Director of State Government Relations
The President unveiled a new, scaled back framework for the Build Back Better Act that eliminates free community college, but maintains other new investments in childcare, HBCUs and other minority serving institutions, and college completion. Meanwhile, all eyes were on Election Night results as Democrats and Republicans looked to key state races as signals for the future of both parties. All that, and more, on this week’s Federal Flash.
The Alliance for Excellent Education is Now All4Ed
You may have noticed a new intro to this week’s Federal Flash. That’s because, to celebrate our 20th anniversary, we’ve officially changed our name to All4Ed! In making the announcement, our President and CEO, Deb Delisle, said, “We have the same equity-focused mission as we did when we were founded in 2001… it is time for us to deepen and renew our commitment to students as we prepare for another 20 years of success.”
We’re also welcoming a new board chair, Juan Sepúlveda. Mr. Sepúlveda is a long-time champion of educational equity and of the Latinx community. In addition to his leadership at All4Ed, he is the Visiting Radford Professor of Practice in Urban Education at Trinity University. Our previous chair, Dan Leeds, who founded All4Ed with his family, will continue to serve on our board of directors.
Check out the new all4ed.org today.
New Build Back Better Framework
There was more excitement in Washington when President Biden released an updated $1.75 trillion framework for the Build Back Better Act—and the House quickly followed with new legislative text. A far cry from the original $3.5 trillion plan, the new version nixed several proposals to fit within the new topline number, but also includes several key investments.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) would get $10 billion in the House bill, up from $2 billion. And unlike the original bill, different types of MSIs will no longer have to compete with one another for funding; rather, they will compete against similar MSIs. The maximum Pell grant award was also bumped up by $550, instead of $500—a down-payment on President Biden’s promise to double Pell.
More significantly, the bill includes $400 billion to subsidize childcare for families making under $300,000 a year and establish universal pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds. It would also provide funding for free school meals for almost 9 million more students and a per-child benefit to help families buy groceries during the summer when schools are closed, as well as extend the expanded Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit by one year.
Other programs weren’t so lucky. Just as we previewed in our last Federal Flash, the biggest loser in the new framework was free community college, as its large price tag simply didn’t fit within the smaller topline.
The College Completion Fund was also cut to $500 million, from President Biden’s original ask of $62 billion. Still, half a billion dollars would go a long way to provide comprehensive academic, career, and student support services, accelerated opportunities like dual enrollment and early college high schools, reforms to remedial education, and better pathways between community colleges and four-year institutions.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund, a program that has helped schools and libraries purchase devices and high-speed home internet for students and teachers during the pandemic, would receive $300 million—far less than the $4 billion in the initial bill and the $40 billion that advocates had called for. Because of the $7.5 billion already provided to the program in the American Rescue Plan and other pandemic relief, millions of children now have access to learning. Continued funding will help ensure these students do not fall back into the homework gap.
What’s next for Build Back Better? There’s some good news. Late last week, the House voted 228-206 to send the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to President Biden’s desk—a vote many members of Congress insisted on taking before turning to Build Back Better. For education, the infrastructure bill doesn’t include investments in school facilities, but does provide $65 billion to expand high-speed broadband and funds to improve water quality and eliminate lead pipes in schools. Hopefully, its passage clears a path for Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act. Still, Build Back Better faces many hurdles, including complying with the technical rules of reconciliation in the Senate and keeping all 50 Democratic Senators on board. We’ll keep you posted.
State Elections As A Signal for the Future
All eyes were on the Virginia gubernatorial election last week as a Republican businessman, Glenn Youngkin, defeated former Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe. Youngkin made education a key issue of his campaign, as curriculum controversies and Critical Race Theory (CRT) became a lightning rod in several Virginia school districts. Coupled with debates over school closures, mask requirements, and vaccine mandates, parental control in education became one of the dividing lines between the candidates. Ultimately, Youngkin’s win, along with another surprisingly tight gubernatorial race in New Jersey, could be bellwethers for next year’s midterm elections—and indicators of education’s importance in those races.
Vaccines for 5- to 11-Year-Olds
This all comes as the CDC’s independent vaccine advisors unanimously endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized it for children the week prior. Roughly 28 million children will now be eligible for vaccination, and states and school districts will need to determine whether to add this vaccine to their required immunizations for in-person attendance. California governor Gavin Newsom, for example, had already declared vaccines would be required for students next school year, pending CDC approval. In the meantime, we expect many states will ramp up their efforts to get young children vaccinated against COVID-19.
Student Loan Payment Updates
Finally, with federal student loan payments set to resume early next year, the U.S. Department of Education is considering proposals to give borrowers flexibility as they face bills for the first time in nearly two years. This could include making it easier for borrowers to enroll in income-based repayment programs or an initial grace period as repayments resume. Many advocates, however, are holding out hope that the administration will create a plan to forgive student debt for some borrowers. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment subcommittee, said she would support $10,000 in loan forgiveness in a hearing with Richard Cordray, chief operating officer of Federal Student Aid. We’ll keep you posted as the January 31 deadline nears.
This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the November 9, 2021 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.
Jenn Ellis is director of state government relations and Anne Hyslop is director of policy development at All4Ed.