More Than A Climate Adaptation Plan…

In 2011, we launched the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) recognition award and began honoring schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions for their work to: 1) reduce environmental impacts and save money; 2) improve health and wellness; and 3) teach effective environmental and sustainability education.  

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Open Letter Sessions – Jonnai

To the educators who are preparing for this upcoming school year or those who have
already begun,

After a school year of uncertainty, this is a reminder that you are valid in your feelings
about this school year. Whether you are eager to begin or are still recovering from the
previous year, I want to encourage you to think back to your “why”. In the midst of it all,
it is easy to forget what brought us to this profession. We all have different stories that
led us to become educators. So throughout this school year, I challenge you to take a
moment and reflect back to the beginning of your story.

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Recognizing Inspiring School Employees for a Second Year

Even a pandemic cannot stop the arrival of year two of the newest recognition award at the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  Designed to shine a spotlight on good work and ignite more positive contributions, while engaging state and local stakeholders, the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award is kicking off its second award cycle, with nominations due to ED this fall. ED is also seeking peer reviewers to help select the single national honoree this winter. 

This award was inaugurated back in April 2019, when Congress passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act, enabling ED to begin honoring one extraordinary education support professional annually.  The subsequent fall, ED officially launched the first award cycle.   

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Update on the Free Inquiry Rule

By Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., Acting Assistant Secretary for Office of Postsecondary Education, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs 

Protecting First Amendment freedoms on public university and college campuses is essential. Whether it is having the freedom to debate the issues of the day, to gather for expressive purposes, or to engage in protected religious practices, safeguarding First Amendment liberties for students, faculty and administrators serves us all. 

For some, expressing their faith is an important aspect of their identity as well as their college experience.  The United States Constitution provides strong protections for students to express and practice their faith on public college and university campuses.  In particular, the First Amendment requires that public colleges and universities not infringe upon students’ rights to engage in protected free speech and religious exercise, such as associating with fellow members of their religious communities and sharing the tenets of their faith with others.  

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From Deficit Messaging to Asset Thinking: How Can Schools Frame Pandemic Learning & SEL?

By Tanasha Mahone

While districts plan and support the return for more schools implementing in person learning across the nation for the upcoming school year, the ongoing pandemic creates unforeseen challenges for schools. The meticulous rollout of safety plan guidelines and methods accommodating academic programming to meet the needs of school communities will require increased efforts of collaboration and discipline throughout the 2021 –2022 academic year and beyond. Embracing these challenges while sustaining work-life-balance for those in the education profession involves an immediate attention to self-care practices and high levels of flexibility and creativity.

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Top Five Takeaways for Supporting Teacher Leadership

By Meghan Everette, School Ambassador Fellow

Research shows that teachers who identify as leaders are more likely to stay in the profession longer and have a greater impact on student achievement. Teacher turnover and shortages in certain subjects and geographic areas have been an ongoing concern, and there are fears this shortage will continue to spread throughout the country. Recruiting more teachers can’t offset turnover alone, so retaining teachers is important. We know the value of experienced teachers and districts saves money in onboarding and training costs when they are able to keep teachers in the profession. Teacher leadership fosters collaboration, excitement about the profession, increases teachers’ skills, and benefits communities. Donna Harris-Aikens, Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning, met with teacher leaders to talk about the kind of experiences that foster and support teacher leaders in the classroom and throughout their educator networks. Here are the top five takeaways from teachers across the country on engaging and supporting teacher leaders.

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New Efforts to Increase Access to Pell Grants for Incarcerated Students

By: Amy Loyd, Acting Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently invited students who had attended college-in-prison programs to share their experiences. Their stories were moving; all of the students who attended the virtual roundtable told the Secretary that they truly realized their potential while participating in education while in prison, thanks in large part to the efforts of educational institutions that offered them a second chance. Today, those students have rewarding careers and full lives. Most are also actively engaged, in one way or another, in ensuring that people who are currently incarcerated received a second chance just like they did. Postsecondary educational programs offered in prisons give students who are incarcerated new opportunities to improve their education, obtain employment, reconnect with family, and re-engage with their communities.

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Innovations in Addressing COVID-19 and Promoting Equity: FY 2021 Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Competition Announcement

Written by Jamila Smith, Director, Innovation and Early Learning Programs, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

The U.S. Department of Education is pleased to announce the $180 million FY 2021 Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Early-Phase Competition. The EIR program provides funding to create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations aimed at improving outcomes for high-needs students. The program also supports the rigorous evaluation of these innovations. The Department expects that early-phase grants will be used to fund the development, implementation, and feasibility testing of a program.

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The American Rescue Plan: Building the Bridge to Education and Beyond for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Written By: Chandler K., SchoolHouse Connection Scholar

I can remember being a young teen, living with my mother and six siblings and being locked out of the house until the early hours of the morning on multiple occasions. Abuse was prevalent in my home and trying to navigate school with honors and AP Courses throughout this experience was next to impossible. Eventually, the abuse became so bad that I had no choice but to flee. I searched for alternative housing options, but the only option I could find was an old RV behind my Grandparents’ home. The RV smelled of mildew, had no power or running water, and though it was safer than my home, the nights spent on the small RV mattress still haunt me to this day. I felt incredibly isolated during this time, because I felt I had to do my best to hide the fact that I was homeless. I sometimes look back and wonder how people didn’t know. I would often have to wear the same clothes multiple days in a row and I struggled to meet my basic needs like having access to food and hygiene supplies.

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We Want to Hear From You: Strengthening the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

By Julie Margetta Morgan, Senior Advisor and Acting Under Secretary, Office of the Under Secretary

Congress created the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program in 2007 to give back to the millions of nurses, police officers, firefighters, public defenders, and other Americans working in public service. Since then, federal student loan borrowers have planned their careers and lives around this program, trusting that if they work in public service for a decade while repaying their student loans, they would see the remainder of their debt forgiven.

Unfortunately, for too many public service workers, the program has not functioned the way they hoped it would. Fixing the PSLF Program has been a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration since day one. While we have identified many opportunities for improvement by talking to experts and borrowers and reviewing our procedures, we want to hear from you as well. That’s why, today, we are issuing a Request for Information about PSLF.

In the last year alone, we took steps to help borrowers pursuing PSLF, including by creating a single application that certifies employment, counts payments, and allows borrowers to check on their status toward forgiveness under PSLF and Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF). Last year, the Department changed its previous policy and now counts lump-sum payments and prepayments as qualifying payments for the purposes of loan forgiveness through the PSLF Program. We also launched a new PSLF Help Tool to make it easier for borrowers to determine their eligibility, and we continue to make improvements.

But we have more work to do if we want the PSLF Program to live up to its promise. We are asking you to help us identify and resolve challenges with the PSLF Program by answering questions, including the following:

  • What features of PSLF are most difficult for borrowers to navigate?
  • What barriers prevent public service workers with student debt from pursuing PSLF or receiving loan forgiveness under PSLF?
  • For borrowers who have or had loans other than from the Direct Loan) program, what have your experiences been when trying to access or participate in PSLF?  

We want to hear from the people who rely on this program about what is working and, more importantly, what isn’t working. We want to hear from experts across the nation about the challenges public service workers face and their ideas about how the PSLF Program can work better. Most importantly, we want to hear how we can fulfill the promise of this program to ensure that student debt does not prevent individuals from pursuing or staying in public service professions.

We want to hear your PSLF story so we can better understand the problems that need to be fixed. We must do better, and we can with your help.

In addition to issuing this request for information, last month we held public hearings about the Department’s regulatory priorities, one of which is PSLF. As we look forward to improving aspects of these regulations, we encourage experts and borrowers to also engage through that separate process with their experiences and expertise.

Open Letter Sessions—Adi

This month’s guest blogger is Adi, a 18-year-old college student from California. He is presently an early education teacher at a preschool, working with 1-2-year olds. In this Open Letter Session, he writes a letter to his past self as a reflection of his journey.  

Dear Adi,  

It’s 5 years in the future and you did it! You are living the life that you dreamed of. You are a teacher. I know there have been times where the obstacles seemed insurmountable and you questioned whether or not you would live to see this day, but you persevered. I know you often felt like you had to make this choice between living your truth and pursuing your passion for teaching, but I’m excited to tell you that you don’t have to make that choice because the future is one of acceptance and equality, where people are judged based solely on their character. 

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A Promise to Students: Improving How We Award Federal Student Aid

As the father of twins who recently graduated from college, I can appreciate what you or your parents go through each year as you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA® form. As you know, completing this form can open the door to your higher education dreams by providing federal student grants, work-study funds, and loans. The FAFSA form can also unlock other opportunities for grants and scholarships from states, schools, and private organizations.

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