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24th September 2021
Education secretary backs mandatory school COVID vaccines
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday he supports mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for older teenagers, saying vaccines are critical to keeping students in school and that governors, not school superintendents, should implement such mandates. “I wholeheartedly support it,” he said. “It’s the best tool that we have to safely reopen schools and keep them open. We don’t want to have the yo-yo effect that many districts had last year, and we can prevent that by getting vaccinated.” Mr. Cardona pointed to the effectiveness of the measles vaccine, which is required for children in childcare or public schools in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in protecting against infections as reason why the coronavirus vaccine should be mandatory for schoolchildren. “There’s a reason why we’re not talking about measles today,” he noted. “It was a required vaccination, and we put it behind us. So I do believe at this point we need to be moving forward.” Meanwhile, a federal vaccine advisory committee has voted against recommending a booster shot for essential workers, including K-12 school staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on immunization practices voted yesterday to recommend a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 65 and older and those ages 50 and older with underlying medical conditions; however, it declined to recommend that adults younger than 65 who live or work in settings where the burden of COVID-19 infection and risk of transmission are high, including schools, receive a booster dose based on an assessment of their individual benefit and risk, which typically means a conversation with their doctor. Committee members were concerned that there were no clear data yet showing that healthy adults needed a booster shot, regardless of their occupation. Opening the door to allowing millions of essential workers to get a booster shot would be complicated, they said, and it wouldn’t make a significant dent in curbing the pandemic.
Federal spending package could have major impact on student poverty counts
The Build back Better Act, a legislative package in Congress, could, if enacted, have major repercussions for how educators, policymakers, and others measure and respond to student poverty. One of its aims is to make it easier for more students to get free, federally supported school meals; if the changes become law, they would almost certainly lead to fewer schools collecting data from families about which students are eligible for meal subsidies, a metric that’s commonly used to analyze and discuss poverty in schools. Under current law, a school or clusters of schools can provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students if 40 percent of them are in families that already participate in other means-tested programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as SNAP). This provision, known as community eligibility, means districts don’t have to collect data from individual families when determining which students qualify for meal subsidies, a process that’s raised concerns about people being stigmatized. In 2019, 52% of U.S. students were eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, recent federal data show. The section of the Build Back Better Act approved by the House education committee in early September would lower that threshold for community eligibility to 25%. It would also give states the option of authorizing free breakfasts and lunches for all their students through community eligibility. Both provisions would last through June 2030. These and other changes affecting child nutrition in the bill account for $35bn in the legislation.
IPS Eliminates Bumper Deficit
Indianapolis Public Schools has successfully eliminated an $18 million deficit that it had projected for this school year. Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said that, while she doesn’t anticipate closing any schools by next fall, the district must continue to cut costs to avoid falling into the red. She is planning six “dream and scheme” community meetings to hear what people want schools to be doing, and to inform the difficult work of trimming budgets. From Monday through October 4, board members will convene six virtual and in-person meetings. Registration is online on the district website. Officials trimmed and reorganized central offices and transportation to wipe out the current deficit.
Mississippi Student Test Scores Decline in Math, English
The number of Mississippi students learning at or above grade level in math and English decreased across almost every age group during the first statewide assessments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to results released by the Department of Education on Thursday. Echoing national trends, math and English were subjects where students had steadily improving test scores in Mississippi since 2016, when the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) was first implemented, but the number of students learning at or above grade level in math declined from 47% in 2019 to 35% in 2021 — a 25% decrease. The number of students at or above grade level in English declined from about 41.6% in 2019 to 34.9% in 2021 — a 16% decrease.
Bipartisan financial literacy bill would incentivize high school students to start saving
A bipartisan bill just introduced in the U.S. Senate would help high school students achieve financial literacy by giving them money and then matching a portion of what they continue to save. The Program to Inspire Growth and Guarantee Youth Budgeting Advice and Necessary Knowledge, or the PIGGY BANK Act, was introduced Thursday by Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) would create a financial matched savings pilot program where high school students would receive a $300 initial deposit and have up to $25 per month of any extra savings put in the account matched. The program would require students to take a financial literacy class. “Decreasing economic inequality and closing the racial wealth divide means creating saving pathways for low-income households to build wealth,” said Gary Cunningham, CEO and president of Prosperity Now, a nonprofit that supports the legislation, in a statement. “Matched savings programs can incentivize working families to boost their savings and get on a wealth-building path through opportunities for higher education, work and homeownership.” The legislation is also supported by the National Education Association, the National School Boards Association and the Michigan Education Association.
New Mexico Students Struggling To Catch Up
A review of preliminary academic data by legislative analysts indicates that less than one-third of New Mexico's elementary school students are proficient. While New Mexico students tested poorly before the pandemic, the latest data suggests the outcomes are even worse as the percentage of those considered proficient and learning at grade level dropped from 37% to just 31% last spring. The report estimates students lost between 10 and 60 days of instruction and had limited access to online learning.
Portland Public Schools Moves To Purchase Tents For Schools
Portland Public Schools is to buy tents for outdoor lunches to help stop the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the rainy season. Every district school received money this year to create outdoor accommodations so students can eat in comfort and be socially distanced. Portland's largest district is prioritizing schools that have requested additional outdoor shelters, with the goal to serve elementary and middle schools first. Out of the district's 100 schools, only 30 have existing outdoor coverings at present.
Innovation in the face of a transportation crisis
In a piece for The 74 Chade Aldeman, policy director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University and Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab and a research professor at Georgetown University, examine how school districts are dealing with transportation issues such as staff shortages, canceled routes, and hours-long waits for students to get to campus. While many districts are offering signing bonuses to prospective drivers, and some are enticing college students by purchasing campus parking passes for them as a perk, others are redesigning their transportation models altogether, through the use of an emerging concept called co-production: a mechanism where the beneficiaries participate in the delivery of the services they use. In this case, parents are given incentives to arrange transportation previously provided by the district’s centralized bus service. The Lansing school district in Michigan began offering city bus passes and gas cards worth $25 a month to parents willing to drive their children to school. Some places are offering more substantial stipends for parents willing to take on the responsibility of getting their child to class, to the tune of $300 a month in Philadelphia and in Chicago, $1,000 upfront and $500 monthly.
Wisconsin Education Leader Urges Unity And Support
In her first address on the state of education, new Wisconsin Superintendent Jill Underly said the state is “failing a generation of kids” by underfunding schools and setting poor examples of governance as financial disparities widen between schools and COVID-19 sickens more children. Underly called for ending the “vitriol and divisiveness," as school board meetings around the state have devolved into yelling matches over COVID protocols. “We should be supporting each other instead of tearing down those who dare to provide leadership in a time of crisis," she urged.


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