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Aurora Institute

Federal and State Policy Updates Published September 2021

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Alexis Chambers, Fred Jones

Issue(s): Federal Policy, State Policy

Federal Updates

  • Additional State COVID-19 Relief Spending Plans Approved by the U.S. Department of Education The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded more than $81 billion of the $122 billion ARP ESSER funds to states. ED has approved 33 plans to date, while 46 states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans. State plans include a focus on social emotional learning, equitable learning recovery, expanding access to mental and health services in school, and an increase in school personnel. (District Administration)  Read More
  • Strategies for Using American Rescue Plan Funding to Address the Impact of Lost Instructional Time The U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive document providing guidance to schools on how to use ARP relief funds towards investments to improve instruction and academic achievement. The document refers to a number of real-time instructional strategies as models for other schools and districts to consider. (U.S. Department of Education) Read More
  • Emerging from the Pandemic, Districts look to Expand Personalized Competency-Based Education – As educators reflect on the disruptions of the past two academic years, they are increasingly gravitating toward personalized, competency-based learning. CBE is being practiced at schools like Parker-Varney in New Hampshire, where teachers and families didn’t have to guess where students were in their learning or what gaps may persist because they already had a competency-based education system in place, and were able to access this information in real time. (Washington Post) Read More
  • For First Time, OCR Asks Districts for Civil Rights Data 2 Years in a RowIn an effort to gather district and school-level data about the pandemic’s impact on equitable public school experiences, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will hold back-to-back school year Civil Rights Data Collections from 2020-21 and 2021-22, ED announced. It is the first time the ED will require this reporting for two years in a row. (K-12 Dive) Read More
  • FCC Announces Over $5 Billion in Funding Requests Received in Emergency Connectivity Fund Program The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it has received requests for $5.1 billion to fund over 9 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections as part of the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The FCC will open a second application filing window for schools and libraries to request funding for connected devices and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons for the current 2021-22 school year. (FCC News) Read More

State Updates


  • Board Votes to Ban Teaching Critical Race Theory in Alabama Schools – The Alabama State Board of Education on Thursday passed a resolution banning critical race theory in public schools, a move that supporters said preserves intellectual freedom and opponents said will stifle how history is taught. The resolution doesn’t appear to have any enforceable power behind it and State Superintendent Eric Mackey said he believes that no teacher in Alabama will be punished as a result of the resolution. (Alabama Daily News) Read More


  • Governor Ducey Announces Nearly $65 Million to Expand Learning Programs – Governor Doug Ducey today announced $64.9 million in state and federal funding for programs that improve K-12 literacy, support adult education and expand teacher professional development. His plan includes $6 million for Arizona’s Expansion and Innovation Fund to award grants to schools that find innovative ways to best serve their students’ unique needs; $2 million to fund the cost of certification exams for Career and Technical Education Program students who cannot afford it; and allowing more young Arizonans to become credentialed in their industry of interest. $2 million for the Arizona Personalized Learning Network to help teachers and school leaders make the shift to personalized learning at the classroom, building, and district/charter network level. (Office of the Governor Doug Ducey) Read More


  • Reyes Legislation to Ensure Students Complete Financial Aid Applications Included in State Budget PackageAssembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes’s (D-San Bernardino) bill to make sure that high school seniors complete and submit Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) has been included in AB 132 the Education Budget Trailer Bill that is part of the state budget package. Among its various education funding provisions, AB 132 includes the requirements contained in AB 469 (Reyes) that will enable high school seniors to maximize the funding that may be available for them to attend college or university.  According to the National College Access Network, 90% of high school seniors who complete the FAFSA attend college directly from high school, compared to just 55% of those that do not complete FAFSA. (Inland Empire Community News) Read More


  • State Education Assessment Shows ‘Significant Decreases’ for Colorado StudentsColorado students have experienced “significant decreases in achievement” between 2019 and 2021, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) said on Thursday. Students scored lower “across all tested grades and subject areas” in the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments, which the agency administered to students last spring. (Yahoo News) Read More


  • ‘We weren’t Surprised’: Pandemic’s Impact Shows Up in Idaho’s Standardized Test Scores – A slightly smaller share of Idaho students scored as at least proficient on their English language arts and math standardized tests in the spring when compared to pre-pandemic results. The number of students who scored proficient or advanced on the English language arts portion of the Idaho Standards Achievement Test this year was 54.1%, not quite 1 percentage point lower than the share of students reaching those levels in 2019. In math, about 39.6% of students scored as proficient or advanced, a drop of about 5 percentage points compared to 2019, when 44.4% of students hit those marks. (Idaho Statesman) Read More


  • Louisiana Schools Chief Outlines Priorities for Pandemic AidLouisiana’s top public school leader released a $132 million plan on Wednesday for spending federal coronavirus aid, saying he hopes it will help students recover from learning losses that occurred when classroom teaching moved online because of the pandemic. Superintendent Brumley intends to use the dollars to expand mental and behavioral health support at schools, boost tutoring and literacy programs, enhance summer learning initiatives and add new training opportunities for teachers. (US News) Read More


  • Advocates say Minnesota Leaders Failed to ‘Meet the Moment’ in Tackling Racial DisparitiesIn the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, both Democrats and Republicans at the State Capitol said the state needed to tackle racial inequities. The DFL-led House created a Select Committee on Racial Justice that came up with 83 policy recommendations to dismantle racism. But converting that sentiment into tangible policies and spending often proved difficult in the nation’s only divided Legislature, where lawmakers disagree on how best to tackle disparities and just the word “equity” can spark disputes. Many advocates say the legislature came up short. (Star Tribune) Read More
  • Minnesota Launches Support System to Help Students Recover from COVID’s Disruptive ImpactAs new statewide assessment results show declines in students meeting grade level standards, Minnesota is launching a support program, Collaborative Minnesota Partnerships to Advance Student Success (COMPASS), to help get learners back on track after more than a year of educational disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Minnesota officials, the program is launching after standardized test data taken earlier this year showed declines in students meeting or exceeding grade level standards compared to 2019, the school year before the pandemic. (CBS Minnesota) Read More


  • How Nevada is Keeping Students and Teachers Digitally ConnectedGrowing out of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 Task Force, a bipartisan public-private coalition of state leaders, was formed with the goal of connecting every K-12 student and helping to close Nevada’s digital divide. Together, the collaborative built a state network of digital ambassadors and developed resources to support educators in incorporating distance learning through model curriculum, competencies, learning progressions, and templates for learning design to develop future-ready students. The Digital Learning Collaborative now serves as a central hub for educators and administrators to access on-demand professional development, materials, and strategies to connect and engage with students through virtual channels. (Ed Note) Read More

New Mexico

  • NM could have had More In-Person Classes, Departing Secretary SaysNew Mexico’s top education official during the pandemic headed into his final hours in Santa Fe saying outdoor classrooms could have allowed more in-person instruction when schools were closed last year and may be key to addressing parents’ masking concerns. Stewart said he has been pushing for outdoor learning, telling education leaders he could fund shade structures, furniture, and staff training. (Albuquerque Journal) Read More
  • Lawmakers Concerned about Extended Learning Time – State lawmakers expressed concern about a large number of public schools that aren’t participating in programs extending classroom time to help improve outcomes for students and address the 2018 ruling in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit. The ruling, which determined New Mexico’s public education system was providing inadequate services to several groups of students, cited extended learning — such as preschool, after-school, and summer school programs — as key to bringing proficiency rates and other measures up to par. But schools districts can choose whether to offer the extra learning time. (Santa Fe New Mexican) Read More

North Carolina

  • Moving Kids Forward: A Look at DPI’s New Office of Learning Recovery & AccelerationIn April, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt laid out her vision for operations for the North Carolina public education system over the next four years. At the center of the plan is the Office of Learning Recovery & Acceleration. According to the DPI website, this department is to serve public schools by providing the research and support needed to make evidence-based decisions to combat learning loss and accelerate learning for all students. Check out an interview with its Executive Director, Michael Maher. (EdNC) Read More

North Dakota

  • Education Superintendent Says North Dakota will be Ready to Certify a Different Path of GraduationThe North Dakota Department of Public Instruction will be ready to certify a different path to graduation by the beginning of next year. In fact, all school districts will be provided the opportunity to adopt a learning policy that awards students the credits necessary to graduate from high school through demonstrated mastery of learning continuum competencies. (Grand Forks Herald) Read More


  • State Education Grant to Teach for America Hopes to Address Teacher ShortageA $4.2 million grant announced by state education officials will be used in an effort to build a pipeline of educators to fill Oklahoma classrooms. The funding, slated to fund efforts through a three-year grant, will tap into the extensive Teach for America network of alumni to recruit and develop 50 teachers who will then commit to work for two years in Oklahoma schools. The grant also aims to recruit up to 20 tutors each semester from colleges for academic coaching and small-group instruction. (The Daily Ardmoreite) Read More


  • Texas Senate Committee Advances Virtual Learning Bill to Expand Online ClassesSchools are pleading with the state to fund online classes as COVID-19 cases spike and interest in remote learning increases. But state testing data shows student performance decreased during the pandemic, when many of the state’s students learned from home. The Senate’s Education Committee ultimately approved a proposal that would fund online learning in most Texas school districts. (Dallas News) Read More
  • Will Virtual Schools Finally Pass the Texas Legislature? – Legislation was filed that would create a system for virtual and off-campus electronic instruction at a public school, the satisfaction of teacher certification requirements through an internship teaching certain virtual courses, and the allotment for certain special-purpose school districts under the Foundation School Program. Although the bill has passed engrossment in the Senate, it has not yet been received by the House because not enough members are present for a quorum. (Reform Austin) Read More


  • Help Build a Profile of a Washington High School graduate – In Washington, a work group of educators, known as the Mastery-based Learning Work Group, has been asked to formally redefine what it means to be a life- and career-ready high school graduate before the end of the year. New legislation directs the work group to develop a “Profile of a Graduate,” a key list of skills and characteristics all students should possess and practice before heading into the real world.  The group has been holding virtual listening sessions this summer with educators, families, businesses, and higher education community members to get feedback on what skills are essential for students to have to survive and thrive in life after high school. The final public listening session in this series will take place on the 8th of September. (Seattle Times) Read More

Legislation We are Watching

  • IL HB 3114 – This legislation creates the State Education Equity Committee within the State Board of Education, with the purpose of the committee being to strive to ensure equity in education for all children from birth through grade 12. (Enacted into law)
  • NC SB 654 – This bill provides that the State Board of Education should not prescribe performance grades for schools for the 2021-22 school year. (Enacted into law)
  • OR HB 2378 – This legislation directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to establish a competency-based education pilot program to assist public post-secondary institutions with expanding competency-based education. (Enacted into law)
  • US HR 3186 – This legislation, titled the 21st Century Workforce Partnership Act, awards career pathways innovation grants to local educational agencies and consortia of local educational agencies. (Introduced)

    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]