Washington Update July 10, 2020
It’s been a busy — if not dizzying — week in DC – from movement on funding bills in the House to Trump Administration threats to withhold education funding and withdraw non-profit tax status from schools that do not fully open in the fall. The rest of July will likewise be action packed and fraught as Congress sprints to the August recess.
1. House Appropriations Subcommittee Adopts Education Funding Bill for FY 2021
On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations, chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), adopted a spending bill for FY 2021, which begins October 1. Though the bill was adopted by the subcommittee, the final vote was partisan with 9 Democrats supporting and 6 Republicans opposing. No amendments were offered in subcommittee; however, Republicans indicated there will be plenty at the full committee markup, which will occur on Monday.
Because the bill was required to stay within previously agreed upon budget caps, there were only modest increases for education. Overall education spending was increased by 1.7%, or $1.2 billion, bringing federal education spending to a total of $73.5 billion.
Below are a few programs and the new proposed funding levels in the Subcommittee bill.
In a moving tribute to outgoing Chair of the Appropriations Committee Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chair DeLauro reflected on her many years of service with her retiring colleague. She noted that she, Rep. Lowey, and Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) became a formidable trio in the early days, often putting their heads together to develop policy initiatives and strategies to address inequities for women, as well as share shopping tips. They referred to themselves as “DeLoSi.”
The bill will likely be passed by the full committee next week and then head to the House floor for a full vote the week of July 20. Chair Lowey has indicated that she would like to have all 12 funding bills passed by the House before the August recess. The Senate has no plan to begin consideration of the funding bills for FY 2021. Thus, the likelihood of a continuing resolution, or simple extension of current funding levels, becomes greater as we move toward the November election.
2. Trump and DeVos Put the Squeeze on K-12 and Higher Education to OPEN UP OR ELSE: Impact on Next COVID Relief Package
In a remarkable one-two punch this week, the Trump Administration has thrown down the gauntlet regarding opening up schools in the fall in the midst of the pandemic. Every day the challenge continues to morph, expand and cause chaos in the education community. On Monday, the Administration announced that international students who attend colleges on visas in the U.S. will be prohibited from remaining in the country if their school’s classes are entirely online. Failure to comply with in-person learning requirements could result in removal from the country. Some universities have already decided to provide only on-line learning; most are still wrestling with exactly how to proceed and considering some combination of on-line and in person learning. In some universities the various Departments have tremendous leeway for decision making about on-line vs. in-person.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office released this new policy as guidance with the promise that an enforceable regulation is coming shortly. Two universities – Harvard and MIT — have already filed a lawsuit and more are planning such action to block the rule. Attorney Generals in California and Massachusetts are expected to file lawsuits, in addition to the University of California. Universities are required to report by July 15 whether they will be totally online in the fall. A hearing is set for July 14 in the Harvard/MIT case and the judge will issue a decision on July 15. Universities are scrambling to figure out how to follow the guidance, yet hoping the rule will be blocked by the court, rescinded or significantly altered. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce blasted the policy urging the Administration to back off:
“This policy could force tens of thousands of international students to leave the U.S. for reasons outside of their control and needlessly injects an immense amount of uncertainty into our nation’s higher education system at a time when colleges and universities are grappling with significant logistical and financial challenges. The chilling effect it will have on international student enrollment will inflict significant harm upon American colleges and universities, their students, the business community, and our economy,” wrote CEO Thomas Donohue.
Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall University summed it up well: “It’s just going to be a brutal fall.”
The tactic chosen for K-12 education was more of a frontal assault: open up schools in person, or risk loosing federal funds. Pres. Trump began the blast by tweeting “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL.” The word “safely” was notably missing in the tweet. On a call with Governors, Sec. DeVos blasted districts that are not planning to fully reopen schools “Education leaders need to examine real data and weigh risk…risk is involved in everything we do, from learning to ride a bike to riding a rocket into space and everything in between,” she said.
The Trump team sees opening schools as a key to boosting the economy, and thus, his re-election. NEA President Lilly Eskelsen Garcia said “you know that somebody is looking for a better jobs report. He’s hoping some indicator goes up that people are going back to work and he is saying ‘sacrifice your children , sacrifice their teachers, sacrifice their families that they could infect because I need something to sell in November.’” She also referred to Trump as an “idiot.”
Sec. DeVos indicated that she might withhold funding from schools that do not offer fully in-person classes. While she would not legally be able to do that with existing funding, she could insist that any future education funds in another COVID relief bill make such requirements. Of course, Congress would have to agree to that.
On Thursday on Fox News Sec. DeVos offered the following revision to her position: “We are not suggesting pulling funding from education, but instead allowing families, take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools refuse to open. Schools can reopen safely and they must reopen.”
Perturbed with the aggressive push back from the education community, President Trump upped the ante on Friday challenging the tax-exempt status of universities and school systems. He tweeted:
“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education. Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status….and or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated.”
President Trump ordered the CDC to revise their guidance for school re-openings so that it is more manageable. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued reopening guidance noting that schools should start with a goal of having students physically present at school. President Trump touted the guidance from the Pediatricians as supporting his position to demand the opening up of schools, prompting a firm pushback from the organization which stated “withholding funding from schools that do not open in person fulltime would be a misguided approach putting already financially strapped schools in an impossible position that would threaten the health of students and teachers.”
A survey by the national Association of Secondary school Principals found that just 35.2% were somewhat confident or extremely confident in “their school/districts ability to preserve the health of staff and students as schools physically reopen in the fall.” An analysis completed by AASA and the Association of School Business Officials found that the average U.S. school district may need to spend an additional $1.8 million to reopen buildings given expenses for health monitoring, cleaning, PPE, additional staffing, and transportation. Seventeen national education organizations are sponsoring a webinar on July 16 from 7-8:15 PM ET How Can We Safely Reopen Schools in the Fall? Medical and education experts and leaders will present.
With the next COVID relief funding bill on the docket for July, the debate about re-opening will likely take center stage. In addition to leveraging in-person school openings with funds, Sec. DeVos will likely insist on funding for her signature voucher program, “Education Freedom Scholarships.” The House has passed its next COVID Relief bill, the HEROES Act. It includes an additional $100 billion for education. Sen. Murray introduced the Senate Democrat’s proposal, the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which calls for an additional $430 billion for education.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that getting kids back to school will be a theme of the next COVID relief bill. He has noted some willingness to provide additional funding for schools and also drawn a red line insisting that both K-12 schools and higher education have liability protections in the bill.
3. Biden-Sanders Team Issues Unity Platform for Education
Weeks ago presidential candidate VP Joe Biden announced several advisory groups intended to bring unity to the Biden and Sanders wings of the party, including in education. This week their report was released with multiple education proposals. They include:
- Child care: a “child care guarantee of grant assistance” to enable families to afford early learning for children under five; universal pre-kindergarten for all three and four-year-olds
- K-12 education: Triple Title I funding; fully fund IDEA and BIA
- Teachers: Forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt; boost pay; expand collective bargaining rights
- Charter schools, vouchers: ban for-profit charter schools; new federal conditions on funding charter schools; eliminate federally-funded voucher program in DC
- Higher education: tuition free public colleges and universities for all students whose families early below $125,000; double Pell grant maximum award
- Student debt: pandemic relief up to $10,000 per student loan borrower; cancel monthly federal student loan payments during COVID pandemic; forgive undergraduate student loan debt from public colleges and private HBCU’s for borrowers earning up to $125,000
- Civil rights: restore Obama-era policies on school discipline and rights of transgender students, as well as Title IX policies on campus sexual assault; strengthen the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to “end segregation and discrimination in our schools”
Look for these proposals to form the core of the education platform at the Democratic National Convention.
4. New Resources for Educators
- Johns Hopkins University has created a state policy tracker which monitors the latest plans for reopening K-12 schools during the pandemic.
- The Detroit Free Press reports on the anticipated and escalating need for substitute teachers in Michigan.
- The American Enterprise Institute is out with a new report: “College in the time of coronavirus: Challenges facing American higher education.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released policy recommendations for closing the nation’s education gap including more equitable educational funding, improving K-12 education accountability, expanding school choice at the state level, and improving transparency in higher education.
- The Schott Foundation for Public Education released its 2020 “Loving Cities Index,” which examines systemic racism across education, health, and economic opportunity in America’s largest cities.
- The Institute for Justice is out with a 50-state guide considering the impact of the Supreme Court ruling in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case.
- The General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report examining school shootings finding that suburban and rural, wealthier, and low-minority schools had more school-targeted shootings — the most fatal and most commonly committed by students between 2009-19.
Have a wonderful weekend. See you on twitter @janewestdc