The New COVID-19 Relief Bill: 5 Takeaways for K12 Education
As we close out a year like no other, all eyes interested in K12 education remain glued on the American federal government. Following a hotly contested election and the initiation of the COVID vaccine rollout, Congress also broke an eight month back-and forth to provide long-awaited pandemic relief legislation.
Many are laser-focused on the (arguably insufficient) $600 stimulus checks, but what does this bill mean for K12 education? We at Edstruments hope to shed light on what the $900 billion bill means for public schools-- a system navigating the most significant national disruption in generations. Read below for the top 5 takeaways, and make sure to subscribe and follow us on Twitter for the latest on K12 funding news.
1. The New Bill Eclipses the CARES Act
Back in March, the federal government passed the CARES act. Though it provided double the individual relief in the form of $1200 "stimmies" (Twitter parlance for stimulus checks), the current bill almost quadruples the 13 billion in CARES funding for K12 education with $54.3 billion earmarked for the sector. (For reference, that's slightly more than the GDP of Serbia). 90% of this money is meant for local school districts (charters included) and will go towards remediating learning loss, providing mental health support, expanding technology access, and upgrading facilities.
2. Non-education Funding will Complement K12 Funding Impact
Disadvantaged students are far more likely to succeed if they are well fed and can get online. That's why it's crucial to examine through an education lens the parts of this legislation not explicitly tied to schools. Specifically, the bill includes $7 billion for the sole purpose of expanding broadband access. While not the only barrier to reliable internet, the cost of Wi-Fi will undoubtedly be more manageable for families if governments distribute these funds effectively. Moreover, the bill raises the benefits from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer), both of which are crucial supports for low-income families.
3. Many Think it's Not Enough
The Democratic party initially sought a package upward of $2 trillion, while Republicans desired a bill of $500 billion, just a quarter of that amount. While $900 billion may seem a happy medium, experts believe it still won't be enough to support states in dire straits, let alone recoup the costs of 9+ months of school closures. In fact, economists from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimate learning loss from the pandemic will cost the US $15.3 trillion (!) of lost GDP.
4. Cuts and Layoffs Could Loom
This bill provides one-time-only money for districts rather than direct aid to state and local governments. What's the difference? you may ask. Crucially, this structure means districts may act with the assumption that state and local governments will cut funding in proportion to the money they get from Uncle Sam. After all, if you need to make budget cuts, the most attractive line item is the one that just saw a significant, unexpected increase. This means districts may hesitate before hiring and continue layoffs, leaving individual schools with even less as they try to do more to keep students and teachers safe.
5. Georgia is on our Minds
The electoral college (rapidly becoming one of America's most controversial Constitutional institutions) formally declared Democrat Joe Biden President-elect, and the House will remain in Democratic control for the upcoming term. However, the upper chamber will be in Republican or Democratic control based upon the results of the highly-anticipated Senate Runoff in Georgia. Biden aims to reopen most schools within his first 100 days, provide a new round of pandemic relief, and, in the long run, triple the $16 billion in Title I funding meant to support schools serving high-poverty students. Unified control of the federal government (meaning a win in both Georgia runoffs) is a must if the new, Democratic administration plans to make these aspirations a reality. Whether or not that occurs involves the approach that has defined much of our pandemic reality: wait and see.
One thing is clear; complex new education funding policies will require efficient, equitable school finance management. Here at Edstruments, we strive to make this accessible for all K12 leaders through our research-based education budgeting platform. Don't forget to subscribe for the latest in K12 finance updates, and reach out to our team with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.