Below is a log of IDRA’s policy updates for schools regarding COVID-19. We release a new policy update each Friday in our Learning Goes On eNews (sign up free) in English and Spanish.

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March 27, 2020 Edition

An Overview of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a $2 trillion package called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the largest economic stimulus bill in the country’s history. President Trump is expected to sign it. The main provisions will:

  • Provide one-time payments of $1,200, plus $500 per child, to individuals who had an adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 in 2019. Payments will be made, at a scaled rate, to individuals who made up to $99,000.
  • Provide $100 billion in grants to the hospital industry to address immediate equipment and other needs and lost income due to the pandemic.
  • Provide an additional $600 per week to individuals who receive state unemployment benefits.
  • Allow the U.S. Department of the Treasury to distribute $500 billion to struggling industries (like airlines), cities and states. That includes $8 billion for local governments losing tax revenue.

Importantly, the bill injects funding into the federal and state education systems through an Education Stabilization Fund of more than $30 billion. The fund includes $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary schools, $14.25 billion for higher education, and $3 billion for qualifying states to use to meet immediate needs as they “prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus.” The bill encourages agencies, states and institutions that receive funds to continue to pay employees and contractors during school closures.

The bill divides the majority of monies in the Education Stabilization Fund into three main parts.

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund ($3 billion)
The U.S. Secretary of Education will make Emergency Education Relief grants to governors of states who apply and are approved for the funds. Funds will be allocated based on the population of people ages 5-24 years old and on the population of children ages 5-17 living in poverty or foster care. States can use funds to:

  • award emergency grants to school districts and colleges most impacted;
  • support education-related entities that carry out services for students;
  • provide childcare and early childhood education services;
  • provide social and emotional support; and
  • protect education-related jobs.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund ($13.5 billion)

Through an application process, the U.S. Secretary of Education will make emergency relief grants to state education agencies. Funds will be allocated based on Title I formulas in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that primarily calculate funding based on the number and percentage of children living in poverty in the state. States must use the majority of funds to make subgrants to local education agencies (such as school districts) to help:

  • Comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act;
  • Ensure a coordinated effort to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19;
  • Support school leaders to address the needs of their schools;
  • Support the unique needs, including summer learning needs, of children in families with low incomes, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students of color, students experiencing homelessness and students in the foster care system;
  • Purchase technology to support “regular and substantive” online learning, including hardware, software and connectivity equipment;
  • Provide mental health services and supports; and
  • Plan and coordinate supports for students during school closures, including how to provide meals, provide technology for online learning, and ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($14.25 billion)

The CARES Act allows the U.S. Secretary of Education to distribute funds to institutions of higher education (IHEs), including colleges and universities:

  • Funds will be distributed to IHEs and apportioned by percentages of full-time students who receive Federal Pell Grants and are not exclusively in distance education courses. Additional funds will be distributed to schools specifically for coronavirus-related needs and to defray costs associated with school closures and other responses to the pandemic, including providing food, housing, course materials, healthcare, and childcare.
  • IHEs can use the funds to cover costs associated with coronavirus-related changes to the delivery of instruction but must use at least half to provide emergency financial aid to students for expenses related to food, housing, course materials, healthcare, childcare and technology.

Additionally, the CARES Act allows people to defer federal student loan payments for six months without penalty or interest and waives Pell Grant attendance requirements. It also provides funding for cleaning and disinfecting schools, ensures access to school meal programs through funds for child nutrition programs, increases benefits for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, and provides additional funding for childcare subsidies for families with low incomes.

While critical, the funding in the CARES Act is far less than what many advocates, education agencies, and institutions of higher education have identified they need to provide a robust and comprehensive response to the coronavirus and support the students and families most impacted. It is critical for communities to urge state education agencies and local school districts to spend new funds in equitable ways. Policymakers, administrators and educators must identify, prioritize and address the needs of students of color, students from families with low incomes, English learners, migrant students, and students with disabilities, among others, through effective supports, programs and equipment. Without proper spending and oversight, this new infusion of funds could simply exacerbate existing inequities between students.

Links for more information

Ways Colleges Should Support their Students During this Time

  • Maintain open, frequent and responsive communication with all members of the campus community about institutional responses, state updates, and federal policy changes to financial aid and loan repayments.
  • Ensure that alumni, particularly recent graduates, also receive information about changes to loan repayment procedures.
  • Consider permitting students with specific needs or who cannot relocate to remain in residential arrangements.
  • Continue to provide dining services in modified arrangements for local students.
  • Continue any university-provided health insurance coverage through the summer months, regardless of work or enrollment provisions. Make college health services available online and provide mental health resources to the campus community.
  • Consider equitable internet access for faculty and students when deciding whether to modify or cancel instructional platforms for the remainder of the spring and summer semesters.
  • Maintain federal and state protections for students under the ADA, Higher Education Act, and FERPA.

Texas Colleges Respond to COVID-19

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students entering or enrolled in college should be able to continue to pursue their education and stay up-to-date with their institution’s changing policies. This edition of IDRA’s Learning Goes On reviews responses from Texas colleges to the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

What is the current status of Texas colleges and universities?

The Center for Disease Control issued guidelines for colleges to manage student residences, events, online courses and information-sharing. Each institution and its campuses separately determine of how to manage institutional responses to COVID-19. Colleges across the state have adjusted their spring schedules and, for many, this means extended spring breaks and transitions to online coursework, requirements for residential students to move off-campus, and canceled or postponed commencement ceremonies.
The majority of Texas colleges and universities closed campus offices through at least early April, if not through the end of the spring semester in May. Many transitioned to online-only instruction and have limited on-campus personnel. Several institutions canceled athletic events and student gatherings, and some canceled or postponed commencement ceremonies. Many colleges that offer study-abroad programs returned traveling students to the United States and canceled future abroad programs for the time being.

As information changes rapidly, so do institutional responses. Follow the most recent college and university responses on IDRA’s new interactive dashboard (see below). The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) also maintains a webpage with state and institutional updates.

How do federal and state changes to higher education guidelines impact college access and financial aid?

Students who plan to enroll in college should contact their school’s admissions and financial aid offices for specific information. Deadlines, fees and scheduled summer enrollment and registration programs may change in response to the pandemic.

K-12 school districts and college counselors should still counsel graduating high school students to make progress toward postsecondary goals even if these vary by institution. The ACT and SAT were moved to late spring testing dates.

For high school students taking the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Assessment for college and dual-credit enrollment, THECB encourages schools to offer the online exam option through College Board’s testing platform, Examity.

The FAFSA deadline for the 2020-21 school year remains June 30, 2021, as is the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA). However, since the IRS extended the 2019 tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020, applicants should remember to update their tax information as it is available to ensure they can access any priority funds with accurate financial information.

The U.S. Department of Education announced suspension of required payments and collection actions on federal student loans for two months and that interest would not accrue on outstanding loans for 60 days, effective March 13, 2020. Colleges and universities may still pay students who receive Federal Work Study as part of their financial aid package even if all instruction and operations moved online but only if the changes pertain to the current term of aid. Texas waived regulations in order to allow the Texas College Work-Study Program to continue despite school closures and transitions to remote learning.

How do federal, state and institutional changes impact college students?

COVID-19 affects the academic, social-emotional health and financial livelihoods of college students.

Colleges and their students struggle with the digital divide. Many students rely on computers on campus to complete their work if they do not have access to their own computers. Faculty have varying levels of access to and training on web-based platforms. For campuses that already suffered disparities in online equipment and reliable internet access, campus closures in response to the virus exacerbate already inconsistent access to instructors and course material. Students with disabilities face additional challenges if they require special accommodations. Colleges must continue to provide instructional and other accommodations consistent with protections under Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Social-Emotional Health
Disruptions for students carry significant social, emotional and psychological impacts. For college students, particularly those who are low-income, first-generationLGBTQ students, and others who generally rely on their college for services (such as work placements, medical services, food and dining, residence, childcare), these transitions to off-campus and/or online instruction and living may be especially disruptive and cause distress, instability and trauma. Colleges should transition their mental health services to online support systems, if possible, and send frequent communications and resources to students and staff.

Many college students already face food insecurity, housing instability and financial hardship. Colleges often serve as full-service organizations for students through housing, work assignments, on-site childcare, medical and health services, dining services, recreation centers, and other facilities and benefits. Colleges should: make accessible via phone and online all of their student emergency and support services; provide access to meals for any local students and/or students residing on campus for special circumstances; and coordinate with local municipal offices and community organizations to identify alternative sources for essential student services and incorporate these in frequent institutional communications. Colleges should keep students’ financial aid as consistent as possible based on their FAFSA and TASFA information, enrollment status and adjusted costs of attendance.

March 21, 2020 Edition

Testing for Students in Texas & Equity Implications

Texas Governor Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) requirements for the 2019-20 school year and instructed the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to request a waiver for federal testing requirements from the U.S. Department of Education. TEA, State Board of Education, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board are posting guidance on these changes on a daily basis. Here is the most important information about testing, as of March 20, 2020.

How have testing requirements changed?

All STAAR assessments have been canceled, including:

  • Grades 3-8: Reading and Mathematics
  • Grades 4 and 7: Writing
  • Grades 5 and 8: Science
  • Grade 8: Social Studies
  • End-of-Course exams
  • STAAR Alternate 2 assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities

Each district will determine whether fifth and eighth graders should advance to the next grade. TEA has instructed districts to consider teacher recommendations, course grades and other academic information to make this determination.

End-of-course (EOC) assessments for high school students are waived. Graduating seniors who still have EOCs to complete will be assessed by their school’s Individual Graduation Committee (IGC). These committees evaluate whether students have mastered a particular subject. Learn more about IGCs and how they work from IDRA’s IGC issue brief and infographic.

How will schools monitor students’ progress while they are learning from home?

STAAR Interim Assessments are online testing instruments that will be available to school districts at no cost until May 29, 2020. However, these assessments do not cover all subjects for all grades. Teachers and school districts that continue to serve students will likely have to determine how to track student progress and ensure that learning continues while schools are closed. Schools must expand their knowledge and use of assessment methods that do not rely on one measure to determine student achievement.

How will assessment changes impact English learners?

As part of its waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education, TEA asked for a waiver from federal progress assessment requirements for English learners. Districts still have the option to administer the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) to students until May 29.

TEA has not yet released specific guidance and resources about how schools can meet the instructional and assessment needs of English learners while schools are closed. The agency has announced that it is developing recommendations for alternative methods to determine language proficiency.

Many school districts are releasing learning resources online and in hard copy form to all students. These materials may be difficult for many families to access, including the families of English learners who may not have reliable, affordable internet services for even a brief period of time. Additionally, in-person listening and speaking are critical components of effective language programs. Without these communication options, many at-home learning methods developed for English learners will be insufficient.

What are the changes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses and college admissions tests?

The AP program is developing online testing, which will be available to students in May. Before then, free, online resources and review sessions will be made available.

The March and May SAT tests have been canceled (a decision made by the College Board). All registered students will receive a refund.

The April 4 ACT has been postponed to June 13.

The Texas Education Agency will extend college preparation assessment reimbursements to cover tests administered during the summer.

What is the impact of these changes on equitable access to education for all students?

Significant educational equity issues existed before COVID-19. Generations of students of color, poor students, English learners and students with disabilities have not had access to the resources, instructional materials, high-quality teachers and facilities they need. These inequities will persist and perhaps worsen during the current public health and economic crisis. We must remain watchful and involved in our schools and communities to ensure all students have access to learning opportunities and life’s necessities.

Education agencies and school districts across the country can do the following…

  • Ensure sustained and equitable access to coursework, instruction, activities and assessments in a variety of modes and formats.
  • Provide instructional supports and resource repositories for teachers so that all districts can continue to serve students.
  • Continue to engage families with updated messaging on health and safety practices, Census 2020 outreach, and supplemental educational materials.
  • Ensure that waivers do not negatively impact the civil rights of students.
  • Limit waivers and adaptations only to those that are necessary to ensure the health and safety of school communities.
  • Provide clear guidance to teachers on the most effective ways to support students with specific educational needs, including English learners.

Links for more information

The School Meal Finder provides information about where students can access meals

TEA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Support and Guidance

TEA Notice to School Administrators about Student Assessments

TEA Assessment Guidance (updated March 19, 2020)

The College Board’s SAT Coronavirus Updates, including access to free, online practice tests and resources and information about AP testing

The ACT April 2020 National Exam COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions