In March 2020, nearly all U.S. K-12 school buildings closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal government’s National School Lunch Program, quickly granted waivers to increase program flexibility and accommodate the challenges of the pandemic. These waivers, which have been renewed several times, were critically important for school food service programs as the programs abruptly shifted away from serving meals in cafeterias and designed new distribution models to continue to feed students. Many school meal staff across the country created grab-and-go meals that families could pick up, which was particularly important in the spring of 2020 and the following school year.
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On Monday, hundreds of students staged a walkout at a high school in Orange County, Florida, demonstrating against a bill that would limit discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools throughout the state. More than 500 students participated in a protest at Winter Park High School, organized to oppose legislation — colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — that was being debated in the state Senate at the time. The legislation would ban discussion of LGBTQ issues in primary school classrooms and severely curtail what can be discussed in older grades, and could have disastrous repercussions beyond lesson plans. On Tuesday, that legislation passed in the state Senate. The bill is now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) desk, who has signaled he will sign it into law.
A growing student-community-labor coalition held a large rally March 6 on demands related to New York City educational institutions. After gathering at Brooklyn Borough Hall, participants marched over the Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square in Manhattan. Key organizers of the rally and the coalition were the Professional Staff Congress-City University of New York (American Federation of Teachers Local 2334), United University Professions (AFT Local 2190) and CUNY Rising Alliance, a coalition of 30-plus student, worker and community organizations “fighting for free and high-quality CUNY.” About 600 people heard James Davis, president of PSC-CUNY, and Fred Kowal, president of UUP, explain the needs of students and workers they represent at various institutions and how the pending New York state budget should recognize these needs.
An NBC News story headlined “White House Confronts Political Pressure to Extend Pause in Student Loan Payments Ahead of Midterms” represented much media focus on student loan debt: treating the fact that 45 million Americans owe some $1.7 trillion as an “issue,” an object of debate, a potential election factor. And that’s all true. Student loan forgiveness was one of Biden’s campaign promises. The federal pause on repayments is set to expire on May 1, and what happens with it will have an effect on the president and the party. But, of course, there’s also a much broader and deeper conversation to be had about student loans, and about debt, that hopefully will carry us beyond any particular election cycle. For an update on the current situation and our understanding of what’s at stake, we’re joined now by Braxton Brewington, press secretary and organizer at the group Debt Collective, a membership-based union for debtors and allies.
Last week, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain hinted that President Joe Biden may soon take action on the nation's $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Biden has several options at his disposal to aid the nation's 43 million student loan borrowers, experts told the American Independent Foundation. "The president is going to look at what we should do on student debt before the pause expires, or he'll extend the pause," Klain said on the podcast Pod Save America last Thursday. "Right now, people aren't having to pay on their loans, and so I think dealing with the executive branch question, what we should do about that, what his powers are, how much we should do on that, that's something we're going to deal with later on," Klain added.