(Updated 8/9) The coronavirus outbreak has upended the way schools are operating, but the pain could continue in the next school year, when tax revenue losses will likely bring sharp cuts in education funding. Recognizing this, Congress dedicated some of its $2 trillion stimulus package approved in March to supporting education, including $13.2 billion for K-12 schools.
The House and Senate are now deadlocked on a new round of funding, prompting President Donald Trump to announce a series of executive actions that would provide some relief for unemployed workers. None of his actions would allot any new money for education.
A $1 trillion bill released by Republicans on July 27 proposes $70 billion for K-12 schools, granting two thirds to that money based on the extent to which schools are holding in-person classes. This comes after Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke about cutting federal aid for schools that don't reopen for in-person instruction—or shifting those dollars to schools, public or private, that do reopen. The bill also provides $29 billion for higher education and $5 billion for governors to use at their discretion.
The measure, known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, calls for states to distribute one third of the stabilization money to districts within 15 days of receiving it from the federal government. Much of that money could go toward reopening priorities, such as providing masks, increasing cleaning services and adding more school buses.
For the remaining two thirds, school districts must submit plans to the governor providing a detailed timeline for providing in-person instruction, a description of how many days of such instruction students will receive each week, and an assurance that district will provide "as much in-person instruction as is safe and practicable."
Districts with no in-person instruction would have no access to further Covid aid. Districts with at least half their students in school half the week will have their plans automatically approved. Others would receive a pro-rated amount of money. Private schools could receive a share of the dollars equal to the share of low-income students at their institution and across the state. Nationwide that could equal about 10 percent of the aid. But those schools, too, must meet the re-opening requirements.
Even as she pushed for reopening schools, Devos announced July 29 that she is awarding $180 million in grants to 11 states to support virtual coursework, training for remote instruction, and electronic devices.
[Read More: Roadmaps to Reopening: States' Guidance to Schools]
The House already passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill, known as the HEROES Act, on May 15 that includes $1 trillion for state and local governments, something that is not included in the Senate Republican bill. Senate Democrats offered a $430 billion education and childcare spending package on June 30.
The House measure 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. Beyond education spending, the House-approved measure would also bolster support for Medicaid, which provides health coverage to 37 percent of school-age children.
The Senate bill that Democrats introduced in late June would include $345 billion for education: $175 billion for K-12 schools, $132 billion for higher education and $33 billion to be distributed by the governors. It also provides language that would restrict spending the dollars on private schools. (See more detail below). On July 17, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden weighed in with a proposal for a separate, emergency $30 billion boost to help K-12 schools reopen safely. He also voiced support for passing the HEROES Act and launching a challenge to close equity gaps laid bare by the pandemic.
In addition to the Covid aid bill, some Republican senators are also pushing to send more federal dollars to private schools: A bill introduced July 22 would designate about 10 percent of the Covid-19 aid to an emergency fund that would help parents pay private school tuition or home-schooling costs. The money would flow through designated scholarship granting organizations. The bill, sponsored by Republicans Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, would also allot as much as $5 billion annually in tax credits for private school scholarships. Funding for the bill is not included in the Republican HEALS Act proposal.
Private school funding was a point of contention in the Spring after the U.S. Education Department developed guidance and then an interim rule on how CARES Act dollars should be shared with private schools. The interim rule that took effect in early July back tracks somewhat on the department's initial guidance, giving more latitude to districts. In addition, at least three governors have devoted some of CARES Act discretionary funds to tax-credit scholarships for private schools.
In addition to direct stimulus funding, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that the House approved July 1 includes about $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority over five years for school projects, focusing on schools with concentrated poverty and including dollars to improve distance learning and help meet public health guidelines for reopening after Covid-19. A recent analysis predicts that preparing for reopening schools could cost about $1.7 million for an average school district. The infrastructure package would also support expanding broadband, which would ensure more students have internet access for distance learning. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has already criticized the measure.
School districts could also apply for federal dollars to support homeless students under a bill submitted June 10 by U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ). The Emergency Family Stabilization Act would create aa funding stream administered by the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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. A recent analysis by the Association of School Business Officials International and the Superintendents Association suggests that a typical school district could spend nearly $2 million to reopen schools, given increased need for cleaning and transportation costs.
The law list 12 allowable uses of the $13.2 billion in the package's K-12 relief fund:
- 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.
- 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.
- Providing principals and others school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools.
- 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.
- Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies.
- Training and professional development for staff of the local educational agency on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
- Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
- 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.
- 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.
- Providing mental health services and supports.
- 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.
- 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 questioned 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.
On July 29, DeVos announced grants ranging from $6 million to $20 million to 11 states: Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Several states, including Rhode Island and Texas will enhance their virtual coursework offerings, which could benefit students from shuttered schools as well as homeschoolers. New York will put the bulk of its money toward training teachers in remote instruction, while Louisiana sets aside some of its grant providing devices and internet hotspots for 12,000 students. South Carolina is exploring a way to deliver remote instruction without internet access.
Another point of contention is how the CARES Act dollars are shared with private schools within a school district's boundaries. An interim rule released June 25 would allow districts some flexibility: They can treat the money as Title I aid, giving it only to schools serving low-income students in both the public and private sector, but it would be subject to Title I rules. That would limit how districts could use it to fill gaps left from state cuts. Districts can also choose to share the federal dollars with public schools not serving Title I students, they must share with all private schools, as well. Education leaders say this has the effect of limiting how school districts spend their money during a time when they're facing deep cuts in state funding. Five states and the District of Columbia have filed suit to block the rule.
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 initial guidance called for school districts to 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 would have to be proportionate to the share of all students in the district attending such schools.
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. House Democratic leaders conveyed the same message in a May 20 letter. 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.
The HEROES Act stimulus bill that the House approved in mid May would not allow widespread sharing of dollars with private schools. It 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." Likewise, the Senate bill unveiled June 30 includes a similar restriction.
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.
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 House bill passed in May would increasee SNAP’s maximum benefit by 15 percent from June 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021, an increase for all SNAP households averaging about $25 per person per month..Republicans HEALS Act proposed in late July provides no new dollars toward addressing hunger for children or adults.
The Next Aid Package
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.
The House bill does 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.
On June 30, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Chuck Schumer of New York introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act. Its $345 billion stabilization fund includes $175 billion for K-12 schools to address learning loss, put in place health protocols and education students "in-person, remotely or a hybrid of both." It would enact a "maintenance of effort" requirement, basically prohibiting states from their funding of schools for at least three years. It also provides:
- $12.9 billion for services to communities disproportionately impacted by the crisis, most of that flowing through Title I with other dollars for including migrant children, students in juvenile justice facilities, students experiencing homelessness, and English language learners.
- $12 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, providing services and support to disabled students, not just in K-12 schools but in early childhood program.
- $4 billion for the E-Rate Program to provide technology and internet access to students in need.
In addition to K-12 education aid, the measure would provide $60 billion to keep child care providers open and help working families pay the costs, and $1.5 billion to support child welfare workers in preventing child abuse and neglect. And it funds a number of high education programs designed to help with transition into college and the workplace.
The Senate Republican HEALS Act takes a different approach than the House-passed HEROES Act. The Republican version provides no dollars for filling revenue gaps in state and local governments, which are key sources of funding for K-12 schools. And the bill, coming more than two months after the House measure, focuses more on the debate over school reopening. Democratic leaders have criticized the approach, setting up difficult negotiations in the coming weeks.
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.
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|