E-Update for the Week of December 20, 2021

E-Update for the Week of December 20, 2021

Please note that in light of the winter holiday season, EducationCounsel will not publish the next E-Update until January 3, 2022. We wish you and your family a wonderful holiday break!


  • On December 19, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) released a statement in which he said that he would not support the Build Back Better Act (BBB).
  • On December 17, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released draft guidance for public comment on implementing accountability and school improvement requirements titled, “Impact of COVID-19 on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems Required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1985 (ESEA).”
  • On December 13, Valerie Williams was sworn in as Director of the Office of Special Education Programs at USED.


Senator Manchin, reversing previous public statements, says he will not vote to support Build Back Better package: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) released a statement in which he said that he would not support the Build Back Better Act (BBB). The Senator stated, “I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.” The statement follows previous reports of ongoing negotiations between the Senator, the White House, and congressional Democrats to advance the $1.7 trillion bill. Senator Manchin cited concerns with continued impacts of the pandemic, inflation, and “geopolitical uncertainty” as reasons he could not support the BBB. In response to the Senator’s statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a statement expressing that Senator Manchin’s comments were “at odds” with discussions he had earlier in the week with President Biden and the Senator previously committed to the president that he would support the BBB framework. Psaki continued and stated that the White House would continue to “press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again.” The full statement from Senator Manchin is here. The full statement from the White House is here.
December 19, 2021

Biden Transition:

White House to nominate LaWanda Toney, formerly of National PTA, as head of USED communications and outreach: President Joe Biden announced his intent nominate LaWanda Toney to serve as USED’s Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach. Toney currently is the Director of Strategic Communications at the National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA). “LaWanda brings years of strategic messaging experience to this role, as well as a deep dedication to excellence and equity in education,” said U.S. Department of Education (USED) Secretary Miguel Cardona. “LaWanda’s strong connections to our parent communities also will help to ensure that the Department’s communications and engagement continue to be informed by the lived experiences of parents and families across the country, who—particularly amid the pandemic—have raised their voices and demonstrated incredible advocacy for the education that their children need and deserve in order to thrive.” A press release is here.
December 15, 2021

Valerie Williams appointed to serve as director of USED special education office: Valerie Williams was sworn in as Director of the Office of Special Education Programs at USED. Previously, Williams served as the senior director of government relations and external affairs for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE). In this role, Williams is responsible for overseeing administration of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Williams’ biography is here.
December 13, 2021

Coronavirus Updates (as related to education):


U.S. Department of Education (USED):

IES announces plans for two new competitive grants using ARP funds: Mark Schneider, Director of USED’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), announced plans to hold two new competitions that the Department will release early next year using American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. The “Middle Grades Science Challenge” will aim to incentivize innovation in middle school science instruction, and the “Elementary Mathematics Challenge” will focus on supporting students with disabilities in the upper elementary grades. “We hope to spur new thinking about how to improve student performance and encourage the participation of developers and program providers who are willing to systematically test the effectiveness of their interventions,” Director Schneider wrote. “We anticipate a grand prize of around $1 million, along with smaller ‘adjacent prizes’ for superior performance in subcategories, such as outcomes for certain student populations, exceptional cost effectiveness, or out-of-school-time interventions with the greatest impact.” The full post is here.
December 14, 2021


Senator Warnock leads Democratic colleagues in pushing for White House to continue freeze on student loan interest accrual: Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) led a letter, alongside other Democratic Senators, asking the Biden administration to continue waiving borrowers’ interest on federal student loans for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency. In the letter, the Senators highlight how current and former students are still financially recovering from the pandemic, as well as information from USED indicating that federal borrowers have saved $5 billion each month in total since they stopped accruing interest on their federal student loans due to a federal pause instituted on March 13, 2020. “Continuing to waive student loan interest will provide borrowers with vital financial support during a time when students, borrowers, and higher education institutions are still recovering from economic and academic disruptions caused by the pandemic, including rising costs,” the Members write. The full letter is here.
December 3, 2021

Non-Coronavirus Updates:


White House:

Biden, in address to Sandi Hook families, marks event as ‘unconscionable act of violence:’ President Biden addressed the families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, marking the tragic event’s nine-year anniversary by calling it “an unconscionable act of violence.” In his remarks, President Biden pointed to his administration’s current efforts to combat gun violence as Democratic-led efforts to pass tougher gun laws have repeatedly failed in Congress. He also highlighted the Obama Administration’s response to the shooting, emphasizing the executive actions taken even though Congress stopped short of passing comprehensive gun legislation. Biden, who served as former President Barack Obama’s vice president at the time of the shooting, said that “for me and for Barack, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was one of the saddest days we were in office those eight years.” An article from POLITICO is here (note: a subscription to POLITICO Pro is required).
December 14, 2021

U.S. Department of Education (USED):

USED seeking comment on draft guidance for restarting statewide accountability systems, proposes creation of expedited process to seek ESSA plan amendments: USED released draft guidance for public comment on implementing accountability and school improvement requirements titled, “Impact of COVID-19 on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems Required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1985 (ESEA).” The draft document aims to support State educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and schools as they implement accountability and school improvement requirements under ESEA, particularly in the context of the pandemic. In the document, the Department seeks to answer several the frequently asked questions posed by teachers, school and LEA leaders, SEA representatives, civil rights organizations, education advocates, and policymakers. Comments will be accepted until January 16. The document is here.
December 17, 2021

USED republishes proposed changes to CRDC, restoring questions on school, district staff instances of sexual misconduct: USED’s Office for Civil Rights announced that it was withdrawing its previous proposal for a 2021-2022 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and replacing the proposal with a new notice citing “further reflection,” according to Ed Week. The Department in the new notice is seeking to restore questions about accusations of sexual misconduct by school staff to the upcoming CRDC, after proposing to eliminate the questions in the initial notice. The reversal follows pressure from House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) to restore the questions as she had expressed “Parents deserve to know if administrators and local officials are ignoring allegations of sexual assault by staff against students. The only way for parents to get this information is if school districts are required to report it.” Comments will be accepted on the new proposal until February 11. The new notice is here, the report from Ed Week is here, and a press release from Ranking Member Foxx is here.
December 15, 2021

USED to establish neg reg committee focused on accountability, gainful employment, 90/10 rule: USED released a notice announcing the Department’s plan to establish a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on Institutional and Programmatic Eligibility. The upcoming Negotiated Rulemaking 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 Department announced that it was seeking nominations to the Committee, which were required to be submitted by December 15th. The notice is here.
December 8, 2021



Foxx, Letlow seek USED OIG investigation on termination of private collection agency contracts: House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Rep. Julia Letlow (R-LA) sent a letter to USED Inspector General Sandra Bruce asking her to investigate the Department’s decision to terminate its contracts with all private collection agencies (PCAs). In the letter, the Members argue that the action could have “significant consequences” for the approximately 7 million defaulted borrowers that rely on PCAs to “bring them into good standing,” and questions whether the Department will have “the necessary expertise, security clearance, and licensing required to complete collections work” as they oversee returning over 40 million federal student loan borrowers back into repayment on February 1. A press release is here.
December 16, 2021

Scott discusses current state of higher education, notes potential bipartisan action on workforce development: On December 15, House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) spoke with Lanae Erickson, Senior Vice President of Social Policy & Politics at Third Way, about the current state of our higher education system and the impact recent federal relief investments will have on students and families across the country. During the conversation, Chairman Scott reiterated the committee’s support to addressing systemic challenges in higher education, including completion gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, accreditation issues (particularly in terms of for-profit institutions), and affordability. Chairman Scott highlighted the possibility for bipartisan action around workforce training issues, while acknowledging that comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act would be challenging given the current political climate. More information about the event is here.
December 15, 2021

Latest from EducationCounsel:

  • Elysa Cash and Danielle Ewen (former EducationCounsel staff) published a blog post on New America titled, “Leveraging Federal Dollars to Build Early Childhood Systems.” The post highlights the flexibilities included in certain federal programs that can be leveraged to support the building of a birth-to-third grade system. Key recommendations include using funding from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Elementary And Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to invest in joint professional development on aligning routines and expectations for pre-K, kindergarten, and early elementary teachers. The post also recommends using ESSA funds to build quality within existing programs through a range of support options, such as home visiting. The full post is here.
  • Davida McDonald published a blog post on New America titled, “Interview with Rebecca Steinhoff: How Wyoming is Thinking About Effective and Supportive Kindergarten Transitions.” The post features a conversation with Rebecca Steinhoff, Executive Director of Wyoming Kids First, on the state’s Early Childhood Strategic Plan. In the interview, Steinhoff discusses Wyoming’s efforts to create a shared understanding of transitions across early childhood and birth-to-5 settings, as well as strategies to support all children and families through transitions. The full post is here. 

Upcoming Events (Congress and Administration):

  • Due to the upcoming Congressional recess, no hearings are scheduled for the weeks of December 20 and 27. The Senate is scheduled to return on January 3, 2022, while the House is scheduled to return on January 10, 2022.
  • On December 15, the Senate released its calendar for the upcoming year, showing that the chamber will return the week of January 3. The calendar includes weeklong breaks in January and February for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day holidays, and an extended, two-week break over Easter and Passover. Though some of the time overlaps with the House’s schedule that was released in late November, the House is scheduled to be out of session for the entire months of August and October, while the Senate is set for smaller breaks. The full calendar is here.
  • On February 2 at 12:00 pm, USED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) will hold an event titled, “2022 Advancing Equity in Career-Connected Education Summit.” During the event, which will focus on adult education, career technical education, community colleges, and correctional education, participants will discuss evidence-based strategies and noteworthy practices that advance equity across OCTAE’s program areas. More information and registration are here. 

Upcoming Events (Outside Organizations):

  • Due to the upcoming holiday, there were no relevant events scheduled for the upcoming weeks.

Publications (Congress and Administration):

  • On December 16, USED published new data from its School Pulse Panel survey, a new study that tracks the impact of the pandemic on public schools. Key findings from the data, which are from the summer to September, include identifying that 40 percent of public school principals said at least three-quarters of their staff were vaccinated against the coronavirus, and that 1 in 4 principals reported not knowing what percentage of their staff who have been vaccinated. However, the survey also found that nearly 100 percent of public school students have been offered in-person learning, and nearly all principals saying they offered summer school as a strategy to address students’ learning loss. The data are here.

Publications (Outside Organizations):

  • On December 16, the Student Borrower Protection Center released a report titled, “Revisiting Debt Relief,” which rated the Biden administration’s efforts to deliver student debt relief in its first year. The report includes papers that examine the range of existing debt relief programs that promise relief to people with student debt, and offers recommendations for how the administration can leverage these programs to “keep its promise” to cancel student debt. The papers also discussed options to revisit relief for borrowers waiting for income-driven repayment, borrowers who are public service workers, borrowers with disabilities, and students harmed by school closures, amongst others. The full report is here.
  • On December 16, Third Way published a report titled, “Design Principles for Student Loan Servicing Reform,” which issues recommendations for reforming the student loan servicing system. Certain recommendations include to identify long-term goals and align short-term measures with them; clarify the role of the servicer and simplify where and how borrowers get information; and get the incentives right on contracts. The report also suggests that USED collect standardized data from servicers on loan terms, outputs and outcomes. The full report is here.  
  • On December 16, McKinsey & Company published a report titled, “COVID-19 and Education: An Emerging K-Shaped Recovery.” The report analyzed the pandemic’s impact on students’ learning, finding that students remain behind in both math and reading. Overall, students are four months behind in math and three months behind in reading, compared to previous year. The report also found a continued, disparate impact on students of color, with students in majority-Black schools now five months behind their historical levels in both math and reading, while students in majority-white schools are now just two months behind their historical levels. The full report is here.
  • On December 15, Ed Trust published two new reports titled, “Getting Latino Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers,” and “Getting Black Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers.” The reports examined whether students of color and students from low income-backgrounds have equitable access to non-novice teachers, and found that schools with high enrollments of these student populations tend to have less access to experienced teachers. Other key findings include identifying that Black students are more likely to attend schools that have high percentages of novice teachers in nearly every state, while Latino students also have more novice teachers (compared to their peers) in more than 25 states. The report on Latino students is here, and the report on Black students is here.
  • On December 14, Results For America (RFA) published a report titled, “2021 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence.” In the report, RFA used four criteria to identify 202 examples of data-driven and evidence-based practices, policies, programs, and systems in effect as of August 2021 in 36 states across the country. RFA also identified nine “leading” states (Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Utah) and four “honor roll” states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) that demonstrate a “commitment” to evidence-based policymaking. The full report is here.


H.R. 6255
A bill to amend the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to establish employer-directed skills accounts, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY)

H.R. 6262
A bill to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public education, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA)

H.R. 6268
A bill to establish an Interagency Task Force to examine the conditions and experiences of Black women and girls in education, economic development, healthcare, labor and employment, housing, justice and civil rights, to promote community-based methods for mitigating and addressing harm and ensuring accountability, and to study societal effects on Black women and girls, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL)

H.R. 6287
A bill to amend the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to meet the needs of homeless children, youth, and families, and honor the assessments and priorities of local communities.
Sponsor: Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ)

H.R. 6293
A bill to amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require States to designate public high schools as voter registration agencies, to direct such schools to conduct voter registration drives for students attending such schools, to direct the Secretary of Education to make grants to reimburse such schools for the costs of conducting such voter registration drives, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)

H.R. 6312
A bill to prohibit the use of Federal funds to enforce the rule submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services relating to COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements for Head Start programs.
Sponsor: Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI)

H.R. 6324
A bill to direct the Secretary of Education to develop and disseminate an evidence-based curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12 on the dangers of vaping and misusing opioids, synthetic drugs, and related substances.
Sponsor: Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)

S. 3398
A bill to amend the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program to promote career awareness in accounting as part of a well-rounded STEM educational experience.
Sponsor: Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

S. 3412
A bill to prohibit the use of Federal funds to enforce the rule submitted by the Department of Health and Human Services relating to COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements for Head Start programs.
Sponsor: Senator John Thune (R-SD)

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