Congress came together to pass a budget for fiscal year 2022 just hours before the latest continuing resolution would have expired. Despite many wins for education and working families, essential school meal program waivers were not extended past this school year. Across the country, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and LGBTQ+ students, families and educators are facing discrimination.
Congressional leaders finally approved a budget for fiscal year 2022, narrowly avoiding another continuing resolution. Despite the winding road to its final passage, the budget boosts several key education programs, but fails to extend waivers for school lunch programs that have kept millions of children fed during the pandemic. Plus, threats of hate crimes toward HBCUs and stigmatization of LGBTQ+ students, families, and educators following passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Fiscal Year 2022 Funding
Late last week, Congressional leaders finally reached consensus on fiscal year (FY) 2022 funding for the U.S. Department of Education and other government agencies. As a reminder, the fiscal year started on October 1st. However, Congress struggled to come to an agreement on new spending levels and instead passed several continuing resolutions, or CRs, to keep the government open. The most recent CR had been set to expire last Friday, March 11th.
The original omnibus proposal, released last Wednesday, included $14 billion for emergency aid to Ukraine and over $15 billion in COVID-19 relief fundings and totaled over $1.5 trillion. However, just after its release several House Democrats bucked against the bill’s pandemic relief provisions, because Republicans refused to include new spending on the pandemic and instead required the rerouting of funds previously granted to states. As a result, COVID relief was stripped from the deal, and the House moved forward with the rest of the larger spending bill, including a 6% boost to defense spending, a 7% boost for non-defense spending, and assistance to Ukraine.
Senators passed the bill late Thursday after defeating several Republican amendments—including one from Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) to end federal COVID vaccine mandates. With President Biden’s signature, the government is now funded through September 30, 2022.
Education Department Highlights
The bill included an overall increase of $2.9 billion for the Department of Education, including a $1 billion bump to Title I and $400 for Pell grants – the largest increases in over a decade. Although President Biden’s original proposal for education was nearly $103 billion, the final, more modest budget deal still provides several critical investments in education.
Along with the large Title I increase, the bill invests in other critical programs, including nearly $450 million more for special education and a $45 million increase for full-service community schools. Notably, there is a five-fold increase for student mental health supports—a key priority for the President. There are also moderate increases to programs supporting effective instruction, students experiencing homelessness, career and technical education, and Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which fund a range of activities from access to rigorous coursework to digital learning.
Early childhood education also got a bump of $558 million over last year, along with $11 billion for Head Start, $6.2 billion for the Child Care and Development block grant, and $290 million for Preschool Development grants.
In addition to the Pell increase, the budget invests in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). In particular, one provision will give these institutions more flexibility to spend their pandemic relief dollars from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) on campus infrastructure needs.
School Meals Programs
Although we’re pleased to see so many increases in education spending, the bill failed to extend waivers for school meal programs offered by the Department of Agriculture since the start of the pandemic. These waivers give schools and community-based organizations flexibilities—and additional resources—to feed children, despite logistical hurdles and supply chain issues during the pandemic. Our president and CEO, Deb Delisle said:
“We are dismayed that Congress failed to extend flexibilities for school meal programs that have enabled districts to serve more students and families safely, despite increased food costs and logistical challenges. This kind of political stunt hurts students and families. We call on Congress to address this immediately so that students and families don’t go hungry next year. The pandemic has brought on countless challenges, and America’s youth and their families deserve the best we have to offer so they may thrive.”
Despite efforts from advocates, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), to keep serving universal free meals under the waivers, Senate Republicans objected. If the waivers expire June 30th, this sudden change could send schools into crisis as they plan to keep children fed during the summer months.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) led objections to extending the waivers, as he and his colleagues, like Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), accused Democrats of [QUOTE] “trying to take an emergency pandemic – the exemptions – and turn them into permanent changes that lasts forever.” Although the extensions were not in the President’s original budget request, ending childhood hunger should be a nonpartisan issue. We’ll keep you posted on future efforts to extend the waivers, as well as prospects for further COVID relief.
Threats to HBCUs
In other news, HBCUs across the country have been facing violent threats for months. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on combating the rise in hate crimes, Dillard University President Walter M. Kimbrough recalled dozens of bomb threats, cyber-attacks, and threatening phone calls. At Dillard and other HBCUs, the threats often include racial slurs and are often said to be motivated because their campuses serve as polling places.
House lawmakers, led by Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC) and French Hill (R-AR), unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution condemning the dozens of threats against HBCUs. The Senate passed a similar resolution led by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) denouncing the threats and affirming their support of HBCUs and their students.
“Don’t Say Gay” Bills
Finally, Florida lawmakers approved the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill that bars educators from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with young students. This bill further stigmatizes a marginalized community, inhibits inclusive school environments, and could lead to a myriad of issues for the LGBTQ+ students, families, and educators in Florida and beyond. At least nine other states are considering legislation to limit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identify in schools. This win for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is yet another example of how Republicans are seeking to use the classroom to further cultural divides ahead of the midterm elections.
In response to the bill, Secretary Miguel Cardona said Florida leaders were [QUOTE] “prioritizing hateful bills that hurt some of the students most in need,” instead of helping students recover from the pandemic. He also added that all schools receiving federal funding must follow federal civil rights laws, including Title IX’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Here at Federal Flash, we’ll keep an eye on this issue as state lawmakers continue their legislative sessions and midterm elections heat up.
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 March 14, 2022 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, D.C. The podcast and video versions are embedded above. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, visit all4ed.org/FlashSignup.
Ziyu Zhou is policy analyst and Rebeca Shackleford is director of federal education policy.