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A $54 Billion Christmas Gift for Students

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December 22, 2020 03:22 pm

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In All4Ed’s final Federal Flash of the year, we’ll provide a summary of the COVID-19 relief bill and the U.S. Department of Education’s funding for 2021. We’ll also discuss the likely nominee for the position of Secretary of Education. 

Congress’s Long Awaited COVID-19 Relief Bill  

At long last, Congress finally passed a COVID-19 relief bill in both the House and the Senate and it will be signed into law by the president. As has been reported, the bill totals about $900 billion. It includes $600 direct payments to individuals and families and restores $300 per week in additional unemployment insurance. It also includes $82 billion in education funding, of which $54.3 billion will support K-12 education, $22.7 billion will support higher education, and $4 billion will go to governors.  

The CARES Act vs. the HEROES Act vs. the Skinny Bill

This bill looks a lot like the CARES Act that passed last spring. Funds will be allocated to states and districts based on Title I, just like the CARES Act. That said, there are a few important differences. First, this bill provides 4 times the amount of funding for education than the CARES Act. That’s a lot of money, but it’s a little disappointing because it’s less than both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s HEROES Act and the “skinny” bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

Second, this bill carves out funds for private schools. Governors will give state departments of education $2.75 billion from their $4 billion to administer to private schools. This provision replaces the equitable services provision that you may recall was included in the original CARES Act. This is the provision that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos tried to use to send more money to private schools, but ultimately got shot down in court

Third, this bill includes a few additional allowable uses of funds. To be clear, the bill maintains the CARES Act’s flexibility – any use of funds allowed under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Assistance Act, and several other laws – is allowable under this bill. In addition, Congress added allowable uses for addressing learning loss and for school facility repairs to reduce the risk of virus transmission and support student health.  

Significant Omissions in the New COVID Relief Bill

No bill is perfect, and there are a few important items missing from this legislation. You may have read that the bill omits the Democratic priority of funding for state and local governments as well as the Republican priority of liability protections. Those were each poison pills for the other party, so they left them off the table. But other items were left off the table as well. 

First, the bill provides no funding to school districts to address the Homework Gap. Thankfully, the bill does create a new program out of the Federal Communications Commission that will provide low-income families with a discount on home internet access and a subsidy for one low-cost device per family. This program received $3.2 billion, which is only about one-fourth of what the Heroes Act proposed to address the Homework Gap.  

The bill also left out homeless children. Emergency spending bills, such as the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, often target funding to students experiencing homelessness. It was especially important for this bill to provide funds for these students because evidence from SchoolHouse Connection suggests that 420,000 fewer children who are experiencing homelessness have been identified and enrolled in school so far this year, even though homelessness is on the rise due to the economic downturn.  

A summary of the bill is available here.  

Congress’s Annual Appropriations Bills

At the same time as Congress passed the COVID-19 relief bill, they also passed the annual appropriations bills funding the federal government.  

The Department of Education received a modest 1.6 percent increase over last year. Most programs received the same amount they received last year, or small increases. Title I, the largest K-12 program, received an increase of $227 million. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act received an increase of $181 million. The president had proposed a number of program consolidations, cuts, and eliminations, but they were all rejected. Here are Republican and Democratic summaries of the legislation.  

President-elect Joe Biden’s Nominee to be the Next Secretary of Education  

And for our last story of the day, and the year, news outlets are reporting that President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Miguel Cardona to be the next Secretary of Education. Cardona is currently the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Education. As President-elect Biden promised, his nominee is a public school educator, having served as an elementary school teacher and as the state’s youngest principal. He’s also experienced in using the policy process to address opportunity and achievement gaps, having served as co-chairperson of Connecticut’s Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force. We expect his nomination to be formally announced shortly. 

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the December 22 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The podcast and video versions are embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email alliance@all4ed.org.


Phillip Lovell is vice president of policy development and government relations at All4Ed.   


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