In today’s bonus episode of the Federal Flash, we’ll summarize what is, and is not, included in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s $3 trillion coronavirus relief proposal. We’ll also discuss the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) final Title IX regulations.
Health and Emergency Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act
This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a $3 trillion proposal called the Health and Emergency Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act to support the nation’s ongoing response to COVID-19. From an education perspective, however, the legislation isn’t as heroic as advocates would have hoped.
Leading up to the bill’s introduction, more than seventy education organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), called for substantial investments to offset state and local budget cuts and address the need for extended learning time to help students recover from school closures, plus additional targeted funding to support the most vulnerable students. Further, as noted in our last episode of Federal Flash, organizations and lawmakers alike had sought funding for home internet access.
The good news is that the HEROES Act would provide nearly $1 trillion for states, localities, territories, and tribes to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. These funds could support virtually any function of government, including education.
However, advocates had called for at least $175 billion for K–12 and higher education so that education wouldn’t have to compete with other state and local demands, like health care, during budget shortfalls. In addition, education advocates had sought at least $25 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title I, and other funding streams targeted to historically underserved students. In total, the HEROES Act only proposes about $100 billion for education, including nearly $60 billion in stabilization funding for school districts and no funding for specific Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) programs, like Title I, or IDEA.
Advocates also had requested at least $4 billion for home internet access through the E-rate program. An estimated 12 million students lack internet at home, which is a major equity problem since school now is available only online and nearly 20 percent of Black and Latino students don’t have home internet access, according to ED. Unfortunately, the HEROES Act only provides $1.5 billion for the E-rate program—less than Speaker Pelosi proposed just a few weeks ago, and less than the amount nearly every Senate Democrat supported in legislation introduced earlier this week.
Funding for homeless students, or lack thereof, is another disappointment. In the 2009 stimulus package passed during the Great Recession, Congress doubled funding for the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth program. In response to COVID-19, advocates called for $500 million for homeless students, but the HEROES Act proposes no direct funding.
In response to the HEROES Act, All4Ed President and CEO Deb Delisle said, “The latest relief package proposed in Congress is not heroic when it comes to helping schools. …We are in an unprecedented crisis that will affect families, especially our youth, for years to come, and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress need to step up for families, educators, and schools.”
A summary of the HEROES Act is available at all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/HEROES-Act-Summary_5.12.20.pdf
Title IX Regulations from ED
Last week, ED released final regulations regarding how schools are required to respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs. The new rule replaces Obama-era sexual assault guidance, which Secretary DeVos rescinded in 2017.
One of the biggest shifts in the final rule is that school officials can use a different standard to determine whether a sexual assault claim requires a response—either the “preponderance of evidence” standard preferred by the Obama administration or a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is a higher bar to prove misconduct occurred. Advocates fear that the higher bar will limit the number of sexual assault claims reported and make it more challenging for victims to prove their claims. Another notable policy in the new rule is that colleges—but not K–12 schools—must respond to assault complaints by facilitating hearings where representatives for the alleged perpetrator and victim can call witnesses for questioning.
K–12 school officials, not just Title IX coordinators as specified in the draft rule, also will be required to respond to incidents of sexual harassment when they have “actual knowledge” of them—as opposed to the Obama administration guidance which required responses to complaints about which officials “reasonably should” have known.
According to Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus, the new rule, “marks the end of the false dichotomy of either protecting survivors, while ignoring due process, or protecting the accused, while disregarding sexual misconduct.”
Many advocates, however, disagree, feeling that the final rule prioritizes the needs of the accused over those of survivors. Former Secretaries of Education Arne Duncan and John King said the changes will, “unnecessarily burden victims of sexual assault, and can deepen the trauma for students by increasing the chances of victims being exposed to their accused assailants.”
Advocates also criticized the timing of the announcement in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. The new rule is slated to take effect August 14, right as schools will be facing a host of other challenges from improving the quality of virtual learning and reopening campuses safely to maintaining staff and programs despite declining revenues.
Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations and Phillip Lovell is vice president of policy development and government relations at All4Ed.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the May 14 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.