Will Sec. DeVos's privatization plans with COVID-19 relief funding prevail?
What will be in the next COVID-19 relief package? When can we expect it?
What happened to that bi-partisan love?
Members of Congress dribbled back to town this week, while the city and surrounding areas continue on stay-at-home orders.
The Senate reconvened in person this week despite warnings from medical experts and despite the fact that the DC area remains a COVID-19 hot spot. In order to enable this convening without it violating emergency limitations on large gatherings, the Mayor of DC -- Muriel Bowser -- anointed members of Congress as "essential workers," bringing them into the ranks of grocery store workers and front line health care personnel.
The frustration in the nation's greatest deliberative body was palpable. "I don't think we should have to come back. If we had something serious to do, COVID-19 four, or whatever, I'm here. That's what I was elected to do. Coming back for Mitch McConnell's former intern to be promoted to second-highest court in the land doesn't fit the description of a national emergency," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said.
The first roll call vote since March 25 was held on May 4. Thirteen Senators did not show up. About half of the members of the Senate are 65 or older - the age group considered most vulnerable to COVID-19 disease. Though most Senators were reported to follow protocol of wearing masks and social distancing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) were reported to have walked on to the Senate floor without masks.
New to the Capitol were plexiglass shields, boxes of masks and hand sanitizer. COVID-19 testing for all Members was made available by President Trump, but in a rare bipartisan move declined by both House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY). They recommended that the tests be prioritized for front line workers.
The House, which had also originally planned to reconvene this week, backed off after concerns raised by the Capitol physician. Some Committee work did proceed -- notably the Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on the federal response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Few members were physically present, yet the intrepid chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) held a remarkably bipartisan event, despite NIH expert Tony Fauci's absence -- having been prevented from testifying by President Trump.
The House is expected to physically convene next week, though that has not been confirmed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been aggressively working with Democratic members to shape the next COVID-13 relief package, which may be introduced as early as next week. Abandoning a bipartisan effort, she has worked exclusively with Democrats sending them the message to "think big" in putting the package together. It is expected to carry a price tag of over $1 trillion.
Education organizations and others are aggressively weighing in with recommendations for what is needed in the bill. Among the requests:
The Department of Education continues to administer the distribution of the $30.75 billion in the CARES Act which is targeted to education. This week the Department announced $1 billion in relief for HBCU's and minority serving institutions. At least 32 states have applied for their share of the $13.2 billion targeted to K-12 schools. The deadline for applications is July 1. Only eight states have applied for the $3 billion governor's fund. The application deadline is June 1.
The Department's actions have not been without controversy. Higher education groups have raised multiple concerns about questionable restrictions on the allowable use of funds. Last week's announcement of the creation of programs to promote microgrants (vouchers) to families of K-12 students continues to be met with alarm by some education organizations and Democratic lawmakers. The Chief State School Officers have weighed in with concerns about guidance the Department issued which would boost funding directed to private schools. (Current law requires school districts to set aside funds to provide equitable services to low-income children in participating private schools.) By changing the formula for distribution, non-public schools would receive an inequitable amount of funding - far more than Congress intended, they said. In the letter Carissa Moffat Miller, CCSSO's executive director, noted that private schools in Louisiana, for example, would receive 267% more funding that they would have if the current distribution formula was used. Furthermore, "In Orleans Parish, Louisiana, at least 77% of its CARES formula allocation would be directed to non-public schools in the area," she wrote.
The CARES Act provided $7 million for the Department of Education's Inspector General to conduct oversight on the education portion of the law. This week the IG's office issued the coronavirus relief oversight plan which will serve as a watchdog on how the Department is administering the law, as well as how recipients of the funds are using those funds. In addition, the IG will keep tabs on how states are complying with certain requirements of IDEA.
CCSSO letter: https://ccsso.org/
Dept. of Ed guidance on non-public schools funding in CARES Act: https://oese.ed.gov/
Department of Education Coronavirus Relief Oversight Plan: https://subscriber.politicopro.com/
Despite urgings from multiple organizations to delay the issuance of controversial Title IX regulations in the midst of a national emergency, the Department went ahead to unveil rules that govern how schools and colleges handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault - and requires them to go into effect August 14. The Administration has marketed this rule as a strategy to bolster the rights of accused students and restore fairness to due process which is often stacked against the accused. Opponents say the rule gives a green light to ignore sexual harassment and assault. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), said that "Democrats will not stand silently as the Trump Administration attacks the civil rights of students and will fight to ensure that every college campus is free from the fear and threat of discrimination, harassment or violence." The issue of Title IX was a sticking point for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and one of the reason's its progress was stalled in the Senate. These regulations will only add fuel to the disagreement and one more element of further delay to that effort.
Stay safe and be well. And be in touch on twitter @janewestdc