DeVos would gain broad emergency ESSA waiver power under Senate coronavirus legislation

Dive Brief:

  • Under The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, introduced Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would gain emergency powers to waive states’ K-12 educational requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • While states, districts and American Indian tribes could request waivers from requirements such as assessments, accountability, funding allocation or reporting — identifying how the coronavirus pandemic has impaired compliance —​ DeVos would not be able to waive ​“applicable civil rights laws under the legislation,” Education Week reports.
  • The waivers would be in effect for up to a year, with extensions possible, with DeVos given 15 days to approve or deny them.

Dive Insight:

This latest proposal to address the ongoing spread of novel coronavirus follows The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed Wednesday and signed into law by President Donald Trump. That package included plans to address meal distribution for students on free and reduced-price lunch programs, including national waiver authority allowing school officials to distribute food in any number of settings, flexibility on what’s included in meals, and measures to ensure low-income families don’t lose access to basic essentials.

The portion of the new legislation allowing DeVos to waive requirements under ESSA follows nationwide school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, disrupting the spring testing season, graduation and more. Many of the closures are expected to last through the remainder of the school year.

School closures have also highlighted persisting inequity in home access to internet and devices for many students as states and districts make attempts to salvage what they can of the school year via e-learning. The Federal Communications Commission is working to close that gap, waiving gift rules to allow E-rate program participants access to free services and equipment from providers. Some organizations, however, are also calling for it to expand E-rate coverage to include home internet for low-income families.

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