What's in the latest congressional pandemic aid package for schools, teachers

House Democrats' proposal would double the educator tax deduction, extend student loan holiday until October

On May 12, Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled the 1,815-page long Heroes Act to address the coronavirus pandemic. The $3-trillion package would provide additional education funding, state and local aid, the second round of stimulus checks, meal assistance, and Medicaid funding. The proposal addresses multiple requests made by the National Education Association on behalf of its three million members. 

The hallmark of the bill is $915 billion in relief for states, localities, territories, and tribes to pay vital workers such as first responders, health workers, and educators who are at risk of pay cuts, furloughs or even losing jobs from massive budget shortfalls. It includes $540 billion for the State Fiscal Relief Fund and $375 billion for the Local Fiscal Relief Fund over the next two fiscal years to respond to, mitigate, cover costs, or replace foregone revenues that were not projected on Jan. 31, 2020 stemming from the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts. 

The Heroes Act also provides another $100 billion in direct funding for the Department of Education for K-12 education and higher education. 

Here is a breakdown of key education-related proposals in the package, provided by the NEA:

Education funding 

A total of $100 billion for the Department of Education’s Education Stabilization Fund to states: 

$90 billion available until Sept. 30, 2022 to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the virus. Approximately $58 billion would be distributed for K-12 education based on the Title I formula, and approximately $27 billion would be used for public postsecondary education, with 75 percent of the higher education funding based on the number of Pell grant recipients not previously enrolled solely in distance education. (The remainder, approximately $5 billion, would be set aside for other related purposes.) 

  • K-12 - State grants are to be used “to maintain or restore State and local fiscal support for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education” and for a variety of public health and education purposes
  • Higher education - Public institutions of higher education can use the funds to defray lost revenue, payroll costs, pay students’ costs associated with the pandemic, among other uses, with a priority given to under-resourced institutions and those with a high burden due to the pandemic. Funds cannot be used to increase an institution’s endowment or for capital costs of facilities for athletics or religious worship.
  • Maintenance of effort – States that apply for and receive this funding have to maintain their fiscal year 2019 percent of total spending on elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education for fiscal years 2020, 2021, and 2022 (page 93). States have to maintain K-12 spending at least at the average of the three previous years, with the same proviso for higher education, excluding capital projects, research and development, and student-paid tuition and fees. 

K-12 education funds 

  • Pays costs associated with making up instructional time, including teacher, school leader, and classified school employee personnel costs
  • Provides school-based supports for impacted students, families, and staff, including counseling, mental health services, family engagement efforts, and the coordination of medical services
  • Covers costs associated with sanitation and cleaning for schools and school transportation
  • Provides professional development for school-based staff on trauma-informed care to restore the learning environment
  • Purchases educational technology, including assistive technology, that aids in regular and substantive interactions between students and classroom instructors
  • Coordinates efforts between state educational agencies and public health departments for emergency planning, response, and recovery
  • Authorizes activities under education statutes including ESEA, IDEA, the McKinney Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, the Adult Education, and Family Literacy Act, and the Perkins Act

Educator tax deduction

  • Doubles the educator tax deduction for out-of-pocket expenses for classroom materials from $250 to $500; this amount is adjusted for inflation 

Homework gap / digital divide

  • Provides $1.5 billion for Wi-fi hotspots, other equipment, connected devices, and advanced telecommunications and information services to schools and libraries (authorizes $5 billion)

Student loans 

  • Extends the CARES Act’s suspension of student loan payments and interest to Sept. 30, 2021
  • Extends the CARES Act’s provisions regarding suspension of student loan payments and interests to individuals who have commercially held FFELL loans and institutionally held Perkins Loans
  • Provides reimbursements to borrowers who made payments between the enactment of the CARES Act and the Heroes Act 
  • $10,000 in up-front student debt cancellation, eligible for all U.S. Department of Education loans; applies first toward the loan with the highest interest rate
  • Treasury will make monthly payments for borrowers on their private student loans until Sept. 30, 2021; maximum cancellation amount from aggregate monthly payments is $10,000
  • Allows borrowers to consolidate their federal student loans between the enactment of the Heroes Act and Sept. 30, 2021, without losing prior eligible payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
  • Removes the requirement that a borrower must be employed in public service at the time of forgiveness under PSLF (after completing 120 qualifying payments)
  • Provides emergency relief for defrauded student borrowers IDEA:
  • No waivers or flexibility under IDEA considered, including those recommended by the Department of Education

Provisions related to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and vouchers

  • Prohibits using Education Stabilization funding for providing financial assistance to students who attend private schools
  • Strikes the 1-percent set-aside from the CARES Act used by the Education Department to implement Secretary DeVos’ “microgrant” voucher scheme and other items on her privatization agenda
  • Clarifies the intent by Congress that local educational agencies receiving funds under the CARES Act shall provide equitable services in the same manner as provided under Section 1117 of the ESEA Act of 1965, and not based on Secretary DeVos’ guidance to expand the amount LEAs would have to provide to private schools
  • Includes a blanket provision prohibiting Secretary DeVos from creating additional voucher programs or giving private schools specific priorities or preferences that are not included in the bill

These proposals are part of the more than $3 trillion opening bid for the next coronavirus stimulus package introduced by U.S. House Democrats Tuesday. The bill is designed to bolster state governments, increase widespread testing, extend unemployment insurance, and expand vote-by-mail ahead of the November election.

The latest tranche of funding that House Democrats want, which they’re calling the HEROES Act, is targeted at states and municipalities whose budgets are depleted due to their coronavirus response. Many states such as Hawaii have been hit hard with sudden spending needed to curb the virus, followed by a drain on sources of revenue from lost sales and income taxes.

The House is scheduled to return to Washington and vote on the bill on Friday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D, Maryland) said Tuesday.

The Republican-controlled Senate could prove to be a major roadblock on this bill, though the legislation helps serve as an important marker of where the Democratic-controlled House stands. By putting out their opening bid now, House lawmakers are going on the offensive in a way they didn’t with the most recent “interim” spending legislation when Republicans sought to take the lead on small-business funding.

Thus far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) has begrudgingly conceded that the stimulus will likely include additional funding for states and cities, though he’s repeatedly raised concerns about how more ambitious legislation could increase the national debt. “We’ve added $2.8 trillion to the national debt over the last six weeks. We can’t keep throwing endless amounts of borrowed money at the problem in hope to fix it,” McConnell said during a May 7 appearance on The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino.

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Author: Keoki Kerr