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Aurora Institute

Center for Policy and Advocacy April 2021 Updates

Education Domain Blog

Federal Updates

  • President Biden Announces Outlines the American Family Plan – During a joint address to Congress on April 28th, President Biden introduced the American Families Plan (AFP), an ambitious proposal that, if passed, would dramatically increase investments in America’s Pre-K-16 pipeline. This is his third proposal to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic following the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the $2.5 trillion American Jobs plan. The AFP is a $1.8 trillion investment, and in part, calls for four additional years of free education by making pre-Kindergarten and community college free for all. A summary of education-related investments follows:
    • $200 billion for high-quality universal pre-K for three-and 4-year olds year olds;
    • $9 billion to train, equip, and diversify the teacher workforce;
    • Double scholarships for future teachers from $4,000 to $8,000 per year while earning their degree;
    • $400 million for teacher preparation programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions for the development of special education teachers;
    • $2.8 billion in Grow Your Own programs and year-long, paid teacher residency programs;
    • $80 billion for Pell Grants, equating to about $1,400 per eligible student; and
    • $109 billion for Community College. Read More
  • President Biden Releases his FY 2022 Discretionary Budget Request – This month, Biden unveiled a discretionary budget proposal that seeks a 41 percent increase in the Education Department pre-pandemic budget. The release did not include detailed agency-by-agency budget requests, which presumably will be shared in May. However, topline discretionary and non-discretionary funding targets allows congress to start high-level budget negotiations. However, the president suggests a historic $36.5 billion investment in Title I, a $20 billion increase above the FY 2021 enacted levels. The proposal also includes additional funding for community schools, students with disabilities, and school counselors. President Biden also signaled that he would request a considerable increase in the Pell Grant, which subsidizes college tuition for low-income students when he makes his full budget request. Read More
  • U.S. Department of Education Launches Best Practices Clearinghouse to Highlight Innovative Practices for Reopening Schools and Campuses – At the end of April, ED launched the Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse, a website that highlights the innovative work underway nationwide in continuing to reopen K-12 schools, early childhood centers, and postsecondary institutions. Through the Clearinghouse, the Department provides examples of how schools and other educational institutions can safely reopen as communities continue recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Read More
  • What the American Rescue Plan Means for Schools – The COVID-19 relief package signed by President Joe Biden in March can be used on a diverse set of efforts including education technology, loss of instructional time, and the unique needs of student subgroups to address the multitude of issues experienced by students and teachers. Congress has provided schools nearly $200 billion in COVID-19 relief, including the $120 billion from the latest American Rescue Plan. Education Week breaks down how schools can use the latest round of federal relief money, timelines and requirements, and what it all means for getting and keeping schools open. Read More
  • Biden Education Department Approves One Request to Cancel State Tests But Rejects Others – The U.S. Department of Education granted its first broad waiver from testing requirements— to the District of Columbia for this school year, citing the large share of students learning remotely and concerns about safely administering exams. In a series of response letters to states that had sought flexibility from the assessment requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the agency rejected a request from New York state to cancel assessments. And it turned down proposals from Michigan and Montana to substitute local tests for state ones. ED also approved a request from Oregon to reduce the number of statewide tests it will give this year. Read More
  • USDA Extends Universal Free Lunch Through Next School Year, Bringing Relief to Millions of Food-Insecure Families – The USDA announced it would extend universal free lunch through the 2021-2022 school year to reach the estimated 12 million children experiencing food insecurity. The first round of waivers, which allowed kids to eat for free even outside of normal meal times, was set to expire on September 30, 2021. The waivers allowed kids to eat outside of traditional group settings and mealtimes and allowed families to pick up multiple days of meals without the child being present. The new waivers increase the reimbursement rate to school meal operators and allow schools flexibility on the types of foods they serve to address issues and disruptions in supply chains. Read More
  • FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit – The FCC has released a new program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. Families can begin enrolling in the program as early as May 12, 2021. Additional information about the program can be found here.


State News


  • Alabama High School Students Required to Fill Out FAFSA for Graduation Starting in 2022 – The State Board of Education voted to require a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for graduating high school seniors statewide. The requirement will begin with seniors graduating next year – 2022. However, students can opt-out of the FAFSA requirement by submitting a waiver to their local superintendent, signed by their parent, legal guardian, or themselves if they are considered emancipated or of legal age. Alabama joins Illinois, Louisiana, and Texas as the fourth state to require a completed FAFSA for graduation. Read More


  • Local Assessments an Option if Statewide Tests Aren’t Viable During the Pandemic, California Officials Signal – California education officials have been told verbally that the state may not need to submit a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education, thus opening the door for more flexibility this spring when it comes to standardized testing, as school districts continue to navigate reopening plans during the pandemic. California’s plan would still offer the state’s Smarter Balanced assessments in mathematics and English language arts, the California Science Test, as well as tests for English learners and other special populations. However, in situations where it is not viable for districts to administer those assessments due to challenges such as assuring COVID-19 safety or broadband limitations while students are at home, the policy would also permit school districts to select their own assessments if they meet a set of criteria prescribed by the state. Read More


  • State Officials Release Guide on How to Spend $7 Billion Pandemic Relief Funds – Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education published a roadmap on how to spend $7 billion in American Rescue Plan relief funding to address learning loss and other educational problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Learning Renewal Resource Guide details 12 strategies that school districts and higher education institutions can consider to address the pandemic’s short and long-term impacts. The 180-page guide offers ideas from experts and stakeholders from around the state to assist school districts in renewing learning and provide ongoing feedback. Read More


  • Report Calls for Rapid Expansion of Early College Programs – A new MassINC report argues that early college programs could help Massachusetts tackle several pressing problems: growing credential gaps across race and class, sagging enrollment in public colleges, and a shortfall in skilled workers. The program allows high school students to take free classes at nearby public colleges, earning their first college credits—and some momentum—along the way. It introduces them, gradually and with support, to more rigorous college-level coursework. Read More
  • Board of Education Waives MCAS Graduation Requirement for Class of 2022 – For the first time since the MCAS became a graduation requirement in 2003, high school juniors will be exempt from having to pass the exam to receive their diploma. The state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously approved the waiver on Tuesday. State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said the massive academic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic made it necessary to suspend the requirement. State education leaders have faced pressure from local school officials and teachers’ unions to cancel this year’s MCAS exams or postpone them until the fall. Read More
  • It’s Time to Scale Up Early College in Massachusetts – Data show that students who have the financial means are two and a half more times more likely to earn a college degree in Massachusetts than students who come from low-income families. Two national randomized controlled trials have found that early college doubles postsecondary completion rates for low-income students and students of color. While providing early college costs a few thousand dollars more per student than the traditional high school format, rigorous estimates suggest each dollar invested returns $15 in benefits. Rep. Jeff Roy, former chair of the higher education committee, filed amendments to ensure that the House budget fully funds early college. Advocates are urging the legislature to fully fund early college as budget conversations continue. Read More


  • With Funding Uncertain, Minnesota Schools Make Plans for Expanded Summer School – Minnesota school districts are expanding their reach for summer school this year, hoping to provide more academic, mental health, and social support to a larger-than-usual share of students who have faced setbacks and stress due to the pandemic. It’s unclear how much federal and state funding districts will receive to start or scale expanded learning time programs so that students would have more opportunities to make up for the loss of instructional time. Read More
  • Minnesota House Passes Sweeping Education Budget Proposal – The Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Minnesota House passed a $21 billion education budget bill that includes $724 million in new spending over the next two years. DFL representatives said the budget measure would improve the state’s worst-in-the-nation racial disparities in education and help students recover from the pandemic. If passed this year, schools will receive $6,567 per student from the funding formula and receive $6,698 per student next year. It would also direct more than $12 million to efforts aimed at hiring and retaining more Native American teachers and teachers of color in Minnesota, recruiting and training high school students and other prospective teachers, for instance. Read More

North Dakota                                                                                                                               

  • Bill Passes Requiring All Schools to Teach Native American History in North Dakota – A bill that requires all North Dakota public and private schools to teach Native American history, culture, and treaty rights advanced through the North Dakota legislature. This legislation, which has recently become law, was authored by Rep. Buffalo but was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman. Because the North Dakota Legislature limits lawmakers to introducing no more than five bills per legislative session, Rep. Buffalo couldn’t introduce the bill as her own. Read More


  • First Day of STAAR Testing Canceled for Thousands of Students Experiencing Technical Issues Across Texas – Texas education officials required all eligible students to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test at official monitoring sites, even though millions of students are learning off-campus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Texas officials, however, advised school districts to suspend the first day of STAAR testing after thousands of students could not take the test because of widespread technical errors across the state. Although the STAAR test is required this year, there is no penalty for elementary and middle school students who do not show up or who fail the test this year. Testing results do not impact a student’s ability to advance to the next grade. Read More


  • SBE Approves Alternative Schedules and Hears Presentation on Innovative Programs for High School Seniors – The Wyoming State Board of Education (SBE) approved alternative schedules for two districts under Chapter 21 emergency rules for the 2020-21 school year at its April 22-23 meeting in Cheyenne. Additionally, 15 schools had alternative schedules approved for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years under the regular Chapter 21 rules. The board also continued its conversation regarding identifying high school graduation standards through its Profile of a Graduate initiative. Read More

Legislative Update

  • AZ HB 2862 – This bill allows districts to deliver instructional time through direct instruction, project-based learning, independent learning, and mastery-based learning. (Enacted into law)
  • AR SB 291 – This bill establishes community schools to assist in combating the effects of COVID-19 on academics and supporting the social and emotional health of students. (Enacted into law)
  • MN SF 1555 – This bill appropriates money for a career pathways demonstration program. (Introduced)
  • MO HB 624 – This bill establishes the Show Me Success Diploma Program as an alternative graduation pathway for high school students. (Passed First Chamber)
  • MT HB 89 – This bill provides financial incentives for districts to participate in the state’s transformational learning program. (Enacted into law)
  • MT HB 246 – This bill allows students to earn credit based on proficiency, expands partnerships with work-based learning partners, and grants credit for work-based learning. (Enacted into law)
  • NC HB 760 – This bill establishes an opportunity gap task force and directs the task force to consider the value of incorporating mastery-based learning in the state. (Introduced)
  • ND HB 1375 – This bill directs the state board of higher education to administer a dual-credit tuition scholarship for students wishing to take dual-credit courses. (Enacted into law)
  • ND HB 1478 – This bill allows students in grades 6-12 to earn course credit through opportunities outside of the classroom. (Enacted into law)
  • ND SB 2304 – This legislation requires all elementary and secondary nonpublic schools to include curriculum on Native American history. (Enacted into law)
  • NH HB 609 – This legislation establishes innovation school zones in the state. (Passed Second Chamber)
  • OK SB 619 – This legislation allows sophomores, juniors, and seniors to participate in an apprenticeship, internship, or mentorship program. (Passed Second Chamber)
  • WA SB 5249 – This bill creates a mastery-based workgroup in the state and directs the workgroup to develop a profile of a graduate. (Enacted into law)

For questions, comments, or technical assistance, contact:
Fred A. Jones, Jr.
Policy Director, Aurora Institute
[email protected]

Alexis Chambers
Policy Associate, Aurora Institute
[email protected]