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20th October 2021
Mental health challenges to be addressed
The Biden administration has released a plan to address rising mental health concerns among students in schools across the country. The announcement came as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association put out a statement warning of a "mental health state of emergency" for children and adolescents. Between March and October 2020, mental health emergency visits increased 24% for children aged 5-11, and 31% for kids aged 12-17. There was also a more than 50% spike in visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 in early 2021, compared to the same period in 2019. The U.S. Department of Education's new proposals, titled Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health, sets out seven critical areas of difficulty educators and care providers may experience when it comes to addressing the mental health of young people and includes a corresponding seven-point list of recommendations aimed at helping schools' and providers improve the emotional well-being of students and children. It points to school districts and programs across the country -- in states such as New Jersey, California, Oregon and Vermont -- that have already implemented successful techniques for improving students mental health. Examples include a peer based initiative for college students in California, youth advisory councils funded by the state legislature in Oregon and a program to support students of military families started by the Military Child Education Coalition.
COVID spending decisions 'should take parents' views into account'
Matt Barnum suggests several ideas for how finance officials could potentially boost engagement with parents and stakeholders over how federal aid might be best spent in schools. Just one in five public school parents recall being asked by their child’s school how officials might spend coronavirus relief money, according to a recent nationwide poll, and Domingo Morel, a political scientist at Rutgers University, asserts: “Schools are the site for democracy building. People need to be participating in all forms of policy that affect them.” Barnum suggests officials actively seek out ideas and feedback, ideally through schools and teachers as opposed to relying on district offices, and even setting aside some money for groups of parents and students to directly control. In Central Falls for example, in Rhode Island, over 100 parents and students deliberated over how to spend $100,000 in federal funds this school year. In a recent related study, Barnum adds, Brown University researcher Jonathan Collins also found that parents were more likely to say they would attend a school board meeting if the flyer promised an “open dialogue.”
Private school tuition accounts approved in Michigan
Children could qualify for scholarships to attend private schools and to cover educational expenses such as tutoring under bills approved Tuesday in Michigan. The fast-tracked legislation, introduced less than a week ago, would let individual and corporate taxpayers claim a 100% credit against their income taxes for donations to nonprofit organizations, which would send money to eligible students' accounts. K-12 students would be eligible if their family income is no more than double the cutoff to receive free or reduced-priced lunch — $98,050 for a family of four — they have a disability or they are in foster care. The scholarships could pay for school-related expenses such as tuition, fees, tutoring, computers, software, instructional materials, summer school, transportation costs, athletic fees, educational therapies and school uniforms. State tax revenue would be cut by as much as $500 million in the first year and public schools would see a drop in funding depending on how many kids switch to private school because of the scholarships. Final votes could occur as soon as next week.
School districts' accountability analyzed
In an opinion piece for Education Week Rick Hess, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the director of the think tank’s Education Policy Studies, discusses how state policymakers can make testing and accountability better meet the needs of their students and schools.
School disenrollment on the rise
With the release of new data in recent months, a clearer picture is emerging of how K-12 enrollment has responded to the pandemic. Researchers at Stanford have found that roughly one-quarter of the decrease in students is directly attributable to the move to all-virtual instruction, and that the trend mostly affected the very youngest students. And early indicators from states and school districts suggest that total enrollment won’t bounce back to the pre-COVID status quo this year. According to the study kindergarten enrollment fell by 3%-4% in districts that opted for all-virtual instruction last fall. Elementary school enrollment fell by about 1%, while middle and high school enrollment was mostly unchanged. In all, researchers found that offering all-remote classes led to an enrollment drop of 1.1 percentage points, or roughly 300,000 students. Notably, the scale of disenrollment resulting from all-remote school was greater in demographically identifiable areas, such as rural districts and those serving more Hispanic students.

NYC homeless student attendance drops
New research warns that students without permanent housing in New York City have significantly lower attendance rates than students with permanent housing. Advocates for Children of New York, a nonprofit group, analyzed attendance data from the New York City Department of Education and found that attendance rates for students living in shelters fell to just 73% in the first few weeks of the new school year, while the attendance rate for all New York City students is around 90% so far this year. The average attendance rate for homeless students during the 2019-2020 school year was around 83%, compared to 92% for permanently housed students. Jennifer Pringle, director of Advocates for Children's Learners in Temporary Housing project, which is calling on the city to use federal Covid-19 relief money to hire 150 community coordinators to help students get to class every day, comments: “Homelessness and education are inextricably linked. So if we really want to break the cycle of homelessness we need to focus on education and make sure that families and students have the supports that they need to overcome these barriers to attendance.”
Executive order aims to improve Black education outcomes
President Joe Biden has signed an executive order establishing two commissions within the Department of Education to improve education for Black students. One of the panels has been assigned to raise awareness around challenges for Black students and increase Black children's access to high-quality early childhood programs, among other projects, while the other will make recommendations to the president about educational equity and economic opportunity for the Black community. School districts with high concentrations of Black students are much more likely to be underfunded than districts where a majority of students are White, and face much wider funding gaps, with an average deficit of more than $5,000 per student, the White House said. It added that 26% of Black Americans aged 25 and above have attained a bachelor's degree, while the national average is 36%.
Fears raised over 'criminalizing' parents' speech at board meetings
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, along with 16 other state attorneys general, penned a letter to President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking them to cease what they describe as efforts to intimidate parents into silence at school board meetings. A memorandum issued by Garland, which was released shortly after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to Biden claiming some clashes between school boards and parents may amount to "domestic terrorism," calls for the FBI to take the lead on a task force to address threats against school officials, including creating a centralized way to report such threats. The 17 chief law enforcement officers from each state argued that it is "based upon a flawed premise" and violates "First Amendment rights of parents to address school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff on educational matters by seeking to criminalize lawful dissent and intimidate parents into silence."
More disciplinary actions found in schools with SROs
Research detailed in a working paper from researchers at the University of Albany and RAND Corporation, published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, suggests school police don't prevent school shootings or gun violence in schools, and worsen rates of suspension, expulsion, arrests and police referrals for Black students, as well as chronic absenteeism rates for students with disabilities. While SROs seem to help with general safety by decreasing unarmed violent offenses like fights, researchers found they may instead marginally increase the chances of firearm-related incidents on school grounds. The study used national school-level data between 2014-2018 from the U.S. Department of Education.  


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