Some questions:

When will the funds from the $2 trillion COVID response bill actually become available to educators?
Will there be another COVID response bill? What will be in it?
How are students with disabilities being served during the pandemic? Are waivers from the law needed?

Washington Update, April 17, 2020


Dear Colleagues:

It's been a rough couple of weeks for me. My son and his fiancé got coronavirus. Fortunately, it looks like they are coming out on the other side of it and for that I am most grateful. It's a scary illness and my heart goes out to all who are dealing with it. Stay strong.

1. Implementation of the $2 Trillion CARES Act: Where Do We Stand?

It's hard to keep track of the swirl of information about federal efforts to address the pandemic in the education space. Here is my best shot at a high-level summary of where things stand:

1) Does the state intend to use any of the funds to support remote learning for students? If so, how does the state plan to assess such learning, and how will they make sure that students with disabilities, students from low-income families and non-public students are served?

2) Does the state plan to use any of the funds to increase capacity via hardware, software, connectivity or instructional expertise?

3) Does the state plan to use funding to develop new resources for remote learning, including best practices and innovations, and if so, what are the resources they have their eyes on?

The question of waivers to IDEA continues to heat up. The CARES Act requires the Secretary of Education to submit to Congress a report by April 26 outlining the waivers to IDEA that she believes are necessary during the pandemic. Over 1000 special education and related organizations submitted a letter opposing any IDEA waivers. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities' Education Task Force sponsored a briefing for congressional staff this week providing an overview of IDEA and a rationale for why waivers are not needed. The National Center on Learning Disabilities has distributed an advocacy tool kit urging waiver opposition. Many other education organizations support IDEA waivers noting that flexibility is needed during the pandemic. Among these are two special education administrator organizations.

As a postscript, I want to note two rarely acknowledged provisions in the CARES Act which affect teachers and student financial aid. These are modifications to TEACH grants and the loan forgiveness program for teachers. They are as follows:

The ever amazing Congressional Research Service has posted a comprehensive compendium or resources about the pandemic:

Distribution of Governor's Fund:

CCD congressional briefing on IDEA and waivers:

Letter opposing IDEA waivers:

Letter supporting IDEA waivers:

2.What's Next for COVID Funding?

Both the House and Senate indicated this week that they would not be returning until May 4. Many believe that date may be pushed back further. In the meantime, two funding packages seem to be on the horizon to address the pandemic - a CARES-2, or COVID 3.5 bill - and a COVID-4 bill.

The COVID 3.5 bill was raised this week by Majority Leader Sen. McConnell (R-KY) and others as a $250 billion to fill the depleted coffers of the small business bailout program (called the Paycheck Protection Program). Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), would only play ball if another $250 billion was added for state and local governments. A stalemate ensued and no progress was made so far.

At the same time, a COVID-4 package is under development for possible consideration in May. This would be a more robust bill and a follow up to COVID-3, the CARES Act. Both the K-12 and higher education sectors are weighing in with what is needed for relief in COVID-4. A dozen K-12 organizations submitted a letter outlining the need for $200 billion and noting the drastic revenue shortfalls anticipated in state budgets. Their request broke out as follows:

A higher education coalition coalition has requested $46.6 billion for colleges and students as they brace for financial difficulties that will be far worse than the great recession, they believe. Higher education groups noted the following challenges that are anticipated:

In addition, the nation's research universities and medical schools have requested $26 billion in federal assistance to fund research at NIH and NSF so that universities can extend research projects, pay research support personnel and operating costs and expand funding for graduate students and postdoc fellowships.

Higher Education funding request:

Higher Education Research funding request:

Funding request of K-12 education organizations:

3. Sec. DeVos Proposes Vouchers for Professional Development

This week Sec. DeVos issued a priority to fund vouchers for professional development for teachers. The press release notes that this initiative would empower teacher to select and access the professional development which is relevant to their personal needs or career goals "instead of having one-size-fits all programming dictated to them by the state or local education agency." The release further notes "If we can trust teachers with our children each day, we should trust them to select the right continuing education courses." The program would be funded through the Education and Innovation and Research program authorized under ESSA and created to explore ways to improve academic achievement for high need students. The proposed priority is open for public comments until May 13. Multiple education organizations have opposed this concept and will likely continue to weigh in.


4. New Resources for Educators

Our stay-at-home order in Maryland, where I live, has been extended until May 15. I'm not sure how many more zoom book clubs I can join, but I'm investigating. Take good care. In the meantime, be safe, stay well and be in touch on twitter @janewestdc


Jane E. West Ph.D.
Education Policy Consultant
Cell: 202.812.9096
Twitter: @janewestdc

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