The 117th Congress was sworn in on Sunday, January 3. In the U.S. House of Representatives, there are 222 Democrats, 211 Republicans, and two vacant seats. In the Senate, there are 48 Democrats, 50 Republicans, and 2 Independents that caucus with the Democrats. The Vice President is allowed to vote in the Senate only in cases of a tie, which gives the Democrats a majority. President-Elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office on January 20. Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-IL14) continues to be the only member of the Illinois delegation on an education committee.
*Additional Administration news, the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos resigned yesterday, January 7.
FOURTH STIMULUS PACKAGEThe fourth stimulus package, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, was signed into law on December 27, releasing $900 billion in emergency relief funds and including Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) appropriations.
The new law uses the CARES Act’s Education Stabilization Fund, with some modifications, as the mechanism for distributing the education funds. This stimulus package also again includes discretionary education funds to governors. New to this stimulus package is a significant set aside for non-public schools. The new law also includes some new reporting requirements and provides some changes and additions to the eligible uses of the funds (which generally remain very flexible). The bill also extends the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) spending deadline to December 30, 2021 which had an original deadline of December 30, 2020.
Key components for education include:
- $54 billion for K-12 public schools, which will be allocated based on each state’s proportional share of Title I Part A funding. There is no condition related to funding based on schools physically reopening and operating with in-person education.
- $4.05 billion for the Governor Emergency Relief Fund. This includes a set-aside for private K-12 schools.
- $250 million for Head Start.
- $10 billion additional funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
- $7 billion to increase access to broadband, which includes:
- $3.2 billion in emergency funds for low-income families to access broadband through "an FCC fund” which appears to be a new program. This will have some positive impact for some students but will force them to compete with other interests for the funding.
- $65 million to complete broadband maps pursuant to the Broadband DATA Act approved earlier this year.
- There is no dedicated funding for the homework gap. Originally, there was $3 billion proposed that would have been run through the E-Rate program.
FY21 APPROPRIATIONSThe legislation provides a total of $73.5 billion in discretionary appropriations for the U.S. Department of Education, which accounts for a slight increase of $785 million above the FY20 enacted level. It is $7 billion more than what was in the President’s budget.
There is $16.5 billion designated for Title I grants to local educational agencies which accounts for an increase of $227 million for this program above the FY20 enacted level. There is also $14.1 billion designated for special education, an increase of $186 million above the FY20 enacted level. This includes $12.9 billion for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grants to states which is an increase of $173 million above the FY20 enacted funding level.
Additional funds include: $1.2 billion for Title IV, Part A, a $10 million increase over FY20; $1.33 billion for career and technical education grants to states, a $52 million increase over FY20; and $106 million for school safety initiatives, a $1 million increase over FY20.
PUBLIC FUNDS FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLSOn December 28, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) allowing the use of public funds for private schools. The EO states that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) must take steps to allow funds available through the Community Services Block Grant program to be used to provide “emergency learning scholarships to disadvantaged families for use by any child without access to in-person learning.”
Presidential executive orders, once issued, remain in force until they are canceled, revoked, adjudicated unlawful, or expire on their terms. At any time, the President may revoke, modify, or make exceptions from any executive order, whether the order was made by the current president or a predecessor. Typically, a new president reviews in-force executive orders in the first few weeks in office. Additionally, it is unclear if HHS can implement this program prior to the inauguration on January 20.
FCC EXTENDS GIFT WAIVER RULEOn Monday, December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) formally extended its waiver of gift rule requirements embedded in the E-rate program through June 30, 2021. Earlier this year the FCC waived these rules as part of its response to the ongoing pandemic. Currently, the FCC prohibits eligible schools, libraries, and other entities from accepting gifts or services worth more than $20 from participating Internet Service Providers (ISPs). However, given the immense need to increase broadband access to facilitate the transition to remote learning, the FCC extended this flexibility through the middle of next year. This temporary waiver is intended to allow ISPs to partner with schools, along with other eligible entities, to donate increased broadband capacity and related devices such as Wi-Fi hotspots to help more students and families stay connected during the pandemic.
This Federal Legislative Report was written with assistance from the National School Boards Association.