As schools across the country are forced to prolong closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), educators and districts need resources as they continue to find ways to serve their students. Fortunately, schools should soon see some additional federal dollars to help them navigate these uncharted waters. Congress recently introduced a third COVID-19 supplemental package, S. 3548, the CARES Act. This bill is a $2 trillion relief bill that will provide funds for a variety of different areas to aid businesses, organizations, education institutions, and individuals as they all respond to the current upheaval caused by COVID-19.
NASSP and other national education organizations were heavily involved in advocating for principals, schools, and students as this legislation went through several iterations in the last week and a half. An original package proposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell provided no additional funding for education and included language that would have granted Secretary Betsy DeVos the opportunity to waive requirements in many federal education bills, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This provision was especially concerning as it would have potentially allowed Secretary DeVos the opportunity to dismantle important protections for our neediest students that have been a staple of America’s public education system.
NASSP joined several other national education organizations in sending a letter to congressional leaders highlighting priorities for those in the education community and calling for $75 billion for K–12 education to address COVID-19 responses. These priorities include providing emergency funding directly to local education agencies (LEAs), calling for the government to increase the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for Medicaid, including public employers in the payroll tax credit, calling for specific funding to provide students with technology to learn at home, and expanding paid sick leave for school employees.
The final version of the COVID-19 response bill did not grant this new authority to Secretary DeVos, but includes $30.75 billion for education with additional flexibility for the states on the use of those funds. The bill includes $13.5 billion for K–12 education, $14 billion for higher education, and an additional $3 billion for governors to allocate at their discretion. This $13.5 billion would be given to states via a formula grant process, and then dispersed to LEAs through the Title I formula. The bill language also includes a callout specifying that the K–12 dollars can be used to support principals and school leaders as they navigate their schools through this crisis. For additional information on what is included in the bill, visit here. Other important needs addressed in the bill include:
- $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program
- $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session
- $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems
- $750 million for Head Start early-education programs
- $100 million in Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) grants to help clean and disinfect schools as well as provide support for mental health services and distance learning
- $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day care facilities
While we commend Congress for recognizing the need for federal dollars to support educators in this emergency funding, NASSP knows that $13.5 billion is not enough to properly assist educators in addressing the magnitude of the crisis schools are facing. The NASSP advocacy team is in contact with congressional staff and other national education organizations to begin advocating for additional K–12 funds in future COVID-19 emergency relief funding bills.
NASSP also continues to call on Congress to provide dedicated funds to the federal E-Rate program and direct the FCC to use the program for students’ home internet access. E-Rate is a program that promotes connectivity for students to help address the homework gap and ensure that all students have reliable access to the internet and virtual learning opportunities. Schools have been forced into a position to provide virtual learning, and federal resources must be provided to ensure that all students have access to remote learning opportunities.
Other Education Updates Related to COVID-19
As states continue to close their doors permanently for the 2019–20 school year while responding to COVID-19, many are seeking waivers from the Department of Education (ED) to help postpone or cancel their annual assessments and put a halt to accountability requirements. Last week, Secretary DeVos announced that ED would be granting expedited assessment waivers under a streamlined process for all states as they deal with this crisis. NASSP will continue to work with ED as we look for ways to provide flexibility for schools during this time, while also protecting the right of our nation’s students to receive the best education.