President Biden released his full FY2022 budget request, with a 41 percent increase for the U.S. Department of Education and proposals to expand public education by four years and create a new $20 billion Title I “equity fund” to tackle inequities in state and local school finance, teacher pay, advanced coursework, and preschool. Plus, the bipartisan Fast Track to and Through College Act was reintroduced, and the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on how states and districts may use federal COVID-19 relief funds.
President Biden’s FY2022 Budget
Last week the Biden administration released its full FY2022 budget request, which fleshes out the “skinny budget” from mid-April that we discussed on a previous Federal Flash. Overall, President Biden would increase the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by 41 percent to nearly $103 billion.
The budget request incorporates key elements from the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan, including expanding public education by four years through $200 billion for universal pre-K and $123 billion for free community college.
While those provisions were previewed in other proposals, the administration unveiled new funding as well. This includes a $2.6 billion increase for special education grants under IDEA, a $1 billion program to help double the number of school counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals, and $100 million for middle and high school career technical education innovation projects to provide high-quality, work-based learning and other pathways to credentials. Most notably, the request includes $20 billion for new Title I “equity grants.” Rather than allocate these funds through the existing Title I formulas (which would remain flat-funded at around $16.5 billion), the new grants would flow to districts through a different, more targeted formula. However, the full details of the formula aren’t part of the budget request.
In addition to a new formula for allocating the $20 billion, the funds would be used for different—and more specific—purposes than current Title I dollars. Districts would use a portion to make teacher salaries more competitive with other professions and a portion to address disparities in access to advanced coursework. They could also use funds to expand access to preschool.
There would also be new requirements for states to access the funds, including reporting, goal setting, and progress monitoring related to state and local funding equity, competitive teacher pay, access to— and success in—rigorous coursework, and pre-K. If enacted, the equity grants would dramatically increase the federal government’s investment in under-resourced schools and could jumpstart important changes at the state and local level to make school finance more equitable.
At All4Ed, “we applaud the move to invest more in Title I schools through an additional $20 billion program that we hope will not only address state and local funding inequities for these schools but also will improve equity in access to advanced coursework. We look forward to working with Congress to see these proposals become reality.”
Like most presidential budget requests, however, the Biden budget faces considerable opposition and uncertainty. While it’s unlikely Congress will adopt President Biden’s budget proposal whole cloth, we urge Congress to build on its investments in education and strong commitment to equity.
The Fast Track To and Through College Act
Moving over to Capitol Hill, Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Todd Young (R-IN) reintroduced the Fast Track To and Through College Act to help college-ready high school seniors “fast track” into college-level coursework fulltime.
This bipartisan legislation builds on findings from a report by All4Ed and Education Reform Now. It authorizes competitive grants to states to redesign senior year of high school by providing two faster, more affordable pathways to college. The early college pathway provides a free, full-time course load of college-level work through dual enrollment or Advanced Placement during 12th grade. The early high school graduation pathway supports students who graduate high school a year early by using a portion of the per-pupil funding their school would have received to provide students a scholarship for any in-state public college or university. This legislation also makes low-income students in “fast track” pathways eligible for Pell grants to pay for dual enrollment course work. We’re excited to see this important legislation reintroduced and hope that Congress will pass it into law.
New Guidance on COVID-19 Relief Funds
As the deadline nears for states to submit plans on how they will use the last portion of their COVID-19 relief funds, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on the use of federal funding allocated through the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund—which has been funded in three separate relief bills: the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and, most recently, the American Rescue Plan Act.
The document answers Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on how ESSER funds may be used to support states and districts to reopen schools and address lost learning time. By and large, ESSER funds are more flexible than other federal dollars. Resources may be used for summer learning, helping high school students transition to college, mental health services, and supports for students with disabilities, English learners, and those experiencing homelessness. ESSER funds may also be used for related activities, like “premium pay” for teachers, COVID-19 vaccinations , and improving air quality in schools. The guidance further clarifies states cannot place conditions on how districts spend funds other than stipulating the amount that may be used on administration. Finally, states and districts may not use ESSER to bolster their “rainy day” funds that may have been drained due to the pandemic.
The new guidance is likely not the final word from the Department on ESSER funds, as we expect further guidance on maintenance of equity in the American Rescue Plan and reporting requirements. We’ll keep you posted.
Familiar Faces Return to the Department of Education
Finally, in other Department news, President Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to head the Office for Civil Rights. Lhamon previously held the same position during the Obama Administration, and we are excited for her return to that role. If confirmed, Lhamon would lead the Department’s work to protect K-12 and college students from discrimination, including addressing issues related to race, LGBTQ rights, and sexual assault and harassment. Another Obama administration alum, Lisa Brown, has been nominated for General Counsel. Brown is currently Vice President and General Counsel at Georgetown University. These appointments shrink the number of unfilled leadership roles at the agency, though the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education has not yet been announced.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the June 2 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.