NACSA is committed to sharing out regular updates on the latest federal COVID-19 information available. Primarily, these updates will focus on the latest packages Congress is considering and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. If you have questions, please reach out to either Veronica Brooks-Uy, our Director of Policy or Amanda Fenton, our Federal Policy Consultant.
As of 3pm, October 28, 2020
House Democrats Introduce Bill With $261 Billion for K-12: On Tuesday, 10/27, House Democrats introduced the Save Education Jobs Act of 2020, a proposal that would authorize $261 billion to states and school districts over 10 years to protect jobs at K-12 schools, an education priority for the post-election session and next Congress. The bill would establish an Education Jobs Fund to stabilize the education workforce and dramatically expand on the CARES Act, which provided $13.5 billion to K-12 schools for COVID-19 relief activities. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) is co-sponsoring the legislation along with Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Del. Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee. A committee aide said the legislation would be a priority in the next Congress if it fails to pass this year.
The bill would require that school districts spend 90% of the money on salary and benefits for teachers and other school employees. The remaining 10% could be spent on teacher training or extended hours to address learning loss among students during the pandemic. The funding would be available for at least six years or until the national employment rate falls below 5.5%. 95% of funds would be distributed in each state based on Title I A allocations to school districts, with the remaining 5% available for state level activities. Additional money would be provided until fiscal 2030 to states with high unemployment. States would also be required to maintain spending levels for high-poverty schools (Bloomberg). A summary of the legislation can be found here.
COVID-19 Stimulus Talks Shelved Until after Election: Congress left Washington until after the election without passing any new economic or health care relief measures even as the coronavirus pandemic surges and the economy sputters. Prospects for a stimulus deal remain in doubt and negotiations have largely been shelved after repeated failed attempts to broker a compromise. President Trump said Tuesday, 10/27, that the White House would approve a big stimulus package after the election and predicted that Republicans would retake control of the House of Representatives even though the GOP is widely expected to lose seats in the chamber next week (The Washington Post).
As of 10:30am, October 7, 2020
Mask Distribution to Schools: Schools can now begin requesting cloth masks from their state health departments, according to a blog posted on 10/6 by the School Superintendent’s Association (AASA). AASA reports that the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has begun distributing 125 million cloth masks for states to distribute to schools. At this time most of those masks are sized for adult, but HHS anticipates having child/youth size masks available to all state health departments by early November. Schools are encouraged to contact their state health department for information on how they can request masks. HHS intends states to prioritize public and private schools that serve low-income or otherwise high need students and provide in-person instruction. (AASA, HHS)
New Limitations Proposed on Federal Funds and Diversity Training: In September President Trump issued two Executive Orders that prohibit federal agencies from using federal funds for race or gender related training that is deemed “divisive”. The definition of what is deemed divisive, and how federal agencies were to interpret and implement these limits, was left up to the Office of Management and Budget. Last week OMB issued further guidance stating that the new limitation on using federal funds for certain types of race or gender training does indeed extend to activities funded by federal grants. That means grantees, such as schools or state education agencies, could have limits placed on the type of training they use federal grant funding to provide. That could include training received by schools, state education agencies, police departments, non-profits, health organizations, colleges…any training on the topic of race or gender that is paid for with federal grant funds.
Federal agencies have until November 20th to come up with a list of federal grant programs that this limitation applies to. (The OMB guidance contemplates that there could be some grants which are exempt from the limit, based on the grant’s statutory intent and legal structure.) Then it is up to the agency to determine which diversity training programs are deemed “divisive” and then decide how to apply this limitation to activities funded with federal grants. It is assumed that the precise impact and duration of this policy will depend on the results of the Presidential election, as it is conceivable federal agencies will not fully implement it until after January.
COVID-19 Stimulus talks collapse: On 10/6/20 President Trump abruptly announced that his administration was ending negotiations with Congressional leaders for an additional stimulus package. President Trump said in a tweet he will resume negotiations “immediately after I win”. Prior to the announcement Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were set to meet again on 10/8 to resume negotiations. With the halt of negotiations there are no immediate prospects for additional federal aid to states, schools, small businesses, or individuals in need of additional stimulus funds or unemployment. As recently as 10/3 President Trump was calling for the swift resumption of stimulus negotiations. (Washington Post)
Federal Food Aid Boxes: The USDA is requiring that Farmers to Families food boxes, which are often distributed by local food banks and other community organizations, enclose a letter from President Trump that some see as him claiming credit for the food program and its place in his coronavirus response as a way to help his reelection campaign. The letter also includes a list of practices he recommends to support the nation’s coronavirus recovery. According to news reports food charity organizations say this is unprecedented and some organizations are refusing to include the letter. Senate Democrats say that requiring such a letter could be a violation of the Hatch act, which prevents engagement in political activities, and nonprofits that distribute the food are concerned it could be construed as a violation of nonprofit election activity rules. In response to these concerns the USDA said legal counsel does not view it as a political act and that Dr. Fauci supports the letter because of the health practice recommendations it contains. Still, the inclusion of the letters has local non-profits concerned and there are reports of volunteers refusing to participate in food distribution because of the potential political interpretation of the President’s letter. Several school districts have now refused to include the letter and are removing it from food boxes. (Politico)
As of 9am, September 23, 2020
Continuing Resolution (CR) Passed: Late on 9/22/20 Congress reached a deal on a continuing resolution to keep the federal government open through 12/11/20. The House passed the measure and it is expected to get through the Senate and be signed by the White House.
The CR continues spending at the same levels as the current year, with the following additions related to education:
- Extension of Pandemic-EBT (food stamp) benefits until 9/30/21. This helps students who usually get free or reduced price meals through school by giving them a supplemental food stamp benefit of about $5.70 for every school day missed. The program was initially set to expire at the end of this month.
- Extension of flexibilities for the National School Lunch Program until 9/30/21. USDA had extended these flexibilities, which allow things like multiple-meal pick up, pick up at community centers, and meal pick up by parents, through the end of 2020. Now these flexibilities are in place until the end of next September.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Interim Policy on PPE reimbursement for schools: According to a FEMA interim policy, the federal government will no longer use disaster assistance money to reimburse schools for personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies. That means districts and local governments will not be able to access FEMA funding for items like cloth masks, disinfection services for schools and other public facilities, thermometers, physical barriers or PPE for teachers, medical staff and other public workers. In terms of federal funding outside of FEMA, schools will still have access to more than $400 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief pool and Coronavirus Relief Fund and can still be reimbursed for PPE and disinfection costs accrued from March until the September 15 policy change date. FEMA is also still providing PPE aid to states who can then provide it to schools (FEMA).
Stimulus Package: Negotiations continue on the next stimulus package, but it is unclear if this effort will produce a compromise anytime soon.
On Tuesday, 9/15, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus released a COVID-19 relief plan hoping to help broker a compromise between congressional negotiators and the Trump administration. Their proposal totals $1.5 trillion, a figure halfway between proposals from House Democrats and Senate Republicans. It includes automatic triggers based on hospitalization rates and vaccine development, so the price could fluctuate up or down. The caucus proposal offers key compromises on aid to state and local governments ($500 billion), supplemental unemployment insurance ($450 per week for eight weeks and then applies a formula for benefits capping them at 100% of previous wages or $600 per week, whichever is lower), and another round of $1,200 direct stimulus payments for most Americans with a $500 per child benefit. The bill also contains funding for COVID-19 testing, schools, childcare, and small business relief. The details of the legislation can be found here
House Passes Measure to Drive Racial Integration in Schools: The House passed a bill Tuesday, 9/15, that would authorize grants to boost racial and socioeconomic integration in U.S. schools, an effort expected to be reborn if Joe Biden is elected president. While the Senate is unlikely to vote on the measure, H.R. 2639, the issue could resurface if the Democratic presidential nominee wins in November. Last summer, a Biden spokesperson said the former vice president supports the bill, which builds on an Obama-era initiative the Trump administration canceled in 2017. Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is also a co-sponsor of the Senate version, S. 1418. Most Republicans voted against the measure.
Student Mental Health: A bipartisan duo of lawmakers on the Senate health and education committee is urging the Trump administration to issue guidance for how schools and colleges should address the growing mental health needs of students stemming from the pandemic. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) called on the Education Department and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help equip schools and colleges with information about how they can use federal funding to address the “unique mental health challenges” their students are facing because of the coronavirus.“K-12 and college students have experienced some of the most severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the negative impact on their mental health is already becoming apparent,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Wednesday, 9/16, to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The guidance, they said, should address how K-12 schools and colleges can “best use federal funds to support the mental health needs of students” with a particular focus on helping “minority students, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and students from tribal nations.” Warren and Cassidy cited recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showing that nearly three-quarters of 18- to 24-year-olds reported at least one mental or behavioral health symptom associated with the pandemic. More than a quarter said they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days (PoliticoPro).
Department of Ed Releases New School Spending Data Website: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos launched a new user-friendly website Wednesday, 9/16, that shows how much money each school spends per student. The goal of the tool is to increase transparency as parents and local leaders seek to understand funding levels and differences between schools. States are required by the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to provide this funding information called Per Pupil Expenditure. Unfortunately, each state provides the information in different ways and places—some more transparently than others—which prompted the national website (Department of Ed).
As of 9am, September 10, 2020
Students Must Take Standardized Tests This Year, DeVos Says: State school leaders should expect to administer standardized tests for K-12 students during the forthcoming year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote in a letter Thursday, 9/3. U.S. states and territories received waivers for federal school testing mandates for the 2019-20 academic year after the coronavirus pandemic forced campuses to shut down in the spring, when students are typically tested. DeVos said no such waivers should be anticipated for the school year that just began in most states. Instead, she said states could rethink how they test students, including the use of competency and mastery-based assessments. Democrats agreed that assessments are needed to see where students have fallen behind but said schools require more resources to address their academic progress. Several civil rights groups also endorsed the decision to return to annual school testing, including the Education Trust, LULAC, National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the National Urban League.
In the letter DeVos also made a distinction between annual assessment and accountability, writing: “We are open to discussions about what, if any, actions may be needed to adjust how the results of assessments are used in your state’s school accountability determinations.” (Bloomberg).
DeVos Plan to Steer Funds to Private Schools Ruled Illegal: The Education Department announced in May that it would dole out Care Act funds to private schools without regard to “family income, residency, or eligibility based on low achievement” – an attempt to give private schools a larger share of federal coronavirus relief dollars. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said in a ruling Friday, 9/4, that doing so would be illegal because the act clearly requires money to be allocated to private schools based on the number of children from low-income families who attend them. Friedrich, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said Congress spoke with “clarity and precision” in outlining the funding formula. Two other federal judges had already blocked the implementation of the policy, but Friedrich went a step further in striking down the policy altogether. The ruling will apply nationwide (Bloomberg).
UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has now dropped the rule, as of the afternoon of September 10th. It is presumed that LEAs will now use their normal method to distribute CARES Act funds among schools. (Washington Post)
COVID-19 Stimulus: Negotiations between the White House and Democratic lawmakers hit a wall in early August, with the two sides far apart on the size and scope of what is needed. Observers said two recent developments lower the odds for a relief deal: a better-than-expected August jobs report and an agreement to pass a “clean” CR to fund the government past Sept. 30. President Trump blames Democratic lawmakers for the lack of progress, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin more recently suggested lawmakers go “piece by piece” and pass virus aid where there is agreement, such as on checks to taxpayers, extra unemployment benefits, and schools aid. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have pushed for most of the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act (H.R. 6800) passed in May, while the administration argued for the $1 trillion contained in the HEALS Act Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed in August (Bloomberg).
Vote on Senate Republican Stimulus “Skinny” Bill This Week: Senate Republicans said today, 9/8, that they will introduce and set up a floor vote on a slimmed-down virus stimulus bill in an effort to break a month-long impasse on aid for the U.S. economy. The bill, expected to feature some of the aspects of a $1 trillion proposal put forth by Republicans a month ago, costs $500 billion. Senate Democrats are expected to block the bill, which would need 60 votes to pass under Senate filibuster rules. Even so, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has talked with a handful of moderate Democrats in recent weeks, said Tuesday he was optimistic public pressure would push lawmakers into a compromise in the coming two weeks. He said the smaller package could serve as a “foundation” for further COVID-19 relief (Bloomberg and The New York Times).
The bill totals $500 billion and includes relevant areas:
- $105B for education funding. Includes $70B for K-12 schools, with approximately 2/3rd of funds tied to physical re-opening.
- One time funding for scholarship-granting organizations (generally private school vouchers) in each state.
- Two years of tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting institutions
- 529 plan enhancements, such as using 529 savings account funds for books, online materials, licensed tutoring, and other COVID-19 related flexibilities. Also allows use of 529s for expenses for home schooling.
- $15B for grant programs for childcare
- Limited Liability Protection for schools, businesses, colleges, local governments, and nonprofit, religious, and philanthropic organizations. For COVID-19 related personal injury claims, medical malpractices, and protections under labor and employment law. Pre-empts state laws for personal injury and medical malpractice.
- Extension of small business loans under Paycheck Protection Program and reforms to provide for second round of loans to businesses and easier loan forgiveness.
- Expanded unemployment benefits in line with Executive Order–$300 extra a week. (extended until December 27, 2020)
Missing from the package:
- Funding for Provider Relief Fund (Senate Republican HEALs Act included an additional $25B)
- Funding for NIH (Senate Republican HEALs Act included $15.5B)
- Funding for state and local governments
Fed’s Main Street Lending Program Open for Nonprofit Borrowers: The Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program for small- and mid-sized companies is now approving loans to nonprofit institutions. Lenders were encouraged to submit new loans for nonprofits to the Main Street Lending Program, the Boston Fed said in a statement Friday, 9/4. The program has been purchasing 95% of qualified loans extended to for-profit businesses since July 6. As of Sept. 2, the program held $1.17 billion in loan assets. The loan volume for the program, which has the capacity to lend $600 billion, has so far disappointed. Fed officials say it remains an important backstop available to companies and nonprofits should the coronavirus pandemic and the economy worsen (Bloomberg). Coincidently, these are the same “leftover” funds that the president says he wants to send to taxpayers (see “Trump Says He Wants to Give Leftover $300 Billion to Taxpayers” above).
As of 3pm, August 31, 2020
School Meal Waivers Update: USDA Sec. Perdue extended several school nutrition program waivers that were set to expire tomorrow. The waivers grant schools across the country flexibilities to continue:
- Distributing food to all students in all communities, regardless of income level. This ensures every child in need can continue to access food through their school and significantly reduces the administrative burden for schools.
- Use alternative community sites and community partners to continue distributing food to students and families. Families won’t have to switch back to picking up food at only their child’s school— they can continue to use local programs that may allow them to pick up food for all their children at a local community center or convenient school in their neighborhood.
- Letting parents and guardians pick up multiple meals for their children at a time.
The full announcement from USDA can be found here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/news-item/usda-035520
As we shared last week, this flexibility is especially important for charter schools and the students they serve. The waiver extension is a direct result of the advocacy of the education community on this important issue, and NACSA thanks all those elected leaders, schools, authorizers, parents, and education groups who made their voices heard in support of this necessary action.
As of 9am, August 26, 2020
A Quick Note: This Fall, it is likely that we will see many students struggle to get access to meals during the school day due to school meal waivers expiring (see below for more details) and an end to the additional $300 in food stamp aid that some low-income families were receiving through the SNAP program. Access to meals at school is an equity issue—one that NACSA has encouraged authorizers to consider with a community responsive authorizing lens. Each authorizing setting is different, but we would encourage authorizers to reach out to their portfolios to ask how they might be struggling to meet their families’ and students’ needs and what, if anything, schools need from them as authorizers.
School Meal Waivers Expiring: Despite pressure from anti-hunger groups, education organizations and lawmakers on both sides, Sec. Perdue says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not extend a key waiver from federal school meal requirements that has given schools and community groups more flexibility to feed students during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes:
- Summer meal program rules that make it easier for schools to serve meals via fewer restrictions. The summer rules allow non-school locations like youth centers to receive federal reimbursements to provide meals to children in their areas, allowing collaborations between schools and community groups to feed those in need in more places. This flexibility will disappear starting September 1.
- Meal pricing flexibility, which allowed all students that qualified for free or reduced lunch to receive meals for free. Starting September 1, qualifying students will have to go back to paying a reduced price instead of receiving the meals for free.
Sec. Perdue said, in an August 20 letter to federal lawmakers, that such flexibilities will lapse after August 31 as USDA believes Congressional action is necessary to authorize their extension.
Separately, in June, the USDA extended waivers from requirements of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs through this 20-21 school year. This includes allowing the parent or guardian to pick up meals without the child present, offering “grab-n-go meals”, allowing parents to pick up multiple days of meals at once, allowing schools to deliver meals such as via school buses, and continued meal eligibility for students participating in remote or distance learning. However, the other flexibilities mentioned above are seen as key to increasing access to meals during this time, and the lapse of these flexibilities presents an acute challenge for charter schools, especially communities with a large number of charter schools. For example, summer flexibilities allowed charter schools and/or districts to form co-operative agreements that allowed parents to pick up multiple meals at places like community centers or neighborhood schools, even if some or all of the children in that family attended other schools across town. This made it logistically much easier for parents to pick up meals, especially if their children attend multiple schools. The added cost of the meals for families is also a concern, particularly as national data shows that only 6 out of 10 students eligible for free and reduced price school lunches actually picked up food during the Spring’s school closures, even as rates of child hunger rose dramatically. Once the waivers expire these flexibilities will disappear.
CDC Suggests Partial School Closings as Option in Virus Guidance: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for reopening schools on Friday, August 21, to include advice on what to do with students who come down with COVID-19, filling a gap that left administrators on their own to determine the best approach. The guidelines are largely common-sense, though noteworthy:
Sick children should be isolated, areas where they’ve been disinfected, and health officials and close contacts should be notified, the CDC said. Maintaining a goal of keeping schools open, the CDC laid out a possible hybrid strategy that could include temporary building closures or halting certain activities like sports or assemblies “to allow time for local health officials to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 situation and help the school determine appropriate next steps.” When making any decisions about closing buildings or suspending activities, local health officials should take into account the number of COVID-19 cases in the area, not just in the school, the CDC said.
Federal Judge Blocks Devos Plan to Send More CARES Act K-12 Education Relief to Private Schools: U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Washington state on Friday, August 21, blocked Education Secretary DeVos from enforcing her policy to force public school districts to send a greater share of coronavirus relief funding to private school students than is typically required under federal law. Judge Rothstein ruled that DeVos lacked the authority to impose her conditions on coronavirus relief funding for K-12 schools, finding that Congress “neither explicitly, nor implicitly” granted her the power to do so. The Trump Administration argues that it has the authority to create policy on how to distribute the funding to private school students because the CARES Act enacted in March is ambiguous. But the judge said that the administration had “manufactured ambiguity” and ran afoul of what Congress intended. Rothstein also slammed the Trump Administration’s argument that Washington state would not face potential irreparable harm from the rule as “remarkably callous” and said the administration’s policy “ineluctably advantages private schools at the expense of public schools.” The judge’s order blocks DeVos from “implementing or enforcing” her April guidance on the CARES Act funding for K-12 schools or the interim rule she issued on July 1 to codify her policy into an enforceable regulation in the face of resistance from some states (Politico).
Both sides are debating if the order blocking implementation of this rule applies nationwide or only in Washington state. US ED argues it applies only to Washington state, while the plaintiff argues it applies nationwide.
Republicans Plan Scaled-Back Proposal for Virus Relief Bill: Senate Republicans plan to introduce a scaled-back stimulus bill amid the standoff over a new virus relief plan that’s dragged on for weeks, according to two Senate Republican aides. The legislation would include a $300 a week enhanced unemployment benefit, money for small business aid, additional U.S. Postal Service funding and protection for employers against lawsuits stemming from COVID-19 infections.
The version is expected to omit the initially proposed $15B boost for childcare, Senator Alexander’s student loan payment plan overhaul, and the extension of student loan repayment relief (as that final policy is being implemented through an executive order). It is expected to include significant funding for K-12 education, which as much as 2/3 of the funding tied to the physical reopening of school buildings. Any legislation would need to get at least some Democratic support to get through the Senate, and that now is unlikely.
As of 10:00am EST, July 29, 2020
CDC Lays Out School Guidelines
U.S. health officials issued guidelines for reopening schools, with an accompanying FAQ, as districts across the country weigh whether to bring kids back amid the coronavirus pandemic, a move that follows calls by President Donald Trump for classrooms to resume in-person instruction this fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laid out an argument on Thursday, 7/23, for bringing students back to campuses, citing the developmental harm that could be caused to children from missed education. The CDC said in a statement titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools This Fall” that while parents, teachers and school officials are concerned about the risk of transmitting the coronavirus in classrooms, the “best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms” or become major drivers of disease spread. However, multiple news reports have pointed out that large scale studies of youth and school re-openings from South Korea may contradict parts of that claim. The CDC also said death rates from the virus among children are much lower than among adults. The guidance also includes a “decision-making tool” for parents to help them decide whether or not to send their children back to school.
Pelosi-Mnuchin Stimulus Talks
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows kicked off negotiations on the next virus relief plan, even as Republicans are still hashing out an agreement among themselves. The White House and Congress have only a few weeks to come up with another stimulus to prevent the economic rout caused by the coronavirus from deepening. The $2.9 trillion flood of federal money that’s been supporting the economy is about to start drying up while unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression.
Economists are warning the nation is in danger of careening off a fiscal cliff unless Congress approves a rescue package to succeed the $2 trillion Cares Act. Key elements of that are set to expire this month, just as a resurgence of the virus in states that rushed to reopen their economies is making the nascent recovery look vulnerable. The Trump administration is calling on Republicans and Democrats to get legislation passed before the start of the summer recess in August.
A growing body of research shows the $3 trillion approved by Congress since March played an enormous role in preventing the economy from sinking into a depression. Most important, the Cares Act sent direct payments of $1,200 to low- and middle-income households, plus more to those with children, and topped up unemployment benefits by $600 a week. Income for some families increased, and they spent most of the money, providing the overall economy with desperately needed relief (Bloomberg).
GOP HEALS Act
Late Monday (7/27) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a series of bills that make up the HEALS Act, the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. The proposal is long and complex, so we are only sharing the components related to education. This is a fluid summary and the proposals are subject to change rapidly as the negotiations evolve:
- $5 billion for Governor’s Fund which they can use for elementary and secondary or institutions of higher education
- $29 billion to higher education, including $2.9 billion for HBCUs and MSIs. Distribution based largely on FTE enrollment.
- $70 billion to elementary and secondary schools
- 1/3 available to all public and private schools, distributed to LEAs based on Title I formula and private schools based on proportional enrollment.
- 2/3 based on certain minimum opening requirements, as established by the state. LEAs must submit a comprehensive reopening plan for the 20-21 school year, which must meet criteria established by the state. An LEA that provides at least 50% of its students with in-person instruction at least 50% of each school-week will be automatically approved. LEAs that provide no in-person instruction to any student shall not be eligible. LEAs that provide some in person instruction, but not the 50% from prior sentence, shall only be eligible for a pro rata share of funds.
- Reopening plans must include a timeline for when will provide in-person instruction, how many days of in-person instruction will be provided per calendar week of the 20-21 school year, and an assurance that LEA will offer as much in-person instruction as safe and practicable.
- Up to $7 billion in one–time emergency funding for state scholarship programs (state voucher programs). In the current HEALS Act package, there is no specific dollar amount listed, but R leadership says the goal is approximately 10% of education funds, or up to $7 billion.
- Language protecting charter schools.
- A SEA or LEA that receives emergency funds cannot enact policies to close or prevent the expansion of charter schools to address revenue shortfalls; or disproportionately reduce funding to charter schools compared to other public schools.
- Allocation of emergency funds to charter schools must be made on the same basis as is used for all public schools.
- Language protecting state education funds. States must maintain funding for education at proportional levels as in 2019.
- $15 billion for childcare. This includes $5 billion through the Child Care Development Block Grant, and $10 billion through new “Back to Work Child Care Grants”. The Back to Work Child Care Grants would be to pay for fixed costs and increased operating expenses due to COVID-19, and to reenroll children in a safe childcare environment.
- Authority to the Sec. of Education to extend current ESSA waivers (primarily assessment and accountability) for the 20-21 school year.
- Includes Sen. Alexander’s student loan reform proposal from last year, which would consolidate the student loan repayment system into two repayment plans (a 10–year standard plan and an income-driven repayment plan). The Public Student Loan Forgiveness program would still exist, with eligible borrowers able to select from the two repayment options.
- No extension of current freeze on collection of student loan payments and interest accrual.
- Does not include additional funding for or extension of flexibilities in USDA school lunch program, SNAP (food stamps), and Pandemic EBT (emergency food assistance).
House Hearing on Reopening Public Schools
On Thursday 7/23/20, the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing entitled “Underfunded & Unprepared: Examining How to Overcome Obstacles to Safely Reopen Public Schools.” Topics of focus of the hearing included providing free or low-cost meals, protecting teacher safety, internet connectivity issues and disparities for remote education, and the needs for school districts to develop appropriate testing protocols that would keep students safe and increase parent confidence in school safety. Witnesses repeatedly stressed the need for more funding for public schools, regardless of their schedule for re-opening.
White House Briefing on COVID-19 for Local Officials
On 7/22 the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs held a closed-to-press briefing call for state, local, and tribal officials on COVID-19. Highlights include:
- Mr. Mick Zais, Deputy Secretary at ED, spoke about the importance of reopening schools this fall. Essential part of recovering is getting kids back in school. Not a matter of IF it should be done, but HOW it should be done. too many government schools already failed their kids this spring. How schools open should be left up to state and local leaders. Should consider health of students (physical, emotional, mental). Sec. DeVos wants the COVID-19 stimulus to include education freedom scholarships- freedom for parents/students to determine what they will learn, how they will learn, and where they will learn. (Private or public, dual enrollment, career technical education).
- Mr. Eric Hargan, Deputy Secretary at HHS, discussed testing and vaccines. HHS stresses the importance of testing for schools and knowing whether people are symptomatic and asymptomatic. For vaccines, the goal is a Jan 2021. Bullish, HHS is aiming for vaccine confirmed by October 2020, with goal of having all other systems ready for deployment of vaccine by Fall 2020.
COVID-19 Relief for Private Student Loan Borrowers Passed in House
Borrowers with private student loans would get as much as $10,000 in debt relief under an amendment to the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill (H.R. 6395) passed Tuesday, 7/21, in the House. The amendment from Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) would require the Treasury Department to take over payments on student loans up to the $10,000 cap. The CARES Act (Public Law 116-136) suspended loan payments on federal student loans for six months through Sept. 30 but left out private student loan borrowers.
As of 10:00am EST, July 15, 2020
Last week and this week there has been considerable activity from the Administration to encourage the re-opening of schools for in person instruction this fall.
CDC to Issue Additional Guidelines on School Re-openings
- Revised guidelines regarding school re-openings from the CDC are scheduled to come out this week. The additional guidelines are viewed by some as a response to criticism of the current CDC guidelines from President Trump and the Administration. Last week President Trump said the guidelines were too strict, and Sec. DeVos said that the guidelines should not be used to prevent schools from reopening for in-person instruction.
- NACSA will update this page with the link to the new guidelines once they are available.
Education Secretary DeVos Encourages School Re-openings, Threatens to ‘Cut Funding’; Pence Says COVID Relief Should Reward Schools That Re-open
- Secretary DeVos said on “Fox News Sunday” that “nothing in the data” suggests children being in school is “in any way dangerous” and “If schools aren’t going to open they shouldn’t get the funds,” DeVos said.
- This echoes statements made by President Trump last week, who on 7/8 threatened federal funding for schools that didn’t reopen. Later, VP Pence said that the Trump administration will push for emergency education funds in another coronavirus relief package to be conditioned on schools reopening in the fall.
- Opening schools would enable parents to return to work – a key piece of Trump’s push to accelerate the reopening of the U.S. economy even as the nation sees record numbers of new daily coronavirus cases.
- Congressional Democrats and legal experts say Trump does not have the ability to defund schools that do not reopen five days a week, and instead urged the Administration to approve funding to aid schools as part of a COVID-19 stimulus bill expected to come up for votes at the end of the month.
- But to be clear: as of 7/14/20, there are no public COVID-19 relief proposals from Congressmembers that tied funding to school re–openings.
Next COVID-19 Relief Package
New Assistance to Governments and Non-Profits
On 7/9 the House approved by unanimous consent a Senate-passed measure (S.4209) to provide coronavirus relief to non-profit groups and state, local and tribal governments. It eases cash flow problems caused by a Labor Department regulation requiring 100% payment of unemployment contributions for furloughed staff before aid can be received; it resets the payment requirement to 50%. The bill now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
House Education Funding Proposal for Next Fiscal Year
On 7/13, the House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee advanced a $196.5 billion FY2021 spending measure that will provide $73.5 billion for education, including $254 million in new funds for low-income schools. The House bill includes $400 million for the federal charter school program, a proposed $40 million decrease from the prior fiscal year. The House language also requests various reports on charter schools and the Charter School Program, including in areas related to charter school closures, charter school enrollment, and oversight of federal charter school grant program funds. The Senate has yet to release its education funding proposal.
As of 10:00am EST, July 1, 2020
COVID-19 Relief Package: Senate Democrats
On 6/30 Senate Democrats introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA). The bill includes $430 bill to address the child care and education crises. The bill includes
- $50 billion for a Child Care Stabilization Fund, which includes funding for child care providers, their staff, and tuition relief for working families
- $1.5 billion to support the child welfare workforce and fund community-based child abuse and prevention programs.
- $345 billion for the Education Stabilization Funds, including
- $175 billion for K-12 schools
- $132 billion for higher education
- $33 billion for the Governor’s Fund, for states hardest hit by COVID-19
- Protection for state and local education budgets, through a “maintenance of effort” requirement for three years for states.
- $12.9 billion to provide services in communities most impacted by COVID-19, such as for low-income students, migrant children, students in juvenile justice facilities, students experiencing homelessness, and English learners.
- $4 billion for the E-Rate program, to provide technology and internet access.
- $450 million to expand TRIO programs
- $4 billion for career, technical, adult education, and training.
The bill also includes restrictions on the Secretary of Education in regards for implementing the programs. This includes preventing the restriction of student access to emergency financial aid to DACA and undocumented students, specifying that LEAs are to follow the standard Title I distribution methods for emergency funds for private K-12 schools, and preventing the use of Governor’s Fund and other emergency funds as microgrants to teachers/families, that would potentially be used at private schools. These are all policies that Secretary DeVos had put in place or promoted in implementing the prior CARES Act A full summary and press release.
White House and COVID Stimulus
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that he is working with Congress on a possible $1 trillion stimulus package to help revive the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. He also predicted that the U.S. economy to exit recession by year’s end. At the center of the stimulus debate is whether to send a second round of payments to low- and middle- income individuals to help bolster household budgets that have suffered as the coronavirus has forced millions out of jobs and caused mortgage delinquencies to reach their highest levels in nearly a decade. The Senate hasn’t yet begun serious negotiations on another stimulus bill, but those talks are expected to begin in mid-July. (Bloomberg)
Hearing on School Reopenings
On 6/30 the Senate Education Committee held another hearing on reopening schools. Highlights include:
- The CDC Director told Senators the CDC would be releasing updated guidance on school re-openings this week. Guidance for higher education was released earlier in the week, and guidance on K-12 should be published later this week.
- Fauci reported that there is research ongoing on how easily children transmit the virus, and reiterated that communities can take steps to boost efforts to resume regular classes, such as wearing masks.
- FDA Commissioner Hahn said he was optimistic there would be forms of treatment available to teachers and school workers in the fall, though he stopped short of saying that would include a vaccine.
- Senator Alexander re-iterated the urgency of getting schools re-opened and estimated it would take between $50 billion and $75 billion just in health and hygiene resources for K-12 and colleges to re-open safely. House Ds have requested $305 billion for all school needs, and CCSSO has estimated $245 billion, though both requests are for more comprehensive needs and not just for hygiene.
Ruling on Schools Sharing COVID Funds
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a new rule Thursday, 6/25, advancing a policy requiring public schools to share more coronavirus relief funds with private schools than federal law currently mandates.
The new rule requires school districts to use one of two formulas in calculating how to allocate a portion of COVID Aid to private school students:
- if they want to use CARES Act funds at all schools in their district, they can allocate to all public and private schools in their district based on the number of students served by each site; or
- if they will just use CARES Act funds at Title I schools, they can allocate to Title I public schools and private schools in their district based on their Title I 19/20 formula or the number of low income students served by each site.
Public school officials argue that the funding should be shared based on the number of low-income students at local private schools, the basis of fund-sharing under other federal rules. The Education Department maintains that coronavirus-related relief funds are separate from federal aid and should be used to benefit students at all schools, regardless of guidelines in place for normal funds from the government (The Hill). The full rule and associated press release.
American Academy of Pediatrics Guidance for School Re-entry
On 6/29 AAP issued guidance on school re-entry policies. The guidance asks officials to consider the following key principles, and goes into specifics on social distancing, hygiene, etc.:
- School policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information, and administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.
- It is critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community and done with close communication with state and/or local public health authorities and recognizing the differences between school districts, including urban, suburban, and rural districts.
- Policies should be practical, feasible, and appropriate for child and adolescent’s developmental stage.
- Special considerations and accommodations to account for the diversity of youth should be made, especially for our vulnerable populations, including those who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities, with the goal of safe return to school.
- No child or adolescents should be excluded from school unless required in order to adhere to local public health mandates or because of unique medical needs. Pediatricians, families, and schools should partner together to collaboratively identify and develop accommodations, when needed.
- School policies should be guided by supporting the overall health and well-being of all children, adolescents, their families, and their communities. These policies should be consistently communicated in languages other than English, if needed, based on the languages spoken in the community, to avoid marginalization of parents/guardians who are of limited English proficiency or do not speak English at all.
CDC Updated Risks
The CDC last week updated and expanded the list of who is at risk for getting severely ill from COVID-19. Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions remain at increased risk for severe illness, but now CDC has further defined age- and condition-related risks and has removed the specific age threshold from the older adult classification. CDC now warns that among adults, risk increases steadily as you age, and it’s not just those over the age of 65 who are at increased risk for severe illness. CDC also updated the list of underlying medical conditions that increase risk of severe illness including: Chronic kidney disease; COPD; Obesity; Immunocompromised state; heart disease; sickle cell disease; diabetes; asthma, high blood pressure, neurologic conditions such as dementia, cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, and pregnancy. The full updated guidance.
House Democrats Proposal – The Moving Forward Act
Broadband deployment, energy efficiency, and school modernization programs would be authorized or funded in the modified version of H.R. 2, The Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package from House Democrats. The measure also would address funding shortfalls at the U.S. Postal Service, reauthorize expiring programs at numerous agencies, and extend or create bond programs and other tax incentives relating to infrastructure.
The broadband, water infrastructure, and clean energy package, totaling about $1 trillion, has been combined with a roughly $500 billion five-year surface transportation reauthorization – referred to as INVEST bill – and was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (Bloomberg).
Details on the education provisions are below:
Schools and Libraries
The measure would create, and appropriate $5 billion for, a Connectivity Fund to expand the E-Rate Program, which supports schools and libraries. The money could be used to cover Wi-Fi hotspots and other devices for students, staff, and library patrons at locations other than the school or library. At least 5% of the funding would have to be provided to schools and libraries serving tribal areas.
The legislation also would direct the FCC to make Wi-Fi access service on school buses eligible for E-Rate support.
TAX AND FINANCE PROVISIONS
Schools & Child Care
- Zone Academy Bonds: The measure would restore Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, a type of tax credit bond repealed by the 2017 tax overhaul. The bonds were issued by state and local governments to fund public school repair, development of course materials, and training for teachers. Under the bill, they could also be used for school construction or retrofitting. The national limit would be $1.4 billion annually. The measure would remove a requirement that private businesses contribute to the project.
- School Infrastructure Bonds: The measure would allocate $10 billion annually from 2021 through 2023 to states, territories, and tribal governments for school infrastructure bonds. The federal government would provide a tax credit for 100% of the bond interest.
The measure would establish a qualified environmental justice program that would provide a credit for education institutions that address environmental stressors in areas that are low income or disproportionately populated by racial or ethnic minorities. The credit would be for 20% of program costs, or 30% for programs that involve historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. As much as $1 billion in credits could be allocated annually for fiscal 2021 through 2025.
The bill would authorize $20 billion annually from fiscal 2020 through 2024 for grants to support long-term infrastructure improvements of public elementary and secondary schools. Amounts would remain available through fiscal 2029.
Each state would receive a proportional amount based on the share of federal funds their local educational agencies received through the Title I grant program under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Education Department would have to reserve 0.5% of the grant funding for U.S. territories and schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education.
The Education Department would have to approve state plans for funding. States would have to match 10% of their allocation with nonfederal funds. The nonfederal matching requirement wouldn’t apply in years when $7 billion or more is provided for the program. States also would have to maintain at least 90% of their five-year spending average on infrastructure improvements.
States would competitively award funds to local educational agencies to improve public school infrastructure. States could use as much as 10% of funds for grants to expand access to high-speed broadband.
Grants would be awarded to agencies that meet state thresholds for school poverty levels, among other criteria. Agencies with the greatest need to improve school infrastructure would receive priority for funding.
States would have to prioritize fiscal 2020 awards for agencies that will use the grant to support social distancing and hygiene measures based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Local educational agencies would have to use 60% of funds in fiscal 2020 for projects that comply with green building standards, which would increase to 100% by fiscal 2024.
Funds can’t be used for a public charter school that’s operated by a for-profit entity, or if the charter school leases its facility from an individual who has a management role in the school.
Other Education & Child Care Provisions
- Impact Aid: The measure would authorize $100 million annually from fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2024 for construction under the Impact Aid Program, which received $17.4 million in fiscal 2020. Construction funds support schools that educate a large share of students residing on military bases and American Indian lands.
- Concrete Repair: The Education Department would establish a grant program to assist local education agencies to repair school concrete foundations affected by pyrrhotite, a mineral that causes concrete to deteriorate after exposure to oxygen and water. The federal share of grants could be as much as 50% of project costs, while states would provide 40%. The measure would authorize such sums as may be necessary for the program in fiscal 2020 and each subsequent year.
- Child Care Grants: The measure would authorize $10 billion for fiscal 2020 for child care infrastructure grants, which would remain available through fiscal 2024. Grants would be awarded to states to acquire or improve facilities, or to expand facilities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Health and Human Services Department would conduct an assessment of facility needs.
As of 10:00am EST, June 25, 2020
House Education and Labor Committee Hearing: On Monday 6/15/2020, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing entitled “Budget Cuts and Lost Learning: Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Public Education.” Committee Republicans and witnesses were present in hearing room while Democrats were remote.
Getting more funding for schools is going to be harder than originally thought in a future emergency bill. Republicans seemed very reluctant to consider more grants, particularly because systems haven’t spent the CARES Act funds yet. This was disappointing to see, especially because of the mounting evidence on the costs of re-opening school and the inequitable impact of the closures.
Mr. Michael Leachman, Ph.D.: Vice President for State Fiscal Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Ms. Rebecca Pringle: Vice President, National Education Association
Mr. Mark Johnson: Superintendent of Public Instruction, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction
Mr. Eric Gordon: CEO Cleveland Metropolitan School District
Charter School Mentions:
- Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) mentioned charter schools multiple times in reference to equitable treatment of all schools whether district, charter, or private. She highlighted concern about CARES act equitable services provision to Mark Johnson, Superintendent of Public Instruction NC Department of Public Instruction. She asked: do you believe charter, private, and public schools deserve equitable support? Johnson replied, yes, an unprecedented situation needs significant response.
- Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) clarified that charter schools are public schools (teach students, are open to any student who applies, are publicly funded). “Burden” is on parent to take initiative to get students into charter schools. Some colleagues want it both ways.
- Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) questioned whether charter schools are public schools if they were able to access both PPP loans (which district schools could not access) and education stabilization funds: “Currently charter schools –so-called public schools—get education stabilization as public schools but also not public schools because drawing on PPP funds. What are they really?” Rep. Takano (D-CA) asked Mark Johnson, Superintendent of Public Instruction NC Department of Public Instruction, about charter schools with healthy budgets and billionaire investors accessing PPP—specifically schools funded by Bloomberg who also contributed to Johnson’s campaign. Johnson asserted that who can access PPP is an issue for Congress, charters have to pay for other costs like facilities and transportation. He said he is supportive of charters but also accountability. When asked by Rep. Takano (R-CA) if Administration should reveal who has received PPP funds, including charters that may have healthy finances. Johnson said he won’t make grandiose statement but supports transparency in government. Takano specifically referenced the New York Times article entitled, “Charter Schools, Some With Billionaire Benefactors, Tap Coronavirus Relief” that states that at least $50 million (48 in article) in PPP that has gone to charters. The article can be accessed here.
Main Topics of Discussion:
- The digital divide, especially in rural areas, and how to plan for distance learning going forward with the possibility of further closures.
- The disproportionate impact of funding cuts, COVID-19, racial unrest, etc., effect on black and brown students and special populations (ELL, SWD, homeless, etc); how to provide adequate trauma-informed teaching and social/emotional support going forward.
- What kinds of cuts are likely without further federal investment.
- Planning for learning recovery and disproportionate impact on students of color and special populations.
- Multiple mentions of the Department guidance on equitable services for private schools, pushing privatization agenda, etc.
- Back and forth between Democrats and Republicans about an immediate need for more funding versus waiting to see how CARES funds play out.
- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) said that students who are low-income, of color, ELL, SWD, or homeless are disproportionately impacted by summer slide. He said continued reliance on property taxes to fund schools ensures high-needs students get less, and with education about 40% of state budgets each year, education budgets will certainly get cut. While rich districts can depend on local property taxes, poor districts will hurt more. Said we need to give additional resources or impact of challenge on students will be long-lasting.
- Rep. Foxx (R-NC) stressed that more spending doesn’t guarantee better outcomes. She said what while per pupil has increased, students are not performing better. She said demanding additional funds at this time is “premature and illogical” and we need more personalized learning to get kids back on track. She said the we must use challenges to question long-held assumptions.
- Michael Leachman, Vice President for State Fiscal Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that upcoming budget shortfalls far exceed even the worst years of the great recession. Even with current aid, budgets fall $140bn short, not including additional costs for new operations. He said this doesn’t account for local tax shortfalls either and districts still haven’t recovered from layoffs/cuts from great recession.
- Rebecca Pringle, VP of NEA, said to reopen safely, they need to spend more, not less. Schools need physical resources but also enough personnel to provide social emotional support and trauma-informed teaching (especially for students of color who are experiencing even more trauma because of racial inequity).
- Mark Johnson, Superintendent of Public Instruction NC Department of Public Instruction, said that challenges facing us will highlight our resilience and the state is buying new curriculum designed specifically for distance learning.
- Eric Gordon, CEO Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said schools and districts have shown innovation in responding to the crisis, finding ways to get food and resources to families and resources for distance learning. However, additional resources are needed to meet the needs of our children.
Questions of Note:
- Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) asked if it was possible to reopen schools if schools can’t avoid layoffs, compensate for learning loss, or keep students safe? If schools can’t provide basics for students, what does that look like going forward? Witnesses said this is an opportunity to think creatively going forward. We have to reopen, but need resources to do it well.
- Rep. Foxx (R-NC) asked what the status of CARES Act money in NC? Johnson said that there was no decision yet from governor on governor’s fund, he is holding back maximum for special populations. Rep. Foxx (R-NC) asked, given CARES funds haven’t been spent yet, what info do we need before Congress considers more funding? Johnson encouraged Congress to work with state chiefs, as NC is still waiting on final plans for reopening because virus metrics not going in right direction. Rep. Foxx highlighted concern about CARES act equitable services provision – do you believe charter, private, and public schools deserve equitable support? Johnson replied, yes, in unprecedented situation need significant response. Rep. Foxx (R-NC) asked if education was the responsibility of the federal government? Johnson said they appreciate federal funds but education is not in constitution.
- Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said the impact is real, severe, and exacerbating existing inequities. Asked if states afford for federal government to “wait and see” on state and local fiscal relief. Witnesses replied that it is urgent that Congress acts, as states are already beginning to cut education budgets.
- Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) discussed the challenges with the lack of broadband access, especially in rural areas. He stated that 15 percent of households don’t have high-speed at home, according to census. He asked: How are districts addressing this problem? Witnesses replied that every state is facing same issue. Schools are putting resources into hotspots, mobile hotspots on buses, etc. and would appreciate Congress support to make this happen. Rep. Thompson (R-PA) also questioned the implications for social distancing in rural areas, especially for transportation challenges.
- Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) discussed cutting school positions in CT. He asked if this doesn’t this run counter to everything we value about decreasing class sizes? He said teachers and school support staff will have to be cut without additional funding and schools won’t be able to go back safely if don’t have sufficient personnel. Witnesses said it is extremely difficult to plan if don’t know what kind of resources will have in the fall.
- Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) highlighted concern for the summer slide. He asked how we can maintain or understand quality of remote instruction and how get everyone on broadband/devices? Witnesses said it was extremely challenging to go to remote learning; teachers have worked extremely hard. We need to do appropriate assessment upon return to find out where students are at and what need. Surveyed students and families and found “quality” of remote learning was directly related to digital access. Schools are thinking about flexible approaches going forward like new school calendars, extended days.
- Rep. Gregorio Sablan (I-Northern Mariana Islands) highlighted a recent GAO report on the challenges of high-poverty districts to fund new buildings. He asked how can keep up with facilities needs going forward? Witness said H.R. 865, Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019, would be helpful. ***Note: This bill provides financial assistance in FY2020-FY2029 for long-term improvements to public school facilities by allocating funds to states for school improvements, awarding need-based grants to local education agencies, and restoring school infrastructure tax credit bonds.
- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) said CARES Act provided $30 billion for education, LEAs could use funds for purchasing technology. But lack of broadband access continues to be a huge challenge. Rep. Walburg asked witnesses how they have used CARES Act funds? Witness said a lot of CARES Act funds have gone to connectivity. Rep. Walberg (R-MI) asked how Congress can assist other than funding? Witness said that individualizing education using technology would be helpful. Also said they would like flexibility from accountability metrics so not only through high-stakes testing.
- Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) said equitable services guidance is misguided, directing resources to wealthy private school families. She is concerned about life-outcomes for black students or students with disabilities given state education budget shortfalls. Rep. Wilson said Education Secretary DeVos ignoring intent of Congress, and funding provided was for public schools, not private schools. She said this is compounding inequities for high-needs populations and we are experiencing twin pandemics: COVID 19 and institutional racism. Rep. Wilson (D-FL) asked why is it important to ensure high-poverty districts are not disproportionately impacted by cuts? Witness said cutting funding to high-poverty schools increases already significant barriers. Rep. Wilson (D-FL) asked why would it benefit states/districts to know what federal support they can rely on? Witness said, with the start of the fiscal year July 1, they need to know soon how much federal aid they are receiving so they can write budgets and make decisions about cutting funding.
- Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) asked what resources needed for remote learning to be successful? Gordon said they need at least $40 million just to get Cleveland equitably connected and are shifting the measure of success from seat time to competency based.
- Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said good teachers and parents are more important than age of school buildings. Rep Grothman asked the per pupil spending in Cleveland compared to state overall? Gordon said they spend $11,000 but widely per pupil spending varies across state. Rep. Grothman asked if teacher unions do too much to protect bad teachers in the same way that police unions may have done too much to protect bad police? Gordon said unions don’t protect bad teachers. He said they are there to ensure employee’s rights are followed, due process and fighting for educational justice.
- Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) asked about liability for teachers. Witness said educators need reassurance from government.
- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) asked about the importance of summer programs. Witnesses said it is hard to do the same services as usually do. Need funds right now to start providing those resources.
As of 10:00AM EST, June 15, 2020
First COVID-19 Related Flexibility Approved for Charter School Program SEA Grant
On June 8th the US Department of Education formally approved a waiver for the State of Florida to use its remaining Charter School Program SEA grant funds to help existing charter schools teach students remotely. The waiver permits the Florida SEA to open up a funding competition for new and existing charter schools to apply for funds to increase virtual instruction, by doing things like purchase hardware and software necessary to enable all of their students to access curriculum and lessons from home. The competition will prioritize funds for charter schools with more students from low-income families, and grants to each school are likely to be capped at $250,000. New York, Tennessee, and Colorado have applied for similar waivers. A copy of the letter approving Florida’s request can be found here.
Senate HELP Committee Hearing: COVID-19: Going Back to School Safely
On Wednesday, 6/10/2020, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions held a hearing entitled, “COVID-19: Going Back to School Safely.” Witnesses included: Dr. Penny Schwinn: Commissioner of Education, Tennessee Department of Education; Dr. Matthew Blomstedt: Commissioner of Education, Nebraska Department of Education; Ms. Susana Cordova: Superintendent, Denver Public Schools; The Honorable John B. King, Jr.: President and CEO, The Education Trust
Big Takeaways: With the transition to remote learning, states have faced major problems in addressing the achievement gap, internet connectivity, early literacy gaps, and mental health throughout the duration of the online semester. All witnesses, specifically Chiefs from Tennessee’s and Nebraska’s Departments of Education, emphasized the continuing obstacle they are facing in ensuring equitable academic instruction for all students as well as continuing to provide food security for disadvantaged kids. Continued and persistent challenges with remote instruction—especially for traditionally disadvantaged students—was a recurring topic and a significant concern for all panelists. Each education department is working on developing school plans and guidelines for the fall semester which includes:
- Public health safety guidelines
- Equitable internet access for all students
- Serving students with disabilities
- Personalized accommodations for students and teachers who are at higher risk
- Accessible resources for mental health related problems
All witnesses also emphasized the needs for increases in federal funding, and the budget cuts they are facing at the state and local level. By doing so, school districts can provide personal protective equipment for all students and teachers and ensure that schools can maintain its continued cleanliness throughout the duration of the entire school day. The federal funding could also be used as aid for faculty and staff who work at high-poverty schools. Former secretary of education John King also spoke to the connection between school re-openings and ongoing protests over police violence, saying that “As schools reopen, our nation’s students of color and their families also find themselves enduring a pandemic that disproportionately impacts their health and safety, mired in an economic crisis that disproportionately affects their financial well-being, and living in a country that too often still struggles to recognize their humanity.”
Senator Alexander closed the hearing by asking the panelists for details — specifically, a price tag — “about exactly what it would take, in terms of financial support, to open our schools safely.” (NPR, EDWeek).
Undocumented Students and CARES Act Relief Grants
Last week, the Trump administration unveiled a new regulation that would require colleges to limit emergency coronavirus relief grants for expenses like food and housing only to students who qualify for federal financial aid. The “interim final rule” carries out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ policy, first announced in April, of preventing CARES Act emergency grants from going to undocumented students and others who don’t qualify for federal student aid. The rule will take effect immediately after it is published in the Federal Register, which the department said would happen on June 15. The agency will also accept public comments on the policy for 30 days (PoliticoPro).
DeVos said in a statement that the rule was aimed at eliminating any “uncertainty” for colleges about how they must distribute the funds and carrying out the department’s “responsibility to taxpayers to administer the CARES Act faithfully.” The rule comes as the Education Department is facing legal challenges to its policy restricting which students can receive CARES Act grants.
The limitation has previously been challenged by multiple organizations and was pending in court. The interim rule is expected to be similarly challenged in court.
Rule on ‘Equitable Services’: Distribution of CARES Act Funds to Private Schools
The Education Department has sent its rule governing the provision of “equitable services” for private school kids under the CARES Act to the White House Office of Management and Budget for approval. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last month pledged to quickly issue a rule, with the force of law, after facing pushback from education groups, Democrats and more than one Republican over her policy calling on public schools to steer a greater share of coronavirus relief support to students in private schools, regardless of their wealth. The groups argue the CARES Act H.R. 748 (116) calls for calculating private school kids’ share based on students in poverty (PoliticoPro).
OMB received the department’s draft of the “interim final rule”. The document won’t be made public until OMB sends it to the Federal Register for publication, said Education Department spokesperson Angela Morabito. Interim final rules become effective immediately after publication in the Federal Register, though agencies stipulate in most cases that they will alter the interim rule if warranted by public comments.
The rules are expected to be challenged in court by at least one SEA, as approximately a dozen SEAs refused to implement the policy when it was first issued as guidance.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted the second in a series of forums with K-12 education leaders last week to discuss best practices for remote learning, including lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 2,000 education leaders from across the country listened in as educators from Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and North Carolina discussed how they established innovative virtual learning capabilities to serve students and teachers now and in the future (Department of Education).
More Aid for Businesses
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate Small Business Committee on Tuesday, 6/9, that more money is needed for struggling businesses and possibly for more stimulus checks, adding that they’ll need to consider how to address high unemployment rates. Mnuchin also said if there is bipartisan support in Congress on allowing some borrowers to seek additional small business loan relief then the Administration will “very seriously” look at that issue.
Mnuchin said he supports more fiscal intervention as the country slowly tries to reopen, though he was vague about potential solutions to the debate over unemployment benefits, a key focus for Democrats. Despite the broad focus and lack of details, Mnuchin’s testimony to the Senate Small Business Committee was a clear sign the Trump administration wants a bill to continue to bolster the economy, even as growth starts to rebound.
Priority for Underserved Communities in Next Stimulus
80 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Congressional leadership asking them to prioritize underserved communities in the next stimulus package. The letter requested:
- $75 billion for testing, contract tracing, and other activities necessary to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19.
- $2.1 billion for federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the virus.
- $7.6 billion in emergency funding for Health Center and to expand the capacity to provide testing, triage, and care for COVID-19 and other health care services across the country.
- $2.1 billion for the Indian Health Service to address health needs related to COVID-19 for Native Americans.
- $38.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase mental health support and substance abuse treatment during COVID-19, and to offer increased outreach.
The letter can be found here.
As of 4:00pm EST, May 26, 2020:
CDC Releases “Decision Tool” for Re-opening Schools: Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a “Schools Decision Tool” to assist administrators in making (re)opening decisions regarding K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC also released interim guidance for resuming school and day camps. As the first step, the decision tool stresses consistency with state and local orders, preparation and ability to protect children and employees at higher risk of severe illness, and robust screening protocols. The guidance for resuming schools stresses social distancing and cleaning protocols and planning for closure if an outbreak is detected.
Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application: The Small Business Administration released its application and related regulations to convert Paycheck Protection program loans into grants, which is allowed under certain circumstances for borrowers, including 501(c)3s. The application is rife with challenges for borrowers, and makes it challenging for a recipient to get their entire loan forgiven. Congress is now considering multiple pieces of legislation, such as an extension of the re-hiring and/or salary cost coverage from 8 weeks to 16 weeks, to modify the Payroll Protection Program to make it easier for small businesses to spend funds and be approved for loan forgiveness. The House may vote on emergency legislation as early as this week, with the Senate considering legislation when they are back in session next week.
Emergency Education Funds and Private Schools: Numerous groups have challenged Sec. DeVos’s guidance governing the distribution of CARES Act emergency education funds to private schools. At issue is guidance issued at the end of April which encouraged states to change how these emergency funds are distributed to private schools, basing distribution on the total population at private schools instead of the standard ESSA method of the total disadvantaged population at private schools. If applied, this method could significantly increase emergency funds distributed to private schools and, consequently, decrease the funds available to public schools. Some states have rejected the non-binding guidance and will be using prior ESSA distribution formulas, and some states have embraced the guidance and are planning to allocate more of these emergency resources to private schools. In response to these challenges, Sec. DeVos has said she will issue a new rule codifying the changed distribution method for these emergency funds (Politico).
Permanently Eliminating the SAT and ACT: University of California president Janet Napolitano last week proposed a revision in the way the system admits students: a five-year plan to gradually reduce and eliminate the role of the SAT and ACT in admissions. They would be replaced by a new test to be developed by the system in what could be the greatest challenge to the SAT and ACT to date. The University of California proposal is admittedly influenced in part by the pandemic, but work on the UC system plan started before coronavirus and it is designed to outlast the virus. As such, it could represent much more of a threat to the College Board and ACT than the temporary test-optional plans, because the University of California is so large and prestigious (Inside HigherEd).
House Passes HEROES Act: On Friday 5/15, the $3 trillion HEROES Act (see 5/14 update below for bill summary) was passed by the House of Representatives in a 208 to 199 partisan vote. Fourteen Democrats voted against the legislation. Senate Republican leaders have said the measure is dead on arrival. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to assess with the Trump administration what impact $3 trillion approved in previous packages has had before considering more aid. The HEROES Act includes a wide range of aid featuring another stimulus check, aid to state and local governments, and extended unemployment benefits.
As of 12:00pm EST, May 14, 2020:
US ED FAQs on Emergency Relief Funds: The US Department of Education has issued a new set of FAQs on the CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund), the large formula grant program for COVID-19 relief.
The FAQs go into detail on the funding distribution formula that SEAs are to use for LEAs, and further addresses the distribution of funds to charter schools, including those that are opening or significantly expanding in 20-21. Here is a snippet from the FAQs on this issue:
- Is a charter school eligible to receive ESSER formula funds? A charter school that is an LEA, as defined in section 8101(30) of the ESEA, may receive an ESSER formula subgrant like any other LEA. A new or significantly expanded charter school LEA in the 2020-2021 school year is eligible to receive an ESSER formula subgrant in accordance with ESEA section 4306 and 34 CFR §76.792. (For more information on allocating funds to new charter schools, see the Technical Appendix.) A charter school that is not an LEA may not receive a formula subgrant, but it may receive support under ESSER through the LEA of which it is a part.
- The full FAQ, with Technical Appendix, is available here
Next COVID-19 Bill: On Tuesday House Democrats released legislation for the next coronavirus bill. The total package would cost $3 trillion, and highlights include:
- $56.5 billion for K-12 schools, distributed through the Education Stabilization fund. State allocations would be based on a combination of a state’s youth population (aged 5-24) and a state’s Title I student population. The States would distribute all funds received to LEAs. States would be barred from using any of these funds for students to attend private elementary and secondary schools, with the exception of existing private placement allowances under IDEA.
The House proposal does not contain language assuring that charter schools would receive their proportional share of the K-12 aid. This is an issue that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is raising with charter school advocates and encouraging action on. You can click here for more information.
There is also no set aside in the K-12 education funds for specific uses/populations, such as English Learners or students with disabilities. Districts can choose to use their funds for those purposes, but there is no dedicated funding.
- $1.5 billion for a new Emergency Connectivity Fund through the FCC’s E-Rate program, to help schools connect students to the internet and provide students with internet-connected devices. An additional $4 billion would be available to provide emergency benefits for broadband services, unrelated to schools/libraries.
- Additional $3 billion to provide emergency financial relief to school meal providers and the USDA’s child and adult care food program
- $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments. This includes $500 bill for state governments (distributed based on population, the share of COVID-19 cases, and unemployment) and $375 billion for local governments (cities, counties, and non-county municipal governments). The funds can be used to backfill revenue loss and can be spent on nearly any purpose. Local and state government have been aggressively advocating for aid and it is seen as an important way to prevent deep cuts to education that would otherwise be caused by the dramatic loss in state and local revenue. More information on the potential distributions can be found here.
- $100 billion for education programs. This includes $90 billion in grants to K-12 and public colleges, and $10 billion to address coronavirus disruptions in higher education.
- The bill calls for a study on the viability of expanding national service programs (such as AmeriCorps) for COVID-19 response and recovery. This could include the public health, economic, and social impact of COVID-19, with service opportunities related to food security, education, economic opportunity, and disaster or emergency response. The study would be delivered to Congress within 30 days of the bill’s passage.
Senate Version: The Senate is taking a different approach: The Republican leadership is looking to wait to see impact on virus response and outbreak while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues with other legislating. Senator McConnell is insisting on language to protect businesses from lawsuits from customers or workers. President Trump is pushing for a payroll tax. Republicans are looking to block aid to “sanctuary cities” while Democrats are looking to ensure undocumented immigrants have access to free coronavirus tests and treatment. The chamber could be pushed into earlier action if the Paycheck Protection Program runs dry this week. COVID-19 is still wracking the chamber, as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he is self-quarantining for two weeks after a staffer tested positive. The White House, meanwhile, sees action on another stimulus package bill being six to eight weeks away.
Re-opening: On Tuesday the Senate HELP committee held a hearing on re-opening schools and workplaces with four top health officials as witnesses. Dr. Fauci warned that there could be “suffering and death that could be avoided” if states opened too early. Senator Rand Paul pushed witnesses on the re-opening of schools in the Fall, citing the assumed relatively low risk that COVID-19 poses to children. Dr. Fauci responded by saying that “the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate reentry of students into fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far.”
President Trump has said he disagrees with Dr. Fauci’s comments and that “to me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools”. President Trump today said “We have to get the schools open…I totally disagree with him [Dr. Fauci] on schools”.
In the meantime, the White House is seeking revisions to a document drafted by the Centers for Disease Control that offers detailed advice to local leaders on how to reopen public places after determining that it was “overly specific,” according to a coronavirus task force official (Washington Post). The Associated Press has a copy of the shelved guidelines available here. This includes a process flow chart on when to consider reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday a CDC official said that the document was undergoing revisions, would be presented to the Coronavirus Task Force for any additional recommendations, and then finalized and public “in the near future”.
As of 12:00pm EST, May 5, 2020:
Fifth Coronavirus Bill: Lawmakers are facing a quick pile up of potential obstacles to a deal as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) offer “red lines” and competing priorities for legislation. GOP senators are signaling that they don’t expect a quick agreement as they work to refine the implementation of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus package passed in late March. Pelosi and McConnell have each pressed their own priorities for the next phase of legislation, which would be the fifth coronavirus bill passed by Congress (The Hill).
Democrats maintain that the next bill should include money to aid states with massive budget shortfalls due to the pandemic, but Trump and some Republicans have bristled at the idea of bailing out blue states. McConnell said last week that the bill must include liability protections for employers or it will not pass the Senate. Whether to provide financial support for cities is also under consideration. Pelosi has said that as much as $1 trillion is needed to help state and local governments with mounting COVID-19 expenses.
On education topics, several different groups of Senators have launched pushes for the following in the next Coronavirus bill: (1) IDEA funding, approximately an additional years worth of funds; (2) e-rate or other funds for virtual education infrastructure, including for student home internet access and devices, through either the existing FCC e-rate program or the creation of a new internet access block grant program; and (3) additional emergency education stabilization funds. Multiple Senators have also proposed a $50 billion bailout package for childcare services.
Broadband and Telephone Services: Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and 144 colleagues in both the House and Senate on Tuesday, 4/28, sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai urging them to work directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that the millions of Americans who are now eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid due to job loss or reduction in income are informed that they are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program. The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services (Press Release).
As of 12:00pm EST, April 28, 2020:
Sec. DeVos reports on Congress on additional waiver authority: On Monday Secretary DeVos submitted a required report to Congress that details any areas of additional waiver authority she would like Congress to consider. The report requested only modest new waiver authority in the areas listed below.
Now it is up to Congress to consider the request and determine if it will allow more waiver authority in these (or other) areas in the next COVID-19 relief bill. We expect to see education groups lobby their case for more expansive waivers directly to Congress.
- Infant/Child transition services: extends the IDEA Part B transition evaluation timelines, which apply for transitioning a child under 3 to services for those 3 and older. This would allow a toddler who turns 3 to keep accessing services, until an evaluation can be performed at a later date.
- Personnel Development Scholarship: Defers the work requirements for teachers that received a personnel development scholarship through IDEA or vocational rehabilitation, which would ensure such teachers don’t have repayment penalties if they are not working.
- Vocational Rehabilitation (VR): Extends fund carryover for FY19 and FY20 funds.
- Transition for students aged 18+: Waives requirement that states spend not less that 15% of allocated VR funds to provide pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities, and waive minimum funding requirement and matching requirement for the subset of that program reserved for youth with the most significant disabilities.
- Replacing food: Allows funds to be used to replace food products at vending sites after re-opening.
- No additional waiver authority requested
- Perkins CTE
- Extends the timelines for the use of funds by recipients for all state entity grantees. The CARES Act just waived it for SEAs, but there are thirteen states where another entity is the primary administrator of the funds (like the community college system, or a workforce agency)
- Waives the “funding expiration” clause that is otherwise standard. Generally, if states don’t spend their full allotment of Perkins CTE funds each year it returns to the feds. This would waive that clause for this year, allowing state entities to retain the funds.
- Allow the use of funds for short term professional development. Generally, Perkins does not allow funds to be spent on short term professional development courses. This clause would be waived for a year and recipients could spend money on these activities.
- Adult Education
- Extends the timelines for the use of funds by recipients for all state entity grantees. The CARES Act just waived it for SEAs, but there are twenty five states where another entity is the primary administrator of the funds (like the community college system, or a workforce agency)
- Allows states to spend more on state-level activities- up to 27.5% instead of normal 12.5% maximum.
- Waives requirement that local applications for funds have to be reviewed and approved by local workforce board.
Details on K-12 Emergency Relief Fund released: Late last week the US Department of Education released the funding opportunity announcement, and program guidelines, for the K-12 Educational Stabilization Fund. These funds are distributed via Title I formula to SEAs, who then must subgrant at least 90% of funds to LEAs via formula.
The rules for the program ensure that charter schools that are their own LEAs receive funds through their normal Title I distribution formula, but the documents are silent on any requirements for the distribution of funds to non-LEA charter schools or schools within an LEA. Bellwether Education Partners has put together guidance for SEAs and LEAs on how to access and use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
The application period is now open and the funding amounts for each state have been released. Generally, LEAs should expect to receive approximately the same amount as they received via Title I in FY20. ED will be posting an FAQs. The official website is here: https://oese.ed.gov/offices/education-stabilization-fund/elementary-secondary-school-emergency-relief-fund/
E-Rate Emergency Funding: More than 50 education and related national associations are supporting new legislation that calls for an additional $2 billion in emergency funding to help students without high speed internet access continue learning from home during the coronavirus pandemic. The groups urged House leaders to include H.R. 6563 (116), legislation by Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), as part of the next coronavirus relief package. The bill would create a special $2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund administered through the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate Program for schools and libraries to support remote learning. The funds would be used to purchase Wi-Fi hot spots, modems, routers and internet-connected devices.
Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) said on Tuesday, 4/21, they plan to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai argued that Congress should give the agency money to help students stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic get online, but not through an existing E-Rate subsidy program that’s saddled with statutory limitations. Democrats and Republicans tussled over these digital “homework gap” issues during recent coronavirus relief negotiations, but ultimately moved legislation without resolving their issues.
Republicans have said they were open to spending as much as $500 million on the effort after Pai requested just $50 million in a private letter to Congress in March. Pai maintained “hope that those discussions will be fruitful,” noting that Congress has already allocated $200 million for the FCC to launch a new telehealth program in response to the pandemic. The FCC also hopes to have news soon related to remote learning talks with the Education Department.
Fifth Coronavirus Relief Bill: Lawmakers are clashing over a potential fifth coronavirus relief bill, raising early questions about how quickly Congress will be able to reach an agreement. Congress has spent nearly $2.8 trillion to counter the health and economic fallout from the rapid spread of the disease. Roughly 26 million people have filed for unemployment in the past five weeks, while more than 965,435 have tested positive and more than 54,856 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University (The Hill).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is calling for a pause before considering another bill. Democratic leadership, however, is moving quickly in hopes of having a bill ready for consideration shortly after lawmakers return to Washington as soon as next week.
COVID-19 Relief Bill: Late last week the President signed a fourth COVID-19 relief bill. The bill includes the following:
- $310 billion in new funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small firms loans that could be forgiven if they use them on wages, benefits, rent and utilities. Within that pool, $60 billion will specifically go to small lenders, a priority Democrats pushed for after they blocked a $250 billion funding bill earlier this month.
- $60 billion for Small Business Administration disaster assistance loans and grants.
- $75 billion in grants to hospitals overwhelmed by a rush of Covid-19 patients.
- $25 billion to bolster coronavirus testing.
SNAP Legislation: Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris (CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) introduced a bill with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Thursday that would expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The bill, first introduced in 2017 by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), would increase the baseline for SNAP benefits by roughly 30 percent and expand benefits to those living in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico (The Hill).
Possible Virtual Fall Semester: There has been talk amongst the nation’s colleges concerning the possibility of an online fall semester. Two universities in the California State University system, including San Jose State and Cal State Fullerton, have been open about considering and planning for a fall semester online. Although nothing has been fully decided, some colleges are preparing for a possible virtual semester (Inside Higher Ed).
Emergency Aid & DACA Students: Congressional Democrats say Education Secretary Betsy DeVos exceeded her authority under the economic rescue law when she excluded undocumented college students from an emergency aid program meant to cover expenses like food, housing and childcare. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) urged DeVos in a letter to reverse her restrictions because the law, H.R. 748 (116), included no explicit limitations on which students could receive $6 billion in emergency cash grants. The senators said that the grants should be available to hundreds of thousands of students illegally brought to the country as children but shielded from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Education Department’s policy, laid out last week, restricts stimulus funding to those students who are eligible for federal financial aid, which includes only U.S. citizens and some legal permanent residents. It also leaves out many students in dual enrollment programs who don’t have a high school diploma.
As of 12:00pm EST, April 21, 2020:
Three-phase Reopening Plan: President Donald Trump’s new guidelines for opening parts of the country recommend states confirm a two-week downward trend in coronavirus symptoms and documented cases before starting to ease lockdowns. The guidelines entitled “Opening Up America Again” can be reviewed here.
The big picture: It leaves the final say in any loosening of restrictions to state and local officials, adding that governors should work on a regional basis to progress through the phased recovery. “Trump has said the onus for reopening states lies with their leaders, but he has simultaneously tried to pressure governors into restarting businesses and relaxing health guidelines as soon as possible” (Politico).
Here’s how the new guidelines envision easing social distancing restrictions (Politico):
- Phase 1: Restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship and gyms can reopen if they observe strict social distancing. Elective surgeries can resume when appropriate on an outpatient basis. Schools currently closed should remain shut and visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited. Bars should remain closed. High-risk individuals should remain at home.
- Phase 2: Schools and organized youth activities like camps can reopen. Nonessential travel can resume, and people can start circulating in parks, outdoor recreational areas and shopping centers, while avoiding gatherings of more than 50 individuals unless unspecified precautionary measures are taken. Restaurants, movie theaters and other large venues can operate under moderate social distancing rules. Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place, and employers should continue to encourage telework whenever possible. Common areas where people congregate in close quarters should be closed. Bars can operate with diminished standing-room occupancy.
- Phase 3: Vulnerable individuals can resume public interactions but practice social distancing. Employers can resume unrestricted staffing of workplaces. Large public venues can operate under limited social distancing rules. Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume. The document also outlines “core state preparedness responsibilities,” including having adequate testing and screening, the ability to supply enough protective gear and medical equipment and plans to surge intensive care beds, if needed.
Guidelines for Reopening Schools: Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said school leaders appreciate the deference to state and local leadership in the guidelines Trump announced on Thursday, 4/16. But he said state and local education leaders are relying on experts to help them make decisions about whether to open or close schools during an “unprecedented pandemic” and that the President’s guidance for reopening the country is “inconsistent and incongruous, at best” when applied to schools and needs to be improved. “We are not asking the federal government for a prescriptive mandate or script on how and when to open schools, but we are asking them to use the expertise inherent to their policy experts to ensure the guidance they draft is informative and actionable, empowering state and local leaders to implement it with minimal confusion and with confidence in the science behind it,” Domenech said (Politico).
Small Business Coronavirus Aid Package: The Paycheck Protection Program ran out of appropriated funds last week.
“Congress this week is expected to approve a package to refresh the Paycheck Protection Program while sending $75 billion to hospitals and setting aside $25 billion for testing. Republicans have resisted Democrats’ efforts to send money to states and localities” (Politico).
The Senate will try to pass the forthcoming agreement on coronavirus aid as soon tomorrow if negotiators are able to reach a deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) amended the Senate schedule to set up the meeting; the chamber had previously only been expected to meet this week on Monday and Thursday. The Tuesday meeting will give the chamber another chance to pass a deal on an “interim” coronavirus relief bill, and keep the House on track with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s timeline of voting as soon as Wednesday (The Hill).
The expected total package is estimated at between $400 to $500 billion – $300 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing (The Hill).
CTE Programs: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced today that career and technical education programs can donate or loan medical supplies purchased with federal funds to help with the coronavirus response effort. Many career and technical education programs buy supplies through federal grants for hands-on learning classes. Some state and local educators wanted the department to allow them to donate their unused gloves, masks, face shields, gowns, ventilators and 3D printers.
The new guidance allows CTE programs to donate their unused equipment to public health agencies, private nonprofit hospitals and other licensed health providers (Department of Ed).
SAT: The SAT could go online if schools stay closed through the fall. The SAT has been delivered digitally in schools in several states and districts over the past year, the College Board said, and while the idea of at-home SAT testing is new, digital delivery of the test is not (Politico).
As of 9:00am EST, April 10, 2020:
CSP State Entity Application Deadline: The Department of Education published a Notice extending the deadline for new “Expanding Opportunities through Quality Charter Schools Program – Grants to State Entities” applications until May 15, 2020. The updated Notice Inviting Applications can be found here. The Department also refreshed additional information on the Charter Schools Program and the State Entities grant application.
As of 2:30pm EST, April 7, 2020:
Education Microgrants: Secretary Devos said in the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing on 3/27 that they are working with Congress on solutions to help students and teachers during this crisis. She said they will propose Congress provide microgrants to help students continue to learn, with a focus toward the most disadvantaged students in states or communities where their school system has simply shut down. She also said they would support microgrants to teachers, to help them pivot to support all of their students in a different environment than they’ve been used to (Department of Ed).
Flexibility for Federal Education Funds: On 4/3 the Department of Education released a streamlined waiver application for states to give them more flexibility in how they use existing 19/20 federal funds. This includes the ability to waiver various spending timelines as well as flexibility in the use of funds in Title I basic programs, Title I state assessment grants, education of migratory children, prevention and intervention programs for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent, or at risk, supporting effective instruction, English language acquisition, language enhancement, and academic achievement, student support and academic enrichment grants, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, rural and low-income school program, and McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program. An SEA can choose to apply for a waiver and then promulgate flexibilities to LEAs.
E-Rate: “In a letter to congressional leaders, senators expressed ‘disappointment with the lack of funding dedicated for distance learning’ in the recently signed $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, H.R. 748, as battle lines over a potential Phase 4 stimulus take shape. The government’s largest educational technology program, known as E-Rate, is now part of the debate. ‘We request that the next coronavirus relief package include at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home,’ reads the letter, led by Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii)” (PoliticoPro).
Higher Ed: This week has been busy on the higher education regulatory front. A coalition of college associations is pushing for the suspension of a federal measure of colleges’ financial standing, and the U.S. Department of Education yesterday released new proposed rules on distance education.
Meanwhile, a prominent online program management company’s CEO pushed back at scrutiny of his sector, which appears to have contributed to Congress placing restrictions on reimbursements for colleges’ spending on OPMs in the $2.2 trillion stimulus measure it passed last week (Inside Higher Ed).
COVID-19 Phase 4: The Trump Administration is compiling list of requests from government agencies totaling roughly $600 billion that includes additional state aid and financial assistance for mortgage markets and the travel industries. The President teased his interested in another stimulus bill on Twitter: “With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill. It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4”.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a letter to fellow House lawmakers on Saturday, 4/4, that she wants to bring a fourth coronavirus relief package to the floor by the end of this month. The push comes as members of Congress disagree over the next steps to take regarding the economic fallout and the spread of the coronavirus. Some House Republicans are particularly wary of a fourth coronavirus relief package. On Friday, 4/3, a group of GOP lawmakers — led by House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ) — wrote President Trump a letter advising against rushing to sign a fourth stimulus bill into law (The Hill).
Stimulus Checks: “The IRS faces a major test of its resources this month, with the agency expected to start distributing stimulus payments to individuals and families under the third coronavirus-response package. IRS and Treasury Department that they expect to send the first payments via direct deposit in mid-April. Paper checks would start flowing in May — and it could take up to five months to get them all out. The agency will also implement other tax elements of the rescue packages, including tax credits to keep workers on the payroll at struggling businesses and to help employers pay for sick and family leave. Industries affected by those provisions and others will work on shaping the rules and regulations to their liking” (PoliticoPro).
WH COVID-19 Task Force: “It was an unusual moment of frankness from the White House on Monday, 3/30, when the coronavirus task force offered new estimates of the toll the virus might exact on the American public. By holding firm on social distancing efforts, we were told, we might limit the number of deaths from the virus to somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 over the course of the pandemic. It’s a grim tally, but better than the millions that might die should the country not follow the offered recommendations” (The Washington Post).
“The peak of the outbreak would come in the middle of April, task force member Deborah Birx explained. She showed a graph using modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The projected peak would come on April 15, with 2,214 deaths on that day. Late last night, the IHME released revised estimates, based on new data. During the first wave of the epidemic, its model projects, the death toll will be 93,765 — an increase of 14 percent from its model the previous day. That’s just the first wave, looking at the number of deaths through July. In the fall and winter, the virus is expected to reemerge and pose a significant threat once again.”
Coronavirus Relief Checks: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that the administration is working to create an online system that will allow people to submit their direct-deposit information to the government so that they can receive their coronavirus relief checks more quickly. Mnuchin has said that he expects taxpayers who have provided direct deposit information to the IRS to receive their checks within three weeks. Mnuchin has said that he expects taxpayers who have provided direct deposit information to the IRS to receive their checks within three weeks (The Hill).
- The coronavirus relief law that President Trump signed last Friday, 2/27, creates a program under which people will receive one-time direct payments from the Treasury Department.
- For individuals making less than $75,000 and married couples making less than $150,000, the checks amount to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. The rebate amounts phase out above those income levels.
Fourth Coronavirus Relief Package: “Many lawmakers are calling for a fourth coronavirus relief bill as the Trump administration tries to implement the historic $2.2 trillion stimulus package. Speaker Pelosi wants to move to an infrastructure package when the House returns later this month (maybe), while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants to wait to see whether more action is necessary. President Donald Trump is calling for an infrastructure plan, and his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he expects more bills as part of the response” (CNBC).
CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program: The Trump Administration began providing guidance for businesses and financial institutions on how the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will be implemented for small businesses under the CARES Act.
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Information Sheet – Lenders: Here
- Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Information Sheet- Borrowers: Here
As of 12:00pm EST, March 31, 2020:
“Phase 3” Stimulus Signed Into Law: President Trump on Friday, 3/27, signed the “Phase 3” $2 trillion emergency spending bill into law, promising to deliver a tidal wave of cash to individual Americans, businesses and health care facilities all reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. His signature came just hours after the House of Representatives passed the massive package by an overwhelming voice vote, and less than 48 hours after it received unanimous approval from the Senate (The Washington Post).
Performance Accountability Provisions for Individuals with Disabilities: The U.S Department of Education has released a frequently-asked questions document related to implementing performance accountability provisions under title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies seek to provide continuity of operations for individuals with disabilities in the COVID-19 environment (Department of Ed).
Fourth Stimulus Bill: House Minority Leader Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that a fourth stimulus bill may not be necessary to help the economy impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. He said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that the $2 trillion stimulus package passed last week is “critical” to make it through the “next two months and get this economy coming back” (The Hill).
Congress COVID-19 Response Tracker: Govtrack.us offers a “COVID-19 in Congress” resource that includes information on current legislative actions, affected legislators of the coronavirus, and office closures. This resource can be accessed here.
Social Distancing Continues: President Trump, on Sunday, 3/29, announced that the White House will keep its guidelines for social distancing in place through April 30 to try to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. Trump encouraged Americans to follow the Administration guidelines, urging them to avoid restaurants and bars, cancel nonessential travel, and limit in-person gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Trump announced the White House would be finalizing its social distancing plans hoped to lay out the strategy sometime tomorrow, Tuesday, 3/31. He expects that recovery will be seen by June 1 (The Hill).
Nationwide Stay-At-Home Order: Former Vice President Joe Biden is calling for an immediate nationwide stat-at-home order to contain the coronavirus, saying the main mistake that leaders can make in a pandemic is “going too slow” (Los Angeles Times).
As of 10:00am EST March 26, 2020:
The Senate has passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package. The House is expected to pass the bill on Friday.
There are a lot of components of this legislation, but we believe the following are the most relevant for the NACSA community:
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION – $30.9 billion
Education Stabilization Fund: Flexible funding that will get out the door quickly and go directly to states, local school districts, and institutions of higher education to help schools, students, teachers, and families with immediate needs related to coronavirus, including
Elementary and Secondary Education: $13.5 billion in formula funding directly to states. Can be used for any activity authorized under ESEA, IDEA, Perkins, McKinney-Vento, or Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, to help schools respond to coronavirus and related school closures, meet the immediate needs of students and teachers, improve the use of education technology, support distance education, provide mental health services and support, purchase technology, and make up for lost learning time. The is considerable flexibility for how LEAs can use these funds. Funding is allocated via the existing Title I formula to SEAs and then at least 90% of that funding is allocated to LEAs via the Title I formula.
Note that the total fund amount is approximately the same as the federal government allocates to Title I each year, so it will be approximately an additional year’s payment of Title I funds.
The bill language states that charter schools will receive any allocation of funds through their normal Title I allocation method- either as their own LEA or as part of an LEA.
State Flexibility Funding (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund): $3 billion in flexible formula funding to be allocated by states based on the needs of their elementary and secondary schools and their institutions of higher education. To be used for emergency support for LEAs or Higher Education Institutions most impacted by coronavirus to support continued educational services to students and ongoing functionality of the institution.
Higher Education: $14.25 billion in funding to institutions of higher education to directly support students facing urgent needs related to coronavirus, and to support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures. This provides targeted formula funding to institutions of higher education, as well as funding for minority serving institutions and HBCUs. 90% of funding is allocated by: 75% according to share of FTE Pell Grant Recipients and 25% according to share of FTE students who are not Pell Grant recipients.
Project SERV: $100 million in targeted funding for elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education to respond to the immediate needs of coronavirus and the effect on students. Project SERV is generally reserved for those schools suffering from a discrete trauma, such as a school shooting or disaster. We expect schools to have to demonstrate a direct impact of a COVID-19 case, such as cases in the school community.
Waiver Authority: Provides the Secretary of Education with added waiver authority over assessment and accountability provisions of ESSA, local requirements for student support and enrichment funds. Waivers would be requested by State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and be applicable to charter schools in the jurisdiction of the waiver, as consistent with state charter school law. The Secretary shall report to Congress in 30 days with any recommendations on additional waiver authority that the Secretary believes is necessary under IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), ESEA, and the Carl D. Perkins Act (Career and Technical Education).
The bill language states that any waivers received will also apply to charter schools in that waiver area- meaning, a waiver received by the SEA will apply to traditional and charter schools in the state, and a waiver received by an LEA will apply to traditional and charter schools that are part of that LEA. In the case of charter schools, waivers are to be applied in a manner consistent with state charter law. This is similar to how Title I accountability provisions interact with state charter law, which provides charter schools and authorizers a degree of protection for their contractual autonomy and accountability provisions.
Note that a federal waiver does not automatically waive state law. In many states we expect that the state will pursue a federal waiver and then issue a waiver of interconnected state law/regulations where necessary, either through legislative or executive action. It is important that authorizers ensure that any state waivers are written and applied appropriately to charter schools and charter school law.
Accountability Determinations: States receiving an accountability waiver would “freeze” their list of schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support for the duration of the waiver. Effectively, this means that schools/districts currently identified on those lists would remain on that list for the 20/21 school year.
Note that authorizers may need to adjust their accountability processes for a year to take into account the “frozen” lists. For example, if an authorizer or state law dictate a mandated accountability action (such as review or closure consideration) for schools identified for comprehensive support for a certain number of years, an authorizer may need to exclude the 20/21 identification from consideration.
No E-Rate Flexibility from FCC: There were pushes to increase E-Rate flexibility and allow schools to use funds to support home internet service for school families. The proposals do not appear to be included in the final bill.
OTHER AREAS OF INTEREST
Small Business and Non-Profit Support: $350 billion would go toward loans for small businesses and eligible nonprofits (fewer than 500 employees per site). Nonprofits and small businesses with fewer than 500 employees could be eligible for up to $10 million in forgivable small-business loans to allow them to keep paying their employees. Small businesses that maintain payroll would be eligible for assistance for costs such as mortgage interest, rent and utilities. Small businesses who suffered significant losses but retained employees during the emergency (rather than laying off workers) could be eligible for a tax credit of up to half of what they spent on wages in that time (up to $5,000 per worker).
Department of Treasury:
State and Local Government Support— The measure would also provide about $150 billion in stimulus funds for state and local governments to help boost their budgets amid a significant dropoff in tax revenues. To cover necessary expenditures incurred during the COVID-19 emergency. To be distributed to States based on the relative population of the state. For States, Tribal Governments, and units of local government. Local governments may make direct applications to Treasury for a direct allocation, which is calculated based on the relative population of the local jurisdiction as a proportion of the state.
Direct Cash Payment— Individuals making up to $75,000 a year would receive checks for $1,200. Couples making up to $150,000 would receive $2,400, with an additional $500 per child. Payments would decrease for those making more, with an income cap of $99,000 for individuals or $198,000 for couples.
Expanded Unemployment Insurance— Bill would increase the maximum state unemployment benefit by $600 per week for up to four months, as well as extend unemployment benefits to those who typically do not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees and freelancers as well as extend by 13 weeks unemployment benefits to those nearing the end of eligibility.
USDA/Food and Nutrition Service – $25.06 Billion
Child Nutrition Programs – $8.8 billion. The bill provides additional funding for food purchases and demonstration projects to increase flexibility for schools.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – $15.51 billion. The bill provides additional funding for SNAP to cover waiver authorities granted in H.R. 6201 and anticipated increases in participation as a result of coronavirus.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program – $450 million. The bill provides additional funding for commodities and distribution of emergency food assistance through community partners, including food banks.
Department of Commerce
Economic Development Administration – $1.5 billion to support economic development grants for states and communities suffering economic injury as a result of the coronavirus.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Child Care and Development Block Grant: $3.5 billion in grants to states for immediate assistance to child care providers to prevent them from going out of business and to otherwise support child care for families, including for healthcare workers, first responders, and others playing critical roles during this crisis.
Community Services Block Grant: $1 billion in direct funding to local community-based organizations to provide a wide-range of social services and emergency assistance for those who need it most.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: $250 million to increase access to mental health care services; $100 million in flexible funding to address mental health, substance use disorders, and provide resources and support to youth and the homeless during the pandemic.
As of 11:30am EST March 23, 2020:
Phase 3 Coronavirus Bill: We expect the Senate, then the House, to pass the Phase 3 coronavirus stimulus package this week. Although it has hit bumps (Democrats late on Sunday and again yesterday blocked the stimulus package from moving forward in the Senate) in the last 24 hours, we still expect a compromise bill to be signed into law that provides businesses and citizens financial assistance. It will also include provisions to help municipal governments, school and nonprofits whether the financial crunch.
The Senate Version
The draft released on Sunday evening included waiver authority for the Secretary of Education over ESSA, Higher Education statutes, and Perkins Statutes, though the waiver authority is less extensive than in prior iterations.
Concerning services for students with disabilities (IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act), the bill would require the Secretary to report to Congress in 30 days on if waiver authority for those statutes was needed and then Congress would have the opportunity to consider if it wanted to permit limited waiver authority in that areas. The draft also included provisions for the application of any issued waivers to charter schools, ensuring that the waivers would extend to charter schools while also protecting their application in the context of state charter law.
Also reportedly agreed to in the legislation:
- Immediate cash payments to individuals.
- Robust unemployment insurance.
The House Version
Speaker Pelosi said that House Democrats would forge ahead with previous plans to introduce their own stimulus legislation, although the next COVID-19 package is most likely to come from the Senate. Pelosi’s draft includes larger appropriations in several areas, including:
- $60 billion in emergency funds to education purposes, including $30 billion for K-12 and $10 billion for higher education.
- $450 million for food banks and an unlimited amount of funds “as necessary” for a needed expansion in SNAP food stamp assistance.
- Larger cash payments- $1,500 per person vs. $1,200 per person
- Grant and loan funds to health care providers, community health centers, and hospitals- $150 billion in aid vs. $75 billion in the Senate bill.
- An additional $600 per person per week in unemployment benefits, with extended paid sick leave
- Hundreds of billions of additional emergency funding to federal agencies
- Radically different plans for tax-related stimulus. The House bill expands tax credits for health insurance premiums, the earned include tax credit, the child tax credit, and the depending care credit and also provides a business tax incentive for providing paid sick leave, but does not include a suspension of the payroll tax
- Outlaw internet cut off during the covid-19 emergency.
Resources for Children With Disabilities: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos announced the Department has released new information clarifying that federal law should not be used to prevent schools from offering distance learning opportunities to all students, including students with disabilities. This new resource from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) explains that as a school district takes necessary steps to address the health, safety, and well-being of all its students and staff, educators can use distance learning opportunities to serve all students (Department of Ed).
Child Care Relief: The child care industry called on Congress to include $50 billion in relief in its stimulus package to keep the sector afloat after the coronavirus pandemic has impacted daily attendance at facilities. Child care has lost about 70 percent of daily attendance, and many providers are already closed, in some cases permanently. Without immediate relief, more than half of licensed child care facilities in the U.S. could close, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) (The Hill).
Student Debt Cancellation Proposals: House Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are pushing congressional negotiators to cancel student debt to help borrowers adversely affected by the coronavirus, or COVID-19. The legislation, called the “Student Debt Emergency Relief Act,” proposes the cancellation of at least $30,000 in outstanding debt, tax-free, and proposes that the Education Department (ED) “immediately assume responsibility” for the monthly payments of borrowers who hold federal loans while suspending involuntary collections or garnishments of wages or federal income tax returns amid the crisis (AOL).
Title IX: Colleges and universities have their hands full dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, as they transition to online classes, close campuses and worrying about the health and housing of their students. But many are worried they may soon have to implement a controversial rule by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that will change how institutions handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment, including a requirement the accused be able to cross-examine their accusers in a live hearing.
Secretary DeVos has been rumored to be issuing the rule soon. Though the Office of Management and Budget, which reviews proposed new rules, has meetings with stakeholders scheduled through April 6, the office could cancel them and green-light a rule at any time (Inside HigherEd).
Other Education News: Vice President Pence said that the US Department of Education is building a website and will be propagating resources on best practices information for distance learning at elementary and high schools. Secretary DeVos is reportedly presenting to the COVID-19 task force on that issue this week.
Also, there are rumors that congressional leaders are in talks with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “to change the E-rate program to allow it provide funding for in-home connectivity and device use away from school.” (EdWeek) Related, Future Ready Schools encouraged people to sign on to their letter which requested the FCC to “allow E-rate to support home internet access so our schools can keep classrooms open online even if school buildings must temporarily close.” (Future Ready Schools)
As of 9:30am EST on March 19, 2020:
Economic Stimulus Package: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate will work at “warp speed” to craft a massive new stimulus package to help Americans deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis, vowing that senators “will not leave” Washington until it’s done. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said that there is a “high level of interest” among Republicans for a Trump administration proposal to send as many as two $1,000 checks directly to individual Americans to help respond to the economic slowdown, a move that could cost an estimated $500 billion (Politico).
The White House also began signaling that it was aiming for as much as $1 trillion in stimulus spending, split between a payroll tax cut, $50 billion for the airline industry and $250 billion in loans for small business.
“Phase 2” Coronavirus Bill: The Senate will also take up and quickly pass a House-passed, $100 billion coronavirus stimulus bill referred to as “Phase 2.” The Phase 2 package, hammered out in talks between Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) provides paid sick days and emergency leave for employees who become infected or have to deal with family members who are sick (Politico). It also is reported to consider individuals who have to take time off because of a Covid-19 related school closure as eligible for the paid sick leave (2/3 pay for 2 weeks).
“Phase 3” Coronavirus Bill: McConnell said he would create three Republican task forces to put together the Senate GOP version of a Phase 2 bill. Once that’s done, McConnell said he would then enter into negotiations with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to come up with a bipartisan package that can win at least 60 votes (Politico).
Education Coronavirus Bill: Rep. Scott and Sen. Murray are working on an education package for Covid-19 response. It is reported to include a variety of waiver authorities for the Secretary to waive things like annual assessment requirements, attendance requirements, and state accountability requirements for states and LEAs, as well as supplemental funds to address Covid-19 costs. This could include cleaning responses as well as funding for supplemental/virtual education models during this time period. One key negotiation area is special education and how to ensure those services are still provided during these unprecedented closures.
Department of Education Waivers: On March 12th, USED released initial guidance on assessments and accountability waivers in response to COVID-19 that would consider targeted one-year waivers of assessment requirements. Under pressure from state school superintendents, USED is expected to announce additional guidance on March 19th on an expedited waiver process.
Emergency Funding Request: On March 18th, the Trump administration requested an additional $45.8 billion in emergency funding for federal agency COVID-19 responses, including $150 million for USED to address school clean-up efforts, student loan issues, and remote staff working expenses.