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Federal Flash: Secretary DeVos Steers Federal Funds to Private Schools While Senators Take Action to Close the Homework Gap

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May 13, 2020 10:06 am

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In today’s Federal Flash, we have updates on three coronavirus-related issues: (1) legislation to support home internet access and close the homework gap during the pandemic; (2) a House Education Committee briefing on remote learning and education equity; and (3) new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on equitable services and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Two topics we won’t cover in this edition are the final Title IX regulations released by ED and House Democrats’ new $3 trillion proposed coronavirus relief package. Because there’s been so much news this week, we’ll cover those topics in a second, bonus edition of the Flash this week.

Addressing the Homework Gap

This week, forty-six Senate Democrats, led by Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI), introduced legislation to direct $4 billion to the E-rate program to help close the growing homework gap during the pandemic. The legislation is nearly identical to the Emergency Educational Connections Act introduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) in the U.S. House of Representatives, except that it makes one significant change: the Senate bill increases the appropriation from $2 billion to $4 billion. When Congresswoman Meng introduced her bill, education groups believed coronavirus school closures would last only through the current school year. As school leaders have come to suspect the crisis will last much longer, it’s clear that more funding will be needed to ensure students have home internet access so they can participate meaningfully in virtual learning. The Emergency Education Connections Act is supported by more than fifty education-related groups, including the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed).

In urging passage of the bill, All4Ed president and CEO Deb Delisle said, “COVID-19 isn’t just a health crisis, it’s an equity crisis and an education crisis. The homework gap is going to widen the achievement and opportunity gaps unless we provide all students with home internet access and devices so they can participate fully in remote learning, particularly those who have been historically underserved.” For more information, see https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senators-markey-schumer-cantwell-van-hollen-bennet-schatz-and-hassan-lead-colleagues-on-legislation-to-ensure-all-students-have-access-to-internet-during-coronavirus-pandemic.

House Briefing on Remote Learning

Last week, the House Education Committee held a virtual member briefing titled Remote Learning in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Panelists discussed challenges delivering virtual learning, how schools are working to address equity gaps in remote learning and instruction, and the importance of federal aid to help schools respond to the coronavirus. One witness, Marlon Styles, superintendent of Middletown City School District in Ohio, shared his thoughts in the clip below about equity and students being “logged in” or “logged out.”

Superintendent Styles is one of the nearly 4,000 superintendents who have pledged to use technology to personalize education for all students through All4Ed’s Future Ready Schools® initiative. To hear the rest of Superintendent Styles remarks and watch the full briefing, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhgUcIB5stA&feature=youtu.be&t=1 .

ED Guidance Under the CARES Act

Across town, ED recently released guidance on equitable services under the CARES Act. The CARES Act included billions in aid to K–12 school districts and according to the legislation, this funding must provide equitable services to students and teachers in nonpublic schools in the same manner as it does under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under Title I, children who are at-risk academically and who live in Title I school attendance areas, but enroll in private schools, are entitled to receive “equitable services” from their local public school district. The district and private school then negotiate what these services will be and how they will be provided.

The new guidance, while nonbinding and without the force of law, has interpreted equitable services under the CARES Act to apply to all students enrolled in private schools located in the district, not just those who are low-achieving and residing in a low-income, Title I school area. ED argues that CARES Act aid is available to all public school students and teachers, not just those that benefit from Title I, and therefore the same principle should apply to equitable services for private school students and teachers.

This interpretation has raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill and among education advocates because they fear the guidance will shift funding intended for public schools and students from low-income families toward private schools and wealthier students. Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) of the House subcommittee that oversees education funding commented that the CARES Act clearly intended equitable services to focus on students from low-income families, not all students attending private schools. The Council of Chief State School Officers, as well as membership associations of district superintendents, school boards, principals, and teachers, have all written to Secretary Betsy DeVos asking her to reinterpret the guidance so that it aligns with Title I of ESSA.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the May 13 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.

Categories:
coronavirus, Digital Equity, Federal Flash

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