By Amanda Menas
As Congress works on the next COVID-19 response package, educators across the country are scrambling to support and protect their own families while at the same time working to provide meals, virtual instruction, and care for millions of students. Educators need the support of the federal government to help them prepare for, protect against, and live through the coronavirus pandemic.
“American families are facing an economic crisis and need support now, and ‘stimulus’ checks for households are just a first step. More economic relief is needed, particularly in combating the inequities that are negatively impacting communities of color and other marginalized people,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “America’s public schools are the economic engines of tens of thousands of communities that provide not just education, but also jobs and community-sustaining economic benefits. The path to our nation’s recovery runs through our classrooms.”
Since the COVID-19 response began, NEA has been listening to its members and advocating for their needs in Congress. NEA supported the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law this week. Now, NEA has identified several next steps that Congress must take to protect educators, students, and communities from the novel coronavirus. You can help: Encourage Congress to take action now.
Provide economic support for educators and households
First, Congress should immediately issue “stimulus” checks to individual households across the country. It should also create a fund to help states avoid educator layoffs in preK-12 and higher education and help pay hourly workers, including education support professionals and adjunct faculty who may lose hours and therefore pay. This federal assistance should be complemented by cancelling all federal student loan monthly payments, and counting toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness completion.
Other federal programs, such as Medicaid, should receive increased federal support to prevent states from laying off staff, cutting back health care services, raising taxes, or cutting other programs to meet balanced budget requirements.
Additionally, Congress should provide guaranteed, paid sick leave—no loopholes—for workers affected by COVID-19 and for those required to care for family members; this will especially assist education support professionals, many of whom don’t qualify under current leave rules. For those who have been laid off, unemployment insurance should be expanded to cover workers who are not normally eligible, such as contingent faculty and other educators.
Make Department of Education regulations more flexible, but prevent Betsy DeVos from overstepping her authority
School districts and states should be granted flexibility by the Department of Education (ED) in Every Student Succeeds Act requirements so they can prioritize the health of their students, educators, and communities above concerns about assessments or “absenteeism.” States and districts should ensure the rights of students with disabilities and English learners are prioritized when requesting any flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education.
ED should also work with families, local educational agencies and stakeholders to ensure students with disabilities, especially those who are medically fragile or have significant cognitive disabilities, continue to receive services if districts or states decide to close school buildings but remain open virtually.
Expand assistance for early education/child care
In this package, legislators should include the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act, which includes $600 million for grants to child care providers. Policies that terminate eligibility based on a specific number of absent days should be waived to allow sick children and parents to stay home without disrupting revenue for providers.
NEA recommends that the Department of Health and Human Services should direct funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to areas affected by COVID-19. This already appropriated funding will aid in mitigating the impacts on child care programs, and help parents transitioning between work and unemployment programs during this crisis.
Additionally, the eligibility requirements for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program should be expanded to include all CCDBG-eligible child care businesses, regardless of profit status.
Expand nutrition assistance
Funding should be increased for the National School Lunch Program to expand access to newly eligible families impacted by COVID-19. Increasing flexibility will allow alternative meal distribution efforts and allow schools to reach more hungry kids, including in rural areas.
Any revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations should also be immediately halted to prevent negative effects on school meals and SNAP households.
Aid housing insecure and rural students
A comprehensive response to COVID-19 must provide emergency financial help to prevent housing instability and homelessness. That includes pausing action on foreclosures due to failure of families impacted by the pandemic to pay mortgages. To help minimize the number of people living in homeless encampments and prevent evictions, $4 billion should be invested in disaster relief and homelessness prevention programs.
Students and educators living in rural areas should receive federal assistance as well. By expanding the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, students will continue to receive access to much needed learning technology. The FCC can also free up additional funding that would allow schools to provide devices and WiFi. These provisions will help in closing the “homework gap” for students without such resources at home.
Check out the full list of the measures NEA is encouraging Congress to consider.