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CURRENT EVENTS & NEWS FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF TEST PUBLISHERS

On April 8, the ATP, as part of the Education Sector Coalition, sent a letter [add link] to the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives, advocating for major funding for education and assessment industry – including all sectors of the "education community," from pre-K, K-12, higher education, adult education, worker training/retraining, certification and licensure, credentialing (workforce and other forms of voluntary credentialing programs), as well as areas of education curricular and assessment services, including test development, test delivery and administration, test scoring, and related security services. 

Even though the CARES Act contained some money for state education programs, and provided express waiver for ESSA testing this year, our intelligence on the Hill is that this 4th economic stimulus package will have an education focus.  It was clear that this new bill is NOT going to be focused on money for infrastructure.  Accordingly, ATP again joined with the Association of American Publishers and the Software and Information Industry Association to lay out a number of funding requests. 

The letter seeks critical funding for ATP members, such as to:

  • ensure that education publishers and service providers that are not-for-profit entities will have access to the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) -- yesterday Treasury Secretary Mnuchin announced that the Administration is requesting another $250 billion for the PPP; [NOTE:  Late yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated he is prepared to approve this additional funding as early as today].
  • provide that education publishers and service providers have access to the Treasury Department’s Economic Stabilization Fund, to ensure the viability of education service providers, including the testing that underpins federal accountability requirements designed to promote educational equity;
  • investment of $175 billion in K-12 education in order to meet the ongoing and growing challenges the American education system is facing and will need to overcome as schools and institutions return to full strength following the pandemic;
  • allocation of $2 billion to school districts for Wi-Fi hotspots, connected devices, and mobile broadband Internet service;
  • $6 billion in formula funds to meet the immediate needs of districts to procure quality, remote-learning-enabled K-12 educational curricula for the 2020-2021 school year, including remote learning upgrades to products they have already procured;
  • $50 billion in direct assistance in the form of grants to current learners to continue, return, or begin their college studies as well as those who have lost their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and are in need of workforce and career training to learn new skills, gain new or refresh their certifications, and prepare for future employment in high-demand sectors and industries; and
  • $50 billion in additional aid for education and workforce training structures and systems that need updating and changes because of COVID-19.

At the same time, US Secretary of Education DeVos announced on Monday procedures under which the Department will provide states with various funding flexibilities authorized under the CARES Act for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Chief among these changes are the ability to “repurpose” existing K-12 funds for technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning.

CEO G Harris reiterated his support for the Payroll Protection Program, noting again that, “SBA loan opportunities are critical for many ATP members.”  Many ATP members may be able to benefit from the PPP, especially if it is expanded in scope and more money is made available.  The “Paycheck Protection Program” provides 8 weeks of cash-flow assistance to small employers with fewer than 500 employees who maintain their payroll and other expenses during this emergency (i.e. doesn’t reduce staff or significantly lower wages during the term of the loan).  If the employer retains its employees, the portion of the loans used for covered payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities would be forgiven. 

While Congress is not in session until later in April, the Coalition felt is important to weigh in on a variety of “education” program funding opportunities. General Counsel AlanThiemann explained that, “ATP is striving to ensure that all aspects of the assessment community has access to necessary economic relief.” 

If you have experiences under any of these provisions that you can share on a non-proprietary basis, or you have suggestions for new ways to stimulate the economy for testing organizations, please contact Alan Thiemann at [email protected] or call (202) 904-2467 [Read Complete Letter Here.]

ATP REQUESTS COVID-19 RELIEF FOR EDUCATION SERVICE PROVIDERS

Last Friday, March 20, the ATP joined with other assessment companies and organizations ("Assessment Coalition") to send a letter to the leadership of the United States Senate calling for the inclusion of funding in the Third Economic Stimulus package to assist all education service providers to deal with the economic fallout from COVID-19.  [READ LETTER HERE].

ATP CEO G Harris explained the reasoning behind the action by noting, "The socio-economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing deep tremors in the global assessment industry.  ATP and other testing organizations urged the Senate to include the US assessment industry in any comprehensive stimulus package designed to keep America working."

The ATP acted within a day after the US Department of Education announced that states would be allowed to waive their annual statewide testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  "We are acting", noted Harris, "because K-12 testing, as well as college admissions testing has been postponed or cancelled and virtually all in-person certification testing has moved to remote proctoring. The early affects on assessment companies is staggering; I hate to think what the long-term impacts will be."

Specifically, the Assessment Coalition letter advocated nearly a dozen solutions that would benefit ATP members, including among other actions:

  • Offer secured lending or loan guarantees to sectors of the U.S. economy experiencing financial stress due to the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure that education sector providers are eligible for these programs;
  • Expand the employee retention tax credit to include employers that are experiencing financial impairment because of the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • Cancel the payment of all payroll taxes typically paid by employers for the months of March, April, and May 2020; and
  • Ensure that relief and stimulus legislation designed to assist for-profit businesses also covers areas such as unemployment insurance, employee retention, and risk insurance also address the unique challenges and realities facing non-profit organizations.

Following unsuccessful attempts to move the Stimulus Package in the Senate, the House of Representatives indicated it will take up its own bill.  Accordingly, yesterday the Assessment Coalition sent the same letter to Speaker Pelosi and House Education and the Workforce leadership.

At the same time, the Coalition has learned that a fourth stimulus bill is already being discussed by Congress that reportedly will "focus on education and the workforce."  According to ATP General Counsel Alan Thiemann, the Assessment Coalition is preparing language to address that potential, describing the broad parameters of assessment, from K-12, to higher education, to adult education and workforce certification, licensure, credentialing, and training, as well as employment and clinical diagnostic assessments affecting American workers, and assessment-related services such as test delivery, proctoring, and security.   "The needs of all testing industry members is of critical importance as we seek economic relief from COVID-19," said Thiemann.

To provide Congress with the most useful information Thiemann is asking members who have examples of economic injury and specific needs to send him appropriate, non-proprietary information to him at [email protected].  Also, if you have personal connections with your Senators and Members of Congress, please provide that information so that additional lobbying efforts can be coordinated.