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Schools Struggle to Reopen During Pandemic: Will Congress Help?

Law and Education ConceptThis 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.

Police Reform in the Wake of George Floyd’s Death: Is it Coming?  How Will it Affect Schools?

The purview of state and local government police reform is rapidly moving into the realm of the federal government. House Democrats have acted quickly, introducing a sweeping bill, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 with 200 sponsors. Republicans in both the House and Senate are feeling the pressure and discussions are underway, albeit for a far more limited approach. The White House is sending mixed messages, on the one hand calling for reform and on the other, calling for law and order. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is taking the lead for Republicans in the Senate and has been in conversation with the White House. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a top Trump ally in the House, said he will release his own plan shortly. Senate proposals appear to feature the improvement of federal data collection on the use of force and no-knock warrants as well as police training. White House spokespersons said that ending qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits, was a nonstarter.

Senate and House Hearings on Opening up Education During the Pandemic

This week, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing, COVID-19 Going Back to School Safely. The hearing focused on PK-12 education and follows last week’s hearing on opening up higher education during the pandemic.

On Monday, June 15 at noon, the House Committee on Education and Labor will hold a hearing Budget Cuts and Lost Learning:  Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Public Education. It will be live streamed. 

New Data on Educator Layoffs and Cost of Reopening Schools

The Department of Labor’s data collection on unemployment indicates that almost 1.5 million education jobs have been lost because of the pandemic. April showed a 1.1 million loss of education jobs in the public and private sectors—both PK-12 and higher education. The May figures indicate an additional loss of 300,000 local education jobs. For comparison’s sake, the Great Recession of 2008 brought education job losses of 300,000 in total. 

This loss of jobs is an alarm bell underscoring state and local education budget cuts that are underway and pending. Funds provided under the CARES Act are not filling the gap. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, and the Association of School Business Officials International provided an analysis of what it would cost to reopen schools safely. The average school district is likely to need an additional $1.8 million for cleaning, supplies, and staffing.  This analysis also points to a need for additional federal funds, as U.S. News and World Report indicates.  Over a dozen education and civil rights groups are calling for education leaders to prioritize the most vulnerable students and craft funding bills with an equity focus. 

CARES Act Implementation/Next COVID-19 Relief Bill

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos doubled down on her controversial implementation of the CARES Act this week by developing two sets of regulations to guide implementation with the force of law. The first relates to the distribution of funds for PK-12 schools. The Department interpreted the CARES Act to allow states to direct funds to all private school students rather than only low-income private school students, which is a shift from current practice under ESSA.

The second interim final rule, which will also become effective after publication, relates to how CARES Act funding may be distributed to students in higher education. The law did not define “student,” so the Secretary of Education did, determining that funds are only available to students who qualify for federal student financial aid. This blocks undocumented students and others from receiving support, though they may be in dire straits. 

New Resources for Educators

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. See you on twitter @janewestdc.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant