Dive Brief:

  • The House and Senate have introduced bills that would provide $3 billion in the form of mandatory grant programs and flexibilities for early childhood education programs and K-12 schools. 
  • The funds are meant to help districts maintain operations during building closures and re-open sooner by providing financial support for technology like 1:1 devices, funding for continued operations like school meal distribution and building cleanings, and mental health support. The legislation includes:
    • $1.2 billion for states to support school districts as they plan for closures. The funding could be used to support school meal distribution, ramped up cleaning and disinfecting efforts, educator training and other preparedness and response efforts. 
    • An additional $3 million would be allocated to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) to provide resources for educational programs, teachers, principals, administrators and other school leaders to help address the challenges related to stress associated with COVID-19.
    • $600 million for early education programs to meet emergency staffing needs, cover costs to clean and sanitize facilities, and provide training and supports to staff. 
  • A House Committee on Education and Labor aide said lawmakers hope to include Virginia Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott’s Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act in another upcoming coronavirus assistance package. A sister bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington). Bipartisan compromises in the first two coronavirus assistance packages suggest this legislation, included as part of a larger package, could also pass the House and Senate. 

Dive Insight:

The legislation comes on the heels of an earlier package that included three proposals allowing schools greater flexibility in providing school meals during COVID-19 closures. That package passed the House with bipartisan support and now heads to the Senate. President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the earlier package, saying he would sign the bill if it comes to his desk. 

Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at AASA, The School Superintendent’s Association, said while the first package “is not enough, it’s a huge right step.” 

“The dollars are structured appropriately and in flexible ways to help school districts balance all the things they’re doing at once,” she told Education Dive. 

“The reality is that the deep work that they’re doing is only going to continue,” Ellerson Ng said. “This is going to be a long-term experience, and it’s going to require long-term fiscal policy.” 

The new legislation, which is expected to be included in a third coronavirus assistance package, comes as many states and major metropolitan districts have already shuttered K-12 buildings and are looking to the possibilities of remote learning. 

On Sunday night, New York City announced it would close all public schools until at least April 20 and would transition to remote learning within a week, during which time school staff and administrators would be conducting in-person training. 

The city is working on getting 1:1 devices in the hands of around 300,000 students without computers and additional students who don’t have WiFi at home. Other districts across the country have had to shutter schools without continued learning options amid concerns districts wouldn’t be able to provide a sustained equitable education for all students. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, reminded administrators last week that if they choose to continue remote learning during closures, all students should be provided an equitable education. States can apply for waivers in case of extended loss of instructional time.

“School closures are jeopardizing access to basic essentials for millions of young people and students across the country, often leaving families without many options,” said Scott​, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said in a press release. This act, he said, would work to mitigate challenges districts and students are facing. 

“Is it the end all, be all, and will it solve everything? No,” Ellerson Ng said, calling it “a very balanced and pragmatic approach” that would allow districts to respond to increasing pressures. Funds, she said, should be prioritized based on local needs in school districts and allow for administrators to “move more nimbly” as they address the virus’ spread in their communities.

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