Twas the night before shutdown and all through D.C. politicians were scrambling because COVID-19 required more stimulus to cover the costs of vaccines and schools and jobs that were lost. A 6,000 page bill is the solution they wrote, with something for everyone who gave them a vote. With $54 million for K-12 learning, four times the amount schools got in the spring. Direct stimulus checks – $600 apiece – more unemployment and small business relief. Assistance for rent, cash for testing and tracing, more food assistance and money for vaccinations. There were even some things – like more e-cig restrictions – that somehow snuck into this vast legislation. A Christmas tree bill full of ornaments, plus lights, tinsel, a star, and a pile of presents. Congress spent $900 million on their way out of town. Merry Christmas to all, now let's break this beast down.
The Naughty And The Nice
In a bill this large, there is bound to be plenty of good and bad. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the high-level things that educators will want to understand.
The Nice List
- The funding level is considerably higher for K-12 public education at $54 billion than the $13.4 billion included in the CARES Act, roughly four times as much.
- The bill does extend the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) spending deadline to December 30, 2021 which had an original deadline of December 30, 2020.
- The agreement invests $7 billion to increase expand broadband access nationwide, including $300 million for rural broadband and $250 million for telehealth.
- The bill also appropriates funding to keep the federal government running through next September including some actual increases in education spending beyond COVID-19 relief funding. K-12 public education will receive an increase of $498 million above the 2020 enacted level. Title I grants to local educational agencies will see an increase of $227 million for this program above the 2020 enacted level.
The Naughty List
- The bill is still far short of the $175 billion that NASSP and other national organizations believe schools will ultimately need.
- The bill fails to provide any funding for states and local governments, which will also impact public school budgets as revenues tighten amid the continuing crisis.
- While the bill included some money for broadband connectivity, it was short of projected investment needed to close the homework gap.
Lastly, here's a breakdown of the key overall components of the $900 relief legislation for education.
- $82 billion for education overall.
- $54 billion for K-12 public schools. There is no condition related to funding based on schools physically reopening and operating with in-person education.
- $22.7 billion for higher 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 for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
- $7 billion to increase access to broadband.
- $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.
- $1 billion for a tribal broadband fund.
- $65 million to complete broadband maps pursuant to the Broadband DATA Act approved earlier this year.
- There is no dedicated funding to connect the millions of students impacted by the homework gap. Originally, there was $3 billion proposed that would have been run through the E-Rate program, but that was stripped out in the final version.
Anyone wanting to read the 6,000 page bill themselves can, of course, do so. You'll find it here. You can also peruse the Senate Republican summary of funding highlights and House Democratic summary of funding highlights if those are of interest to you.