By Amanda Menas
On March 10, Congress finally passed the American Rescue Plan, President’s Biden $1.9 trillion stimulus package that will provide critical funding for public schools, create and support millions of jobs, cut child poverty in half, make health care more affordable, and put this pandemic behind us.
“This historic legislation not only provides the resources to help every school building put in place the effective measures needed to keep students and educators safe; it also makes extraordinary investments that will lift countless children and families out of poverty and works to address the immense inequities that have systematically affected the most vulnerable students and communities of color,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. The bill provides economic relief, updates vaccination efforts, and helps educators and students return to in-person learning.
Over the past months, NEA members and activists wrote hundreds of thousands of messages and placed thousands of calls to their senators and representatives advocating for Congress to pass this package that will include the single largest investment ever in education funding, providing nearly $170 billion to public schools.
President Joe Biden has said his goal is to help communities recover from the pandemic equitably, with a focus on helping public schools. Like educators and parents, Biden wants students to be able to return to in-person learning safely, and has acted to make that a reality through the passage of the American Rescue Plan. “We can do this if we give the schools, the districts, the communities and the states the clear guidance they need, as well as the resources they need,” Biden said.
Here are 5 key things you should know about how this infusion of resources to help public schools. The American Rescue Plan will:
Help schools operate safely, and add student supports
The American Rescue Plan includes nearly $170 billion in dedicated public education funding. That money can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces to comply with social distancing; modernize HVAC systems; hire more school custodians, nurses and counselors; and facilitate social distancing on transportation services with additional buses and drivers. The funding can also be used to add supports to address student trauma and learning loss.
The plan will accelerate the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country and increase testing capacity. President Biden has encouraged states to prioritize educators in their distribution plans.
President Biden has listened to educators’ calls for intensifying support and instruction for students traumatized by the impact of the coronavirus on their families and communities. His relief plan invests funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to provide and update mental health services and support for students’ emotional and physical well being in and out of instructional programming.
Add critical funding to increase safety on college campuses
The American Rescue Plan directs $40 billion to public institutions of higher education to assist in the implementation of safety protocols, distance learning programs and emergency financial assistance for millions of students who may have counted out going to college as the pandemic hit. Additionally, funding will be allocated for student services to support mental health and social and emotional learning at colleges and universities.
Provide historic anti-poverty relief for children and working families
As the largest anti-poverty program in decades, the American Rescue Plan will cut the child poverty rate in half, provide food and housing security for families, and put money in the wallets of those working families who need it most, including those who have lost their jobs.
The plan provides $350 billion in direct funding to states, territories, tribes, and local governments to be used to offset revenue losses, bolster economic recovery, and help protect front-line workers, including educators, from further lay-offs. Roughly 280,000 education jobs were lost between August and September 2020, and thanks to the advocacy of educators across the country, Biden’s plan will protect many more from the same fate. Educators say the next step is to fully fund COBRA to ensure those who have lost their jobs can continue their health benefits.
Support equitable pandemic recovery
“We see firsthand how issues such as hunger and housing insecurity impact our students and their ability to learn, and we see how the economic crisis has impacted them and their families particularly in rural, urban, and poor communities,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. Biden has listened to NEA members who have advocated on behalf of their students of color and low-income students to ensure that pandemic relief funding is distributed equitably. In response, funding within the American Rescue Plan is set aside for a COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant to support partnerships with school communities to advance equity and evidence-based policies to respond to educational challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.
Help close the digital divide
The American Rescue Plan allocates $7 billion to purchase technology (both devices and WiFi connectivity) for students to aid in their digital learning interactions. This is the single largest one-time investment ever in the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program—and the only appropriated investment in the program’s history—specifically to help schools ensure all K-12 students have an internet connection or a device adequate for distance learning at home so they can participate in remote learning.
The funding is specifically directed at low-income students and students with disabilities. In order to be best prepared for future out-of-school learning time, there will also be funding directed at planning to provide technology to all students, and supporting eligible schools and libraries in providing, among other things, eligible connected devices, internet service, and hotspots to students and teachers for internet use at home.
“This federal legislation will undoubtedly alleviate some of our nation’s immense suffering,” sad Pringle. “But there is still much work ahead to fully recover from the worst crisis to hit this country in more than a century — and to build back something better. NEA has outlined proven ways to help students overcome COVID-19 opportunity gaps and meet students’ academic, social and emotional needs in a comprehensive plan. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create the public schools all students — Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike — need and deserve. Our work is not over.”