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10th May 2022
Gov. Abbott pitches school voucher plan for Texas
Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday night he supports a school voucher measure that would allow students to use government funding to attend private schools or charter schools rather than just their assigned public schools. At a rally in San Antonio, Mr. Abbott said his support for school choice was to help uphold a tradition of “empowering parents” that includes his policies of banning mask mandates on campus and banning “critical race theory” in Texas schools. He also said public schools would remain fully funded throughout the voucher program. “Nothing is more critical to the development and success of our children than parents,” the governor said at a rally in San Antonio. “If you like the public school your child is attending, it will be fully funded.” Unions and public school advocates throughout the state have previously opposed such voucher programs because they believe the policies weaken the public school system. The Texas School Alliance said in a prepared statement that the proposed program is a “tuition break” for the wealthy and that the money that is intended for public schools would harm more than five million Texas students. “You can’t fully fund public schools and address the worst teacher shortage in Texas history by siphoning off public dollars to private schools,” the organization said in a statement. “The math doesn’t work.” Conversely Mandy Drogin, Texas state director for the American Federation for Children, thanked Abbott for his leadership. “Students — not teachers, not administrators, not systems or bureaucracies — are the reason we have a constitutional right to an education, and that right must extend to a clearly articulated and well-funded system that allows parents to pick the school which is best for their child,” she said. 
Education Department to boost rights for students with disabilities
Forty-five years after publication of the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the landmark disability civil rights law, the U.S. Department of Education announced plans to gather public input on possible amendments to those regulations in order to strengthen and protect the rights of students with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public and private programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including schools and postsecondary institutions. The Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will solicit public comments to help decide how best to improve current regulations to assist America's students with disabilities. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and, as part of the President's Unity Agenda, President Biden announced a strategy to address our nation's mental health crisis. The work that OCR will do this month to listen to and solicit public input regarding improvements to the Department's disability rights regulations will include input from those people with disabilities who also have mental health needs and their advocates. 
Low-wage earners to get high-speed internet for $30 a month
Twenty internet providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, have agreed to provide high-speed service at a steep discount to low-income consumers, the White House announced Monday, significantly expanding broadband access for millions of Americans. The plan, a feature of the $1tn infrastructure package passed by Congress last year, would cost qualifying households no more than $30 per month. The discounts plus existing federal Internet subsidies mean the government will cover the full cost of connectivity if consumers sign on with one of the 20 participating companies. The White House estimates the program will cover 48m households, or 40% of the country. “High-speed Internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” President Biden said in remarks announcing the program at the White House Rose Garden. Households can qualify for the subsidies, called the Affordable Connectivity Program, if their income is at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, a member of the household participates in certain federal anti-poverty initiatives — including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, federal housing assistance, Pell Grant tuition assistance, or free or reduced-price school meals — or if the household already qualifies for an Internet provider’s low-income service program.
Northside ISD under investigation over bond election
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Northside ISD will be investigated by Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Attorney General’s Office after leaked emails suggested that staffers were pressured to vote in Saturday’s bond election. Mr. Abbott’s comments on Saturday came as a response to a Twitter thread from Corey DeAngelis, the National Director of Research for the America Federation for Children, a group that fights for school choice. DeAngelis posted leaked emails from a Northside ISD principal that indicated the district’s central office is monitoring employee voting numbers. “I have spoken with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath about this,” Abbott tweeted. “He confirms that IF these posts are verified, then it is likely a crime.” Under Texas law, public employees cannot use public resources in statements that “is sufficiently substantial and important as to be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote for or against the measure.” In response to Mr. Abbott, Northside Executive Director of Communications Barry Perez, said: "The messaging provided to district staff was solely intended to encourage the goal of increasing staff participation in the voting process. This messaging was never intended to be coercive and immediate measures were taken to clarify and correct any messaging that may have been misrepresented, misinterpreted, or miscommunicated."
Deer Park ISD voters OK $160m bond package
Residents in Deer Park ISD have approved two bond propositions that will provide a total of $160m for projects ranging from a new high school wing to replacement of school uniforms, according to unofficial results. Approved by a vote of 1,011-525, Proposition A totals $142.5m to fund projects including a new career-and-technical education wing at the Deer Park High School South Campus, extensive renovation work at schools and purchase of replacement school buses. Proposition B, which was approved by a vote of 980-547, will provide $17.5m for technology updates. Deer Park ISD’s tax rate is not expected to increase given growth estimates, according to the district. Deer Park ISD homeowners pay 27 cents per $100 of valuation for the debt service portion of the property tax rate for a total tax rate of $1.35.
Three Democrats join opposition to Ed Dept charter schools proposal
Three Senate Democrats have joined the Republicans who are raising alarm over the U.S. Department of Education’s plan to revamp the federal Charter Schools Program — a proposal that advocates say will cut off support for independent charters predominantly serving Black and Hispanic students. The proposed rule would allow “federal reviewers to ignore state and local decisions to authorize new public charter schools,” Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Diane Feinstein of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey wrote last week to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The letter was also signed by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina. The $440 million competitive grant program, now almost 30 years old, supports schools’ start-up costs, from facility needs to staffing. Department officials say the revisions, which would require potential grantees to demonstrate “sufficient demand,” would encourage more racially balanced schools that don’t compete with traditional districts losing enrollment. Provisions would also require charters to be transparent about any contracts they have with for-profit organizations, which Democrats argue would increase accountability. But charter advocates argue the plan would make it harder for applicants to win approval, even if there’s demand from families.
Three in 10 educators yet to get a COVID booster shot
Almost a third of principals, and district leaders haven’t gotten a COVID-19 booster shot, new survey data show. Some non-boosted educators believe a booster won’t provide them additional protection or that it isn’t worth the potential side effects. Others aren’t worried about the threat COVID poses to their health. Fully vaccinated Americans age 12 and older last fall became eligible for their first booster shots. In March, people above age 50, immunocomprised people, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients became eligible for a second booster shot four months after their first. However, only 70% of teachers, district leaders, and principals had gotten a COVID-19 booster shot as of last month, according to an nationally representative survey of 374 district leaders, 305 principals, and 384 teachers conducted March 30th through April 8th by the EdWeek Research Center. By contrast, roughly half of eligible Americans have gotten at least one COVID booster, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reasons for educators not getting boosted vary considerably, according to the survey. The most common reason cited, among 29% of respondents, was the belief that they don’t need more protection because they already had contracted COVID. Nineteen percent said they don’t believe they need more protection because they had the prior COVID vaccines.
Vaping lawsuits on the rise across U.S.
Legal action against Juul Labs is moving again in lawsuits alleging the firm targeted teens with its vaping products, after cases lost traction in districts during COVID-19 school closures. In Washington, the e-cigarette company must pay out $22.5 million after a judge last month ruled it intentionally targeted teenagers with its advertising and misled consumers about the addictive nature of vaping. The order came in a consent decree filed in King County Superior Court in a case brought by the state of Washington against Juul Labs. Juul also recently settled cases in Arizona, North Carolina and Louisiana that ended in large payouts similar to Washington’s case. Meanwhile, school districts in other states have recently filed or are considering filing lawsuits against the vaping giant. Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland, for example, filed a lawsuit against Juul last week. A majority of districts in Utah also joined a suit against Juul, originally filed in California, according to local reports. “There is clearly a current epidemic of e-cigarette use amongst our youth, and it has made its way into our schools,” said Joanna Tobin, school board president for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, in a statement.  “The health and safety of our students is a top priority, and we are doing our part to ensure that the companies or individuals who knowingly target our young people despite the dangers of their products are held responsible.”
UT System schools to offer more microcredentials
The University of Texas System plans to increase its focus on short-term microcredentials to provide people with more pathways to careers. The UT System schools, including UT-Austin, will be offering more certifications, known as microcredentials, that show a specific skill was learned through short training or courses. Across the UT System, hundreds of microcredential programs already exist, from short courses to certificate programs, but the UT System has been training faculty and staff members; securing funding; and increasing its capacity for the past two years as it plans to expand such offerings. “Texas may double in size. We're going to have a great need to educate a much larger workforce,” UT System Chancellor J.B. Milliken said. “If we can provide — with the strength of our academic programs, and our faculty — the ability for people to get a credential that's recognized by employers and hired, that's a great thing.”

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