COVID-19 package passes House; now it’s up to the Senate
By a vote of 219-212, the House passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan proposed by President Biden. The bill provides $170 billion in dedicated education funding to advance the process of safely returning to in-person instruction at K-12 school buildings and provide institutional and student support at the higher education level to address the health, safety, and financial challenges created by COVID-19; $350 billion in state and local aid to avoid further layoffs of educators and other essential public servants; and $7 billion in emergency funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program to address the “homework gap” and lost opportunities to learn by equipping students and educators with internet access and devices for remote teaching and learning.
Other provisions of the bill include funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to test, track, and vaccinate people; increased Affordable Care Act premium subsidies so people don’t have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for coverage; and increased support for Medicaid, community health centers, and tribal health programs. The bill also provides $1,400 payments to eligible individuals earning under $75,000 a year; and increases supplemental unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 per week, and extends them through August. While the bill also includes a provision that raises the federal minimum wage from $7.75 to $15 per hour by 2025, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the provision violates budget rules and cannot be included in the package. Senate democrats are exploring their options, but will likely need to find another vehicle.
As the action moves to the Senate, Democrats are pushing to enact the law before March 14, when unemployment benefits for more than 11 million workers begin to expire. TAKE ACTION
Community schools reimagine how to help students learn
A new bill in Congress looks to dramatically increase federal support for a school model that reimagines how to help students learn—by first making sure their basic needs are met. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) introduced the Full-Service Community School Expansion Act on Tuesday.
Research supports what educators know from experience: Students living in poverty do not have the same opportunities because they face barriers that their wealthier peers do not.
Children who are hungry, experience homelessness, or bear other stresses of their family’s financial hardship can’t always focus, participate in class, or complete assignments—and that’s if they can make it to school at all. Students of color are more likely to experience these conditions—the result of inequities built into a system that protects white supremacy.
Some districts are working to counteract these factors by establishing community schools, in which educators, administrators, students, and families work together to achieve their vision for the schools and communities. Read more. TAKE ACTION
Equality Act passes the House
By a vote of 224-206, the House passed the Equality Act; the bill was introduced in the Senate last week. The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and other federal laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, giving LGBTQ Americans explicit protection from discrimination in key areas of life: employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The current patchwork of laws—most states lack non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity—leaves many students and educators vulnerable to discrimination and sends the message LGBTQ Americans are second-class citizens. The Equality Act would help cultivate nurturing and supportive school environments for LGBTQ students while safeguarding LGBTQ educators, often key sources of support and encouragement for LGBTQ students. TAKE ACTION
House to vote this week on George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
Going to school or returning home from an after-school job or visiting friends or going to a cookout or concert—or a playground—should not put students’ lives at risk. But sadly, in communities of color, this is the reality. A 2019 study published in a National Academy of Sciences journal found that about 1 in every 1,000 Black men can expect to be killed by police.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R. 1280), which was reintroduced last week, takes initial steps to end police brutality, protect civil rights and liberties, and change the culture of law enforcement agencies. These steps include ending racial and religious profiling and no-knock warrants, mandatory de-escalation training for police, prohibiting chokeholds and other potentially fatal maneuvers like the one that killed George Floyd, and requiring police to use dashboard and body cameras. We also need to end the transfer of military weapons to state and local police agencies. Many of these provisions are included in the NEA executive committee-approved Justice for Black Lives. TAKE ACTION
Cheers and Jeers
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Equality Act (S. 393) in the Senate; the bill has 48 cosponsors.
Three Republicans voted for the Equality Act: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, John Katko of New York, and Tom Reed of New York.
The 16 Republican Sens. Richard Burr (NC), Shelley Moore Capitol (WV), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Deb Fischer (NE), Chuck Grassley (IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Ron Johnson (WI), Mitch McConnell (KY), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (UT), Marco Rubio (FL), and Thom Tillis (NC) who voted with all democrats on cloture for Department of Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona. The final confirmation vote is expected Monday.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced the SOAR Permanent Authorization Act (S. 114), which would continue and increase funding for the District of Columbia voucher program.