Federal Lawmakers’ Rescue Package Includes Money for Remote Learning, Other K-12 Needs

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The U.S. Senate has approved a massive economic rescue package to mitigate the damage caused by the coronavirus, a plan that offers billions of dollars in aid for education, and specifically for distance learning.

Many education companies are scrambling to retrofit or customize their products for online environments, given that thousands of districts across the country have shut down their physical locations and are trying to provide lessons remotely. 

A substantial portion of districts do not have the infrastructure and resources to do distance learning at scale. The plan approved by lawmakers late Wednesday is meant to carve out at least some money to help them make the transition.

Staggering in its size – it delivers $2 trillion in spending – the Senate legislation includes a $13.5 billion fund to stabilize K-12 funding in districts, and support for student nutrition, child care, and other priorities, as my colleague Andrew Ujifusa reports for Politics K-12.

The U.S. House is expected to take up the Senate’s version of the legislation, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, shortly, reports Ujifusa.

Among the key pieces of the legislation:

  • It creates a $13.5 billion “education stabilization fund” that would plug expected holes K-12 budgets. The money could also be used to provide internet connectivity and for internet-connected devices. A separate portion of the legislation for rural development would provide $25 million for “distance learning.”
  • It also gives U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos power to waive various federal laws to grant states and schools flexibility. States could get new leeway on federal testing and accountability requirements.
  • It provides $15.5 billion for supplemental nutritional assistance, and $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs, as well as $3.5 billion for child care and development block grants.
  • It puts $750 million toward Head Start early childhood programs.

But the Senate bill does not create new, dedicated funding through the federal E-Rate program to provide students with internet-connected devices and internet connectivity at home if their school buildings have closed.

That money was something that a number of senators and educators had asked for in the last several days. (See my EdWeek Market Brief colleague Brian Bradley’s reporting on efforts to rechannel money into the E-rate, a multi-billion dollar program that provides discounts to schools and libraries for improved internet connectivity.)

If states want to access the state education stabilization fund in the final Senate bill, they must first agree to provide funding to education in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 that’s at least the same as the average of their education over the three prior fiscal years. However, DeVos could waive that requirement for states.

Its also worth noting that states and school districts could also seek new flexibility from requirements governing the Title IV program, a source of money funded at more than $1 billion annually that many districts have relied on to spend on ed tech. Currently, districts must devote a portion of that money to promoting safe and healthy schools and a well-rounded education.

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