Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Education

States Worry FEMA Won’t Cover Costs of COVID-19 Gear for Educators, Schools

By Evie Blad — August 28, 2020 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must continue reimbursements for personal protective equipment and disinfectants used in public settings, including public schools, as the nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Governors Association said this week

State and local officials have been informed that the federal agency will change how it applies a federal emergency declaration, leaving them on the hook for the costs of things like masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies used by schools and other public organizations, the NGA said in a letter with a group of other organizations Tuesday.

“PPE is a fundamental need for all COVID-19 related operations and is the definition of an ‘emergency protective measure,’” that letter said. “Shifting policy guidance in the middle of a pandemic is impractical, causes confusion, and disrupts operations in states and localities.”

A FEMA spokesperson told Education Week that personal protective equipment continues to be an “essential” part of the agency’s support for state and local governments during the pandemic. In an email statement, the agency did not answer whether schools qualified for reimbursement under the its guidance.

“FEMA regularly reviews program policies and guidance to ensure that state, local, tribal and territorial partners have the best guidance available and to ensure the appropriate use of federal funding,” the statement said. “If and when FEMA issues updated policies we will ensure we communicate that clearly to all our partners and stakeholders.”

But some states are already reporting concerns, the National Governors Association said.

Federal officials have told states that FEMA plans to update its guidance to say that it will reimburse for costs related to “initial response” to the pandemic and not to “reopening,” which is an “arbirtrary distinction,” the organization’s letter says.

“These communications have come from FEMA regional representatives in calls with state and local officials, including a call with our associations,” said NGA spokesperson James Nash, who added that the organizations were told that guidance will not be retroactive but will be applied to reimbursements going forward. “We don’t have anything in writing from FEMA.”

A different FEMA spokesperson told Florida news station WFTS that, to date, 184 U.S. school districts have submitted requests for reimbursements through the program and “only three have been granted.” The rest are “in development or under review,” the station reported.

“Normal operation of schools and other public facilities are not considered emergency protective measures,” that FEMA spokesperson told WFTS, so they don’t qualify for the emergency reimbursements.

That’s despite federal guidance from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that calls for students and school staff to wear masks and disinfect surfaces frequently. School administrators have cited those costs as major concerns as the Trump administration has pushed them to reopen school buildings rather than starting the 2020-21 school year with remote learning as COVID-19 rates continue to climb in some areas.

For months, several Florida state agencies told schools to plan for the federal reimbursements, WFTS reported. And a skim of state websites show several others have given similar guidance to their districts.

The National Governors Association signed onto the letter to FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor alongside the International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Emergency Management Association, the National League of Cities, The Council of State Governments, and The United States Conference of Mayors.

The organizations have pushed for more assistance to help state and local governments make up for lost revenue in the next federal COVID-19 relief bill. But Congress and the White House are at odds over what to include in that aid package.

In the absence of an agreement, President Donald Trump signed an executive order this month that, among other things, will allow some federal disaster money to be used to supplement state unemployment insurance payouts.

The letter from NGA and other groups questions whether that move strained the federal disaster fund, leaving FEMA to “shift the cost” of things like PPE back to states.

“We call on FEMA to keep its current guidance on emergency protective measures, and encourage the Administration to provide clear guidance on eligibility of funding streams from across the federal government,” the letter says.

Photo: Sidewalk chalk art reminds students are to wear a mask as they arrive for the first day of school at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., Monday. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)


Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)