Congress Begins to Reconvene: What’s Next for COVID-19 Relief Funding?

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

Financial aid concept, Life buoy lifebelt with money bagThis blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Senate Reconvenes in Person; House Next Week?

The Senate reconvened in person this week despite warnings from medical experts and despite the fact that the DC area remains a COVID-19 hot spot.  In order to enable this convening without it violating emergency limitations on large gatherings, the Mayor of DC—Muriel Bowser—anointed members of Congress as “essential workers,” bringing them into the ranks of grocery store workers and front line health care personnel.  

New to the Capitol were plexiglass shields, boxes of masks and hand sanitizer. COVID-19 testing for all Members was made available by President Trump, but in a rare bipartisan move declined by both House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). They recommended that the tests be prioritized for front line workers.

The House, which had also originally planned to reconvene this week, backed off after concerns raised by the Capitol physician.  

Learn more.

Fifth COVID-13 Relief Package Expected Next Week from the House

The House is expected to physically convene next week, though that has not been confirmed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been aggressively working with Democratic members to shape the next COVID-19 relief package, which may be introduced as early as next week. Abandoning a bipartisan effort, she has worked exclusively with Democrats sending them the message to “think big” in putting the package together. It is expected to carry a price tag of over $1 trillion.

Education organizations and others are aggressively weighing in with recommendations for what is needed in the bill.  Among the requests are the following:

  • $500 billion for state and local government relief
  • $250 billion for education, including $25 billion for IDEA and ESSA, $50 billion for higher education and $4 billion for the e-rate to expand internet access for K-12 students

Alarming estimates of what it will take to get the K-12 education system up to speed have fueled the requests, and provided increasing urgency to act.  The Learning Policy Institute estimated that as many as 697,000 teaching jobs could be lost in the next two years unless meaningful intervention is provided.  They also estimate that the cost of recovery over a two-year period could be as high as $229 billion.

The bipartisan spirit that characterized the passage of the first four COVID-19 relief bills seems to have dissipated. Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have sided with business groups who are demanding liability protections for businesses if any new bill is to move. They fear lawsuits related to the risks they might take in opening up during the epidemic.  Some Republicans have also voiced the position that it is too soon to act on another relief bill, when the last one has not yet been fully deployed.

Continued Implementation of CARES Act—$2.2 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Funding Package

The Department of Education continues to administer the distribution of the $30.75 billion in the CARES Act, which is targeted to education. This week, the Department announced $1 billion in relief for HBCUs and minority serving institutions. At least 32 states have applied for their share of the $13.2 billion targeted to K-12 schools. The deadline for applications is July 1.  Only eight states have applied for the $3 billion governor’s fund. The application deadline is June 1. 

The Department’s actions have not been without controversy. Higher education groups have raised multiple concerns about questionable restrictions on the allowable use of funds. Last week’s announcement of the creation of programs to promote microgrants (vouchers) to families of K-12 students continues to be met with alarm by some education organizations and Democratic lawmakers.  The Chief State School Officers have weighed in with concerns about guidance the Department issued, which would boost funding directed to private schools. (Current law requires school districts to set aside funds to provide equitable services to low-income children in participating private schools.) By changing the formula for distribution, non-public schools would receive an inequitable amount of funding—far more than Congress intended, they said. In the letter, Carissa Moffat Miller, CCSSO’s executive director, noted that private schools in Louisiana, for example, would receive 267% more funding that they would have if the current distribution formula was used. Furthermore, “In Orleans Parish, Louisiana, at least 77% of its CARES formula allocation would be directed to non-public schools in the area,”  she wrote. 

The CARES Act provided $7 million for the Department of Education’s Inspector General to conduct oversight on the education portion of the law. This week, the IG’s office issued the coronavirus relief oversight plan that will serve as a watchdog on how the Department is administering the law, as well as how recipients of the funds are using those funds. In addition, the IG will keep tabs on how states are complying with certain requirements of IDEA. For more information, read the Department of Education guidance on non-public schools funding in CARES Act and Department of Education Coronavirus Relief  Oversight Plan.

Read the full Washington update on my website for more information. Stay in touch on Twitter @janewestdc!

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant