I have found it very difficult to write this update. The world has been challenged with a pandemic that threatens the lives and livelihoods of almost everyone. Moving classes and my committee work online abruptly was a huge challenge. I needed to find a way to do my job, be thoughtful about the lives and hardships faced by my students, while moving forward with the work already begun. Frankly, my concern and attention to the government activities related to mathematics education waned. This does not mean the government stopped doing things related to our work and the mathematics education of children in Iowa. Part of what I include here is dated, but may be picked up again once our government redefines what is normal and gets back to the work that was halted with the pandemic.
In response to the FY 2021 federal budget, filed in February, Robert Berry issued a statement regarding lack of support for mathematics education in the proposed budget. If you have not read the statement, dated February 12, 2020, be sure to read it now. The work on the federal budget for the next fiscal year has continued, with little attention or news about funding for education, teacher education and mathematics education. The pandemic has been important to focus on for our survival, but please do not forget that the challenges to education in our nation will increase. According to Berry, “The request that Congress eliminate more than $5.5 billion in education investments is short-sighted. And it does not reflect the much-needed increased attention on improving mathematics learning and achievement that is acknowledged by local, state and federal policymakers” (p. 1, 2020). It is important that we advocate for our profession now more than ever. To learn how you can do this, read one of Berry’s last blog posts, Advocacy: Let’s Work Together, as NCTM president where he describes NCTM’s recent advocacy work in Washington DC with tips on how you can extend NCTM’s reach locally.
The cuts to next year’s budget that concerned Berry appear to be moving forward. I have not seen recent reports on how this will affect the TEACH grants and their fulfillment challenges. There appears to be a bill in the House of Representatives to allow teachers with forgivable loans more time to fulfill their full time teaching requirement if it is interrupted due to their spouses military deployment. I hope that this is the beginning of making TEACH grants work for more educators. Recall that you can see a list of bills being debated in Congress at NCTM’s page for Advocacy and Legislation. There is also an email list you can join to get updates about federal legislation NCTM follows.
The current legislative session was suspended due to Covid-19. Before leaving, a provision for using online meetings and voting was not approved, so the work in Des Moines is on hold. I wonder if the bills not yet through the second funnel are dead. If the legislature reconvenes, they might continue to work on bills related to school vouchers and eliminating the entrance test requirement for Teacher Education programs. One of the last acts of the legislature was to grant the Governor emergency powers in their absence.
By now, your schools, colleges and universities have begun to make plans for Fall 2020. There continue to be many unknowns about what will actually happen when school begins again. If schools were required to close to face-to-face classes again, the Governor has promised to provide a 2-week notice. There is some Covid-19 federal funds coming to schools as part of the CARES act. Locally, this money will be used by public PK-12 schools starting May 13, 2020. The funds can be used by schools for expenses from March 2020 through September 2022. It is not entirely clear what the funds can be used for, but they can be used for nutrition, meals, at risk and drop out interventions, and Internet access. The CARES Act money for higher education will be used immediately to support students and student loans. A requirement of the CARES act is that public PK-12 and higher education maintain their average funding from the three previous fiscal years. The bill does allow the federal Education Secretary to waive this requirement if states face budget shortfalls in the future. If you want to learn more about the CARES Act funding, you can check the Institute for College Access and Success March blog post, where the bill is described in detail. Please note that my intention is not to endorse this organization, but I found their description of the CARES act helpful.
I will provide additional government updates this summer if needed. It has been an honor and my privilege to advocate for mathematics education by sharing this information. With the support of ICTM and Iowa AMTE’s executive boards, I have redefined the position of Government Liaison to include these updates. I have an appointed position on each board. It is time for me to begin to consider phasing out of some of the work I do, to make room for younger people who will continue after I retire. If you are interested in joining me for a year, where we would work together to follow state and federal governments, please contact me. I hope to find someone who can add to this work, so we can make sure we are part of the conversations in Washington DC with NCTM, and in Des Moines with the Iowa organizations. I can be reached by email at email@example.com.