Will the next COVID-19 emergency spending bill meet the needs of the education system?
What resources are available to assist educators during the massive transfer to online instruction?
As we all hunker down and monitor the hourly changes to our situations, I'm most grateful for our online capacity to stay connected. Zoom has never been such a welcome tool! I am taking daily walks to get out and keep my sanity - and also participating in online workout sessions. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Washington - a most welcome sight. What are you doing to stay on an even keel? Let me know. Deep breaths all around!
1. Washington Continues to Respond to the Coronavirus Epidemic
I'm sure you have been monitoring the daily updates and the moment by moment directives from the federal, state and local government, as well as your institutions of higher education and school districts regarding the virus. The Congress and federal agencies are likewise making changes by the moment. A 50,000 foot overview includes the following.
Sen. McConnell introduced S. 3548, the CARES Act, as the starting point for the third COVID-13 package which Congress is finalizing this weekend. The bill includes provisions which would provide Sec. DeVos with broad waiver authority over the Higher Education Act, ESSA and Perkins.
In terms of IDEA, it calls for the Secretary to provide a report within thirty days with a list of waivers needed to be included in IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Presumably, Congress would then amend the law to provide her with the authority to grant such waivers. The disability/special education community voiced strong concern about this provision since key provisions in the law could be altered. In addition, amending IDEA in the Congress to provide waiver authority could attract other troubling amendments. Some organizations, such as the National School Boards Association, called for additional authority for the Department to grant waivers and flexibility in relation to IDEA. The Council for Exceptional Children noted that "We know they (teachers)need administrative relief and some level of flexibility to serve all students; however, Congress must not jeopardize the core principles of the IDEA." Several education and related groups, including NCLD and Ed Trust, issued a statement opposing the waiver authority noting that "No new waiver authority is necessary under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." All organizations agreed that more funding for IDEA is needed.
In terms of higher education, the bill gives Sec. Devos authority to defer student loan payments - principal and interest - for three months, with an additional three months if necessary. It also provides her broad waiver authority under the Higher Education Act. The higher education community does not think the bill offers nearly what is needed for students nor institutions. They are seeking access to low-cost capital, a fund to help institutions transition to online operations and temporary flexibility under federal education requirements.
Senate Democrats are pushing for additional funding for education, as outlined in a number of bills which have been introduced, including one by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the Senate and House democratic leaders on education committees. The $3 billion Murray/Scott bill provides $1.2 billion for education preparedness and support grants for school districts or institutions of higher education, $600 million for early care and education programs, $1.2 billion for emergency financial aid for students and $3 million for the national child traumatic stress network.
A compromise bill is expected early next week. The Senate will vote on it and then it will move to the House for consideration.
Wishing you a peaceful and joyful weekend. Stay in touch on twitter @janewestdc