled, “How To Increase Support for Youth Leaving Juvenile Detention Facilities.” The report highlights the needs of students in juvenile detention facilities who are learning in a virtual environment and identifies policies that can support their successful reconnection to their home communities. Key recommendations include providing clear plans for students returning home from long-term detention facilities; forging stronger connections between students in juvenile detention facilities and the schools to which they will return; and explicitly targeting COVID-19 relief resources to students returning home from detention facilities. The full report is here.
  • On December 6, The 74 published an analysis titled, “With Students Back in School, Latest Data Finds Parental Support for State Testing Rebounding.” The article analyzed recent data from the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative panel of U.S. households, to find that parental support for canceling standardized tests has plummeted, from 64 percent last fall to 39 percent in fall 2021. Additionally, the analysis found that gaps across demographic groups have reemerged to pre-pandemic levels, including a much lower proportion of Asian parents (18 percent) supporting test cancellation compared to Black (46 percent), white (36 percent) and Hispanic (45 percent) parents. The full analysis is here.
  • On December 8, the Data Quality Campaign published a report titled, “Education Data Legislation Review: 2021 State Activity.” The report analyzed state legislative activity across the U.S. to determine the prevalence of education data legislation. Key findings include identifying that state legislators remained focus on using data to address COVID-19 and its impact on education and the workforce. More specifically, the analysis found that 361 education data bills were introduced in 45 states, and 111 bills were passed into law in 38 states. The full report is here.
  • On December 8, The Institute for College and Success (TICAS) released a report titled, “Accountability That Works: Restoring Gainful Employment and Strengthening Higher Education Accountability Measures.” The report urges USED to reinstate the previously implemented “gainful employment rule,” and proposes potential revisions, including clarifying that states and consumer groups have standing to ensure the rule is implemented (and to challenge its repeal), and adopting new or additional accountability metrics. The full report is here.


A bill to reauthorize title II of the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC)

A bill to effectively staff the high-need public elementary schools and secondary schools of the United States with school-based mental health services providers.
Sponsor: Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)

A bill to amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to allow direct certification of children in households of active duty members of the Armed Forces for certain Federal school meal programs, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA)

A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to condition an institution of higher education’s receipt of Federal assistance on waiving the application for enrollment fee for homeless children and youths and students who were in foster care at any time when the students were 13 years of age or older.
Sponsor: Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

A bill to effectively staff the high-need public elementary schools and secondary schools of the United States with school-based mental health services providers.
Sponsor: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

A bill to award grants to States to support efforts at institutions of higher education to increase degree attainment, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

A bill to reauthorize title II of the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)

A bill to provide for a study on the transmission of respiratory syncytial virus transmission in schools and daycare facilities.
Sponsor: Senator John Kennedy (R-LA)

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