The massive aid package aimed at helping the nation cope with the coronavirus pandemic includes both funding and regulatory flexibility focused specifically on schools and students. Here are some of the highlights.
How much of the $2 trillion stimulus package will fund education?
The package sets aside $13.5 billion in dedicated funding for K-12 education through a stabilization fund. That funding could be used for a broad range of educational purposes, including serving special populations like English-language learners and students with disabilities, continuing remote educational programs during long-term closures, and mental-health support for students. The plan also includes $3 billion for governors to use at their discretion to assist K-12 and higher education as they deal with the fallout from the virus.
What strings are attached to the stabilization fund?
In order to access the state education stabilization fund, states would first have to agree to provide funding to education in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 that’s at least the same as the average of their education funding over the three prior fiscal years. However, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos could waive that requirement.
The package also requires that any state or school district getting money from the stabilization fund “shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”
What else is in the stimulus related to children and schools?
The package provides additional funding for a variety of relevant programs:
- $15.8 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program;
- $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
- $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
- $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
- $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
- $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
$5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.
How does the stimulus address remote learning needs?
The K-12 stabilization money could be used to provide students internet connectivity and internet-connected devices to boost access to distance learning
And the package provides $25 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Programs to support “distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband.”
But the package doesn’t provide additional funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s existing E-Rate program, which many schools already use for internet and technology efforts. Some education groups have promoted that funding stream, saying schools are familiar with its regulations and requirements. And they’ve called on the FCC to loosen regulations so that the funding can be more easily spent on at-home devices for students who lack internet access.
Does the stimulus package give DeVos any authority to help schools?
1) Through a streamlined waiver process, states and Indian tribes could get significant waivers from accountability, reporting, and testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Even before Congress passed the bill, DeVos had begun broadly waiving testing requirements for states. That process would let states essentially freeze in place their schools that have already been identified for improvement. No schools would be added to the list, and no schools would be removed from the list for the 2020-21 school year.
2) States and school districts could also apply for targeted one-year waivers from sections of ESSA dealing with several funding mandates. For example:
- They could seek to get waivers from ESSA’s requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds.
- They could seek a waiver to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools.
- They could seek flexibility from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and providing a well-rounded education. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices.
- Districts could seek to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there’s a 15 percent limit.
Finally, they could seek waivers from adhering to ESSA’s definition of professional development.
3) DeVos has 30 days from the day the bill is signed to tell Congress if she thinks any additional waivers are necessary from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—the federal law governing special education—as well as ESSA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, in order to provide schools with “limited flexibility.”
Source: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 2020 edition of Education Week as Here’s What the Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Means for K-12 Education