$2 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Package Provides Initial Education Relief

The COVID-19 state and national emergency declarations are dramatically altering the U.S. school system. Currently, at least 98,000 public schools and at least 34,000 private schools in the U.S. are closed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Those schools educate almost 50.8 million public school students and 5.8 million private school students. As of March 27, four states have closed schools for the remainder of the academic year, and more are likely to follow.

Congress is attempting to appropriate emergency funding through five phases, though that could change as federal and state authorities continue to monitor the escalation of the novel coronavirus. Congress just passed, and the President signed, the Phase III package, and this will provide some emergency funding for education through direct grants to states to backfill budget shortfalls. 

Early in the education funding discussions, some lawmakers proposed waiving current requirements for ESSA’s Title IV-A Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (SSAEG) Program and block-granting its Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding to allow states to use the funds without restriction. While the flexibility and wide range of allowable uses within Title IV-A can help address many urgent needs, it is by no means a program designed to address the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency funding is fundamental for students to endure the crisis but stripping a program of its intended functions is not a substitute for additional emergency funding that states will need.

Photo: iStockImages / drnadig

NAfME, through the Title IV-A Coalition, wrote a letter to Congressional leaders, stating that rather than tinkering with Title IV-A’s existing structure, the creation of an entirely separate program for the educational response to COVID-19 is necessary. Doing so would follow the precedent of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) enacted in response to the Great Recession. 

For the moment, it seems as though NAfME and the Title IV-A Coalition’s advocacy efforts have prevailed. The Phase III supplemental funding bill does not include structural changes to Title IV-A and includes emergency funding that is additional to funding for current programs. 

What is in the Phase III Supplemental Funding for Education?

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed, and the President enacted, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The legislation provides some initial relief by including $30 billion for education through a Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund that covers K-12 funding, higher education, pre-K, adult education, and career technical education. Specifically, the law provides $13.5 billion in formula funding for K-12 education and $14.5 billion is for higher education institutions. The final $3 billion is flexible for any education needs.

K-12 funding would go to public, charter, and private schools. Funding could be used for programs under ESSA, IDEA, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. 

Additionally, the law suspends all student loan payments for 3 months and allows the Secretary to suspend them for an additional 3 months. Interest on student loans will not accrue, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness will count the deferred months as if payments had been made.

Some other provisions related to education and students are:

  • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
  • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
  • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
  • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
  • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities. 

More emergency funding will be necessary to support distance learning capacity for all students and to continue essential services, including providing meals for low-income students. NAfME will continue to coalition with other education organizations to advocate for funding for the U.S. school system. Like the rest of America, the U.S. school system will persevere, and more federal help to students and teachers will be necessary to endure this epidemic.

Tooshar Swain, Assistant Director of Public Policy, March 30, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)