McConnell’s coronavirus bill to be unveiled this week
Two months after the House took bold action and passed the HEROES Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is finally expected to reveal his vision for the next coronavirus bill. Initial indications are that it will provide insufficient support for education and contain multiple poison pills, including a renewed push for vouchers. In short, McConnell and his enablers are continuing to waste time instead of working with Democrats to craft a bill Congress can pass.
Meanwhile, parents, educators, and school districts are emphasizing the need to reopen schools safely. In a positive development, the administration reversed course and abandoned its plan to deport international college students unless they attend classes in person; a public outcry and multiple lawsuits propelled the shift.
NEA’s priorities for the next coronavirus package remain the same: at least $175 billion to stabilize education funding, at least $56 million in directed funding for personal protective equipment (PPE), at least $4 billion to equip students with hot spots and devices to help narrow the digital divide and close the homework gap, relief for student loan borrowers, and at least $4 billion to protect voting rights and make voting by mail more widely available. TAKE ACTION
All students must be able to do schoolwork at home
The decision of many large school districts to continue remote learning this fall underscores the longstanding and urgent need to narrow the digital divide and close the “homework gap”—the inability to do schoolwork at home due to lack of internet access. Nationwide, as many as 16 million students are affected—nearly 1 in 3—and they hail from every state. A disproportionate share of those students are African-American, Hispanic, live in rural areas, or come from low-income families.
NEA believes the best approach is to work through the Federal Communications Commission’s trusted E-Rate program—not a new program that leaves room for winners and losers. The Emergency Educational Connections Act (S. 3690/H.R. 6563) would provide up to $4 billion for a one-time emergency fund, administered by E-Rate, to equip students with hot spots and devices during the COVID-19 pandemic. TAKE ACTION
New DeVos rule shifts resources from public to private schools
The U.S. Department of Education is requesting comments on an interim final rule that is diverting COVID-19 relief funding from high-poverty public schools to private schools, contrary to congressional intent. “Make no mistake about it,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “DeVos continues to use the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis to push her extreme agenda to privatize public education.”
The CARES Act explicitly requires districts to provide private schools with services in the “same manner” as Title I, which uses the number of low-income students in each school to allocate funds. Under the new DeVos rule, districts may instead base allocations on the total private school population—a change that could rob under-resourced public schools of hundreds of millions of dollars. In Michigan, for example, private schools would get four times as much—$21.6 million instead of the $5.1 million worth of services the Title I funding formula would provide, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. TAKE ACTION
Cheers and Jeers
Rep. John Larson (D-CT) introduced the Social Security COVID-19 Correction and Equity Act (H.R. 7499) to prevent unintended and unanticipated cut in Social Security benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Reps. Earl Perlmutter (D-CO) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) led the successful effort to include in the Department of Education’s appropriations bill language requiring $1 million worth of research into active shooter drills and other school security efforts that may adversely affect the mental health and behavior of students and staff.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) offered an amendment in an Appropriations Committee hearing that would eliminate civil rights protections for students in the District of Columbia’s voucher program. Fortunately, the amendment failed.