USDE to Ease 2024 FAFSA Verification Requirements (February 14, 2024)

On February 13, 2024, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced that it will reduce 2024 verification requirements for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to get applications to high school students as soon as possible.

Citing the problematic release of the updated FAFSA form, the temporary changes in procedure are intended to make it easier for colleges to process student records and issue financial aid offers during what has become a much tighter timeline.

Thus, the USDE will require colleges to verify fewer FAFSA applications and has also averred that the majority of income data is obtained from the IRS and does not require verification.

USDE has also stated that it will provide deadline flexibility for colleges that need to re-certify their eligibility for receiving federal financial aid.

Source: K-12 Dive.

PDE Announces More Than $1.6 Million to Make Higher Education More Affordable for Parents (February 13, 2023)

On February 13, 2023, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) announced more than $1.6 million in grant funding to help eligible postsecondary institutions fund scholarships and programming for undergraduate students with children. Making higher education affordable and accessible for Pennsylvanians of all means and all backgrounds is a key priority of Governor Shapiro’s blueprint for higher education.

Postsecondary institutions can apply on eGrants from February 13, 2024 to March 12, 2024.

The 2024 Parent Pathways Grant offers institutions the opportunity to apply for competitive funding:
-To expand parent programming, resources, and supports or to implement parent programming, resources, and supports. Funding can be used, but is not limited to, wrap-around services for students, expansion of childcare facilities, staffing salary support for parent navigators, transportation supports, and other expansion of work already being accomplished on campus. 
-For scholarships covering tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, childcare, etc.
-For the use of stipends/emergency funding up to a maximum amount as determined by the institution.

Studies indicate that one in five undergraduate college students is balancing the responsibilities of raising children while pursuing a postsecondary education, and nearly half of them do not earn a degree. Parenting students bear significant burdens and need additional support to navigate through their academic program successfully, and the Parent Pathways Grant Program provides funding to institutions to directly support the persistence of these students in the form of tuition assistance, emergency funding, and wrap-around services.

In December 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services released a policy report following consultations with parenting students, postsecondary institution staff, subject matter experts, various state agencies, and community leaders. The Parent Pathways Learning Network (PPLN) concentrated on addressing the necessary support for food, childcare, housing, and financial aid. The results underscored the importance of integrating the firsthand experiences of parenting students into statewide policymaking.

During his 2024-25 budget address, Governor Josh Shapiro proposed a blueprint for higher education to re-imagine Pennsylvania’s postsecondary sector and support more learners. After decades of disinvestment that have put postsecondary education out of reach for many Pennsylvanians, this plan will dramatically increase state funding for colleges and universities, unite PASSHE universities and community colleges under a new governance structure, and cap tuition costs for eligible students. The budget proposal invests $975 million in the community colleges and PASSHE universities that will comprise this new system – a 15 percent increase in the amount of funding those institutions received last year – and substantial investments next year to make higher education more affordable and accessible for all.

For more information please visit the PDE website.

DHS Releases Interdisciplinary Blueprint Workgroup Recommendations to Address Children’s Physical and Behavioral Healthcare Needs (February 12, 2024)

On February 12, 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) released recommendations from its Blueprint Workgroup, an interdisciplinary group comprised of representation from state and local governments, health care, education, service providers, managed care, and family advocates. The workgroup sought to evaluate challenges children and youth with complex, co-occurring physical and behavioral health care needs and their families experience like accessing care and services that adapt to a youth’s changing circumstances and needs, lessening the likelihood of child welfare system involvement, reducing trauma experienced by instability, prioritizing emotional well-being, and supporting family- and youth-driven care and choice.

One in six children have a diagnosed behavioral or developmental disorder, and rates of depression and anxiety are growing among children and young adults. Youth with co-occurring physical health, behavioral health, and/or intellectual disability or autism-related needs are considered complex cases because they require close coordination between multiple care and service providers in order to ensure the child and their family are receiving comprehensive supports and services that meet their unique and evolving needs.

Care coordination for these cases involve multiple county and state-level entities that coordinate health care, education, and disability services, and, at times, the child and their family may be involved with child welfare, foster care, and justice systems. Children and youth with complex needs are also more likely to have experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma, disruptions to their education, communications challenges, and a complex diagnostic history causing delayed or incorrect services. These circumstances create opportunities for confusion and lack of communication that can affect care. 

Children and youth with complex needs deserve access to the care and supports they need without barriers, delays, or risks of new or additional trauma, and their families and guardians deserve support as they navigate systems of care for their child. The Blueprint Workgroup was established to help guide systems of care towards a renewed focus on youth and family engagement, respect for individual choice, support for the caring workforce, better collaboration and integrated planning between systems that serve youth with complex needs, and timely, accessible, and coordinated service delivery for youth that is responsive to their evolving needs.

Recommendations from the workgroup include:
-Prioritizing prevention through early identification of needs, accurate and timely diagnosis, and prompt service intervention;
-Improving information sharing and resource navigation among child-serving systems of care;
-Developing clear and strong guidance to inform multi-system case planning and management that prioritizes family engagement, evidence-based practices, peer supports between families, streamlining processes for families, and avoids trauma or re-traumatization that can occur when a case information has to be presented by the youth or their family repeatedly;
-Supporting a qualified, dedicated workforce, assessing payment models, and increasing efficiencies for people working in this system where appropriate;
-Conducting a system needs and gaps analysis across child-serving systems to determine opportunities for improvement and establishing multidisciplinary care coordination teams where needed; and,
-Building further understanding of trauma and embed trauma-informed care and principles across systems that serve and interact with children and youth with complex needs and their families.

Moving forward, DHS and Blueprint Workgroup members will begin work to determine work necessary to implement recommendations and identify barriers to implementation at the state and local level. The recommendations outlined in the workgroup’s report are a first step to strengthen supports for children and youth with complex needs and their families. Pennsylvania was also recently selected as one of eight states participating in a children’s behavioral health policy collaborative organized by Health Management Associates, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, the National Association of Medicaid Directors, the Child Welfare League, and the American Public Human Services Association. The convening will build on this work by helping better align multi-system work to support youth with behavioral health needs. 

To learn more about the Blueprint Workgroup and DHS’ work to support children and youth with complex needs, visit

Gov. Shapiro Announces Blueprint for Higher Ed. (February 11, 2024)

After decades of disinvestment that have put postsecondary education out of reach for many Pennsylvanians, Governor Josh Shapiro recently announced his blueprint for higher education—a plan that dramatically increases state funding for colleges and universities, unites them under a new governance structure, and caps tuition costs for eligible students. Gov. Shapiro’s 2024-25 budget proposal invests $975 million in the community colleges and PASSHE universities that will comprise this new system, a 15 percent increase in the amount of funding those institutions received last year.

For the press release, go to

Ed. Sec. Mumin Seeks KEI Participation (February 8, 2024)

On February 7, 2024, PA Secretary of Education Dr. Khalid N. Mumin sent a PnnLink message to LEAs titled PA Kindergarten Entry Inventory – 2024-2025 School Year. The memo states that all elementary schools are encouraged to implement Pennsylvania’s Kindergarten Entry Inventory (PA KEI) in the 2024-2025 school year to assist in meeting federal requirements. PA KEI is a reliable reporting tool that offers teachers an instructional strategy for understanding and tracking a student’s proficiency at kindergarten entry. The PA KEI is available to all local education agencies (LEAs) at no cost.

The PA KEI collects information on a consistent set of standards-based indicators across the commonwealth. The PA KEI is based on Pennsylvania’s Learning Standards for Early Childhood and the Pennsylvania Core Standards. PA KEI includes 30 indicators and provides a comprehensive profile that includes the domains of: Social and Emotional Development; English Language Arts; Mathematics; Approaches to Learning; and Health, Wellness and Physical Development. PA KEI is intended to be used by kindergarten teachers to record a student’s demonstration of skills within the first 45 calendar days of the kindergarten year. More information is available at

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides opportunities to strengthen the contribution of high-quality early childhood education in school reform and improvement efforts. The law recognizes that school success starts before a student enters the K-12 setting and calls on states to describe how they will assist LEAs and elementary schools to collaborate with early childhood education programs, and to invest in evidence-based practices. ESSA supports early learning and LEA collaboration in three main ways: (1) expanding access to high-quality early learning; (2) encouraging alignment and collaboration from birth through third grade; and (3) supporting educators. The PA KEI is a tangible tool to assist LEAs in understanding the comprehensive learning strengths and needs of students entering the K-12 setting, establishing common expectations and language for beginning and extending collaborative conversations with pre-kindergarten programs and families, and planning and implementing joint professional development opportunities that focus on strengthening evidence-based practices for young learners.

Implementing the PA KEI requires a Point of Contact (POC) who will serve as the liaison between LEA administrative staff, implementing kindergarten teachers, the Office of Child Development and Learning (OCDEL), and data systems staff. A dedicated POC ensures effective communication and implementation throughout the PA KEI process.

To initiate PA KEI participation in the 2024-2025 school year, send the POC name, email address, and phone number to [email protected] by May 30, 2024.

All kindergarten teachers who have not previously participated must complete a required professional development online course and obtain a certificate of completion to gain access to the web-based data system. Teachers with an expired proficient user certificate (more than five years since certification) must also complete the professional development online course. More information about taking the online course is available here.

Below is the tentative training schedule and timeline for participation:
*March-September: Required professional development online course available
*August-September: PA KEI systems professional development online opportunities available
*By the start of school: Implementing kindergarten teachers must have a required professional development online course certificate of completion on file to gain systems access
*45 calendar days from start of school: Observation and evidence collection/scoring completed
*60 calendar days from start of school: Data submissions (student outcomes) finalized within data system

Questions about this communication may be sent to [email protected].