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23rd June 2022
School shootings fuel debate over cellphones in class
More than a decade after a 17-year-old shot his ex-girlfriend and himself right outside the Michigan high school where Sarah Pancost teaches, she is still grateful that the students she hunkered down with that day had access to their cellphones. She allowed students to pull out their phones and reassure their families, who in turn, filled kids in on what was being reported about the incident. For Ms. Pancost, mobile devices are an important safety tool; however, other educators, who feel that cellphones are inappropriate in schools, also cite safety concerns as a primary reason. When students are on their phones during a potential emergency, they may not be paying attention to safety protocols, they say. The technology can jam up communication, get in the way of response plans, pass along misinformation, or blow minor incidents way out of proportion. “The use of cellphones on the part of students has more potential to be disruptive to the crisis-response team than it does to benefit” them, said Shawna White, the senior lead for school safety at the WestEd nonprofit. “It’s hard for me to say ‘oh, [cellphones] are good or they’re bad because different situations are going to call for different responses,” White said. But, she added, “looking at it holistically, I see potential for [phones] to create confusion and chaos and distraction.”
Congress poised to pass gun control bill
A bipartisan Senate bill unveiled Tuesday includes $300m for school security grants, including $100m for a program that can be used to “harden” schools meant to make them more difficult to target. The bill is Congress’ attempt to avert additional school shootings, and if enacted it will result in some schools getting a bit of extra money to support student mental health and bolster security. Aside from the $300m for school security, it offers $1bn for a broad array of efforts to “support safe and healthy students," $1bn for school-based mental health support, $240m to train school staff to notice and address student mental health challenges, and $50m for summer and after-school programs for middle and high school students. It would also ban the use of federal education funds to arm teachers or school staff. The Senate is expected to have a procedural vote on the bill later today.
NYC schools must reconcile class size caps with budget cuts
New York City Public Schools is facing a major change in how it operates. New York City’s mayor essentially controls K-12 schools, with the power to select nine of the 15 members of the Panel for Education Policy, the equivalent of a school board. The Legislature established mayoral control in 2002, but made it temporary, and mayors since then have had to periodically appeal for extensions. This time, a deal was struck, with Mayor Eric Adams getting a two-year extension of mayoral control in exchange for class size reductions. However, while  the mayoral control and class size bills await Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature, Adams and the City Council have put together a budget for the coming year that includes $215 million in cuts to education, largely due to declining enrollment. Nevertheless, class size activist Leonie Haimson says, the city is already at or near the limits demanded in the state bill, with the cuts threatening implementation of the caps. Class size levels will determine whether teachers are hired, retained or laid off. Staffing levels will then affect how much money remains for non-labor-related spending.
Boston schools super finalists named
Following a three-month search process, two finalists for superintendent of Boston Public Schools, each with extensive administrative experience in the district, were unveiled by the School Committee Tuesday. Both Mary Skipper, the current superintendent of Somerville Public Schools, and Tommy Welch, Region 1 schools superintendent for BPS, were recommended by a nine-member Search Committee. Public interviews of each candidate are slated for later this week
Prudent Chicago Board of Education approves $9.5bn budget
The Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved a prudent $9.5bn budget for Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday. While some have criticized the district for appearing to hold onto $2.8bn in federal coronavirus relief funding, CPS officials insist that the money must last for the next three years to provide some much-needed stability for the school system. “We have had persistent enrollment declines,” noted CEO Pedro Martinez. “We don't see schools that lose enrollment and then all of a sudden gain it back." Also, the Board on Wednesday extended the district’s authority to spend funds on COVID-19 safety mitigations for the upcoming school year. Chicago Public Schools will again have the authority to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic without getting board approval for each expense.
L.A. schools receive $6bn in COVID emergency funding
Despite dropping enrollment, Los Angeles USD is getting the most money its ever had with the aid of more than $4.8bn in emergency COVID-19 funding from the federal government. The district stated they are also receiving an additional $1.2bn in COVID-19 related state funding pushing its total emergency related money to $6bn. Enrollment has fallen significantly, from 661,653 in the 2016-2017 school year to 589,601 in the 2020-2021 school year. However, total revenues have increased from $7.3bn in 2017-18 to a projected $11.8bn in 2021-22. With the increase in money, both from state and federal, the California K-12 school system, and the school district has reached record-high levels of funding.
Indianapolis Public Schools pandemic aid spend examined
The lion’s share of Indianapolis Public Schools' $21 million federal COVID funding spend so far has gone toward what the district describes as “stabilizing schools.” That means avoiding staff cuts due to enrollment drops and purchasing the personal protective equipment. With $213.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief dollars, IPS has only spent around 10% of its funding to date but officials say the state has approved its plans for another 40% of the funding, and that it has created an internal budget that accounts for the full allocation. The spending so far includes $262,200 on technology measures, including relocating its data center and purchasing enhanced cybersecurity software, and around $960,000 on increasing enrollment and attendance, including $132,000 on recruiting students, and $828,000 on community programs focused on keeping students engaged. Around $492,600 has gone to what the district describes as “turnaround strategies” which include teacher coaching, such as CT3 coaching and University of Virginia’s Partnership for Leaders in Education in certain high needs schools.
Illinois working to progress clean school bus program
In a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, several legislators in Illinois are pushing for changes to eligibility requirements in the new Clean School Bus Program. The Program's prioritization criteria is currently based on Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, with 20% of a district's student population having to fall below the poverty line. Chicago for example falls just below that, at 19.9%. Officials in Illinois are concerned over the program’s requirement that schools provide a diesel bus for scrapping before they can get funding under the EPA rebate program, which could block eligibility for school districts that don’t own buses. “Some Chicago-area school districts, including Proviso, Rich Township, Lindop, Prairie Hills, Waukegan, and others are interested in applying to this new program, but may be locked out due to EPA-imposed scrappage requirements that run contrary to the intention of the law,” the letter states.

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