Today’s Federal Flash covers the FCC’s proposal to alter E-rate funding, why half a million students could lose automatic eligibility for free school lunches, and updates on the appropriations process heating up in Congress.
FCC Proposes Spending Cap on E-rate Program
The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is proposing to place an overall cap on the Universal Service Fund that finances the E-rate program. E-rate provides funds to make internet connectivity and other telecommunications services more affordable for schools and libraries. The FCC is also proposing to combine the E-rate and Rural Health Care program spending caps.
The Universal Service Fund, or USF, includes E-rate, the Rural Health Care Program, and two other programs that support rural and low-income communities. While the Republican commissioners believe the new overall cap will make USF programs more efficient, we are concerned that the four USF programs will face an environment where they must compete for funding under a combined spending cap. Further, by proposing to merge spending caps for E-rate and the Rural Health Care programs, the distinct purpose of each program will be muddled.
The FCC has extended its deadline for comments on the proposal until Monday, August 26th. Many groups such as the Education and Library Networks Coalition, or EdLiNC, and the National School Boards Association have already submitted comments in opposition.
All4Ed is working with school and district leaders in our Future Ready Schools network to collect signatures on a letter opposing the proposal.
Hundreds of Future Ready leaders supported previous efforts by the FCC to modernize and expand the E-rate program. While these efforts have been successful in expanding reliable Wi-Fi for schools and libraries, there are still over 2.3 million students without access to high-speed broadband.
The letter expresses concern that the new overall cap on USF and a combined cap on E-rate and Rural Health Care Program spending will stymie the FCC’s commitment to modernize and expand the E-rate program and leave millions of students without high-speed internet access. To learn more and sign on to the letter to support Wi-Fi in schools, visit futureready.org/wifi. The deadline to sign is Thursday, August 22nd.
Change to Free School Lunch Program
Turning to another federal agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed revising how it determines eligibility for the supplemental nutrition assistance program, or SNAP. SNAP provides what has historically been known as food stamps to low-income individuals and families. Children who live in households receiving SNAP benefits are directly certified, or eligible, to receive free school meals. SNAP is also used to determine whether schools may participate in Community Eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to provide free meals to all students without requiring families to file school lunch applications.
USDA’s proposed rule narrows the definition used to automatically identify eligible recipients for SNAP—arguing that it would be clearer, and more consistent and better target funds. The proposal, however, would also reduce the number of students automatically eligible for free school meals and the number of schools qualifying for Community Eligibility.
House Education Committee Chairman Bobby Scott raised concerns in a letter to USDA asking for clarity on the number of students that would be affected and for a restart of the 60-day comment period, as the USDA did not publicly disclose the impact on the school lunch program in the proposed regulation. According to Chairman Scott’s letter, USDA staff relayed to the Committee that “the proposed rule will result in more than 500,000 children losing their automatic eligibility for free school meals.”
Update on Budget and Appropriations
Finally, a quick update on the budget and appropriations process. Just before Congress left for the August recess, President Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which raises the discretionary spending caps for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. While the bill does not fund federal agencies, it does provide spending targets for defense and non-defense programs and sets the stage for the Senate Appropriations Committee to start drafting its funding bills. Viewers may recall that the House Appropriations Committee already began work on its spending bills without the new budget in place. Rumor has it that the bills funding Defense programs and Labor, Health, and Education programs may be first up in the Senate once they return in September. We will keep you posted as we learn more.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the August 16 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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.