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What’s in Biden’s Rescue Plan for Schools?

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January 31, 2021 01:42 am

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In today’s Federal Flash we cover the latest actions and proposals from the White House, appointments to the new administration, and legislation on learning loss and more on Capitol Hill.

Actions and Proposals from the Biden White House

President Biden and his administration have wasted no time in moving policy during their first few days in office. On day one, President Biden issued an executive order preserving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). You may recall, this is one of the policies initiated under President Obama that President Trump tried to rescind. It allows some people who were brought to the United States as children to remain here without fear of deportation. 

The president also issued an executive order regarding school reopenings. Under the executive order, the Department of Education (ED) will issue guidance on how to reopen schools for in-person learning and report on the impact of COVID-19 on students of color and other historically underserved students. The president also called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase access to home broadband.

Several other executive orders have been issued as well in support of a host of equity issues, including civil immigration enforcement, combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, condemning racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, strengthening nation-to-nation relationships with American Indian and Alaska Native tribal nations, and more.

American Rescue Plan

The White House also sent recommendations to Congress on COVID-19 relief. Regarding K–12 education, the president’s goal is to open the majority of K–8 schools within the first 100 days of his administration. The $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan proposes $130 billion to help schools reopen safely. These funds could be used flexibly just like funds already provided by Congress. The proposal emphasizes such activities as making sure every school has access to a nurse, providing summer school or other support to address learning loss, and other activities to address students’ academic, mental health, and social and emotional needs. The White House is also proposing a new COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant. 

Congress, of course, is in charge of the purse strings and will determine what gets funded. That process is now underway and we expect legislation from the House and Senate Budget Committees to be released next week.

White House Announces Additional Education Appointees

In more news from the administration, additional appointees who will set Biden’s education agenda have been named. At the White House, two familiar faces are taking on leadership roles. On the Domestic Policy Council, Catherine Lhamon will be deputy director for racial justice and equity, and Carmel Martin will be deputy director for economic mobility. Llamon and Martin both served as assistant secretaries at ED during the Obama administration—for civil rights and for policy development, respectively.

ED’s leadership team is also starting to assemble. Cindy Marten, superintendent of San Diego Unified School District, has been nominated to serve as deputy secretary, the number two job at the agency. Her appointment requires Senate confirmation, but other ED appointees so far do not, including the chief of staff; senior advisors; principal deputy general counsel; and deputy assistant secretaries for elementary and secondary education, civil rights, and communications and outreach.

Some of these appointees will be acting as assistant secretaries for now—an indication that the focus is getting Dr. Cardona and Dr. Marten through Senate confirmation first and staggering other nominees over the spring and summer. Now that Senate Democrats and Republicans have a path forward for a power-sharing agreement, Dr. Cardona’s confirmation hearing before the HELP Committee has been scheduled for Wednesday, February 3.

Another exciting appointment is Jessica Rosenworcel’s elevation to acting chair of the FCC. As All4Ed noted in our statement, Rosenworcel has been “a true champion for closing the homework gap.” With her leading the FCC, we expect funding for home internet access through the E-rate program to be a top priority, although Democrats will not have a majority on the FCC until a fifth commissioner is nominated and confirmed—at which point, Rosenworcel may be named as the permanent chairwoman.

Bills in Congress Promise More Funding for Schools

In other news from Capitol Hill, House Democrats introduced three bills on Thursday that would invest nearly half a trillion dollars in K–12 schools. The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act would provide $130 billion to make infrastructure improvements in high-poverty schools, including fixing ventilation systems so they can reopen safely in accordance with CDC guidance. The second bill—the Learning Recovery Act—seeks to address learning loss by increasing Title I funding by $75 billion over two years to support programs like summer school and extended school days. It would also direct the Institute of Education Sciences to conduct research on the effects of lost classroom time on learning outcomes. Finally, the Save Education Jobs Act would give $261 billion to states and districts over ten years to help save 3.9 million jobs in education, including the jobs of 2.6 million teachers.

In support of the bills, House Education Committee Chairman Bobby Scott said, “Prior to the pandemic, our education system was suffering from crumbling infrastructure, understaffed schools, and widening achievement gaps. Now, after an unprecedented disruption in students’ lives as a result of the pandemic, we are seeing existing inequities exacerbated.”  

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the February 1 episode of Federal Flash, All4Ed’s video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The podcast and video versions are embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email alliance@all4ed.org.


Phillip Lovell is vice president for policy development and government relations at All4Ed.  


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