The National Governors Association wants U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to release emergency education aid within the next two weeks in order to help state executives address critical needs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter two governors sent to DeVos Friday on behalf of the NGA’s education and workforce committee also asks her to give them, their peers, and education leaders maximum flexibility in how they spend the money; a fast process for approving waivers from federal accountability mandates; and more information about the funding provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law by President Donald Trump last month.
The letter underscores a crucial issue with respect to the CARES Act and its billions in aid for K-12 schools: speed. Even as states scramble to help students connect with educators so that some form of learning can continue, the relief money could take weeks to reach states and then educators and students in need, according to the timeline laid out in the law. DeVos has 30 days after the CARES Act was signed to officially invite states to apply for the aid, and must approve or deny those applications within 30 days of receiving them.
School districts will get at least 90 percent of a $13.5 billion pot earmarked to help them address critical needs in the face of the coronavirus. And a separate fund of nearly $3 billion can be directed by governors to both K-12 and higher education.
“States need time to establish both structures to evaluate student needs and processes to rapidly deploy these funds. That work cannot begin until the Department provides guidance about how and when it will send funding to the states,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, and Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, told DeVos. “We urge the Department to act quickly to distribute these funds.”
In an interview with Education Week blogger Rick Hess, DeVos said the Education Department is “focused on implementing the CARES Act,” but did not provide a timeline for when and how exactly states could access CARES Act money. She also said the Trump administration has taken prompt action to help educators and students, and that the president has been “very supportive of our decisions to provide as much flexibility as possible to ensure learning continues for students of all ages.”
Education advocates and some lawmakers are already looking ahead to another round of coronavirus relief that many of them say should focus on access to the internet and connected devices. But Congress won’t be back for over two weeks, and more federal aid money for schools (assuming it’s included in a new aid bill) could take several weeks longer than that to be enacted.
The CARES Act makes it clear that school districts can use the money for a wide variety of purposes, from helping students learn remotely to mental health services. Schools that tap the aid money are supposed to make every effort to continue paying teachers and other staff amid the upheaval, as states and local communities brace for a major economic downturn.
For more on the education and other emergency funds in the CARES Act, see the chart below:
Photo: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies at a House appropriations subcommittee budget hearing in February. --Graeme Sloan/Education Week