Marking his first 100 days in office, President Biden unveiled the American Families Plan, which would extend free public education by four years through universal pre-K and free community college. It also invests in college access and affordability, training and diversifying the educator workforce, and school nutrition programs. Plus, all the details on the new application and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education to support states in spending funds under the American Rescue Plan equitably, including millions to support youth experiencing homelessness.
Four More Years of Free Public Education
Education is a cornerstone of President Biden’s proposed $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. When introducing the proposal, Biden argued that 12 years of public education—once a key driver of American progress and economic growth—is no longer sufficient to compete in the 21st century.
At All4Ed, we couldn’t agree more. In her reaction to the plan, our President and CEO Deb Delisle said:
The American Families Plan is a bold, sweeping investment in this country’s present and future. By expanding free public education by four years—two years of preschool and two years of college—the Biden administration is creating a clear path for all students to get the preparation needed to achieve their dream.
If enacted, the American Families Plan would provide four more years of free public education by investing in both early childhood education and higher education. Through state partnerships and an infusion of $200 billion, it would provide high-quality, universal pre-K for all three-and four-year olds. The plan also includes $109 billion to pay for two years of community college for all students, including DREAMers.
The American Family Plan makes other investments in higher education. For example, it adds $85 billion to the Pell Grant program to increase college affordability for low-income students. All4Ed was also encouraged to see that the plan includes a $62 billion grant program to invest in retention and completion activities at colleges and universities serving low-income students, including credit transfer agreements and evidence-based remediation programs. Additionally, the plan includes $46 billion for tuition assistance for students attending HBCUs and other minority serving institutions.
The American Families Plan also addresses K–12 education through $9 billion for teacher training, with a priority on diversifying the teaching workforce through stronger pipelines for educators of color, an All4Ed priority. Finally, the plan provides $45 billion to expand school nutrition programs, including increasing the number of schools that can provide free meals to all of their students and making the summer EBT program permanent, which helps low-income families with children eligible for free school meals purchase food over the summer.
The ambitious American Families Plan faces a long road to becoming law and will likely need to be reworked considerably to receive the votes necessary for passage in the House and Senate before it can reach President Biden’s desk.
New Guidance for ARP Implementation
Shifting gears, the Biden administration continues its work to help states and districts safely reopen schools and support students during the pandemic recovery. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education published the template states will use to access their remaining funds under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) program.
In March states received two-thirds of the $122 billion in ARP funding to help reopen K–12 schools and tackle learning loss. To receive the final third, however, states must submit a detailed implementation plan by June 7.
In their plans, states will describe how they will implement evidence-based practices to meet students’ needs, including how they will use the specific set-asides in ARP for summer enrichment, comprehensive afterschool programs, and interventions to address learning loss. States’ plans must be publicly available; include data on schools’ current operating status and mode of instruction; and describe how the state will support districts in developing plans for spending ARP funds locally. Finally, states and school districts must engage meaningfully with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that student and community voices are reflected in their plans.
All4Ed applauds the Department’s decision to require states to develop and submit comprehensive plans for approval, as the application will help ensure that the American Rescue Plan meets student and community needs and that funds are spent both effectively and equitably to support students who have been most affected by the pandemic.
As we discussed on a previous Federal Flash, the full $122 billion states and districts will receive once their plans are approved is intended to supplement state and local education spending. To that end, ARP includes a maintenance of effort provision to ensure that states do not replace their own funding with the new federal dollars. Specifically, for the next two years state education budgets need to take up the same share of overall state spending as they did on average over the past three years. However, the Secretary can waive the state maintenance of effort requirement. To help states make sense of the law’s fiscal provisions, the agency updated guidance on ARP’s maintenance of effort provision, compared to similar provisions in past COVID-19 relief bills, and the waiver process. The new guidance, as well as the plan template, can found on the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website.
That’s not all that the Department did last week to implement the American Rescue Plan. All4Ed is also cheering the release of $200 million of the $800 million in ARP to help states identify and support students experiencing homelessness. COVID-19 has increased the number of students experiencing homelessness and exacerbated the challenges they face. By acting now, the Department is providing schools with critical resources quickly to help them reengage students and enroll them in summer learning opportunities. The remaining $600 million for homeless students included in ARP will be disbursed as early as June.
Odds and Ends
Despite the impact of COVID-19 and concerns that the data could be inaccurate or incomplete, the Department is continuing with the 2020–21 Civil Rights Data Collection, or CRDC. Last week the agency sent school districts instructions for completing this critically important data collection. For example, for questions in this year’s survey about discipline and safety incidents, the CRDC defines remote or virtual learning as “at school.” The CRDC will also ask districts whether they offered in-person, remote, or a combination of the two during the school year.
And finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to again waive select school nutrition regulations through June 2022. Due to this continued pandemic flexibility, schools may provide meals to students attending schools virtually, as well as serve meals throughout the summer. The federal meal reimbursement rate was also increased.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the April 30 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Hyslop is director of policy development and Ziyu Zhou is a policy analyst at All4Ed.