More than 100 lawmakers are making what could be the biggest effort yet to give schools a huge influx of federal aid to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic. But recent developments on Capitol Hill make it seem like a long shot.
In a Monday letter to congressional leaders, the group of House Democratic lawmakers said Congress should set aside a $305 billion stabilization fund for K-12 education in the next coronavirus relief package, based on estimates from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The sharp declines in state income and sales tax revenues due to widespread economic shutdowns will hit schools especially hard at a time when they will be trying to provide full access to distance learning and expanded learning opportunities if schools have to close unexpectedly.
“Without significant federal support, our states will struggle to support their public schools, and our students will feel the brunt of the result,” the 114 lawmakers wrote. If there’s a 25 percent reduction in state funding for schools, they say, more than 580,000 education positions will be eliminated.
Yet as lawmakers themselves acknowledge, the $305 billion they’re seeking is well above what’s currently on the table.
In the latest House coronavirus aid bill—the HEROES Act, which was written by Democrats and passed last month—lawmakers seek to provide roughly $90 billion for education, $58 billion of which would be for local school districts; state and local governments would receive close to $1 trillion in the bill. However, that bill has already been publicly rejected by Republicans who control the Senate, and GOP lawmakers have expressed concern about the growing costs of federal coronavirus aid.
The $305 billion request is also well above recent external lobbying efforts. One prominent and recent push from advocacy groups called for at least $250 billion for education, but that request covered colleges and universities as well as K-12.
Coronavirus relief legislation signed into law in March by President Donald Trump provided roughly $13 billion for K-12 districts, out of a total education stabilization fund of $30 billion. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s about one-tenth of what House lawmakers asked for in their Monday letter.
Concerns about the coming budget cuts for schools, and how the impact of an economic recession could hit disadvantaged students especially hard, are real and urgent, however. And on Monday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, announced a $133 million cut to K-12 education for this fiscal year.
One of the leading backers of the $305 billion proposal is Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., the 2016 National Teacher of the Year and a member of the House education committee. “Cuts to public education result in educator layoffs, with a disproportionate impact on students of color in low-wealth communities,” Hayes said in a statement highlighting the letter. “It is unacceptable to mortgage the future of our children to balance budgets after a national crisis.”
Notable lawmakers who did not sign on to the letter include Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the chairwoman of the House subcommittee that controls the U.S. Department of Education’s budget, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House education committee.