March 3, 2021 - Testing and Graduation Update:
The House Primary and Secondary Education Committee today accepted a substitute version of House Bill 67 and subsequently passed the bill, which is expected to receive a full vote of the House of Representatives tomorrow, March 4, at 1:00 p.m. The changes to the bill , which can be accessed here, include:
• a waiver from the requirement to administer the high school American History end-of-course examination for the 2020-21 school year only;
• an extension of the online and paper testing windows;
• an extension of the graduation flexibilities from the 2019-20 school year into the current school year;
• an ability for students through the 2023-24 school year to use final course grades in lieu of the corresponding state end-of-course exam;
• a requirement for the Superintendent of Public Instruction to seek a waiver from federal accountability and reporting requirements;
• a delay, from Sept. 15, 2021 to Oct. 14, 2021, for the report card data reporting deadline.
The substitute bill would still mandate the administration of two, non-federally required assessments: the ACT/SAT and the American History end-of-course exam.
For a full discussion on this issue, please read below.
From the March. 8, 2021 issue of the Briefcase
Feds say no testing waivers for 2020-21 school year
“We are not inviting blanket waivers of assessments.”
That quote, from a memo issued by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) on Feb. 22, shut the door on the nationwide hopes of forgoing the administration of federally required assessments for the 2020-21 school year.
In a letter to chief state school officers and others, the USDOE wrote that President Joe Biden’s “first priority is to safely reopen schools and get students back in classrooms, learning face-to-face from teachers with their fellow students.” To do so successfully, the administration argues, there must be an understanding of the pandemic’s impact on learning and identification of the resources and supports needed. It also states that student learning data can be used to prepare states to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“State assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity,” writes author Ian Rosenblum, acting with the authority to perform the functions and duties of the assistant secretary of the federal Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, a post which has yet to be filled.
This decision matches the conclusion reached by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. While serving with the Trump administration, DeVos wrote on Sept. 3, 2020, that states should not anticipate testing waivers being granted for the 2020-21 school year. This new announcement differs, however, from last year’s determination in which DeVos granted assessment waivers for the 2019-20 school year due to the federal emergency declared by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2020. That emergency designation is still in effect.
Federal law requires states to annually administer assessments in reading and mathematics in grades three through eight and once in high school. It also requires science assessments at least once in grades three through five, six through nine and 10 through 12. Ohio exceeds this federal minimum, in part, by requiring a fall administration of the third-grade English language arts assessment and requiring high schools to administer state American history and American government end-of-course examinations and either the ACT or SAT.
Instead of a waiver, the memo does provide states the following flexibilities in administering the assessments:
● Administering a shortened version of the statewide assessments.
● Offering remote administration, where feasible.
● Extending the testing window to the greatest extent practicable, which could include offering multiple testing windows or extending the testing window into the summer, the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year or both. States that elect to extend testing windows also should consider how they can make results available to the public in a timely manner after assessments are administered.
Officials from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) told reporters that these flexibilities are “not feasible.”
In light of the USDOE memo, state lawmakers across the country are forced to rethink previous plans that were predicated on a federal waiver to forgo testing. In Ohio, several bills pending in the General Assembly that waived state testing for the 2020-21 school year appeared to be on the fast track to enactment, but now would need additional refinement.
For example, House Bill 67, sponsored by Reps. J. Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield) and Adam C. Bird (R-New Richmond), was scheduled for a possible vote on Feb. 23, but the vote was pulled just hours after the USDOE letter was published. In the upper chamber, the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee announced on Feb. 25 that it would not meet the week of March 1 to hold a second hearing on Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sens. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Nathan R. Manning (R-North Ridgeville), which would address the state testing waiver issue, among other changes.
Potential revisions to those bills and other similar bills in the legislature could include waiving the state-required assessments and providing graduation flexibility.
The Feb. 22 memo does invite states to request a waiver from the federal accountability and school identification requirements. Under this waiver, states would not be required to implement and report the results of their accountability systems, including calculating progress toward long-term goals, measuring interim progress or indicators and meaningfully differentiating among their public schools using data from the 2020-21 school year.
This flexibility would explicitly include waiving the requirement that the state’s academic achievement indicator be adjusted to account for a participation rate below 95%. States also would not be required to identify schools for comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement, and additional targeted support and improvement based on data from the 2020-21 school year.
States receiving a waiver would still be required to continue to support previously identified schools in the 2021-22 school year, resume school identification in the fall of the 2022-23 school year and ensure transparency to parents and the public, including publicly reporting the percentage of students not assessed, disaggregated by student subgroup.
The USDOE memo also encouraged states and school districts to consider other steps within their purview to further reduce the stakes of assessments this school year, such as excluding their use from students’ final grades and grade promotion decisions.
State and local report cards would still need to disaggregate data by student subgroup, except for reporting related to school rating systems like the state report card. Additionally, as a condition of waiving accountability and school identification requirements, states would still need to publicly report disaggregated chronic absenteeism data and, to the extent the information is collected, data on student and educator access to technology devices like laptops or tablets as well as high-speed internet at home.
Posted by Will Schwartz on 3/3/2021.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of Feb. 26, 2021.
From the Feb. 8, 2021 issue of the Briefcase
State revises spending cuts as new budget is unveiled
Only a few weeks after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the powerful impact it would have on Ohio’s economy became both evident and pervasive. State budget officials would begin to craft a narrative detailing a grim outlook for the state’s finances and also prepare Ohioans for a bumpy ride of fiscal and personal restraints.
Gov. Mike DeWine continued this pattern of tough choices on Jan. 22 by signing Executive Order 2021-01D, which formalized a reduced state spending cut of $390 million for fiscal year (FY) 2021. This decision would allow Ohio to balance the remainder of the FY 2020-2021 biennium without a negative balance.
That order marks DeWine’s second significant spending control, the first of which occurred on May 5, 2020, and reduced state spending by $782 million for the remaining weeks of FY 2020. K-12 education bore the brunt of that reduction, as $300 million was cut from school districts’ subsidy payments for the state foundation formula, representing a 3.7% cut on an annual basis.
As FY 2020 concluded and the next sixth months ensued, payments to school districts were made at reduced FY 2020 levels, effectively continuing the FY 2020 cuts well into FY 2021. On Jan. 22, DeWine made official the FY 2021 cuts, effectively restoring $160 million to school districts for the remainder of the fiscal year. The result is a net $140 million reduction for districts who can expect increased funding levels to occur beginning with their first February payment. On a per-pupil basis, the FY 2021 cuts amount to an $82.42 average annual reduction for traditional school districts, with $21.70 and $137.42 serving as the lowest and highest cuts, respectively.
Like the FY 2020 cuts, reductions continued to be applied in an equalized manner, meaning school districts with less capacity to raise revenue locally received a smaller per-pupil reduction than school districts with a higher capacity to raise local revenue. In other words, poorer school districts received a smaller per-pupil cut than did their wealthier counterparts. This methodology is similar to the equitable manner in which state aid is distributed to each school district. A modification to the FY 2021 cuts was factoring in $23.3 million previously authorized through House Bill 164 of the 133rd General Assembly.
In making the revised reductions, DeWine stressed the importance of returning students to in-classroom instruction, saying “As many schools, colleges and universities return to in-person learning, it’s important that the funding be reinstated.”
Despite the two rounds of state spending controls, DeWine has yet to tap the state’s $2.7 billion Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the rainy day fund. The governor has been consistent in his defense for avoiding using the state’s reserves, saying the pandemic’s impact on Ohio’s economy will last for years to come.
Meanwhile, the softened cut signals an acknowledgement by DeWine and his administration that the previously estimated $2.3 billion budget hole has shrunk. According to the January 2021 Monthly Financial Report from the Office of Budget and Management, Ohio’s total tax receipts for the six-month period from July through December of 2020 show $457.7 million, or 3.7%, above estimates. In a show of consistency, revenue exceeded estimates in five of the first six months of FY 2021.
In the coming days, DeWine is expected to submit to the legislature his executive budget proposal for FY 2022 and 2023. A question on the minds of many education observers is what baseline will DeWine propose for K-12 funding in the upcoming biennium? Will it reflect the pre-FY 2020 reduction funding levels, the reduced FY 2020 funding levels, the new, revised FY 2021 levels or something else entirely? Ohioans will learn the answer in early February, and the budget debate will then be underway.
Posted by Will Schwartz on 2/5/2021.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of Feb. 8, 2021.
From the Jan. 11, 2021 issue of the Briefcase
Congress includes increased education funding in latest COVID-19 relief package
With only days remaining in 2020, the U.S. Congress again made history by enacting House Resolution (HR) 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The legislation appropriates a never-before-seen $2.3 trillion, slightly more than the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act package approved in March, and also contains the much-deliberated supplemental round of COVID-19- related spending and relief measures, which comprise $900 million of the total amount. Also included in HR 133 are the annual omnibus appropriations provisions for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which total $1.4 trillion. President Donald J. Trump signed the legislation into law on Dec. 27.
After allocating $30.75 billion through the CARES Act for primary, secondary and higher education, federal lawmakers nearly tripled their initial investment by including $82 billion to assist the education community in tackling the pandemic. Of that total, $54.3 billion is earmarked for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Allocations for states have not yet been announced, but the distribution methodology appears to be largely the same as the CARES Act, under which Ohio received roughly 3.6% of the nation’s share of ESSER. That would mean Ohio could receive roughly $1.74 billion in new ESSER funds, which previously stood at $489.2 million. Like the original round of ESSER funds, 90% of a state’s award must be distributed to local education agencies (LEAs), and 10% can be withheld by the state for emergency planning needs associated with the pandemic.
The Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund also saw its reserves grow. Originally a $3 billion block grant program for governors to administer to the education community at their discretion, the GEER Fund was increased by $4.1 billion. The recently passed law does not allow nonpublic schools to receive ESSER funds, so $2.75 billion of the $4.1 billion is set aside for nonpublic schools. Allocations have not yet been announced for the GEER Fund, but Ohio received roughly 3.5% of the share of the initial GEER Fund, which means Ohio may receive $143.5 million in this fund, which previously stood at $104.9 million. Finally, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund also saw increases, adding $22.7 billion on top of the original $14.25 billion.
School districts can expend the new ESSER funds through Sept. 30, 2023, on the same permissible uses as under the CARES Act. The new law also expands the list of allowable uses to the following areas:
● Addressing learning loss among students by administering tests to assess academic progress; implementing evidence-based activities to meet student needs; providing information and assistance to parents and families on how to effectively support students, including in a distance-learning environment; or tracking student attendance and improving student engagement in distance education.
● School facility repairs and improvements that reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards and that support student health needs.
● Inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement and upgrade projects to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities. Other pandemic-related features of the bill include:
● Appropriating $7 billion to expand broadband access for students, families and unemployed individuals, including a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit that provides a monthly $50 broadband payment for low-income families, and appropriating $300 million for rural broadband.
● Extending the Coronavirus Relief Fund’s (CRF) spending deadline from Dec. 30, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021. No additional state or local aid was added to the CRF in HR 133.
● Requiring states to maintain spending levels, otherwise referred to as the “maintenance of effort,” in both K-12 and higher education in FY 2021 and FY 2022, at least at the average of the previous three fiscal years. A similar provision existed in the CARES Act.
● Requiring LEAs that received supplemental federal funding to continue to pay their employees and contractors during any closures, to the greatest extent practicable. A similar provision also existed in the CARES Act.
As previously mentioned, HR 133 includes the omnibus appropriations provisions for FY 2021. Those provisions provide $73.5 billion to the U.S. Department of Education, a $785 million increase from FY 2020. Primary and secondary education will receive $40.6 billion of that amount. Title I grants to school districts total $16.5 billion, a $227 million increase from FY 2020. Meanwhile, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding was $14.1 billion, a $186 million increase from the prior year. Other increases occurred for Title II teacher professional development state grants, Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, Career and Technical Education State Grants and Head Start and Child Care and Development Block Grants.
Posted by Will Schwartz on 1/5/2021.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of Jan. 2, 2021.
From the July 13, 2020 issue of the Briefcase
State issues guidance on safely reopening school buildings
Facing endless questions from parents, students and school leaders about the future of education in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine responded on July 3. In his now-ubiquitous 2 p.m. daily press conference, DeWine answered with guidance and directives about what the state will require and advise for K-12 public and private schools in the 2020-21 school year. DeWine also addressed the health challenges facing schools and the state’s role in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and debuted his administration’s newly published document titled COVID-19 Health and Prevention Guidance for Ohio K-12 Schools.
The guidance is intended to serve as a framework to reopen school buildings while also helping students and staff reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and prevent its spread in their communities. The guidance and best practices focus on the following areas:
- assessing symptoms;
- increasing hand-cleaning efforts;
- increasing sanitation efforts;
- practicing social distancing;
- adopting a face-covering policy.
To assess symptoms, DeWine recommends school employees take temperatures of students and staff as they enter buildings. An additional recommendation is for students, staff and volunteers to conduct daily health checks prior to going to school, including temperature checks and assessing symptoms. The recommendations call for anyone with symptoms or a temperature above 100 degrees to stay home.
To address hand-cleaning efforts, DeWine recommends students, staff and volunteers practice frequent hand-washing for at least 20 seconds when hands are dirty, before and after eating and after using the restroom. Additionally, schools are required to provide opportunities throughout the day for hand-washing and must provide hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas and instruct students and staff to use the sanitizer.
To address sanitation efforts, DeWine is requiring schools to clean surfaces frequently, paying close attention to high-touch areas and shared materials, and to make sanitation wipes or disinfectants available in each room and common space.
To address social distancing, DeWine recommends that school staff should try, when possible, to maintain a six-foot distance among students, staff and volunteers in all school environments, including classrooms, hallways, restrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds and drop-off and pickup locations. The guidance also acknowledges the unique challenges associated with pupil transportation. DeWine recommends social distancing and face coverings for students on school buses but implores officials to endeavor to do the best they can.
To address face coverings, DeWine requires school staff and volunteers to wear face coverings, unless it is unsafe to do so or would significantly interfere with the learning process. Specific exemptions to this requirement include:
- when wearing coverings in a school setting is prohibited by law or regulation, is in violation of documented industry standards, is inadvisable for health reasons or is in violation of a school’s documented safety policies;
- when staff members work alone in an assigned work area;
- when there is a functional or practical reason to not to wear a facial covering in the workplace.
DeWine stopped short of requiring students to wear face coverings. However, he is requiring all schools to establish a face mask policy. To that end, the governor strongly recommends that students in third grade and higher wear a face covering unless they are unable to do so for a health or developmental reason.
To supplement DeWine’s health guidance, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) issued its Reset and Restart Planning Guide for Ohio Schools and Districts. The document is intended to help schools and their partners understand guidelines and considerations for reopening school buildings amid the pandemic in a way that protects the health and safety of vulnerable members of school communities.
ODE’s stated intent is that the guide will spur local-level, partnership-based discussions and decision-making that will result in locally developed plans. The guide is broken into the following three segments:
- Health and safety guidelines, which refer to the guidance issued by DeWine.
- Local planning considerations, which include guidelines to help schools and their partners reopen in the most effective way possible. This portion also outlines the educational aspects schools should consider, paying attention to a student’s educational experience and learning, educator readiness and training, social-emotional health and operational considerations.
- Roles for associations, educational organizations and other state and community partners, which focus on leveraging the support of partners to implement the health and safety guidelines and return-to-school considerations for local planning.
Posted by Will Schwartz on 7/7/2020.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of July 6, 2020.
From the June 22, 2020 issue of the Briefcase
Lawmakers pass more legislation to provide schools relief
The Ohio General Assembly on June 11 sent Gov. Mike DeWine a second round of education legislation intended to help school districts prepare for the 2020-21 school year, provide relief and flexibility from state mandates and cope with the impact of the coronavirus.
After lawmakers passed House Bill (HB) 197 in late March to address issues related to the extended school building closure of the 2019-20 school year, education leaders quickly voiced the need to extend that bill’s provisions into the following school year. As a result, lawmakers spent several weeks crafting amendments and bills.
On June 2, Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 319, which contained a compilation of education measures designed to relieve challenges facing districts in the upcoming school year. At that time, it served as the only comprehensive piece of legislation to address the 2020-21 school year.
Since the bill had just been introduced, it faced a longer road and a limited amount of time to navigate the legislature before a planned summer recess that was set to begin in mid-June. Therefore, the Senate Education Committee acted quickly on June 10 to incorporate a majority of SB 319’s provisions into HB 164, a bill that had been pending in that committee for months and had already cleared the House of Representatives. Sponsored by Rep. Timothy E. Ginter (R-Salem), HB 164 originally dealt with student religious expression in schools, but now represented a lighthouse in a sea of fog for which school leaders had long been pleading.
On the same day that the Senate committee substantially amended and passed HB 164, the full Senate voted 32-0 to approve the bill, sending it back to the House. The next day — June 11 — the House concurred with the Senate’s changes to its bill by a vote of 87-3.
In addition to the flexibility measures, the bill contains three increases in state funding payments to certain school districts.
The first payment pertains to school districts with power plants in their territory that recently suffered significant devaluations in their public utility tangible personal property (PUTPP) over a short period of time. Seven traditional school districts and one joint vocational school district are estimated to benefit in fiscal year (FY) 2020 from this provision, which uses roughly $3.5 million from the unexpended balance of a preexisting budget earmark.
The second payment pertains to districts that experienced state aid deductions due to positive spikes in their PUTPP values. Three districts are estimated to benefit in FY 2020 from this provision, which uses $545,265 from the same earmark.
The third funding change contains a direct appropriation of state funds to offset a portion of the $300 million in foundation funding reductions DeWine imposed on May 5. An appropriation of $24 million in FY 2020 will provide an additional payment to an estimated 70 school districts. Payments range from a maximum of $2 million to a minimum of $182, and the average payment would be about $333,500. Payments are allocated to districts so that, after factoring in emergency federal assistance payments, no district would experience a net reduction of more than 6% of its original FY 2020 foundation amount. Those federal payments come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund as part of the larger Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Other key provisions of HB 164 include:
- permitting high school students to use final course grades in lieu of the corresponding end-of-course exam if that exam was not administered in the 2019-20 school year;
- modifying teacher and principal evaluations for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years by prohibiting the use of value-added measures, among other changes;
- permitting districts that do not currently operate a blended learning model to adopt a “remote learning plan” by July 31, 2020, that will constitute compliance with minimum hours requirements, provided specified items in the bill are included in a district’s plan;
- allowing, for the 2020-21 school year, licensed teachers to be employed or reassigned to teach in a subject area or grade level for which they are not licensed, provided certain conditions are met;
- extending to Nov. 30, 2022, the moratorium on the requirement for school districts to install storm shelters;
- providing local flexibility in determining promotion to fourth grade for the 2020-21 school year;
- maintaining the third-grade reading guarantee cut score for the 2020-21 school year at the level set for the 2019-20 school year;
- removing required qualifications for teachers who are assigned to provide intense remediation reading assistance in the 2020-21 school year;
- removing the requirement to implement reading and improvement monitoring plans for the 2020-21 school year based on test results from the 2019-20 school year;
- grandfathering current preschool special education teachers who do not qualify under the new special education preschool administrative rules;
- permitting certain state-licensed individuals to provide services electronically to students with disabilities through the 2020-21 school year;
- requiring the Ohio Department of Education to develop an online training program to satisfy the classroom portion of pre-service and annual in-service training for school bus driver certification for the 2020-21 school year only.
The bill’s funding measures and temporary relief provisions take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.
DeWine is expected to sign the bill into law, but has a new tool afforded to him that does not typically accompany bill signings: the line-item veto. Since HB 164 appropriates state funds, the Ohio Constitution grants him the authority to line-item veto any provision of the bill, not just the portion that expends funds. Therefore, the final impact of the bill’s provisions will not be fully known until DeWine places the cap back onto his pen.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of June 12, 2020.