With education in the middle of the debate over the next COVID relief bill, the next two weeks are guaranteed to be action packed!
1. House Committee Moves Education Funding Bill towards a Floor Vote
This week the House continued to move forward on its FY 2021 funding bills. This work is overshadowed by the COVID relief funding efforts (see below), but it is important as it sets the stage for the new Fiscal Year which begins October 1. Last week I reported on provisions in the bill that support education. The bill represents an overall education spending increase of $1.7%, which may sound modest, however the Committee had to work within budget caps which are required by law.
This week the bill moved one step closer to adoption by the full House of Representatives. It passed out of the full Committee with no amendments and the Committee Report was made available. The report includes some promising language for higher education programs (Personnel Preparation under IDEA and the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants under the Higher Education Act) which prepare new educators in shortage fields — see p. 249 and 268 in the report.
The bill will be on the House floor either next week or the following week for final passage, which is expected. The Senate has no plan to move FY 2021 appropriations bills at this point and they will likely adopt a Continuing Resolution in late September, thus extending current funding through the election in November and perhaps beyond.
Changes in Committee chairs will be coming next year as members retire, lose re-election or otherwise seek new roles in the Congress. Changes in committee leadership occur at the beginning of every new Congress and seniority plays a key role. Since Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is retiring this year, the coveted spot of Appropriations Chair in the House will be open next year. One candidate is high-profile firebrand
2. Action Expected in July on Next COVID Relief Bill: Education in the Crosshairs
Beginning next week, we expect to see the Senate take upthe next COVID relief bill. The House has passed their version of the bill and Senate Democrats have introduced their version of the bill, so the next move is up Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). His bill may be unveiled next week. Then the arm wrestling will begin in earnest.
Education has become a high profile and contentious matter for this bill, as the President has determined that the economy cannot move forward unless schools are fully open in person so that parents and college employees (and workers in related businesses) can return to work in person. Multiple agendas are woven through this debate which will become even more prominent as decisions are made about whether to apply conditions to any further COVID relief funding for education.
The Trump Administration
The Trump Administration continues it’s offensive to force K-12 schools to fully open in person. In a White House briefing this week Kayleigh McEnany, press secretary for the President, said:
“The president has said unmistakeably that he wants schools to open – and I was just in the Oval talking to him about that and when he says open he means in full , kids being able to attend each and every day at their school. The science should not stand in the way of this.”
Earlier in the week, President Trump said “Schools should be opened. Kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed.”
The pushback has been loud and pervasive:
“AACTE strongly opposes President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s efforts to force schools and universities to reopen prematurely…Federal funds should not be used as leverage to force schools and universities to provide in-person classes amidst the current surge of the coronavirus.” Lynn Gangone, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
“It is also critical that Congress in no way attach incentives or conditions on federal funds for the physical reopening of schools or create voucher programs or other mechanisms to funnel public dollars to private schools in the next COVID-19 relief package.” Leslie Boggs, National PTA President
While school districts are still developing their plans for the fall, several large districts have announced that they will be totally online, including Los Angeles, San Diego, DeKalb, GA and Prince George’s County, MD. In fact, Prince George’s County has indicated it will not consider reopening in person until January, 2021. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll of voters found that 65% reject the President’s threat to cut federal funding for schools that don’t reopen in person. A Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday found that only 31% of respondents think it is safe to send students back to school in the fall; 62% think it is not safe. Only 29% approve of Trump’s position on reopening schools. A National Academies of Sciences report recommends that schools prioritize reopening in the Fall while weighing risks and benefits. They note that health, equity and communities should be primary concerns. Another large reopening concern is the lack of staff capacity to move forward. Thousands of educators have already been laid off and more layoffs are expected.
A recent report by the Learning Policy Institute indicates that it could cost between $295 and $370 billion to make sure that schools are made whole – shielded from budget cuts and funded at the level needed to operate safely and effectively. The CARES Act included $13 billion for elementary and Secondary schools and the Senate Democratic proposal for the next bill includes $175 billion for k-12. Sen. McConnell, who will be running the debate in the Senate, has indicated that education funding in the next bill may be in the $50 billion to $100 billion range for K-12 and the $20 billion to $30 billion range for higher education. There appears to be bipartisan agreement that education needs additional funds, but how much that will be and what sort of strings will be attached remains to be seen. Sec. DeVos has indicated that she would like to see her voucher proposal, Education Freedom Scholarships, included in the package.
3. Reformers v. Unions Spar over Biden Education Platform
This week the Democratic National Committee platform drafting committee met to discuss recommendations from the Biden-Sanders unity task forces. The heads of both teachers’ unions were on those task forces. Long standing ruptures between educators and reformers have become apparent in the position on charter schools and accountability. In a statement Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, noted that some of the recommendations would exacerbate inequities. The three areas of concern highlighted are preserving assessments and accountability under ESSA, funding charter schools and committing to diversity in higher education.
President Trump has taken up the mantle on charter schools writing:
“The Biden-Sanders unity plan takes a sledgehammer to charter schools, punishing students for their zip codes. No one will be SAFE in Joe Biden’s America!”
In addition, the Trump campaign said the Biden-Sanders plan would seek to “abolish educational standards” by proposing to eliminate high stakes testing.
4. Live Events to Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of this landmark law. I was so fortunate to play a small role in helping the legislation move forward. As I participated in an oral history interview this week about how the law came into being, I was reminded of the powerful force for social change that the federal government can be. To be part of such a strongly bi-partisan effort with so much public support and the leadership of incredible disability advocates was a great honor. In this era of partisan furor, it is good to be remined of what is possible!
There are many events in the next two weeks to mark the anniversary of the law. And I’ll be tweeting some of my memories (with photos!) You may want to join Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) as they host two virtual forums. The first, Honoring the Fight: 30 Years of the ADA, is July 22 from 10:30-11:30 AM and it will feature former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Rebecca Cokley of the Center for American Progress and Maria Town from the American Association of People with Disabilities. Click here to register! The second, Continuing the Fight: Ensuring the ADA Works for Everyone, is July 24 from 1-2 ET. Click here to register! CART and American Sign Language will be provided. For additional accommodations, email sarah_mueller@help.
Wishing you a replenishing weekend!