Congress wrapped-up its session just before midnight on December 21 by approving two large funding packages – one covering annual appropriations for fiscal year 2021 and another being the first significant COVID-19 relief bill since the CARES Act passed last March. For professional learning and America’s schools, the news was mostly positive. In the FY21, Labor HHS Education spending bill, the Title II professional development program received an $11.25 million increase, continuing an upward funding trajectory for the past few years. In the COVID-19 relief package, K-12 schools will see more than $54 billion flow out from the US Department of Education in the next month to help schools fund everything from PPE and cleaning and sanitation to learning loss and professional learning. This sum, which will flow into the Education Stabilization Fund that Congress established via the CARES Act, represents four times the amount of funding that schools received through the original CARES Act allocation.
But Congress and the incoming Biden administration have more work left to do to help our schools recover from the pandemic and rebuild robust and more equitable school systems for all children. While the k-12 COVID funding is extremely important, it still falls far short of the $175 billion that many education organizations estimate will be necessary to reopen schools and prevent massive budget cuts due to the economic downturn.
Additionally, the COVID relief bill failed to provide substantial funding to bridge the so-called homework gap. Some studies this year estimated that nearly 17 million students lacked home Internet access and or a connected device, making it impossible for them to continue learning during the pandemic, and that it would cost $12 billion to connect them all. Unfortunately, Congressional negotiators on the COVID relief bill were unable to reach a deal that would have sent approximately $3 billion to schools through the E-Rate program to furnish these students with broadband access services, hotspots and computers. While Congress did approve a separate program that provides low-income households with discounts on broadband access, hotspots and computers, that program is not narrowly targeted at low-income households with school-aged children.
Additional COVID relief, homework gap support and – of course – more funding for professional learning through Title II are all items that Learning Forward urges President-Elect Biden and the new Congress to work towards in the new year. One way to make your voice heard is to sign onto Learning Forward’s new petition to the federal government that highlights these and other urgent educational needs.