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What Congressional Covid Funding Means for K-12 Schools

(Updated 5/15) The coronavirus outbreak has upended covid-19-funding-to-support-students-2the way schools are operating, but the pain could continue in the next school year, when tax revenue losses might bring sharp cuts in education funding. Recognizing this, Congress dedicated some of its $2 trillion stimulus package approved in March to supporting K-12 schools and higher education. What’s more, legislation and regulatory changes in the past two months could affect student with disabilities, school meals, and access to health care. The most recent guidance speaks to federal funding for private schools, grants for remote learning, and rules for handling special education.

In addition, Congressional Democrats passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill on May 15 that includes $1 trillion for state and local governments. The bill is not expected to gain much traction in the Senate or the White House. The House proposal provides $90 billion for the U.S. Department of Education to share with states in a stabilization fund—65 percent of it for K-12 schools and 30 percent for higher education institutions. That's triple the amount that Congress has provided for education so far, but well below the $250 billion that 70 education organizations recommended in a letter to Congress a week earlier for stabilization, expanding broadband and devices for virtual schools, and addressing the mental health needs of students and families. Beyond education spending, the bill would also bolster support for Medicaid, which provides health coverage to 37 percent of school-age children.

CARES Act

The stimulus bill that passed in late March, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, earmarks $30.7 billion under an Education Stabilization Fund for states to spend on education, including $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund and $14 billion for Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Another $3 billion goes to the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund, which governors can use for “significantly impacted” school districts or higher education institutions.

The U.S. Education Department has released estimates of how much money each state should receive, ranging from $32 million in stabilization funding for K-12 education in Wyoming to $1.6 billion in California. (see full chart below) Under the governors discretionary funding, New York will have $164 million to spend, while Rhode Island will have less than $9 million. In California, EdSource has calculated how much each of the state's school district could receive. The CARES Act money has begun flowing to the states and must be spent by September 2022. In a letter to the U.S. Education Department, governors pushed to get the dollars quickly and asked for "maximum flexibility" in how to spend it. The money flows to districts that have received Title I dollars in the past, but is not technically Title I money and is governed by different rules.

The law list 12 allowable uses of the $13.2 billion in the package's K-12 relief fund:

  1.  Any activity authorized by the ESEA of 1965, including the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, Support, and Assistance Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, or subtitle B of title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
  2. Coordination of preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies with state, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses among such entities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
  3. Providing principals and others school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools.
  4. Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.
  5. Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies.
  6. Training and professional development for staff of the local educational agency on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
  7. Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
  8. Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures, including for how to provide meals to eligible students, how to provide technology for online learning to all students, how to provide guidance for carrying out requirements under IDEA and how to ensure other educational services can continue to be provided consistent with all Federal, State, and local requirements.
  9. Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the local educational agency that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and students with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment.
  10. Providing mental health services and supports.
  11. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
  12. Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff of the local educational agency.

The CARES Act includes an additional $100 million in grants under Project SERV, which is dedicated to helping school districts and post-secondary institutions recover from “a violent or traumatic event that disrupts learning.” That pot of money can support distance learning, as well as mental health counseling and disinfecting schools.

Microgrants and Private Schools

In addition, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released new details on April 27 about the $180 million "Rethink K-12 School Models" competitive grant program, which will focus on helping states and families with virtual learning and the needed technology particularly during the Covid emergency. She encouraged states to develop innovative models "not yet imagined" for providing remote education. That could include directing the money to parents to pay for tutoring, counseling or summer programs that would keep students learning. It would also allow for creating a statewide virtual school.  Congressional critics slammed the grant program as a backdoor approach to providing vouchers to parents who want to educate their children at home or in private institutions.

DeVos acknowledged as much in a May 19 interview on SirusXM radio, saying the funding could allow parents to send their children to faith-based schools. “For more than three decades that has been something that I’ve been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn’t be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.”

Congressional Democrats have also questionned the methodology for choosing which states receive the discretionary grants does not necessary benefit communities most affected by the coronavirus outbreak. In a May 15 letter , House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., called on DeVos to rescind the proposal and to develop new metrics for distributing grant funds.

In what seems a radical departure in policy, the Education Department released guidance on April 30 laying out several ways in which private schools in Title I districts can access the CARES Act money set aside for elementary and secondary schools. Typically Title I dollars can flow to private school students for "equitable services," such as tutoring, if the students are deemed low achieving and live in an attendance zone for a Title 1 public school.

The CARES Act guidance says school districts must provide these services, including materials and equipment, to any students and teachers in non-public schools, regardless of whether the students are low-achieving or live in the right attendance zones. The share for private schools must be proportionate to the share of all students in the district attending such schools. In Washington, D.C., for instance, as much as 15 percent of the federal coronavirus aid could theoretically flow to private schools. For-profit schools are not eligible for the funds. In a May 5 letter, several education organizations pleaded with the Education Department to revise the guidance, calling it inequitable and inconsistent with historical application of  Title I rules.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who leads the Senate HELP Committee, told reporters  he expected the money would be distributed under the rules governing Title I dollars. “I think that's what most of Congress was expecting.”

The stimulus bill that the House approved in mid May states outright: "That no recipient of fund under this heading shall use funds to provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools, unless such funds are used to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities whose IEPs require such placement, and where the school district maintains responsibility for providing such children a free and appropriate public education."

Students with Disabilities

Beyond the new money allotted, The Education Department is offering states more flexibility in how they spend their existing money, with release of a template for requesting waivers. This could allow schools to spend more of the federal dollars on technology for distance learning.

While the CARES Act gives the DeVos broad authority for waiving accountability requirements, lawmakers stopped short of allowing waivers for special education rules and gave DeVos a month to report her recommendations to Congress. In an April 27 report, she did not recommend any waivers for the "core tenets" of the federal law that requires providing services for students with disabilities. She did suggest flexibility on time lines for evaluation to ensure that toddlers with disabilities don't lose the support they need.

Schools are grappling with how to deliver services—such as physical or occupational therapy—or meet timelines set in individualized education plans (IEPs) required under federal law. Or even how to get the required signatures for IEPs. Some districts initially declined to provide instruction to any students because they could not address the needs of those with disabilities. The U.S. Education Department discouraged that sort of thinking.

Meanwhile school districts are coming up with creative solutions. Some therapists are working with students virtually or developing videotapes of exercises that parents can do at home with their children. Others are holding IEP meetings on Zoom calls and securing electronic signatures.

Child Nutrition

Another important aspect of student health is nutrition. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, approved in mid-March, provides greater flexibility for schools to serve free meals beyond the school grounds. Some schools are allowing families to pick up food at community centers or using school buses to deliver meals. The measure also allows student who qualify for free and reduced-price meals to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The CARES Act provides $18.5 billion toward SNAP and $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs. So far, the benefits have yet to reach many of those who need them most. One analysis shows that only 11 percent of those who have been laid off have picked up a “grab-and-go” meal at school. The stimulus bill approved by the House in mid May would allot another $10 billion toward SNAP and $3 billion to child nutrition programs.

The Next Bill

The $3 trillion stimulus bill approved by House Democrats on May 15, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions or HEROES Act, would direct $1 trillion to state and local governments and provide $90 billion specifically for education. The bill also provides $1.5 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for Wi-fi hotspots,  equipment, connected devices, and advanced telecommunications and information services at libraries and schools. Another $4 billion in FCC funding would go toward expanding broadband service, which could support remote learning, as well.

While Senate Republicans responded coolly to the 1,800-page proposal, it could provide a starting point for negotiations on future aid. The bill did not include a Democratic proposal to expand national services programs, such as AmeriCorps and Vista, to help with recovery from the pandemic.  The proposal also fell far short of a detailed request for funding from more than 70 education organizations—including groups representing superintendents, principals, both teachers unions and Teach for America. They submitted a letter May 5 asking Congress to allocate $250 billion for education, pointing out that states currently spend roughly 35 percent of their dollars on K-12 education and 10 percent  on higher education That request included:

  • At least $175 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund distributed directly to school districts and higher ed institutions.
  • $25 billion toward Title I, IDEA, and other ESSA programs serving historically marginalized students to provide targeted support to vulnerable students.
  • $50 billion in funding for higher education to public institutions of higher education and minority-serving institutions.
  • $4 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund to support distance and remote learning for millions of K- 12 students without home internet access and an additional amount for higher education students
  • Expansion of nutrition assistance programs for students and families
  • Funding for extended learning opportunities to help students make up for lost learning time
  • Funding to support additional academic, social-emotional, and physical supports when students return to school.

[Read More: How Federal Covid Aid Can Support Students and Schools]

Student-Based Health Care

With more than 120,000 schools nationwide shuttered for the foreseeable future, millions of students have lost access to an important source of health care. As school districts and health providers cobble together solutions, Congressional funding and new regulatory flexibility could  deliver some needed support.

 A key source of funding for the school-based health care is Medicaid, which covers 37 percent of school-age children and reimburses $4 billion to $5 billion in services at schools annually. That figure has increased in recent years after a 2014 regulatory change allowed schools to seek reimbursement for services provided to all eligible children.

The Families First Act temporarily increases the federal match to states for Medicaid. To receive those extra dollars, states must commit to maintain current eligibility standards and premiums and to limit disenrollment. The HEROES Act would increase the federal match again and block regulations that could effectively cut Medicaid, reports Edwin Park of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Read More: How the Health and Education Sectors Can Collaborate]

Beyond legislative efforts, federal authorities are granting wide latitude on billing Medicaid for using telehealth to deliver services and urging states to expand offerings. This allows students to receive special education services or visit health providers virtually, using a smart phone or computers, without risking a visit to an office or hospital.

State Medicaid programs can reimburse these providers for telehealth services just as they do for in-person visits without obtaining federal approval, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) explained in a recent release. That said, some states have restrictions on what services must be delivered in person, especially for students with disabilities.

The legislation passed so far will hardly be Congress's last word on education funding. Members of Congress and education leaders are already contemplating how to support K-12 schools in future stimulus bills.

[Read More: Tracking State Legislation on the Coronavirus]

U.S. Education Department Allocation Calculations

The CARES Act requires that at least 90 percent of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund flow to local education agencies, with no more than 10 percent reserved for the state agency, and a fraction of that for administrative costs. The totals in the chart below are rounded.

State Total for School Relief Minimum for LEA Maximum for SEA Maximum for Administration Total for Governors  Fund
U.S. 13.2 B 11.9 B 1.3 B 66 M 2.9 B
Alabama 217 M 195 M 22 M 1 M 49 M
Alaska 38 M 35 M 3.8 M 192,000 6.5 M
Arizona 227 M 249 B 27 M 1.3 M 69 M
Arkansas 129 M 116 M 13 M 643,800 31 M
California 1.6 B 1.5 B 165 M 8.2 M 355 M
Colorado 121 M 109 M 12 M 604,900 44 M
Connecticut 111 M 100 M 11 M 555,300 27 M
Delaware 43 M 39 M 4.3 M 217,500 7.9 M
D.C. 42 M 38 M 4.2 M 210,000 5.8 M
Florida 770 M 693 M 77 M 3.9 M 174 M
Georgia 457 M 411 M 46 M 2.3 M 106 M
Hawaii 43 M 39 M 4.3 M 216,900 9.9 M
Idaho 48 M 43 M 4.8 M 239,300 15.7 M
Illinois 569 M 513 M 57 M 2.8 M 108 M
Indiana 214 M 193 M 21 M 1 M 61 M
Iowa 72 M 64 M 7.1 M 358,100 26 M
Kansas 85 M 76 M 8.4 M 422,600 26 M
Kentucky 193 M 174 M 19 M 965,000 44 M
Louisiana 287 M 258 M 29 M 1.4 M 50 M
Maine 44 M 39 M 4.3 M 218,900 9.3 M
Maryland 208 M 187 M 21 M 1 M 46 M
Massachusetts 215 M 193 M 21 M 1 M 51 M
Michigan 390 M 351 M 39 M 1.9 M 89 M
Minnesota 140 M 126 M 14 M 700,700 43 M
Mississippi 170 M 153 M 17 M 849,400 35 M
Missouri 208 M 187 M 20 M 1 M 55 M
Montana 41 M 37 M 4.1 M 206,500 8.8 M
Nebraska 65 M 59 M 6.5 M 325,400 16 M
Nevada 117 M 105 M 12 M 585,900 26 M
New Hampshire 38 M 34 M 3.8 M 188,200 8.9 M
New Jersey 310 M 279 M 31 M 1.5 M 69 M
New Mexico 109 M 98 M 11 M 542,900 22 M
New York 1 B 933 M 104 M 5.2 M 164 M
North Carolina 396 M 357 M 40 M 1.9 M 96 M
North Dakota 33 M 30 M 3.3 M 166,500 5.9 M
Ohio 489 M 440 M 49 M 2.4 M 105 M
Oklahoma 161 M 145 M 16 M 804,800 39 M
Oregon 121 M 108 M 12.1 M 605,500 33 M
Pennsylvania 524 M 471 M 52 M 2.6 M 104 M
Rhode Island 46 M 42 M 4.6 M 231,800 8.7 M
South Carolina 216 M 195 M 22 M 1 M 49 M
South Dakota 41 M 37 M 4.1 M 206,500 7.9 M
Tennessee 260 M 234 M 26 M 1.3 M 64 M
Texas 1.3 B 1.1 B 129 M 6.4 M 307 M
Utah 68 M 61 M 6.8 M 339,100 29 M
Vermont 31 M 28 M 3 M 155,700 4.5 M
Virginia 239 M 215 M 24 M 1.2 M 67 M
Washington 217 M 195 M 22 M 1 M 57 M
West Virginia 86 M 77 M 8.6 M 433,200 16 M
Wisconsin 175 M 157 M 17 M 873,900 47 M
Wyoming 33 M 29 M 3.3 M 162,800 4.7 M
Puerto Rico 349 M 314 M 35 M 1.7 47 M
Source: U.S. Education Department. For notes on methodology, see the emergency relief fund calculations and governor's fund calculations.