#ThankATeacher During Teacher Appreciation Week!

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!

Great teaching can inspire and affect the lives of students — and we wanted to share a few of those sentiments with you!

We asked students of all ages to give us their thoughts about their favorite teachers:

APMath_blog

 

BeingThere_blog

 

FunLearning_blog

NiceandGenerous_blog

OtherSubjects_blog

While we all agree teachers deserve a special day and week, the U.S. Department of Education wants to honor educators year-round.

Download your own graphic and tell us why you want to thank a teacher! Then share on social media using #ThankATeacher and help us spotlight great teachers across the country. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for more. And get more inspiring info about teachers who are leading from the classroom through Teach to Lead.

Dorothy Amatucci is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Loan Forgiveness (and Other Ways the Government Can Help You Repay Your Loans)

studentloanforgive

Here’s a question a lot of people may be wondering … Is it really possible to have my federal student loans forgiven or to get help repaying them?

The answer is: Yes! However, there are very specific eligibility requirements for each situation in which you can apply for loan forgiveness or receive help with repayment. Loan forgiveness means that you don’t have to pay back some or all of your loan. You never know what you may be eligible for, so take a look at the options we have listed below. The first three options focus on loan forgiveness programs. The next two options are government programs based on your service.

  1. Teacher Loan Forgiveness

If you teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in certain elementary and secondary schools and educational service agencies that serve low-income families, and meet other qualifications, you may be eligible for forgiveness of up to a combined total of $17,500 on certain federal student loans. Get the details about Teacher Loan Forgiveness here.

  1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you work full-time for a government or not-for-profit organization you may qualify for forgiveness of the entire remaining balance of your Direct Loans after you’ve made 120 qualifying payments—that is, 10 years of payments. Learn more about PSLF now! To benefit from PSLF, you should repay your federal student loans under an income-driven repayment plan.

  1. Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan

If you repay your loans under an income-driven repayment plan, the remaining balance on your student loans will be forgiven after you make a certain number of payments. You will likely qualify for an income-driven repayment plan if your outstanding federal student loan debt is higher than your annual income or if it represents a significant portion of your annual income. More about IDR plans and how to apply.

  1. Military Service

In acknowledgement of your service to our country, there are special benefits and repayment options for your student loans available from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Defense, such as interest rate caps under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, other interest rate relief, and student loan repayment programs. Learn more about federal student loan benefits for members of the U.S. armed forces.

  1. AmeriCorps

The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is a post-service benefit received by participants who complete a term of national service in an approved AmeriCorps program—AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps NCCC, or AmeriCorps State and National. Upon successful completion of the service, members are eligible to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award which can be used to repay qualified student loans.

If the options listed above don’t apply to you, but you need help making your federal student loan payments, contact your loan servicer about the option to

Sandra Vuong is a digital engagement strategist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

My Brother’s Keeper Initiative Helping to Ensure Access to Advanced High School Classes

This time each year, millions of students across the country are preparing to complete Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and other advanced course exams as part of their high school experience and in preparation for the rigors and opportunities of higher education. However, there are hundreds of thousands of students in our nation’s schools who demonstrate the academic readiness to participate in advanced courses, but aren’t enrolling for a number of reasons.

These “missing students” have the skills to achieve at the highest levels, but lack equitable access to a more rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college and beyond. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the National Roundtable on Equitable Educational Excellence – a conversation between education, philanthropic and business leaders who will work together during the next three years to identify and enroll 100,000 low-income students and students of color in AP and IB classes across the country.

This is one of several independent commitments made over the last year in support of the goals of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative, aimed at addressing persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensuring that all young people can reach their full potential. In May of 2014, the MBK Task Force, comprised of 18 federal agencies, published a report with key recommendations for the public and private sector, including expanding students’ access to and successful completion of rigorous courses, such as AP, IB and dual enrollment options in high school.

A study by our National Center for Education Statistics found that a rigorous high school curriculum, which included at least one advanced course or exam taken, “was strongly related to their persistence in postsecondary education.” Encouragingly, 90 percent of high school graduates had at least one AP, IB or dual enrollment opportunity in their school. However, our Civil Rights Data Collection, which has surveyed every public school in the nation, found that, despite this widespread access, there are still disparities in the availability and number of advanced courses available to students.

In short, hundreds of thousands of qualified students are not enrolling in the courses for which they are prepared. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are particularly under-represented in AP, and at many of the most diverse high schools, the advanced courses do not fully reflect the diversity of the student body. Moreover, young men of color lag substantially in their participation when compared with all other students. For example, 35 percent of White males were enrolled in AP classes compared to 17 percent of Black males and 25 percent of Hispanic males.

The time is now to make smart, strategic investments in our young people that will translate into real success.

The students and staff at Arvada High School in Jefferson County, Co., understand the value of such an investment first-hand. Last year, Arvada was recognized by the state of Colorado for achieving over 95 percent growth in the number of students passing AP exams. This accomplishment was made possible through a partnership between Arvada and the Colorado Legacy School Initiative (CLSI), which is funded, in part, by ED’s Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, and by focusing on increasing the diversity of students who participate in and complete advanced courses.

We are excited to see schools, districts, and organizations across the country collaborating to expand access to college prep courses and make real what is possible in so many of our young people. We applaud the commitment of Equal Opportunity Schools, The College Board, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Tableau Software, and the International Baccalaureate Organization and their new effort to increase advanced course participation.

Students across the country are rising to the challenge of advanced courses and exams to pave a path toward success after high-school. We, as leaders in education, must rise to the challenge of bridging the gap to ensure more students graduate from high school with the tools they need to excel in college and beyond.

John B. King, Jr. is Senior Advisor delegated duties of Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.

Why College Signing Day is Important for the Nation

Dr. James T. Minor

Dr. James T. Minor attended Jackson State University

On May 1st First Lady Michelle Obama will celebrate College Signing Day at Wayne State University by addressing more than 2,500 students from over 40 Detroit area high schools. Her Reach Higher Initiative is aimed, in part, at developing a strong college-going culture that normalizes the pursuit of education beyond high school. Encouraging students to “Reach Higher” is as non-partisan as it gets: no new legislation is required, no emergency school board meeting necessary, and the only budget implication might be twenty dollars for a new college t-shirt that proudly displays your alma mater.

While celebrating the fact that America is experiencing the highest high school graduation rates on record, there is a need to simultaneously be concerned with how to move the college enrollment and graduation needle. Presently 40% of adults ages 25-64 in the U.S. have a postsecondary credential. The U.S. now lags behind other industrialized nations in the proportion of citizens with a college degree, and it is estimated that this percentage will need to grow to 60% in order for the U.S. to be first in the world. This means that the country needs to produce 20 million new degree holders above the current projections. Yet, the fastest growing groups of young people in America are among the least likely to attend and graduate from college.

Educators are clear about many of the major barriers to achieving this goal, including the rising cost of attending college, the fact that too many students who leave high school academically ill-prepared for college-level coursework, and the fact that too many students who start college do not complete with high quality degrees. The numbers of working-aged adults, for example, with some college education but no degree (36 million), outnumber those in the same age group with bachelor’s degrees (32.9 million).

Business leaders, elected officials, and social critics all agree about the need to produce a greater number of citizens with a college degree or postsecondary credential. As policy wonks, researchers, and advocates fuss about how to most effectively treat these issues, it is important to also consider the significance of culture—values, norms, socially acceptable behavior, and communal expectations–and the ways in which culture influences college access and success. Cultural norms are not static but progressive and reflect social learning over time. College Signing Day events are significant because communities come together to signal to students the importance of college-going, they transmit expectations to enroll and complete college, and perhaps most importantly, they celebrate all students, not just star athletes and valedictorians.

This Friday May 1st, more than 400 events across the nation have been planned to celebrate College Signing Day. Changing attitudes, expectations, and social behavior among students and communities is an important component of the nation’s degree completion agenda. Communal expectations associated with college-going are especially important for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. Closing attainment gaps and dramatically increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S. will not simply be a matter of finding the right policy solutions or adjusting budget priorities, it will require a progressive cultural shift that makes becoming a college graduate the rule rather than the exception for an increasingly diverse generation of young Americans.

Dr. James T. Minor is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs in the Office of Postsecondary Education.

Get Your School Prepared for Disasters With America’s PrepareAthon!

Students participate in an emergency drill during an America’s PrepareAthon! event in Smyrna, Georgia. (Photo credit: FEMA)

Students participate in an emergency drill during an America’s PrepareAthon! event in Smyrna, Georgia. (Photo credit: FEMA)

It’s time for America’s PreparAthon!

Every spring, parents and educators across the country are encouraged to practice preparedness in the event of an emergency. Now is a great opportunity to make your campus a safer and more resilient one by joining the millions of people across the country participating in National PrepareAthon! Day on April 30.

Schools are an effective channel to reach students and families by conducting preparedness activities and messages. Teachers, faculty, staff, and administrators have the unique ability to make schools and institutions of higher education more prepared to withstand and recover from an emergency.

Twice a year America’s PrepareAthon! promotes national days of action – specifically April 30 and September 30 – to highlight the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies.

America’s PrepareAthon! offers materials to facilitate preparedness for six natural hazards: earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, and winter storm. The program also offers a variety of customizable promotional materials for these hazards so educators, parents and community leaders can tailor outreach materials to specific audiences.

The time is now to take the next step for preparing your school or institution of higher education for the hazard that might impact your area.

Visit ready.gov/prepare to:

  • Take Action: Know your hazards and choose your activities.
  • Be Counted: Create your account and register your activities.
  • Spread the Word: Download materials to promote your day of action.

Watch Secretary Duncan discuss how your school can get involved:

Gwen Camp is Director of Individual and Community Preparedness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Amy Banks is a management and program analyst in the Center for School Preparedness at the U.S. Department of Education.

How to Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

PSLF

Everyone wants their student loans forgiven. The perception is that very few qualify. But did you know that there is one broad, employment-based forgiveness program for federal student loans? Let me break down some key points of PSLF to help you figure out if you could qualify.

[ 1 ] Work in Qualifying Employment

First, you need to work for the right employer—a public service employer. What does that mean? Everyone has a different definition. Ours is based on who employs you, not what you do at work. Here’s what qualifies:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • 501(c)(3) organizations
  • A not-for-profit organization that provides specific public services, such as public education or public health

Here’s what doesn’t qualify:

  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations
  • For-profit organizations

[ 2 ] Qualifying Employment Status

If you work at one of these types of organizations—great! Next, you need to work in a qualifying employment status, which means that you must be a full-time employee. For us, full-time means that you meet your employer’s definition or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

[ 3 ] Have a Qualifying Loan

A qualifying loan is a Direct Loan. It’s that simple. Of course, it’s the government, so nothing is actually that simple. There are (or were) three big federal student loan programs:

If you’re not sure which loan program, I can’t blame you—I had 20 loans when I finished graduate school! You can log in to My Federal Student Aid to determine which program you borrowed from. Here’s a tip: if you see “Direct” in the name, it’s a Direct Loan. Otherwise, it’s not.

Don’t have a Direct Loan? Don’t despair! You can consolidate your federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan and qualify for PSLF. Not having a Direct Loan is the biggest reason that borrowers aren’t on track for PSLF, so do your homework. If you need to consolidate, check the box in the application that says that you’re consolidating for the purposes of loan forgiveness. It will make your life easier.

[ 4 ] Have a Qualifying Repayment Plan

Next, you need a qualifying repayment plan. All of the “income-driven repayment plans” qualify. So does the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, but if you’re on that plan, you should switch to an income-driven repayment plan right now, or you will have little or nothing to forgive after you meet all of the criteria.

If you’re consolidating, be sure to apply for an income-driven repayment plan because the Standard Repayment Plan for Direct Consolidation Loans almost never qualifies.

You can apply for an income-driven repayment plan on StudentLoans.gov.

[ 5 ] Make 120 Qualifying Payments

Lastly, you need to make qualifying payments—120 of them. A qualifying payment is exactly what you think it is. You get a bill. It has an “amount due” and a “due date”. Make your full payment by the due date (or up to 15 days later), and the payment qualifies. If you make a payment when you’re not required to—say, because, you’re in a deferment or you paid your student loan well in advance—then it doesn’t count. The best way to set yourself up for success is to sign up for automatic payments with your servicer.

Your payments do not need to be consecutive. So, if you make qualifying payments, stop, and then start again, you don’t start over.

I’m sorry to have to mention a random date, but a payment only qualifies if it was made after October 1, 2007, so nobody can qualify until 2017 at the earliest.

Okay, so do I qualify?

Now, let’s put it all together. For any payment to count toward PSLF, you need to meet all of the criteria when you make each payment. That means you need to be working for a qualifying employer on a full-time basis when you make a qualifying payment under a qualifying repayment plan on a Direct Loan.

I know all of you are still thinking—“that’s great, but do I qualify?” Here’s how you find out. Download this form. Fill it out. Have your employer certify it. Send it to FedLoan Servicing (one of our federal student loan servicers). FedLoan Servicing will figure this all out and let you know whether your employment qualifies, and how many qualifying payments you’ve made.

Submit the form early and often. We recommend once per year or when you change jobs. Why? Because it means that you won’t have to submit 10 years’ worth of forms when you ultimately want to apply for forgiveness. It also means that you can apply for forgiveness with confidence.

One more piece of good news: PSLF is tax-free.

Ian Foss has worked as a program specialist for the Department of Education since 2010. He’s scheduled to be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness on October 6, 2021, if all goes according to plan.

Working to Protect Students and Borrowers as Corinthian Colleges Ceases Operation

Corinthian Colleges, Inc., today announced the effective end of all operations. Given the wide public interest in this matter, and our Departments involvement in it, I wanted to provide some background and explain what has happened, as I have done in the past.

Corinthian’s closure follows a series of enforcement actions by this Department and by states aimed at protecting students and safeguarding the interests of taxpayers. The Department took action in June 2014, when Corinthian failed to respond to the Departments repeated requests for answers about questionable practices, including concerns that Corinthian was using false and misleading job placement data to market its schools and recruit students, and that it might be changing student grade and attendance data to hide performance problems. To mitigate further damage, the Department intensified oversight of Corinthian, ultimately leading to an agreement that put Corinthian on the road to closure. As first step in that process, Corinthian sold 56 Everest and WyoTech brand campuses in November 2014.

As Corinthian was attempting to manage its closure plans, the Department’s enforcement actions against the school continued.  On April 14, the Department announced the results of one portion of its investigation – findings regarding Corinthian’s Heald campuses as it related to placement rate reporting.  Corinthian’s misrepresentations regarding placement rates were serious, and the Department initiated a fine action of approximately $30 million against the school.

At the time the Department first took action on Corinthian, approximately 72,000 students were enrolled; today, about 15,000 remain at 30 campuses under the control of Corinthian in five states. The closure decision was made by the company, following Corinthian’s failure to find a buyer for the remaining campuses willing to abide by conditions put in place by the Department to protect students, borrowers and taxpayers.

These actions are part of a larger effort by the Department of Education to take strong steps to protect the interest of students and taxpayers. The Obama Administration has led unprecedented efforts to protect consumers from predatory career colleges. It has established new gainful employment regulations to hold career training programs accountable and ensure that students are not saddled with debt they cannot repay. These regulations ensure that programs improve their outcomes for students or risk losing access to federal student aid. Last year, the Department announced a new federal interagency task force to help ensure proper oversight of for-profit institutions.

Taking strong actions on Corinthian has been an important part of that effort. Given today’s announcement by Corinthian, our first and most pressing concern is for the students who were enrolled. We will contact Corinthian students about their options, and will post additional information on our website. In addition, the Department will send staff from our Federal Student Aid team to as many campuses as possible to talk directly with students. We are working with state community college systems to ensure that students have options to continue their education. Students at schools that have closed may be eligible for closed-school loan discharges; students who were enrolled at Corinthian in the last 120 days will receive information about their options from the Department and from loan servicers.

We will do everything we can to ensure that Corinthian makes good on its obligations to students and taxpayers to the extent possible. In addition, we encourage Corinthian students to pursue debt relief with their state, especially as many states have tuition recovery funds. In all of this work, we ask states to prioritize students and their educational best interests.

As Secretary Duncan has said, we will continue to hold the career college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers. We hope Congress will join us in that effort.

Students seeking better life options should be assured that their investments will pay off in increased knowledge, skills, and opportunity. As Corinthian closes its doors for good, the Department will continue to keep students at the heart of every decision we make and will communicate with Corinthian students about all their options going forward. What these students have experienced is unacceptable and we look forward to working with Congress in an effort to improve accountability and transparency in the career college industry. A college education remains the best investment a student can make in his or her future, and this Administration will continue to work to make a college degree affordable for all students, to hold colleges accountable, and to safeguard the interests of taxpayers.

 Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education

5 Common Student Loan Mistakes

commonmistakes

1) Not figuring out how much you’ll need to pay each month

As you’re trying to plan your life after graduation, it’s important that you know how much you’ll need to pay each month toward your student loans so you can budget your other expenses accordingly. To estimate what you’ll need to pay based on your income and loan debt, use the repayment estimator.

2) Choosing the wrong repayment plan

The repayment plan you choose is a major factor in determining how much your monthly student loan payment will be and how long it will take you to pay back your loans. The Department of Education offers several different repayment plans. To compare these plans based on your student loan debt and income, use the repayment estimator.

Make sure you’re enrolled in a plan that you can afford. If you’re struggling to make your monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, such as our “Income-Based” or “Pay As You Earn” plans. If you have questions, need advice, or would like to switch your repayment plan, contact your loan servicer.

3) Not paying extra when you can

If you are paying interest on your federal student loan, that interest accrues each day. An easy way to save money on your student loans is to pay more than what’s required whenever you can. Here are some ideas:

  • Make interest payments while you’re still in school and/or during your grace period
  • Use your tax refund to make an additional loan payment
  • Tack a few extra dollars onto your payment each month

4) Missing payments

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t think you’ll be able to afford your next student loan payment, don’t just stop paying. Instead, contact your loan servicer as soon as possible. Not making your student loan payments is a big deal. It can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score, and may affect your ability to borrow for things like a car or a home. Your loan servicer can recommend options to reduce or postpone your payment and keep your loan in good standing.

5) Paying for student loan help

There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. But, did you know that you can get help with your student loans for free? The U.S. Department of Education provides FREE student loan help through our servicers.

Your loan servicer is the company hired by the U.S. Department of Education to help you manage, understand, and pay back your loans. They are there to help guide you through the loan repayment process, answering any questions you have along the way.

Their services are provided free of charge, but they can only help you if they can reach you. Graduating and moving away from campus? Changing your cell phone number or e-mail address? Make sure you let your loan servicer know.

Nicole Callahan is a digital engagement strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Beware! You Don’t Have to Pay for Help with Your Student Loans

debtrelief

There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. But, did you know that you can get help with your student loans for free?

If you’re a federal student loan borrower, the U.S. Department of Education provides free assistance to help:

  • Lower Your Monthly Payment;
  • Consolidate Your Loans;
  • See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness; and
  • Get Out of Default

Lower Your Monthly Payment

Are you out of a job or not earning very much? The federal government makes it easy for you to switch to a more affordable repayment plan at any time at no cost.

Your loan servicer – the company that collects your payments, responds to your customer service inquiries, and does other tasks related to your federal student loan – can help you decide which repayment plan best suits you. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information and to find out how to look up your servicer.

Before you contact your servicer, check out the Repayment Estimator to get an idea of plans that may be available to you and to see estimates for your monthly payments.

Consolidate Your Loans

If you have multiple loans that you want to combine, you can apply for loan consolidation through StudentLoans.gov. The application is free, and there are no extra processing fees.

Some people find it simpler to group all their student loans into a single loan with one interest rate and one monthly payment. If you choose to consolidate your federal student loans with the U.S. Department of Education, you, too, may be able to take advantage of flexible repayment plans, including ones that base your payments on your income and family size.

See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is the process by which a borrower is released from their obligation to repay all or a portion of the principal and interest on a student loan. This also is known as discharge or cancellation. Loan forgiveness programs were created to encourage people to take certain types of jobs, to help borrowers with lower income jobs, and to compensate for permanent disabilities.

Many student loan companies advertise that they can help you get your loans forgiven. And sometimes, they simply are using the Department of Education’s free resources to help you, but are charging you to do so.

In fact, your loan servicer can help you determine if you qualify for loan forgiveness … for free.

Get Out of Default

If your loan is already in default, the debt relief companies know it and may target you with online and mobile ads, phone calls, and maybe even letters to your home address. By being in default, you’ve already incurred added interest, and you’re subject to collection fees. There’s no reason to add additional fees by signing up with a debt relief company.

Even if your loan is in default, loan consolidation is free and so is getting on a loan rehabilitation plan. Find out how to get out of default.

Protecting Your Log-In and Account Information

When student loan debt relief companies offer to manage your loan account, to do so, they will ask you to provide them with your federal student aid log-in information, or sign a Power of Attorney. Think about it: your log-in information is the equivalent of your signature on documents related to your student loan. If you share this information or sign a Power of Attorney, you are giving that person the power, literally, to take actions on your student loan on your behalf.

And if the debt relief company collects fees from you, but never actually makes any payments on your loan for you, you still will be responsible for those outstanding payments and late fees. You should protect your federal student aid log-in and account information as securely as you guard your ATM PIN.

Do You Think You’ve Been Scammed or Need a Resolution?

If you’ve already signed a contract with a debt relief company, and you think they have cheated you, call the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at 1-855-411-2372, or submit a complaint online. Under “What type of service is your complaint about?” select Debt Settlement. Then, choose I have a problem with a company that I hired to help reduce or settle my debt.

Also, many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with the office of the state’s Attorney General.

If you’ve tried to work out your student loan debt issues with your servicer without success, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group, which helps resolve disputes related to Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, Guaranteed Student Loans, and Perkins Loans.

Remember, there are no student loan companies affiliated with the Department of Education that charge fees to help you manage your loan repayment. With the resources available to you through the Department of Education, you can successfully manage your loan repayment for free.

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.

Recognizing Green Schools and Districts – and Colleges! – This Earth Day

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) began in 2011-2012, recognizing 78 green schools. In 2012-2013, ED added a District Sustainability Award and honored 64 schools and 14 districts. The 2013-2014 cycle had 48 school honorees and 9 district honorees. 2015 is the inaugural year of the Postsecondary Sustainability Award.

To celebrate Earth Day, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), District Sustainability Awardees, and the first-ever Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Joined by Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss, Secretary Duncan celebrated the 58 schools, 14 districts, and nine postsecondary institutions chosen for their progress in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.

Reiterating the Department’s support for sustainable schools, Secretary Duncan praised the honorees, “They demonstrate how sustainability concepts allow students to expand their traditional learning into the real world and to create change for the betterment of communities. This authentic learning engages students in all subjects, and bolsters their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving capacities.”

The honorees were selected from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by thirty state education agencies across the country, with honorees selected from 28 of these jurisdictions. The schools serve diverse populations, with 52 public and six private schools, including 35 elementary, 19 middle, and 17 high schools, with several offering various K-12 variations. Forty-seven percent of this year’s honorees serve disadvantaged students, 22 percent are rural, and one-third of the postsecondary honorees are community colleges. Many also serve pre-K students, demonstrating that health, wellness, and environmental concepts can be taught to every student at every level. Honorees also show that their efforts not only improve health and learning, but also save schools money in utility costs which can be applied directly back to the classroom.

Read about this year’s honorees and their achievements in this year’s state-by-state .

There are many tools and resources available to all schools, prekindergarten to postsecondary, to help with sustainable facilities, wellness practices, and environmental learning. You can find free resources available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides portal. You can also stay up to date through the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ webpage, where you can connect with us through Facebook, Twitter, and the newsletter.

With the help of these tools, your school, district, or postsecondary institution may be eligible to apply in your state for one if its nominations to U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in an upcoming year. Schools, districts and postsecondary institutions are encouraged to contact their state education authorities for more information on state applications. While a few state authorities don’t yet participate, hearing from interested schools may change that.

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.

Addressing Sexual Assault as a Community

Cross-posted from the Department of Justice blog.

As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the work of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to address and prevent sexual assault in schools and communities across the country. The impact of sexual assault can reverberate throughout a community, and the response to sexual assault within a community – from a residential advisor in a college dorm to a special victim’s unit detective – has a profound and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a sexual assault survivor.

Over the past few years, the division has engaged with law enforcement, prosecutors and schools to promote a comprehensive, integrated and effective response to reports of sexual assault. In doing so, we look to assist both schools and law enforcement in their efforts to protect students and address the needs of sexual assault survivors. As more people across the country are working together to prevent and improve the response to sexual assault, questions are frequently asked about the role of colleges and universities and why sexual assault is not handled exclusively by law enforcement.

Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a crime and must be dealt with appropriately. However, the responsibility for addressing sexual assault does not stop at law enforcement. Schools also have a civil rights obligation to respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault.

Every school is responsible for providing a safe, nondiscriminatory environment to all students. Sexual assault can interfere with or destroy a student’s ability to get an education. We have heard from survivors of sexual assault who are fearful of being in the same classroom as their attackers or are subjected to harassment and retaliation by classmates for reporting the assault. We have heard from too many students who left school after being assaulted.

Under federal civil rights laws, schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, investigate where appropriate and provide a prompt, effective and impartial resolution. It is not enough just to respond to individual complaints from survivors. To effectively address and prevent sexual assault, schools need to respond to reports from all sources, especially when assaults are repeatedly perpetrated by the same student or at the same location. Having an appropriate and effective response system in place increases student confidence and trust in their school and the ability of the school to provide for their safety.

To provide a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment, schools must be able to administer discipline where appropriate. This administrative response serves a unique and critically important function and must happen in addition to any criminal prosecution. A school disciplinary proceeding is not, however, a criminal proceeding, and should never be viewed as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Schools do not have the authority and are not asked to determine whether alleged perpetrators of sexual assault committed a crime.

That is the role of law enforcement. And law enforcement – including campus police, local police and prosecutors – play a critical role: as one of the key responders to reports of sexual assault, and as partners with schools, victim advocates and others in the effort to protect the community from sexual assault. Indeed, the importance of communication and coordination among each of these partners in both responding to and preventing sexual assault cannot be underestimated. In our experience, when everyone works together, survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report and to receive services, exhibit greater confidence in the criminal justice and school systems and feel far better supported throughout the process.

In Missoula, Montana, to address serious shortcomings in how the University of Montana-Missoula and local law enforcement investigated and responded to sexual assaults, the division reached agreements with the university, its campus police, the city police department and the county prosecutor’s office. This first of its kind multi-pronged approach to combating sexual assault – which reaches from the campus to the courthouse door – has resulted in significant improvements in the response to sexual assault within the Missoula community. We, along with our colleagues at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are working with leaders from across the community as they implement these agreements so that whenever sexual assaults are reported, policies and procedures are already in place; first responders and investigators are trained to handle the report appropriately; and supports and services are more readily available and better coordinated. It is with this kind of focused attention and collaboration that sexual assault can be eradicated from our communities and students can feel safe and supported in school.

Vanita Gupta is Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Secretary Arne Duncan Joins Medium

Secretary Duncan on Medium

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne joined Medium, a new self-publishing platform that encourages people to share ideas and stories that matter.

In his inaugural Medium post, Secretary Duncan discusses how technological tools can “empower students to become who they want to be, and who we need them to be — the kind of children and young people who ask, ‘What can I improve? How can I help? What can I build?'”

“Technology can just as easily widen the lead for those who already have every advantage. If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.”  

Read the Secretary’s full post and follow us to keep the conversation going.

We’re always looking for new ways to connect with the public, which is why you can also follow Secretary Duncan on Facebook and Twitter, too.