President Biden calls for historic investment in Title I
On Friday, President Biden released a blueprint for next year’s budget that calls on Congress to increase U.S. Department of Education funding by more than 40 percent. Title I funding for high-poverty schools would rise by $20 billion—the biggest year-over-year increase since the program’s inception in 1965—and the annual Pell Grant maximum by $400 with access expanded to Dreamers. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) would also receive significant increases. The upcoming budget is also expected to propose historic increases to Full-Service Community Schools, a significant boost for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding, and a large investment in school counselors.
“President Joe Biden and his administration are making good on the promise to lift our most vulnerable families out of poverty with a budget that truly prioritizes students. The historic investment in Title I funding is a continued commitment to building a better America for all,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “We also commend President Biden and his administration for proposing significant investments in special education, full-service community schools, school counselors, affordable housing and healthcare while extending Pell Grants to Dreamers.”
Biden’s infrastructure plan is a good start for schools; Congress can improve it
America spends more on public schools than any part of our infrastructure except roads and highways. Our 100,000 public school buildings house more than 50 million students and educators. Yet many of those buildings are poorly equipped or in poor physical condition—so poor it undermines student learning.
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, released March 31, includes $100 billion to modernize K-12 public school facilities, $12 billion to upgrade the community college infrastructure, and $25 billion to improve child care facilities—a good start that leaves room for further improvement and increased investment.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the best estimates indicate an annual funding gap of at least $38 billion for public school facilities. And no wonder: half our school buildings are more than 50 years old. More than 40 percent had issues with their HVAC systems even before the pandemic. Many public schools, especially in rural areas, still do not have access to high-speed broadband sufficient for digital learning.
Modernizing public schools is an investment in our nation’s future—the best investment we can make. NEA supports the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act (S. 96/H.R. 604), which would create a $100 billion grant program and $30 billion tax-credit bond program targeting high-poverty schools whose facilities pose health and safety risks to students and staff. It would also restore Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs) that can be used to finance school renovations, repairs, and investments in technology at below-market rates—sometimes, as low as zero. TAKE ACTION
Controversy over voting rights intensifies
As the Senate prepares to take up the For the People Act, fallout continues to mount from voter-suppression measures signed into law in Georgia on March 25 beneath a photo of a slave plantation tweeted by Governor Brian Kemp. Several Georgia-based corporations voiced opposition to the law while Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. In contrast, supporters of the law are perpetuating the lie that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election due to massive voter fraud. Meanwhile, more than 360 bills with provisions to restrict voting have been introduced in 47 state legislatures—a 43 percent increase between Feb. 19 and March 24, 2021, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.
The most comprehensive democracy bill in decades, the For the People Act rests on three pillars: reaffirming and expanding voting rights, strengthening oversight to end big money in politics, and ensuring an ethical government. To achieve these goals, the bill would, among other things, institute automatic voter registration and voluntary public financing of campaigns, place new limits on partisan practices like gerrymandering and purging voter rolls, and require candidates for president and vice president to release their tax returns for the previous 10 years. The For the People Act also makes a strong argument for the District of Columbia to become the 51st state.
Tell your senators to support the For the People Act to ensure access to the ballot box and prevent states from restricting and suppressing the vote as Georgia has done. TAKE ACTION
Include healthy school meals in the American Families Plan
NEA is advocating for inclusion of healthy school meals for all students in President Biden’s forthcoming American Families Plan. America’s infrastructure is not just roads and bridges; it includes our food distribution system and our methods for getting nutritious meals to all those who need them. During the pandemic, food insecurity has grown dramatically. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided waivers to schools, allowing them to offer meals to all students at no charge—an approach that should not be rolled back after the pandemic.
The last year has underscored what educators and nutrition and anti-hunger advocates already knew: Many students need a nutritious breakfast and lunch at school, but do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Additionally, some eligible students are not certified or fall through the cracks. What’s more, students often feel a sense of shame about needing free or reduced-price meals and, because of the stigma, opt out as they get older. Children also bear the brunt of the unpaid school meal debt facing families and schools. Healthy school meals for all would be life-changing for students, their families, schools and communities. TAKE ACTION