Cory Turner

The U.S. Department of Education has begun sending emails to thousands of teachers, nurses and other public servants to tell them they could have some of their federal student loan debts erased months — and even years — earlier than borrowers had expected.

Zahra Nealy was in the shower, listening to the radio, when she heard NPR reporting on Friday that the U.S. Department of Education would use its authority to help borrowers and relax the rules of the troubled Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

"That's me! You're talking about me," Nealy, who works for a Southern California nonprofit, remembers thinking. "It's really hope, in a desperate time."

A troubled student debt relief program for teachers, police officers and other public service workers will soon get the makeover that borrowers have been demanding.

Next week, according to a source familiar with the plans but who is not authorized to discuss them publicly, the U.S. Department of Education will unveil a significant overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which has been a magnet of confusion, mistakes and mismanagement since its inception in 2007.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it would send roughly $148,000 to one Florida school district, Alachua County Public Schools, reimbursing it for money that has been withheld by the state.

Updated September 24, 2021 at 6:58 AM ET

Miguel Cardona walks the halls of Locust Lane Elementary School in Eau Claire, Wis., with a gray mask, a crisp blue suit and the easy familiarity of a teacher or principal, though he is neither.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona kickstarts his "Return-to-School Road Trip" this week, talking up the Biden administration's efforts to help children safely return to classrooms. The five-day bus tour begins early Monday with a pep rally at Locust Lane Elementary School in Eau Claire, Wisc.

New staff, new tech and even new classrooms — that's just some of what school superintendents across the country are buying with the windfall of COVID-19 relief dollars Congress has sent their way since the pandemic began. Those are the findings of a new survey of hundreds of school leaders put together by the national School Superintendents Association, or AASA.

Before we get to the survey, though, some context:

New rules kick in today that will help aspiring teachers pay for college and complete a years-long overhaul of the federal TEACH Grant program — from a bureaucratic bear trap that hobbled thousands of teachers with unfair student loan debts to a program that may actually make good on its foundational promise: to help K-12 educators pay for their own education in exchange for teaching a high-need subject, like math, for four years in a low-income community.

Roughly 7 million children in the U.S. receive special education services under a decades-old federal law — or did, until the pandemic began. Many of those services slowed or stopped when schools physically shut down in spring 2020. Modified instruction, behavioral counseling, and speech and physical therapy disappeared or were feebly reproduced online, for three, six, nine months. In some places, they have yet to fully resume. For many children with disabilities, families say this disruption wasn't just difficult.

New research released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reinforces an old message: COVID-19 spreads less in schools where teachers and staff wear masks. Yet the study arrives as states and school districts across the country have begun scaling back or simply dropping their masking requirements for staff and students alike.

With the majority of school-age children still too young to qualify for vaccination, Friday's research is the latest salvo in a simmering fight between public health officials and politicians — with parents lining up on both sides.

"How many people do you think take care of our campus?"

A chorus of young voices shout guesses from the Sayre School's playground in Lexington, Ky.

"15? 50? 20?"

Updated May 13, 2021 at 10:49 PM ET

This week has brought a few dizzying updates to the year-long school-reopening story.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new effort Monday to feed millions of children this summer, when free school meals traditionally reach just a small minority of the kids who rely on them the rest of the year. The move expands what's known as the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT, program into the summer months, and USDA estimates it will reach more than 30 million children.

Kai Humphrey, 9, has been learning from home for more than a year. He badly misses his Washington, D.C., elementary school, along with his friends and the bustle of the classroom.

"I will be the first person ever to have every single person in the world as my friend," he said on a recent Zoom call, his sandy brown hair hanging down to his shoulder blades. From Kai, this kind of proclamation doesn't feel like bragging, more like exuberant kindness.

The U.S. Department of Education says it will erase the federal student loan debts of tens of thousands of borrowers who can no longer work because they have significant disabilities. It's a small but important step toward improving a shambolic, bureaucratic process for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable borrowers who are legally entitled to debt relief, but haven't received it.

During his first news conference, President Biden said Thursday that his administration is on track to keep a promise he made to the nation's parents and caregivers: to reopen the majority of elementary and middle schools for full-time, in-person learning within his first 100 days in office.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent school leaders scrambling yesterday with a fairly sudden and dramatic decision that reduced the distance students should be spaced in schools from six feet to three. For more on that, we're joined by NPR's Cory Turner. Cory, thanks so much for being with us.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: What more can you tell us about this policy reversal?

Updated March 19, 2021 at 12:46 PM ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance for schools. On Friday, the agency announced it "now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classroom settings."

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday it is scrapping a controversial formula, championed by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that granted only partial student loan relief to borrowers who were defrauded by private, for-profit colleges. It will instead adopt what it's calling a "streamlined approach" for granting borrowers full relief.

Almost exactly one year ago, the pandemic caused a cascade of school and university closures, sending 9 out of 10 students home as the coronavirus raced through the United States and the rest of the world.

By Labor Day, 62% of U.S. students were still learning virtually, according to the organization Burbio. That number dropped significantly during the fall and rose in the winter as COVID-19 surged. And today, just under 1 in 4 public school students attends a district that still hasn't held a single day of in-person learning.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden has said repeatedly that opening America's schools for in-person learning is one of his top priorities. On Tuesday, he told states to prioritize educators for vaccines to accelerate school reopening.

The COVID-19 relief bill working its way through Congress is full of big ideas to help people. But there's one idea that's so big, it was politically unthinkable not that long ago.

President Biden and Democratic lawmakers want to fight child poverty by giving U.S. families a few hundred dollars every month for every child in their household — no strings attached. A kind of child allowance.

If this proposal survives the wrangling in Congress and makes it to Biden's desk, experts say it could cut child poverty nearly in half.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Friday its much-anticipated, updated guidance to help school leaders decide how to safely bring students back into classrooms, or keep them there.

"We're here today, in the midst of one of the most challenging school years in American history," Miguel Cardona said in opening remarks to the Senate education committee on Wednesday. "For far too many of our students, this year has piled on crisis after crisis. As a parent, and as an educator, I have lived those challenges alongside millions of families."

Updated at 10:58 a.m. ET Wednesday

Data from K-12 schools that reopened for in-person instruction in the fall show little evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to the spread of COVID-19, according to a new article published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

With many U.S. schools still shuttered or operating on a limited basis, and millions of children learning remotely (or trying to), the stakes are high for Miguel Cardona. He is President Biden's pick to run the U.S.

A bag of Doritos, that's all Princess wanted.

Her mom calls her Princess, but her real name is Lindsey. She's 17 and lives with her mom, Sandra, a nurse, outside of Atlanta. On May 17, 2020, a Sunday, Lindsey decided she didn't want breakfast; she wanted Doritos. So she left home and walked to Family Dollar, taking her pants off on the way, while her mom followed on the phone with police.

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