The number of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. has reached new heights, surpassing 160,000 daily cases for the first time since the outbreak began. Top U.S. infectious disease experts warn that the country faces "a very challenging and ominous situation" in the winter days and weeks ahead. The US death toll stands at about 250,000, which is the highest figure in the world and about a fifth of the global total of confirmed coronavirus deaths.
In the midst of these evolving pandemic conditions, states are rapidly adapting rules and regulations in essential areas like travel, workplace safety, and of special interest this edition of The Way, education. This is American Education Week, which is recognized one week before Thanksgiving. We take a closer look at some of the nearer and longer-term issues facing educational communities, even as districts around the country are leveraging to hybrid-learning, delaying in-person teaching, or even switching to a full virtual model to keep students away from school.
EDUCATIONAL RISK MANAGEMENT
That said, in the post-secondary educational environment, sending students home is a more difficult course. To mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 through holiday travel, parents, university administrators, and infectious disease experts are urging students on campus to spend Thanksgiving at school, and remain sheltered-in-place. In other recent mitigation news, the Ivy League elected to cancel its winter sports season, becoming the first conference that plays Division I men's and women's basketball to make that call. And in other college sports news, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced it will stage its post-season basketball tournament in one isolated location. Looks like 68 teams will be “in the bubble,” as opposed to “on the bubble” on Selection Sunday.
K-12 POLICY PROJECTIONS
While educators at all levels seek alignment around student safety, leading education organizations, teacher associations, and legal experts are far from united in their views on what a Biden presidency might mean for the K-12 educational system. Leading teachers unions express an eagerness for the administration’s collaboration and COVID-19 relief, but are split on whether President-elect Biden will benefit or detract from school choice. Many in the special education community are hopeful a Biden administration will advocate for fully funding the additional costs of serving students with disabilities, which could mean an estimated $30 billion increase for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Pundits also draw a sharp distinction between President Trump and President-elect Joe Biden, and his wife, Professor Jill Biden, on the pathway for Higher Education in the U.S. The Biden Harris campaign touted an extensive Plan for Education Beyond High School, which promises to “strengthen college as a reliable pathway to the middle class.” On the campaign trail, President-elect Biden said he will enact legislation to ensure that students can go to community college for up to two years without having to pay tuition. President-elect Biden also adopted a proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000, and forgive $10,000 in student debt for all borrowers, reducing more than $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
A MAKE-UP TEST
The degree to which the president-elect will be able to advance this educational agenda through Congress will likely depend on two runoff elections in Georgia to decide the last two seats in the Senate. If the Democrats secure these seats, party affiliation around educational issues in the Senate would generally reflect a 50-50 tie. Recall, a tie in the Senate reverts to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast a deciding vote. Should Republicans win even one of the Georgia races, the GOP could be positioned to exert more of an influence on the president-elect’s ambitious docket of educational investments. Let’s check back next semester.
FROM STATE HOUSES
Staying with politics, we are now two weeks post-Election day. The results show that the Republicans gained two new state “trifectas” in New Hampshire and Montana, after the GOP won majorities in the New Hampshire House and Senate and flipped the Montana governorship. A state trifecta is when a single party controls both chambers of the legislature and the governorship. Republicans now hold 23 trifectas, Democrats hold 15 trifectas, and 11 states have “divided” governments.
TO CAPITOL HILL
Commentators suggest these party affiliations, along with census data, are likely to impact the federal redistricting efforts now underway across the country. These districts will impact the make-up of the U.S. House and Senate for the next 10 years. Of note, voters in Virginia took a “historic step” to approve a bi-partisan committee approach to redistricting. We’ll keep an eye on redistricting issues as we move into the next legislative session.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signed into law Assembly Bill 7579. This measure requires employers to offer an injured worker, or person entitled to a death benefit, the option to receive indemnity payments through direct deposit. The Workers’ Compensation Board will now promulgate rules and regulations to administer the direct deposit of an injured worker's indemnity payments.
Earlier this year, the Financial Conduct Authority, in concert with eight U.K. insurers, brought a business interruption test case before the High Court. In the underlying case, judges found that most, but not all, of the policies involved would be triggered during the events of the global coronavirus pandemic. The High Court ruled on 2/3 of the policies in the test case, and these orders have been fast-tracked to the highest court in England and Wales, the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments next week, with a ruling expected this year. We’re following these global business interruption issues closely.
The U.S. Treasury Department (Treasury) is seeking comments on whether to make certain definitional changes to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act to include cyber events that occur outside the United States. In 2016, Treasury issued interim guidance confirming that certain stand-alone cyber coverage written in a TRIP-eligible line of insurance was within the scope of the program. Last December, President Trump signed into law a measure to extend TRIA through December 31, 2027. More to follow on this topic.
Back to our main story this week, each day of American Education Week is dedicated to key stakeholders in our educational system. Today is National Educational Support Professionals Day. We at The Way show our appreciation for our nation’s school support staff who go beyond to make schools safe, sanitary, and supportive communities of learning. Particularly during the challenges of COVID-19, ESPs have been busy passing out meals to their communities, sanitizing school buildings, maintaining proper HVAC systems, supporting distance learning, making phone calls to check on students, and so much more. Thank you for all you do! See you next week for our special Thanksgiving edition of The Way. Until then, stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.