Education News

Five things Congress must do now for schools and families

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.

Take Action: Tell Congress to prioritize working families in the COVD-19 stimulus package

11 responses to “Five things Congress must do now for schools and families

  1. We need to provide those students in dead zones or lacking the equipment they need with the tools to benefit from online learning.

  2. Please assist our families in getting through the madness that has gripped our country, our schools, our teaching faculty and staff. Business that have closed who were great supporters of our school families now are faced with choices of laying off workers. Those workers are parents of our students, spouses of teachers who do everything in their power to be supportive.

    Regulations should be made more flexible from the DOE and at the same time prevent persons higher up from taking advantage of our most vulnerable population: Exceptional Education students. Please make sure the families receive continued support to ensure a better future for their child.

    Providing stimulus checks to everyone in need should take priority over corporate bushiness. Please assist our students in receiving a free education whether on line or in public.

  3. We also need to provide internet and 1:1 computer technology for our students. Many families only have smart phones with limited data plans.

  4. Nowhere in this article is there mention of protection or concern for substitute teachers. After 5 years of steady employment as a probationary teacher for 2 districts in a row, I found myself only able to be employed as a substitute teacher. And my employment ended abruptly and indefinitely on 3/13/20, the day the Superintendent of Schools for Santa Clara County ordered the closing of all public K-12 schools.

    Unlike teachers with a collective bargaining contract, substitutes do not receive annual salaries. So we are without income, or any assurance of when we will return to work.

    Unlike teachers, who are being paid whether they teach or not, substitutes have no income now, and even after students return to school, we will not be paid for 30-40 days, depending on districts’ payroll and accounting practices.
    Does NEA know how many of us are employed more than 3 or more days per week? Or working long term (defined in the only district for whom I substitute as 20 or more days in the same assignment)

  5. “but prevent Betsy DeVos from overstepping her authority” and
    “Stimulus checks are a must over corporate bailouts.”
    Statements like these are polarizing and distastefully political. Keep the focus on educating ALL American students, families, and Educators. The NEA should not be a platform of the Democratic Party.

    I might stop paying union dues if your aim is only to support the Democratic Party and a partisan agenda over the needs of our citizens.

  6. Students and their families are impacted more than we know. It is paramount that families continue to receive nutritious meals to prevent a further strain on parents and households. These strains can also unwarranted acts towards students.

    I further believe that students should be offered technology and free internet services (if needed) so that they may visit valuable, learning sites and possibly connect with teachers for additional questions.

    With that, public education should continue to be funded to afford these opportunities to teachers, parents and students. Students would then be able to benefit from learning through technology. Teachers would remain in a paid status (continuing to receive salaries) as many educators (including myself) are continuing to work from home during these cumbersome times.

  7. I’m an educator and I agree with the above letter and students needing access online to continue with learning.

  8. Please help our families get through this crisis. As a teacher, I am very worried about my students right now. Their families already struggled daily for food, housing, etc. They need assistance more than ever.

    Make Department of Education regulations more flexible, but prevent Betsy DeVos from overstepping her authority. We know that she is NOT a supporter of public schools, so please make sure that she is acting for ALL students and not just her own interests in private or charter schools.

    Stimulus checks are a must over corporate bailouts. Students need to have access to online education if schools must close for longer than predicted. Special services for special education students must be considered as well in order to ensure that education is free, appropriate and public.

    Please take care of the families and their needs while teachers are quarantined at home.

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