Updated June 25 | Federal Education Policy Response to COVID-19


Updated June 25 | Federal Education Policy Response to COVID-19

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.

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

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.  

Major Takeaways:

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.  

Witnesses:

Mr. Michael Leachman, Ph.D.: Vice President for State Fiscal PolicyCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities 

Ms. Rebecca Pringle: Vice PresidentNational 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. 

Opening Statements: 

  • 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 PringleVP 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 realsevere, 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. 865Rebuild 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.  

Recording of Full Hearing: https://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/budget-cuts-and-lost-learning-assessing-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-public-education  

As of 10:00AM EST, June 15, 2020

EDUCATION

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.  

Remote Learning 

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).   

OTHER 

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.

  • IDEA
    • 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.
  • ESEA
    • 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 pictureIt 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

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.