With help from Bianca Quilantan, Michael Stratford and Daniel Lippman.
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— The Education Department is easing up on its restrictions for colleges and universities using online programs due to coronavirus interruptions. In K-12 schools, the possibility of online learning is getting attention—and raising concerns about digital equity for students in rural schools and those of color.
— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposal to consolidate more than two dozen K-12 education programs and cut funding to a range of programs at her agency was greeted with skepticism by a top Republican appropriator during a Senate hearing. Sen. Roy Blunt also pressed DeVos, and criticized the response of her staff, on a now-delayed agency decision to change a rural school funding model.
— It’s On Us, a group initially founded by the Obama administration to combat sexual misconduct on college campuses, has teamed up with Tinder, a popular dating app, to provide college students with training on preventing sexual assault and promoting online dating safety.
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GETTING READY FOR ONLINE LEARNING: Education Department guidance announced Thursday, covering multiple potential coronavirus scenarios, made some changes in online programs by providing broad approval to institutions to use them.
— Institutions can now temporarily use online programs without going through the regular approval process. The department also allows accreditors to waive their distance education review requirements, though it is limited to only students who were already attending a program that was interrupted by the coronavirus.
— The department’s guidelines make it clear that the programs can be bare bones, but must meet the requirement that says instructors must initiate substantive communication with students, either individually or collectively, on a regular basis — even if it’s just through email. Bianca Quilantan has more.
— More guidance focused on K-12 schools and students with disabilities is forthcoming, a department spokesperson said.
IN THE STATES: States are looking at online learning as a K-12 response to the coronavirus.
— In Washington state, where numerous schools have closed, Northshore School District schools will transition on Monday from classroom to online learning during what could be a two week closure. Other schools are discussing take-home assignments, online options or just closing the schools entirely, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
— In New Jersey, bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday would allow school districts to use remote or virtual education in emergency situations such as a coronavirus outbreak that would require facilities to be shuttered for more than three days. The bill would allow students to count one or more days of virtual or remote instruction toward the state-mandated 180-day school requirement. Carly Sitrin has more.
— In Florida, the state Department of Education is preparing to use online tools to keep up with student instruction in the event of a widespread outbreak, Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. More from Andrew Atterbury.
REMOTE LEARNING PROSPECT RAISES EQUITY CONCERNS: The coronavirus is shining a new spotlight on the digital divide for students, known as the homework gap, and advocates for closing it say the current crisis helps make the case for a long-term fix.
— School administrators considering extended school closures may need to look to the paper-and-pencil past for ways to teach those without broadband at home while other students with home internet access get their lessons online. That inability to hop online would hit much harder in rural communities and among children of color.
— “It’s such a demonstration of how important it is to have students connected at home, and how prepared we are [as] a nation for something like this when it comes to education,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who is credited with coining the term “homework gap,” told POLITICO. “This issue of digital equity and the homework gap, we’ve got to make it front of mind.” Read more from your host.
‘I THINK I HEARD YOU SAY KANSAS CITY’: Blunt, the Senate chairman of the subcommittee overseeing education funding, said during a hearing Thursday that his panel won’t take up DeVos’ proposal to consolidate 29 streams of funding for K-12 education into a new state grant block program. He said that the idea should instead be debated by the Senate HELP Committee.
— Blunt also wasn’t a fan of proposed budget reductions to several programs — or DeVos’ defense of a proposed $75 million cut to Impact Aid. She said that cut would affect “mostly urban” areas, and ticked off a list of cities: “Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.”
— “I think I heard you say Kansas City, which I know is in Missouri,” Blunt, a Missouri Republican, responded. Michael Stratford has more.
RURAL SCHOOLS: Blunt also had some thoughts for DeVos about her department’s attempt to tighten how states qualify for money under the Rural Education Achievement Program, potentially jeopardizing funding for more than 800 rural, low-income schools. The decision has been scrapped in favor of a one-year transition period following objections from senators, including red-state Republicans.
“Your view on Tuesday is you have to obey the law,” Blunt said to DeVos, referring to a meeting the senator said he held with her earlier this week on the funding program and other issues.
“And your staff by Wednesday afternoon has found a way not to do it, with not the slightest hint that they’re working on, looking for, an alternative,” Blunt said. “It’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s not helpful. It doesn’t help with our relationship between the committee staff and your staff.” Read more from Juan Perez Jr.
CORONAVIRUS FUNDING BILL PASSES: President Donald Trump is expected to soon sign an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to aid the fight against the deadly virus. The measure, H.R. 6074 (116), moved through Congress with stunning speed, just over 24 hours after text was released Wednesday afternoon. The majority of the funding—$6.5 billion—goes to HHS, which must distribute $1 billion to states, cities and tribes for local responses to the virus.
— Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) predicted the $8.3 billion is likely to be enough to handle the response, but said there’s bipartisan support for a follow-on bill if the funding starts to seem insufficient. “We think this is a good bit of money. But if they need money, we’ll provide it,” Shelby said. More from Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma.
— An Education Department spokesperson told POLITICO in an email, “Should we see a need for additional funding we will certainly request it.”
SWIPE RIGHT: TINDER AND IT’S ON US MATCH UP: It’s On Us, an organization that works to combat sexual assault on college campuses, and Tinder, a popular dating app, announced that they have teamed up to launch a tour to provide sexual assault prevention training for college students.
— It’s On Us was initially founded in 2014 as an initiative of the Obama administration. Former Vice President Joe Biden even teamed up with Lady Gaga to take a national tour on the road to colleges across the country to rally students to stand against sexual misconduct.
— Tinder, which was introduced on a college campus in 2012, is a dating app that has been downloaded more than 340 million times and is available in 190 countries.
— Each stop will host a one-day training event for college students by college students on sexual assault awareness and consent, bystander intervention and survivor support, and online dating safety. It is free for all enrolled college students, including those attending schools in the surrounding area.
— College stops on the tour include: Fayetteville University on March 6; Texas Christian University on March 20; Miami University of Ohio on April 4; University of California, San Diego on April 19; St. Ambrose University on April 25; and one other stop to be announced soon.
— “Through initiatives like this national tour, healthy relationships and sexual assault awareness are thankfullly becoming increasingly common topics on college campuses. However, there is still work to be done – especially in safety education around online dating,” said Tracey Vitchers, executive director for It’s On Us, in a statement. “By teaming up with Tinder, we’re working to close this gap even further, connecting and inspiring students to do their part in helping to prevent sexual assault at their schools.”
— Lauren Dueck is headed to the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law School, where she will be their director of strategic communications. She previously was the senior communications manager and executive producer of podcasts for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
— A new report for Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy found that No Child Left Behind increased high school graduation rates.
— A study published in Educational Researcher found a strong connection between high school social studies teachers’ political ideology and how credible they find various mainstream news outlets.
— Trump tweets that the Education Department is not shutting down rural schools: POLITICO Pro
— Senators unveil child exploitation bill, teeing up online liability battle: POLITICO Pro
— You still can’t rely on CDC’s gun injury numbers. But this may be the first step toward a fix: The Trace
— Senate Democrats intro bill to curtail kids’ usage of technology: POLITICO Pro
— She Was Excited for a New School. Then the Anti-Semitic ‘Jokes’ Started: New York Times