May 12 proved to be a significant day for Congress’ response to the pandemic. In addition to NIH Infectious Diseases Institute Chief and White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci testifying before the Senate HELP Committee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) introduced a $3 trillion COVID-19 Relief Package that included significant educational funding and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) led 46 Senate Democrats in introducing a bill that would provide $4 billion for remote and distance learning. Speaker Pelosi’s bill, entitled the HEROES Act, is expected to be debated and approved by the full House as early as Friday, May 15. The Markey bill may be folded into the next Senate Coronavirus package.
The details of both bills are important. The HEROES Act would triple the investments already made in schools for COVID-19 Relief by adding $90 billion to the Education Stabilization Fund that the CARES Act established with a more than $30 billion initial investment. Of that $90 billion, approximately $58 billion would flow to k-12 schools to be used for a variety of purposes including any authorized activity under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including professional learning, and “costs associated with making up instructional time, including teacher, school leader, and classified school employee personnel costs.” The remaining $42 billion would go to public higher education institutions for, among other things, “training and professional development for college and university faculty and staff to use technology and services related to distance education.” The HEROES Act would make an additional $10.15 billion available to help alleviate burdens associated with coronavirus for both colleges and students, including $1.7 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions, $20 million for Howard University, $11 million for Gallaudet University, $11 million for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and $8.4 billion for other institutions of higher education. It is worth noting that Learning Forward, in conjunction with a number of other education associations, sought $200 billion in overall funding for education in this bill as well as dedicated funding for teacher professional learning. While the bill’s final funding level was lower than hoped for and dedicated professional learning funds were not furnished, we believe that we helped raise the dollar amount overall as well as professional development’s visibility with Congress.
The HEROES Act also incorporated the Emergency Educational Connections Act, introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), which would provide funds for schools and libraries to purchase hotspots, modems, routers, and Internet access service to connect students without home access to the Internet. Learning Forward pushed hard for this bill to be included in the package but was disappointed that the HEROES Act opted to fund the Meng provisions at only $1.5 billion. The Meng bill called for $2 billion while the Markey bill doubled that number in order to ensure that all students could continue remote and distance learning through the summer and, if necessary, next year. Learning Forward and its allies will continue to push for more funding for this critical need.
Once the HEROES Act passes the House, the ball will be in the Senate’s court to take up that bill or move one of its own. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that he does not see the urgency of moving additional COVID-19 relief legislation at the moment and has already decried Speaker Pelosi’s HEROES Act as too expensive. The debate about whether, what, and when to pass additional COVID-19 relief legislation will play out through May and likely into June.