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House Passes COVID-19 Bill With Aid for Schools. It Has Slim Chances in Senate

By Evie Blad — May 15, 2020 2 min read
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The U.S. House of Representatives passed a new $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill Friday that includes additional aid for K-12 schools, but which has little chance of becoming law.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, passed 208-199. It faces an icy reception in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers who are concerned its provisions extend beyond pandemic relief, have said they won’t consider the bill.

Education funding included in the relief package falls short of the goals of education groups, who pushed federal lawmakers to include at least $250 billion for education in the bill.

The HEROES Act would create a $90 billion “state fiscal stabilization fund” for the U.S. Department of Education to support K-12 and higher education. About 65 percent of that fund—or roughly $58 billion—would go through states to local school districts.

The bill would also provide $1 billion to shore up state and local government budgets that have been hard hit by declining tax revenues as businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus. Governors—and Democrats who supported the bill— have said such general state aid is necessary to support their upended budgets and to help them avoid making steep cuts to education and other public services. School finance experts say such cuts would disproportionately affect schools with large enrollments of low-income students, which rely more heavily on state funding.

“Without this funding [state and local governments] will have to make devastating cuts, especially in education, public safety and public services,” House education committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., said during debate on the bill.

But Republican representatives argued the bill is too costly. President Donald Trump has criticized state and local aid, saying he doesn’t want to “bail out” states that have mismanaged their finances. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Friday the HEROES Act is a “liberal wishlist” and that Trump has no immediate plans to negotiate a fourth coronavirus relief bill.

A previous bill, the CARES Act, included a $13.5 billion education stabilization fund.

Though the HEROES Act falls short of their wishes, education groups have pushed for its passage, while continuing to pressure Congress for more.

The bill is “not perfect,” National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García told reporters Thursday, but its state and local funding would help address growing needs as schools prepare for the complicated task of welcoming students back after extended closures.

The teachers union launched a new advertising and advocacy campaign this week in support of coronavirus relief for schools.

“We urge the Senate to pass this vital relief legislation because the American economy cannot recover if schools can’t reopen, and we cannot properly reopen schools if funding is slashed and students don’t have what they need to be safe, learn and succeed,” Eskelsen García said in a statement after the House vote.

Photo: Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., wearing a New England Patriots mask, walks down the House steps after voting on the rule for the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on Friday -- Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly via ZUMA Press

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