UPDATE: Dec. 22, 2020: The second COVID-19 relief bill has been approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump this week.
- A second COVID-19 relief bill includes $54.3 billion for K-12 schools — nearly four times as much as the $13.5 billion provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — for school building, personal protective equipment and learning loss expenses. The amount is a "sizable increase" from the last package, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of policy and advocacy for AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
- The bipartisan legislation, which is expected to be approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, also provides $4.1 billion for governors to distribute to schools based on need and $250 million for Head Start programs.
- However, K-12 experts said it doesn't provide targeted E-rate funding to bridge the homework gap or funding for state and local governments that could be used to stave off steep K-12 education budget cuts.
"The $54 billion earmarked for K-12 relief is a start, maybe a down payment, but is woefully inadequate as the final word on COVID relief for schools," Ronn Nozoe, CEO of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, told K-12 Dive in an email. "Conditions will be even worse than 2009" after the Great Recession.
State and local budget cuts will hurt schools the most, said Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank. "Districts are going to have to figure out how to spend this one-time money without taking on new obligations," he said.
For example, it may not be in districts' best interest to hire new staff with the funding, because the relief is a lump-sum payment rather than money for local and state governments, which would have helped keep education funding whole and allow for hiring, he said.
Ellerson Ng said while districts could use the proposed relief funds to clear a "backlog" of expenses, she fears states will in turn make education cuts proportionate to the funds received.
"If you are a state government, and you have to cut 15% to 20%, are you going to cut equally [across areas] or cut where there is funding coming in?" she said. "They're going to play a shell game. As long as states play a shell game, these dollars aren't going to help schools reopen."
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the decision to not fund states and localities a "bitter pill."
The funds will come on the heels of two coronavirus vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, which the CDC recommends be made available for teachers in the second phase of vaccinations.
"There's a chance, if educators are vaccinated quickly, you could have a return to in-person school within a couple of months," said Petrilli. "It may not make sense to spend a lot of money on new HVAC if the risk of transmission has declined significantly by March."
Districts may not see the federal funds in their accounts for at least a few months after they are approved, Petrilli said, which could coincide with when teachers receive vaccinations.
During a Senate session Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the relief package will fund broadband to improve education and telehealth. However, Ellerson Ng said that because the funds are not directed through E-rate, they "should not be conflated with funding for schools."
"Any dollar [districts] spend on remote learning, is a dollar they can't spend on mitigation strategy," Ellerson Ng said. "It's infuriating because up until five days ago, [when E-rate was included in the package], we had a bill that would allow schools to do both and not force them into a false choice."
E-rate funding was taken out of the deal.