Congress Approves Federal Stimulus Legislation

Jeff Cobb

By Jeff Cobb, MASB Assistant Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, April 1, 2020

The U.S. Congress recently agreed on a $2 trillion emergency supplemental spending bill called the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law shortly after it passed last week. The legislation contains $16.5 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund to assist states and school districts for costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elementary and secondary education will receive $13.5 billion through formula grants to states. At least 90% of those funds must support local educational agencies for COVID-19-response activities, such as planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures and purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students served by the LEA. Unfortunately, the proposed $2 billion in direct relief to help students connect to the internet at home through the E-Rate Program was not included in the final proposal.

Funding for districts will be distributed to states using the Every Student Succeeds Act Title II-A formula. The legislation also states that any state or school district getting money from the stabilization fund "shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus."

Governors in each state will also receive a share of $3 billion to allocate at their discretion for emergency support grants to LEAs that the state educational agency has identified as having been the most significantly impacted by the pandemic. These funds will support the ability of such LEAs to continue to provide educational services to their students and to support the ongoing operations of the LEA, as well as provide emergency support through grants to higher education institutions serving students within the state.

There are several other items in the Act targeted toward helping schools and families:

  • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program
  • $14.5 billion for higher education institutions to respond to the pandemic
  • $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
  • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and daycare facilities

In addition to allocating emergency funding, the measure includes several policy provisions—including new waiver authority for the U.S. Secretary of Education—to help elementary, secondary and postsecondary institutions navigate the crisis. This package includes flexibility for states to get  accountability waivers, as well as ones from reporting on progress toward their interim and long-term achievement goals under ESSA and waivers to freeze in place schools identified for improvement. Unfortunately, there is no additional language related to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act flexibility.

In addition, there are waivers available at the state and local levels from sections of ESSA related to funding mandates including:

  • Requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds.
  • Running schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools.
  • Districts would no longer be barred from spending more than 15% of their Title IV money on digital devices.
  • Carry over as much Title I money as they want to the next academic year.
  • Flexibility in adherence to ESSA's definition of professional development.

If you have any questions regarding how the federal stimulus package impacts your district, please let me know.

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