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22nd November 2022
Ed. Dept. publishes Stronger Connections grant program draft
The U.S. Department of Education has published a draft FAQ in regard to the $1bn Stronger Connections grant program, which will be distributed through Title IV, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Schools should take a comprehensive approach to the prevention of violence that includes not only improved safety measures but meets students’ physical, social, emotional, mental health and academic needs, the document asserts. Recommended activities under the grant, which is part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, include reducing exclusionary discipline, hiring behavior specialists, and implementing anti-bullying practices. The guidance also suggests that if a school community decides to employ school resource officers, it should have a comprehensive process for hiring, training and program evaluation. The 36-page draft document details allowable activities for supporting student mental wellness, helping pre-schoolers, meeting the individual needs of students with disabilities, and responding to incidents of hate, as well as for purchasing and using security equipment like surveillance cameras and metal detectors. Other factors to be considered in awarding grants include the need for mental health staff. The Education Department is accepting feedback on the FAQ document, which when final will be non-regulatory guidance, through December 19.
Texas' school safety grants expected January
Texas' school safety grants announced at the end of October were part of a bigger $894m transfer of funds by the Legislative Budget Board that also included $15m for a new elementary in Uvalde and an extra $360m for Operation Lone Star at the border. That money is unlikely to make its way to school districts before January however. The Texas Education Agency is currently standing up the webpage for the new funding, which will be known as the School Safety Standards Formula Grants. Grants will go out to school districts on a per-pupil funding basis, with every school district getting at least $200,000.
Supreme Court declines schools' appeal over harassment liability
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals from a school district and a university arguing that lower courts expanded their liability for sexual harassment of students under Title IX in ways that conflict with prior standards. A coalition of state school boards associations from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina said in a friend-of-the-court brief that the federal appeals court ruling in the Fairfax County case threatens to “saddle public schools with crippling liability and litigation” under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The justices offered no comment in denying review in Fairfax County School District v. Doe (Case No. 21-968) and University of Toledo v. Wamer (No. 22-123). The high court did not rule on the merits of those appeals, but rather left in place lower court rulings that several states and education groups had urged the justices to review.
Pflugerville schools seeing attendance improvements
As of November 11, Pflugerville ISD had 25,628 students, just 230 less than district officials projected at the end of last year. As of the last Friday in October, when the district was required to provide attendance numbers to the state, it had 25,535 students, an increase of 50 students from the same time last year. "We are pretty much level when it comes to student growth over the last couple of years," says Victor Valdez, the district's chief technology and operations officer. "We are still projected to continue to grow a little bit. Hopefully it picks up a little bit quicker than we have seen over the last couple of years." In 2018-19, the district had 25,400 students and grew by 1,000 in 2019-20. In 2020-21, the district saw a decrease of 964 students, which was attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to district officials. Valdez said the district also has seen an increase in daily attendance. During the first six weeks of the school year, daily attendance was at 94.38%, a 2.06% increase from last year. During the second six weeks daily attendance saw a 1.21% decrease from 93.21% to 92%.
Top marks for financial integrity at Pleasant Grove
Pleasant Grove ISD has received the highest financial rating possible from the Texas Education Agency. Chief Finance Officer Derick Sibley presented the district's Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas rating during the regular Board of Trustees meeting at the end of last week. "This rating system allows taxpayers to see how our district is making responsible financial choices that are positively impacting our students," Sibley said. Terrell ISD also earned the top TEA rating.
Social Security caveats stinging retired Texas teachers
The Windfall Elimination Provision, along with a related program called the Government Pension Offset, are both eating into the Social Security payments that annuitants receive if they also receive a public pension from a job in which they did not pay into Social Security, as is the case for many retired teachers in Texas. The deductions to monthly income are among several ways in which the state's retired teachers lose out, as no teachers who have retired since 2004 have received a cost-of-living adjustment to their monthly check, despite historic levels of inflation in recent years. Myra Pilant comments: "I had not even heard about the windfall elimination rule until I was getting ready to retire. My bottom-line is, I feel that is my money that I invested for over 20 years and should be getting back just like people that didn’t get a pension from the state. Teachers don’t typically get paid as much as other professionals, so why should we be penalized?”
K12 Dive's Superintendent Of The Year
LaTonya Goffney, superintendent at Aldine ISD in Houston, Texas, has been recognized as K12 Dive's Superintendent Of The Year. The district employs nearly 4,000 teachers and about 9,000 people overall. After taking the reins, Goffney set out to enact an ambitious strategic plan in 2019 focused on high-quality instructional materials and professional development to ensure all students have a chance to learn on grade level and receive mental health and social-emotional support. The plan also calls for mission-driven leadership and attracting and retaining the best staff possible to address these priorities.
Failure to reopen in-person learning hurt enrollment, report claims
Over 1.3m students left U.S. public schools following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which blames some schools' failure to reopen before others for making the situation worse. Nat Malkus, a senior research fellow at AEI and the founding director of its Return2Learn tracker, found the pandemic caused the greatest decline in public school enrollment the nation has ever experienced. "It’s definitely a story where politics drove school reopenings and school reopenings drove enrollments,” he claims.
States with best personal-finance education mapped
Tennessee tops the list of U.S. states that provide the best financial education for its residents, according to a new report by OneMain Financial. More than 99% of students at public high schools in Tennessee have what’s known as “gold-access” education, attending a school where they are required to take a personal-finance course in order to graduate. New York, Utah, Alabama and Virginia followed in the rankings. Although only 2% of New York’s high-school students are in gold-access schools, 11 financial- and economic-education bills have been proposed in the state this year. In the other three states, over 97% of students are in gold-access schools. In total, elected officials had introduced 69 bills focused on financial education in 27 states this year as of late October, according to the Next Gen Personal Finance Financial Education Bill Tracker. Among those bills, 12 have been signed into law in 10 states and eight were still in progress in three states.

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