Federal Flash: Education Advocates’ Reactions, Concerns, and Questions about the CARES Act

[Opening Music] I’m Anne Hyslop, and today I’ll be joined
by Lindsay Dworkin. On this edition of the Federal Flash, we’re
taking a deeper look at the funding and flexibility included in the stimulus bill passed by Congress
and the steps the U.S. Department of Education is taking to implement it. But first, a quick reminder to check out all4ed.org/coronavirus,
our online hub for Alliance resources related to the pandemic. Lindsay, what kind of reception has the stimulus
received so far? Thanks, Anne. It’s been less than two weeks since President
Trump signed a $2.2 trillion emergency funding bill. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic
Security Act, or CARES, included nearly $31 billion for K–12 and higher education and
an additional $4.25 billion for Head Start and childcare. But most educators and advocates feel that
amount falls well short of what states, districts, and college and universities will need to
respond to students’ short- and long-term needs. Recent history shows these concerns are warranted. Education funding in the American Recovery
and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus bill enacted in 2009, provided roughly $100 billion for
education. That’s more than three times the education
funding in the CARES Act. While state and local budgets undoubtedly
took a hit during the Great Recession, districts were not also faced with educating and caring
for students during prolonged school closures or making up for lost instructional time that
resulted. However, it’s possible more emergency funding
is on the way, as Capitol Hill gears up for an anticipated fourth stimulus package later
this month. In addition to more overall funding for education,
especially for vulnerable students like those experiencing homelessness, one thing we’re
hoping to see in a fourth stimulus is dedicated funding to expand home internet connectivity,
which was excluded from CARES. That said, the Federal Communications Commission,
or FCC, can already unlock existing dollars to increase home internet access without Congressional
action through the E-rate program. Please join us, more than 7,500 educators,
and nearly 300 organizations in calling for expanded home internet access. More information on what you can do to help
is available at www.futureready.org/homeinternet. Key questions education advocates need answered
include when states will be able to access CARES Act funds and what requirements they
will have to meet. The Department has 30 days to create applications
for Governors and for state education agencies to receive their portions of the $31 billion
stimulous fund. There is only one application requirement
in the law: States must pledge to maintain support for K–12 and higher education for
the next two years at a level that is no less than the average of what they’ve provided
across the past three years. But this requirement can be waived, so we’re
not sure yet whether funding from the CARES Act will add resources to schools, or just
backfill losses in state funding. We’re also concerned about transparency
and accountability, especially to ensure funds are targeted to the most vulnerable students. There are zero reporting requirements for
states or districts in CARES. That’s why we joined a dozen civil rights,
disability rights, and education advocates to urge the Department to create a funding
application that prioritizes equity and transparency. Specifically, we want the application to ask
critical questions to ensure funds will be spent on students with the greatest needs
during and after the COVID-19 crisis and to require public reporting of how funds are
spent locally. Another concern we raised to Secretary DeVos
was the CARES Act provision for her to report to Congress within 30 days whether states
and districts need additional waivers of federal requirements, including the Rehabilitation
Act and IDEA, where the Secretary lacks the waiver authority provided under ESSA. Disability and civil rights advocates, including
All4Ed, are worried that expanding waiver authority would mean that children with disabilities
will be left behind, unable to access online learning platforms, for example, or to receive
the supports required in their Individualized Educational Programs. While schools may not be able to provide the
same services, in the same manner, as they did before the crisis, we believe states,
districts, and families can work collaboratively to find solutions within current law. All4Ed joined over 50 organizations in sending
this message to Secretary DeVos last week. We’ll keep you posted. While IDEA flexibility is unresolved, states
are taking advantage of the flexibility from ESSA requirements outlined in the CARES Act. It’s now official: All 50 states, Washington,
D.C, and Puerto Rico have received waivers to suspend statewide testing this spring. This means that school report cards in the
fall will include only a limited set of data from the 2019–2020 school year, like graduation
rates. Further, no new schools will be identified
for improvement under ESSA next year, and all schools currently in improvement will
remain so. Because of the lost instruction and achievement
data as a result of COVID-19, once schools reopen, we hope states and districts will
consider ways to use low-stakes assessments to collect formative and diagnostic information
for educators and parents. Otherwise, we may have no idea how much ground
students will need to make up in order to remain on-track to meet their educational
goals and graduate prepared for future education and work. Our last story of the day: This week, the
Department released a streamlined process for states to apply for ESSA funding flexibility
authorized by the CARES Act. The Department’s 3-page form allows states
more time to spend federal funds within several programs. It also permits states to loosen district
spending requirements within the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, also
known as Title IV, Part A. That’s all for today. For an alert when the next Federal Flash is
available, email [email protected] Stay safe. Stay home. Thanks for watching. Federal Flash is the Alliance for Excellent
Education’s video series On important developments in education policy in Washington, D.C. Watch online at all4ed.org/federalflash, subscribe
to our YouTube channel, or listen to Federal Flash wherever you get your podcasts.

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