Back in December, we laid out our 100-day policy priorities for K-12 and Higher Education for the Biden administration and urged the then President- and Vice President-elect to advance education policies that aspire to the historic role the federal government has played in narrowing opportunity gaps and channeling resources to the students and schools most in need of them.
As we reach that 100-day mark, we are pleased to share several of these critical policy wins from the start of the Biden Administration.
Maintaining Annual Assessments
In February, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced that that the U.S. Department of Education (US DOE) would not grant a blanket waiver for Spring 2021 annual statewide assessments. This was a crucial step toward ensuring that states and districts have comparable, objective information so that they may better direct resources to the students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide annual assessments are the only tests designed to provide this type of comparable information for families, educators, and policymakers.
Regaining Learning Loss Due to COVID-19 Through High-Impact Tutoring
Education Reform Now advocated that a portion of the whopping $130 billion in covid relief funds for K-12 education be dedicated to helping parents access high impact tutoring and small group instruction—an evidence-based strategy for improving students’ academic, social and emotional wellbeing. We were pleased that the final bill included a 5% state set-aside to address learning loss—that can be applied toward high impact tutoring programs— and a 20% set-aside at the local level. The Administration also made evidence-based recommendations for high impact tutoring in its COVID-19 Handbook.
Closing the Digital Divide
Education Reform Now advocated for stimulus funding through the federal E-Rate program to ensure broadband and internet connected devices are available to every student in America—especially the millions of students who still do not have access to broadband or an internet connected device. Congress appropriated $7 billion for E-Rate in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), including funds that can be used both for broadband access and the purchase of devices (pending an FCC review of the latter policy), which is new to the E-Rate program.
Providing Accountability for ARPA Funds
We advocated for many provisions that the US DOE included in its application template for ARPA’S Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSERF). While two-thirds of ARPA ESSERF funds have already gone out, US DOE is making the remaining third contingent on a successful application. The provisions we helped secure include stakeholder engagement, transparency and public reporting in the planning process, demonstration of a commitment to serving students from historically disadvantaged groups, and an emphasis on evidence-based interventions.
Increasing Pell Grant Aid
As part of the American Families Plan Act, President Biden has proposed increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by $1,800—a more than 20% increase in grant funds for a maximum total of $8,295. This is a significant step toward doubling Pell Grant aid, which we called for in our 100-Day Proposal and which President Biden has pledged to do. Federal Pell Grants provide needs-based grant funding to low-income undergraduate students.
Supporting College Completion
To increase higher education graduation rates, President Biden has called for a $62 billion completion fund “to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities that serve high numbers of low-income students, particularly community colleges”— in addition to free community college. Education Reform Now has long advocated for policies that would not only make college more affordable, but would boost college competition rates and speed time-to-degree. Importantly, this grant funding would support solutions like transfer agreements between colleges—making it easier for students to move from community colleges to a four-year institution, along with a variety of proven-wrap around services, mentoring, and emergency needs grants to help students persist and graduate.
Instituting a Student-Loan Moratorium
In our 100-Day Agenda, we called on the Biden administration to issue a moratorium on student loan payments his first day in office given the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden did just that. In one of his first actions as President, Biden directed the Department of Education to extend the payment pause for federal student loan borrowers until Sept. 30, 2021.
Forgiving Debt for Defrauded Students
As part of Education Reform Now’s loan relief advocacy, we urged the administration to end permanently all federal student loan debt collections for borrowers who had been exploited by fraudulently misleading institutions of higher education. In March, Secretary Cardona granted full debt relief to students who had been cheated by for-profit institutions. The new policy provides relief to 72,000 borrowers with previously approved “borrower-defense” claims.