Clock is ticking, yet McConnell continues to delay COVID-19 response
As the new school year approaches and COVID-19 surges, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the GOP are hurting students, educators, and communities by keeping parents in limbo and schools scrambling to come up with contingency plans. McConnell refuses to take up the HEROES Act, passed by the House more than two months ago, and still has not come up with a bill of his own. The GOP is in such disarray the legislation could be released piecemeal, as a series of bills—a continuation of the failed, fractured approach that has prevailed when America needs bipartisan, bicameral cooperation to conquer and contain COVID-19.
From what we know, the GOP’s legislation will fall far short of what is needed. McConnell wants to limit spending to $1 trillion (one-third the amount provided by the HEROES Act), scale back stimulus checks, and reduce unemployment benefits. Several provisions strongly opposed by NEA could also be included like linking the receipt of education funding to in-person instruction without regard for safety, voucher schemes or set-aside programs that fund private schools at the expense of public schools, and waiving liability for providing safe teaching and learning conditions.
The GOP’s legislation will not include the $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments that is part of the HEROES Act—crucial if we are to avoid layoffs of educators, resume in-person instruction safely, and provide meaningful online instruction. If the economic damage from COVID-19 goes unchecked, nearly 2 million educators—one-fifth of the workforce—could lose their jobs over the next three years. These job losses would profoundly impact the 50 million students who attend public schools, their families, and communities—especially low-income students whose schools rely on Title I funding to lower class sizes, hire specialists, and offer a rich curriculum.
“Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has done absolutely nothing but stall the HEROES Act, go on a prolonged summer vacation, and squander critical time to safely and equitably reopen school buildings. And now he seems set on introducing a partisan bill that he knows won’t even pass in the Senate where he controls a majority,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
To help reopen schools and campuses safely, NEA is urging Congress to provide at least $175 billion to stabilize education funding, 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 more. TAKE ACTION
Comments due July 31 on DeVos rule that robs schools of resources
There’s still time to weigh in on a new rule from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that is diverting COVID-19 relief funding from high-poverty public schools to private schools, contrary to congressional intent. As a lawsuit filed by the NAACP says, “The Rule is as immoral as it is illegal. In a moment of crisis—when public school districts are called upon to educate their students in unprecedented circumstances, to protect their students and staff from disease, and to feed families who have been plunged into poverty, all with decimated state and local revenues—it is unconscionable for [DeVos] to siphon away the CARES Act’s desperately needed funds for the benefit of more affluent private-school students.”
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
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)introduced an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to improve accountability and transparency in the 1033 program, which transfers surplus military equipment to local law enforcement. Even though a majority of senators voted YES, the amendment was not adopted—under Senate rules, it needed 60 votes.
Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) introduced the ESP Family Leave Act to ensure the education support professionals who keep schools running effectively for our children can access leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) gave floor speeches urging support for a bill to strengthen the Defense Production Act—which could be used to require production of personal protective equipment—and called for unanimous consent to pass it.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) opposed the bill to strengthen the Defense Production Act, dashing hopes of passing it by unanimous consent.
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the School Choice Now Act, which would create a voucher program that provides federal tax credits for private school tuition and home schooling expenses.