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From shiny red pencils reading "My Attendance Rocks!" to countless plaques and ribbons and trophies and certificates and gold stars: For as long as anyone can remember, taking attendance — and rewarding kids for simply showing up — is a time-honored school ritual.

For good reason: Just being there, day in, day out, happens to be one of the most important factors that determines a child's success in school. And average daily head count forms the basis of school funding decisions at the federal, state and local level.

Nearly 500 national security experts – both civilians and former senior uniformed officers — have endorsed Joe Biden for president, saying the "current president" is not up to "the enormous responsibilities of his office."

Addressed to "Our Fellow Citizens," the 489 national security experts include 22 four-star officers. The letter never mentions President Trump by name.

In 1999, Christopher Vialva hitched a ride with a married couple visiting West Texas for a church revival meeting.

Authorities later found the bodies of Todd and Stacie Bagley in the trunk of their car. Todd Bagley died of a gunshot wound. Stacie Bagley died of smoke inhalation after the car was set on fire.

On Thursday, 20 years after he was convicted of that brutal crime, Vialva is scheduled to face lethal injection. His case stands out only because he's like most inmates on federal death row: a Black man who murdered white people, when he was very young.

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The presidential election is less than six weeks away, of course. And you're going to start hearing the name Justin Clark. He's President Trump's deputy campaign manager and his senior counsel. NPR's Tamara Keith has this profile.

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Updated Friday 2:15 p.m. ET to include a comment from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The federal government is preparing to crack down aggressively on hospitals for not reporting complete COVID-19 data daily into a federal data system, according to internal documents obtained by NPR.

Tanisha Long expects to be busy in the run up to the 2020 election.

For the next six weeks, Long, who founded an unofficial Black Lives Matter chapter for Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania, plans to make get-out-the vote videos, host mail-in voting webinars and work to enfranchise eligible incarcerated people in order to turn out voters she says "no one's talking to anymore."

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Jesus Gonzalez was about a year into starting a Cuban food catering and "pop-up" business in Lexington, Ky. It's like "a food truck, but without a truck," he says.

His steadiest gig was setting up tables with a spread of Cuban food at local breweries so people could eat while quaffing pints. But then all that shut down. And he says things aren't back to normal enough yet for the breweries to bring him back.

Miguel Arango had just turned 18 when he voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

Four years later, he was a passionate supporter of Bernie Sanders, but opted for a third-party candidate in the 2016 general election.

"I was not going to vote for Trump either," he said. "I thought all these things about him — that he was this, he was that. And slowly it started transitioning."

Enrollment at U.S. community colleges has dropped nearly 8% this fall, newly released figures show, part of an overall decline in undergraduate enrollment as students face a global pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades.

Often, enrollment in higher education spikes in times of high unemployment and recession as students seek additional job skills and postpone entering the workforce. But the pandemic has overturned those traditional calculations, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks college enrollment.

California will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 in a bid to lead the U.S. in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the state's drivers to switch to electric cars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that amounts to the most aggressive clean-car policy in the United States. Although it bans the sale of new gas cars and trucks after the 15-year deadline, it will still allow such vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market.

About 35 years ago, violinist Lara St. John — then just 15 years old — went with two friends to the dean of the school she attended, Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, to say that her private teacher, the famed violin pedagogue Jascha Brodsky, had sexually abused her on multiple occasions.

When President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden face off Tuesday night in the first presidential debate, there's one topic they're not expected to get asked about: climate.

Thirty-six senators, spearheaded by Ed Markey, D-Mass., signed a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, urging that climate change receive more attention.

It's a bit hard to describe Vietnam's Intergenerational Self Help Clubs.

But one thing is easy to say. If you're older — like above the age of 60 — and need help, the club will help you get it. That could mean a microloan if times are tough, a drum lesson as a chance for self-expression and social activity (and to prove that old people can play drums, too). And during the pandemic, the clubs have played a critical role informing and supporting its members.

There are around 3,000 of the clubs in Vietnam, with 160,000 participants, most of them older people.

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One of the Louisville police officers who barged into the apartment of Breonna Taylor has been indicted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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Jean lost her job as a school bus driver in Chicago during the pandemic. She was managing OK with unemployment money. But then, about two weeks ago, she got a desperate call from her adult son.

"His job had laid him off, and he wasn't able to pay rent," she says. There was an eviction moratorium in Chicago, but Jean says the landlord wanted her son out anyway.

She says the landlord got someone to threaten her son, and to shoot his dog — a German shepherd mix he'd had for years.

Nationwide protests have cast a spotlight on racism and inequality in the United States. Now a major bank has put a price tag on how much the economy has lost as a result of discrimination against African Americans: $16 trillion.

Updated at 2:35 p.m. ET

At least 380 pilot whales have died off the coast of Tasmania in what experts are calling Australia's largest recorded mass-stranding event.

Nearly 500 whales have been stranded on a beach and two sandbars along the western coast of the island state.

Voters in a number of swing states this November will have more leeway in getting their mail ballots back in time to count, should rule changes announced in the past week hold up to legal challenges. But the changes could delay the reporting of election results and possibly set up court fights down the line.

Updated at 4:56 p.m. ET

President Trump warned tech companies he is "watching them very closely during this election cycle" as his administration proposed stripping online platforms of long-held legal protections.

"We see so many things that are unfair," Trump said during at a White House discussion with Republican state attorneys general about social media. "It's very serious. Very bad. Very serious."

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Gale Sayers, a graceful and quick Chicago Bears running back whose elusiveness bedeviled defenses and delighted fans, has died, the team and the NFL announced Wednesday. He was 77.

Sayers was a fearsome competitor, but he was also famous for his character and fortitude.

The story of the Black football star's friendship with a white teammate, Brian Piccolo, inspired the beloved 1971 TV movie Brian's Song, after Sayers used his acceptance speech for the NFL's Most Courageous Player award to praise his less-heralded friend who was battling cancer.

Data gathered early in the pandemic showed that communities of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 across the United States. But incomplete data left a muddy picture of these disparities.

Today, as the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, and reached nearly 7 million confirmed cases, racial data is more complete, and the trend is crystal clear: People of color get sick and die of COVID-19 at rates higher than whites and higher than their share of the population.

Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET

Following months of outrage, activism and anticipation, a Kentucky grand jury has decided to indict one of the three Louisville Metro Police Department officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March.

Brett Hankison, who was terminated in June, has been charged with three counts of wanton endangerment over shooting into neighboring apartments. Bond was set at $15,000.

Wildfires near cities have become commonplace in the Western United States, but this year the reach and intensity of the dangerous air pollution they produce has been the worst on record.

Many Americans in populous, urban areas endured smoke for longer than previous years. Some places experienced very unhealthy or hazardous air from wildfires for the first time ever recorded.

Uncle Ben's will now be known as Ben's Original.

Food giant Mars, Incorporated said Wednesday that it is changing the rice brand's name, which has faced criticism for racial stereotyping. It said the change signals "the brand's ambition to create a more inclusive future while maintaining its commitment to producing the world's best rice."

Mars also said it will remove the image of the elderly Black man in a bow tie from its packaging.

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