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Education Groups Crank Up Pressure on Congress With $250 Billion Request

Dozens of groups sent a new request to Congress Tuesday, calling for at least $250 billion in new federal aid for K-12 schools and higher education, as part of a broader push to shore up state and local government funding.

The request for schools also says congressional relief should focus on students from low-income households and special education, as well as efforts to help students connect to the internet. And the groups say it should support key programs under laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

The letter to congressional leaders was backed by more than 70 organizations, from the two national teachers' unions—the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—to groups like the Center for American Progress, the Education Trust, GLSEN, the NAACP, Sandy Hook Promise, and Teach For America. 

"While we don't yet know what the full impact of the novel coronavirus that has spread across the nation will be," the groups wrote, "we do know that both the economic hardship and the grief and trauma that ensue from COVID-19 will be unprecedented for today's school-age children and college students."

Over the past few weeks, we've highlighted the pressure education groups have put on Capitol Hill for more education aid, following passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that provided school districts with about $13 billion in emergency funding, with more possibly coming from a $3 billion governors' education fund. 

Tuesday's request represents an evolution of what the unions and others sought roughly a month ago, when asked Congress for more than $200 billion for education. The letter notes its support for state leaders' call for $500 billion in new aid to state governments; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said recently that state and local governments combined might seek $1 trillion. Advocates have also focused on getting more money earmarked specifically to help students connect to the internet; this issue was at the heart of federal legislation from Senate Democrats announced last week

Whether this lobbying campaign achieves meaningful success is very much up in the air.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has expressed reservations about the size and scope of the next coronavirus relief bill. He's said that the bill should focus on coronavirus-related needs, and not broader concerns from state and local governments. And he hasn't expressed much sympathy for state and local calls for federal aid to shore up their budgets; at one point last month, he said bankruptcy is an option states could consider. (Roughly nine out of ten dollars in school funding comes from state and local governments.) 

Here are a few of the requests the letter from the groups makes:

  • "At least $175 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund distributed directly to [K-12 districts and colleges and universities], with minimal state set-asides in an equitable and targeted fashion."
  • "$25 billion to be allocated to Title I, IDEA, and other ESSA programs serving historically marginalized students to provide targeted support to vulnerable students most likely to be affected by prolonged school closures."
  • $4 billion should be allocated for an Emergency Connectivity Fund via the FCC's E-rate program "to ensure all K-12 students have the ability to access online learning at home."
  • Increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program maximum allotment per month by 15 percent, and increasing the minimum monthy benefit from $16 to $30.
  • Additional longer-term funding for school psychologists, after-school programs, specialized services for homeless students and those in foster care, and other programs. 

The full letter can be read below:

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