NEW: Federal Education Policy Response to COVID-19


NEW: Federal Education Policy Response to COVID-19

NACSA is committed to sharing out brief, twice weekly (at least) 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.

You can also follow state policy updates here, and we are creating and compiling resources for authorizers here.

As of 2:30pm EST, April 7, 2020:

EDUCATION

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).

OTHER

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.