By Jodi Peterson
Posted on 2020-09-11
Congress returned to Washington D.C. this week after their summer break with two big challenges ahead: to pass the next relief package for COVID-19 and finalize FY2021 spending before the current fiscal year ends on September 30, averting a possible government shutdown.
Much of the discussion over summer break centered on whether negotiations to flesh out the two bills, one for pandemic relief and the second to fund government programs for next year, would be on separate tracks or combined, but Congressional leaders and the White House signaled last week that they plan to purse a “clean” short term stopgap measure that would extend current spending for federal programs and avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month and, more importantly, before the November 3 elections.
Lawmakers and the White House are still far apart in their efforts to consolidate the next COVID relief bill. Here’s what’s on the table:
Senate Republican Bill: Earlier this week Senate Republicans released their $500 billion coronavirus relief proposal, the “Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act’’ also referred to as the “skinny stimulus.” The bill still provides $105 billion for education funding that Senate Republicans laid out under an earlier proposal in late July. Much of the funding would be tied to the physical reopening of school buildings. (Read more on that bill here.
The bill also included language that authorizes one-time, emergency appropriations funding for scholarship granting organizations (SGO) in each state. States would provide subgrant funds to the SGOs that administer scholarships for students to use toward qualified educational expenses (as determined by the state), such as private school tuition and home-schooling expenses.
It also would allow parents of K-12 student at public, private, or religious schools to use 529 plan funds for expenses like books, online materials, and licensed tutoring, to help students under the current circumstance. It would also allow parents who homeschool to use 529 plan funds for educational expenses.
Although Senate Republicans voted to move forward with the bill, no Senate Democrats voted for it so the bill did not advance.
House Democrat Bill: The House-passed the Heroes Act has $100.15 billion earmarked for education. It includes $90 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for grants that will support K-12 education. An additional $10.15 billion is slated to help alleviate burdens associated with the coronavirus for both colleges and students.
The bill would also provide $1 billion for state and local government budgets affected by declining tax revenues.
Senate Democrat Bill: As reported earlier, Senate Democrats introduced a $430 billion bill for child care, K-12 schools and higher education, which includes $345 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund, which is broken down in the same way as the CARES Act, H.R. 748 (116). The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) would provide $175 billion for K-12 schools, $132 billion for higher education, and $33 billion for a Governor’s Fund.
CARES Act: The first relief package passed in March, the CARES Act H.R. 748 (116) provides approximately $30.750 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund for states, school districts and institutions of higher education for costs related to coronavirus.
For K-12 elementary and secondary education, $13.5 billion is available through this grant for formula-grants to States, States must distribute 90 percent of funds to local educational agencies (based on Title I eligibility) to use for coronavirus-response activities. Local leaders have the flexibility to determine how to use their ESSER funds, as long as they are in compliance with applicable federal education laws. See more on how Title II and Title IV are used used here. To see how much your state will receive under the ESSER Fund, go here.
OSTP Seeking Input on Federal STEM Education Programs
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is seeking input through a STEM Education Request for Information (RFI) which has been posted to the Federal Register. This RFI is seeking input on strategic partnerships, transdisciplinary learning, digital STEM resources, computational literacy, use of the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, and more.
The STEM RFI was created in coordination and alignment with the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, released December 2018. Responses should be submitted in a Word or PDF format to STEM@ostp.eop.gov. The comment period will close on October 19, 2020, at 11:59PM EST. Any questions regarding the RFI should be directed to Cindy Hasselbring, Assistant Director, STEM Education, OSTP, STEM@ostp.eop.gov.
Secretary DeVos Calls for Assessments in 2020-21
In a letter to members of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the Administration plans to enforce federal testing requirements for K-12 students this school year, and that they should not anticipate that waivers will be passed again.
In the letter, DeVos writes, “I understand that presently it might be difficult to imagine the administration of statewide assessments in the same manner as they have been administered in the past. In fact, it may be that the assessments will look different. I am reminded of the old saying: necessity is the mother of invention. Now may be the perfect time for you to rethink assessment in your state, including considering competency and mastery-based assessments, to better gauge the learning and academic growth of your students.”
Several groups, including the Center for American Progress, the National Urban League, the Education Trust and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Council of Chief State School Officers have pushed for assessments in the coming academic year.
DeVos Plan to Boost Pandemic Relief for Private Schools Ruled Illegal
Also last week a federal judge ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was out of line when she required public schools to send a greater share of pandemic assistance from the CARES Act than is typically required under federal law to private school students. The NAACP brought the legal challenge against DeVos’ policy, criticizing that it diverts emergency aid away from needy public schools toward more affluent private-school students.
Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Reports.
Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communications, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.