What to expect in the lame duck | #Education | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Weekly Education: Coronavirus special edition. Each week, we will explore how the pandemic is reshaping and upending education as we know it across the country, from pre-K through grad school. We will explore the debates of the day, new challenges and talk to movers and shakers about whether changes ushered in now are here to stay.

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COUNTDOWN FOR CONGRESS AND TO THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION — The House and Senate both return this week for the final days of the lame-duck session. Lawmakers are facing a series of crucial deadlines and to-do items. And President-elect Joe Biden’s team is preparing to take the reins of the Education Department in 51 days — as coronavirus cases surge in most parts of the country, sending some schools and colleges back to virtual learning. A lot is at stake for education policy in Washington in the coming weeks.

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GOVERNMENT FUNDING ON THE LINE Lawmakers have to pass legislation to fund the government, including education programs, by Dec. 11 to avert a shutdown. House and Senate appropriators reached a deal last week on the top-line funding levels for the 12 spending bills (though it’s not yet publicly known what the Labor-HHS-Education allocation will be). Negotiators now face a major time crunch, with less than two weeks to hash out the finer details of a spending package.

— House Democrats’ and Senate Republicans’ proposals to fund the Education Department are relatively close in overall funding levels, separated only by about $300 million. Both bills would largely reject the Trump administration’s major cuts to education spending, though they differ on support for charter schools.

STALLED COVID RELIEF TALKS Pressure has been building on Congress to pass another Covid relief package after negotiations failed throughout the summer and fall. Even as lawmakers have been deadlocked, Republicans and Democrats have largely agreed that schools and colleges need additional funding to combat the pandemic. Still, both sides have sparred over the funding levels and how the money would be distributed and under what conditions.

Biden has called on Congress to pass another pandemic aid package, aligning himself with proposals the Democrat-controlled House has passed. Biden said in an interview last week that he expected the nation’s schools would need $150 billion to $200 billion to safely reopen.

HITTING PAUSE ON THE NATION’S REPORT CARD Education Secretary Betsy DeVos before Thanksgiving added another item to Congress’ to-do list, calling on lawmakers to postpone upcoming national tests that gauge student achievement in reading and math. DeVos said it would be impractical to conduct the National Assessment of Educational Progress, originally slated for January, during the pandemic because “too few schools will be providing in-school instruction or welcoming outside test administrators this winter to ensure a sufficiently large sample.”

DeVos said in a letter to congressional leaders that she was halting any further expenditures to prepare for the federal assessments. But she urged Congress to include legislation in any year-end government spending deal to “lift the mandate for 2021 NAEP administration and postpone the administration of NAEP tests until the assessment will be able to produce useful results, likely in 2022.”

It appears that DeVos’ request has bipartisan support. The Democratic leaders on the congressional education committees, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said in a joint statement that postponing NAEP was “unfortunate” but also “understandable” given the circumstances. And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate education committee, said DeVos made “the right decision” and that Congress should act quickly to provide the one-year delay. “I will work with my colleagues to secure congressional approval of this request in the remaining weeks of the year,” Alexander said.

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