In today’s Federal Flash, we cover the largest coronavirus aid package proposed in Congress to date to support education and childcare. Plus, two significant actions affecting private schools: a new rule from Secretary DeVos on equitable services under the CARES Act and a Supreme Court decision on the participation of religious schools in private school choice programs.
Senator Murray’s Coronavirus Relief Proposal and How it Improves on the CARES Act
This week, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA)—the largest proposed congressional relief package for education yet, totaling $430 billion. On top of the $30 billion already provided under the CARES Act, Senator Murray’s bill would infuse an additional $345 billion in stabilization funding for higher education and K–12 schools. Like CARES, funds would be split between three emergency relief funds for Governors ($33 billion), state departments of education ($175 billion), and institutions of higher education ($132 billion). Funds could be used for a number of activities to help districts reopen safely and improve remote learning, in addition to addressing learning loss and students’ social and emotional needs.
Besides providing more stabilization funds, the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act improves on the CARES Act in key ways. First, it would increase funding for K–12 programs for historically underserved students, including an additional $11 billion each for Title I and for IDEA, $1 billion for English learners, and $500 million for homeless children and youth. Second, Senator Murray’s bill includes the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020, which would provide $4 billion to schools through the E-rate program to improve home internet access. Finally, CCCERA has stronger protections to ensure funds are spent equitably. In order to receive funds, states would need to promise to maintain their own education spending for three years and to use funds to supplement, not supplant, state and local dollars. These requirements would help make sure federal funds do more than backfill state cuts.
All4Ed’s Position on CCCERA
In urging the Senate to pass the bill, All4Ed CEO and President Deborah Delisle said, “This legislation includes much-needed funding for states to avoid massive cuts to education and other key services families need now more than ever”—including money to provide internet and computers to millions of disconnected households. This infusion of essential resources will help ensure that vulnerable students hit hardest by disruptions to the school year—including students of color, low-income students, students experiencing homelessness, students with disabilities and English learners—don’t fall farther behind their classmates as schools resume this fall in various forms of structures.”
New Regulation on Equitable Services for Private School Students
Senator Murray’s bill would also require districts to calculate the equitable services set-aside based on the number of students from low-income families attending private schools—in contrast to how Secretary DeVos has interpreted the CARES Act. The U.S. Department of Education initially released non-binding guidance stating that districts should calculate the equitable services set-aside based on the total number of students enrolled in private schools in the district, regardless of their income—a different calculation than under Title I. As we’ve discussed before on Federal Flash, after the guidance faced opposition from lawmakers, advocates, and state leaders, Secretary DeVos decided to issue a binding regulation instead.
That rule was published in the Federal Register this week. Unlike most regulations, however, the Department did not issue a proposal first. Instead, it was published as an “interim final rule,” meaning it takes effect immediately.
The rule makes several changes from the guidance. Districts can choose to follow DeVos’ preferred interpretation and calculate the equitable services set-aside based on the total number of students in private schools, or they can choose to calculate the set-aside as they do under Title I and only consider the number of low-income students in private schools. However, for districts wanting to more closely follow Title I, the rule includes additional restrictions that may discourage them from doing so. First, districts can only spend CARES Act funds in public schools that received Title I funds, instead of all public schools. Second, districts choosing the new option will be subject to a supplement, not supplant, requirement when using CARES funds—a requirement that wouldn’t otherwise apply.
Even though the rule is final, the public still has 30 days to comment, and changes could be made based on these comments. Submit comments here by July 31.
Supreme Court Requires Private School Choice Programs to Include Religious Schools
Finally, in a 5–4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Montana Supreme Court violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by prohibiting religious schools and their students from participating in the state’s tax credit scholarship program. The Montana state constitution includes a so-called “No-Aid Clause” or “Blaine Amendment” that bans the legislature from spending public dollars on religious schools, which is why the Montana Supreme Court had blocked religious schools from participating in the scholarship program. Advocates for private school choice, including Secretary DeVos and President Trump, praised the High Court’s decision.
38 states have similar “No-Aid Clauses” in their constitutions, and 17 states have tax credit scholarship programs. School choice proponents hope that the ruling will encourage more states to establish tax credit scholarship programs. However, while the Court’s decision requires these programs to include religious schools, it does not require states to establish private school choice programs. As Chief Justice Roberts stated in the majority opinion, “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the July 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 assistant director for policy development and government relations at All4Ed.