A note to our viewers: This episode of Federal Flash was filmed prior to the horrific massacre at Robb Elementary School. All4Ed mourns the students and educators who tragically lost their lives in Uvalde, Texas, and calls on Congress and state lawmakers to act with urgency to pass common sense gun laws that make it harder for guns to get into the wrong hands.
President Biden announced a new Affordable Connectivity Program to help millions of families afford high-speed internet and released his budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, with substantial increases for critical education programs. Meanwhile, the White House continues to debate the merits of student loan debt cancellation as borrowers receive another extension on resuming their monthly payments. Fortunately, millions of the most-distressed borrowers will get a fresh start when they do. Plus, the Department of Education signals districts can ask for a little more time to spend certain COVID relief funds.
The White House recently announced a partnership with 20 internet service providers to expand access to high-speed internet. The new site – GetInternet.gov – will help families access high-speed internet for $30 a month or less. This is a critical need for millions of children to access their education and a step toward closing the homework gap.
The new Affordable Connectivity Fund was made possible by funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed last November. It included $14.2 billion for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to transform its pandemic Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program) into a longer-term affordability program. So far, more than 11.5 million households have signed up for the new program.
In addition, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has proposed new rules to further close the homework gap by allowing E-Rate funding to be used to equip school buses with Wi-Fi. The Emergency Connectivity Fund program, a temporary program supported by federal COVID relief funds, can already be used to outfit school buses with Wi-Fi. And so far, the FCC has committed more than $35 million through that program to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband services for buses. Following the announcement from the FCC Chair, our CEO and President Deb Delisle tweeted:
We hope the FCC adopts her proposal.
President Biden’s FY2023 Budget
Our viewers may recall that the administration shared its budget request for the upcoming fiscal year in late March. In addition to seeking funds to expand the FCC’s new Affordable Connectivity Fund by $14.2 billion, the Department of Education (ED) would receive a substantial, 15% boost in funding, most of which would support students with the greatest needs. Consistent with his campaign pledge to triple the size of the program, Title I would see the largest increase—$20 billion—which would bring total spending to $36.5 billion. Moreover, $16 billion of the increased funding would be mandatory spending, rather than discretionary spending left up to Congress. Put simply, mandatory spending would ensure Title I continues to be funded at these levels in future years. The Title I proposal also includes a new $100 million reservation for voluntary equity reviews of state and local school funding.
Spending on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would increase by $3.8 billion, with substantial new funding to support infants and toddlers, preschool students, and the special education workforce. There’s also an additional $244 million to support English Learners through Title III, which would finally move that line item above $1 billion. Plus, the request includes new funding to support school diversity, improve outcomes for youth in foster care, and identify models that improve educator retention and recruitment.
Beyond K-12, the budget would increase the Pell Grant by $1,775, bringing the maximum award to $8,670. The budget also calls for $200 million for new competitive grants for Career-Connected High Schools to better align high school and higher education. Today, most good-paying jobs require a postsecondary education. This proposal would support programs like dual enrollment and early college high schools that would not only improve college access but also affordability and completion.
Given the substantial proposed investments for education, our President and CEO Deb Delisle said: “Budgets show what we value—and this budget is very clear that America’s youth and their families deserve the best we have to offer so they may thrive.”
Congressional leaders must finalize the numbers before the next fiscal year starts October 1. Given midterm elections this fall, however, we wouldn’t be surprised to see that timeline slip. Still, All4Ed, along with a coalition of equity-oriented civil rights organizations, see this budget as an opportunity for transformative system change by targeting resources.
Student Loan Debt Cancellation
Switching gears, federal student loan repayments had been due to resume May 2. However, facing pressure from Congressional Democrats, including Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), the White House extended the moratorium yet again, this time through August 31. Although it’s a shorter extension than many advocates sought, the administration took a big step to help some of the most-distressed borrowers. When payments resume, borrowers will get a “fresh start”—pulling an estimated 8 million out of default. This will improve credit scores, allow borrowers to go back to college, and protect them from garnishment of wages, Social Security, and tax refunds. It’s fantastic news for those facing the burden of default and delinquency.
This is all happening as the White House debates more sweeping student debt cancellation. During the campaign, President Biden supported cancelling up to $10,000 in debt for all borrowers. Now, the administration is considering more targeted relief, such as focusing on those earning less than $125,000 per year. However, the Department of Education would have trouble implementing that plan, because it lacks data on borrowers’ earnings. And politically, the White House is caught in the middle between progressive Democrats, who favor universal debt cancellation, and Republicans, who want to restart loan repayments and prohibit the Department from providing similar relief to borrowers in the future.
Regardless of what the administration decides about previous debt, it’s going to be more expensive for students to take out new loans. On July 1, rates on federal undergraduate student loans will increase by more than a point, from 3.73% to 4.99%—the largest increase since 2013.
Extension on Spending COVID Relief Funds
Finally, a quick update on COVID relief funding. For months, superintendents have been urging the Department of Education to provide flexibility on the timeline for spending their relief funds from the American Rescue Plan. They just got an answer. Districts still need to obligate funds by September 30, 2024, but they could get more time to liquidate them… if they are using funds on infrastructure upgrades, like new HVAC systems. The Department isn’t changing the timeline for other, more immediate spending priorities, including the required 20% set-aside to address learning loss. Extension requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and districts could get an extra 18 months to spend down infrastructure-related funds.
That’s all for today. For an alert when the next Federal Flash is available, sign up on our website at all4ed.org/FlashSignup. Thanks for watching!
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the May 25, 2022 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, D.C. The video and podcast versions are embedded above. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, visit all4ed.org/FlashSignup.
Anne Hyslop is director of policy development, Jenn Ellis is director of state government relations, Ziyu Zhou is a research and data specialist, and Rebeca Shackleford is director of federal government relations.