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House Coronavirus Bill Would Direct Billions to Schools, Fund Remote Learning

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 23, 2020 3 min read
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Stimulus legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to cope with impact of the coronavirus pandemic would create a $50 billion fund to stabilize states’ education budgets, including a minimum of roughly $15 billion specifically for K-12 school districts.

In addition, the House’s Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act would loosen rules under the E-Rate program in order to help schools and other organizations provide internet-connected devices and mobile broadband internet access to students. And it would provide $200 million to Project SERV grants, which assist schools that are affected by natural disasters and community violence, as well as additional money for Head Start.

The bill would “provide emergency funds for our schools and universities,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Monday announcement.

The $50 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for education in the House Democrats’ bill would be available until September 2022. The fund is $30 billion bigger than the proposed education fund in the Senate coronavirus legislation from Republicans that was introduced late last week, which has been the subject of intense negotiations since, including at least two failed procedural votes as of late Monday.

There’s intense demand from the K-12 community for Washington to provide a significant stimulus for schools, in order to help them weather the impacts of the coronavirus on the economy, tax revenues, and upcoming state budgets. But there’s a long way to go before House and Senate agree on a “Phase III” stimulus package to send to President Donald Trump.

State Fiscal Stabilization Fund

The House bill calls for states to provide at least 30 percent of their money under the stabilization fund, or about $15 billion, to local school districts. Each district’s funding would be based on the number of children counted under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act. And at least 30 percent of the states’ money would have to be earmarked for institutions of higher education. The money could be used on everything from sanitizing schools to purchasing education technology, according to a summary of the legislation from House Democrats.

The size of the state grants would be based on the following two factors: 61 percent of each grant would be based on the population ages 5 to 24, and 39 percent would be based on children counted under Title I of ESSA.

In order to get stabilization fund money, states would have to agree that their spending on schools for fiscal years 2020, 2021, and 2022 would be at least the average of their school spending from the three prior fiscal years.

The $50 billion in state stabilization funding is still short of $75 billion several K-12 education groups said they wanted in a letter sent to Congress over the weekend. In the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Education Department provided $53.6 billion for a state stabilization fund.

Emergency Connectivity Under E-Rate

In order to help efforts to educate students who are learning at home, the bill would establish a $2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund under the federal E-Rate program to help schools and libraries provide:

  • Off-site Wi-Fi hotspots;
  • Connected devices to students, staff, and library patrons; and
  • Mobile broadband internet access through the Wi-Fi hotspots or connected devices.

Priority for this program is supposed to be for students and others who are not believed to have broadband internet access at their homes. The money would be available in fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021. Right now, the Federal Communications Commission can’t use the E-Rate program to fund students’ home use of wireless devices and services. We reported Friday that officials were mulling changing the E-Rate rules to support more remote learning as at least 123,000 public and private schools have shut down due to the coronavirus.

Cleaning Schools and Counseling Students

The $200 million in additional Project SERV grants in the House bill could be used “to help elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools clean and disinfect affected schools, and assist in counseling and distance learning and associated costs,” the bill language states.

Last week, the Trump administration proposed $100 million in Project SERV grants for K-12 and higher education for similar purposes.

In addition, Head Start would receive an additional $1 billion in the House bill.

Click here for a fact sheet about the legislation’s education provisions.

Photo: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at the Capitol on March 13, 2020. -- J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

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