When it comes to additional federal funding for education, the $3 trillion stimulus bill up for approval in the House of Representatives falls short of what many leading education organizations, including many in California, have been pushing for weeks.
A national rallying cry from education leaders has been for Congress to come up with $175 billion in relief funds or more for K-12 education to help offset what appear to be virtually certain budget cuts at a state level. Higher education leaders had been pushing for an additional $46.6 billion.
But the bill drawn up by House Democratic leaders includes $100 billion for both K-12 and postsecondary education — about the same amount that Congress authorized as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The expected action in the House on what is called the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act will come as school leaders in California and elsewhere brace themselves for deep cuts in state funding, including those that Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce today in his May revision of his budget for next year. Many have been looking to the federal government for help as the principal way to offset the loss of state support, much as it did during the Great Recession.
This week representatives of several leading education organizations and county and district leaders in California sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, making the case for $175 billion in additional funds.
They also called for $13 billion for serving special education students during the crisis, as well as $2 billion to reimburse schools for purchasing laptops, tablets, hotspots and other devices for students and teachers.
That would be in addition to the $31 billion Congress already approved for education in March in the first stimulus bill known as the CARES Act. Of that amount, California K-12 schools are expected to get $1.6 billion dollars, and colleges and universities another $1.7 billion.
Unlike the federal government, California’s constitution requires it to have a balanced budget, as does every state except Vermont, which means that states are unable to simply borrow more money to make up for budget shortfalls. “No printing press in the state of California,” Gov. Newsom said Thursday in announcing his May revision of the state’s budget. He also strongly endorsed the HEROES Act, urging President Trump to back it. “Federal government, we need you,” he said.
If Congress were to approve the new House legislation, $90 billion would go to states in the form of a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to support both public schools and public colleges and universities. Of that amount, an estimated $58 billion would go to public schools. That’s about a third of the amount K-12 education advocates have been seeking.
The fate of the bill is uncertain at best, especially because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has so far refused to entertain the idea of another big stimulus package — bolstered by White House opposition as well.
But education advocates are not giving up.
“It is a starting point, and we will continue to advocate,” said Andrea Ball, a legislative advocate for the Central Valley Education Coalition, made up of district and county superintendents from six Central Valley counties.
Ball, who signed on to the letter to Pelosi and McCarthy, said she disagreed with the notion of using the level of federal education funding during the Great Recession as the baseline. “Everyone agrees that the impact of COVID-19 is deeper and more severe than the Great Recession,” she said. “The economic impact is compounded by the move to distance learning, which has imposed massive costs on districts which schools did not have a decade ago.”
Also signing the letter was Micah Ali, president of the Compton Unified Board of Education, who also said that more funds are needed than what is currently in the bill. He said that districts like Compton have just now begun to move beyond the impact of the previous recession. In fact, his district has made great progress since then, he said.
“Compton has pivoted to become a digital district, so we have to ensure that there are adequate resources to properly educate our children,” he said. “By not providing enough funding, this will indeed ensure that academic achievement gains will be lost. If we are serious about our future, we can’t allow the pandemic to cripple our education system.”
Although less than the $46 billion sought by higher education leaders, James Kvaal, president of the Oakland-based Institute for College Affordability and Success, welcomed the $37 billion in the HEROES Act for postsecondary education. It includes many provisions to ease the immediate burden on federal student loan borrowers. But he said “even this large sum may not be enough to ensure colleges are not crippled by this once-in-a-lifetime” crisis.
He noted that state budget shortfalls may total about $650 billion over the next several years. “Considering the severe budgetary challenges facing states, Congress must dedicate additional substantial funding to support both K-12 and higher education,” he said.
The House bill includes money to be spent between now and at the end of September for a wide range of needs related to the pandemic. These include funds for the sanitation and cleaning of schools and school transportation and professional development for staff on trauma-informed care. On the postsecondary side it includes funds for emergency financial aid for students to help cover housing, food, technology, health care and child care costs.
Over the past several weeks, the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions, launched a campaign to get teachers and others to send letters and emails to their Congressional representatives urging them to support a $175 billion investment in schools.
But in a statement released yesterday, AFT president Randi Weingarten welcomed the prospect of the HEROES Act in its current form, without any mention of the previous amount.
Perhaps in recognition of the long odds the bill faces in getting any traction in the GOP-controlled Senate, she said, “The onus is now on the Senate to do the right thing and pass a similar package for the good of the entire country.”