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Democrats Push Big Education and Child Care Virus Relief Packages


Top Senate Democrats have introduced a major aid package for K-12 schools and child-care services, in what they say will help them reopen with appropriate health precautions. 

Separately, the House—which is controlled by Democrats—approved a large infrastructure bill on Wednesday that includes $130 billion for school upgrades and repairs. 

There's growing pressure for schools to resume in-person instruction this fall as concerns intensify about school closures' impact on children, parents, and the economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's top official told senators on Tuesday that it will provide virus-testing guidance for schools later this week, on top of guidance about school precautions it released last month.

Yet state and local education officials say they will need significant emergency aid from the federal government in order to be truly prepared for the 2020-21 academic year. Whether Congress and President Donald Trump will ultimately agree remains very much an open question, although Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, has indicated his willingess for the federal government to provide aid to help schools reopen.  

On Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, and other Democrats unveiled the $430 billion Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act. Here are key elements of that legislation:

  • $175 billion in "stabilization funding" for K-12, in order to "help schools address learning loss, implement public health protocols, and provide quality education to all students—whether they open in-person, remotely, or a hybrid of both," a description of the bill from Democrats reads. 
  • $50 billion for a Child Care Stabilization Fund "to ensure that child care providers can stay open, educators can continue getting paid, and working families get tuition relief."
  • $33 billion in a "governor's fund" for them to spend on early-childhood education, K-12, and higher education. 
  • $12.9 billion specifically for vulnerable populations of students, including those from low-income backgrounds, homeless students, English-language learners, and those in juvenile-justice facilities.
  • $12 billion in new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act aid. 
  • $4 billion in E-Rate funding to help connect students to the internet. This has been a top COVID-19 relief priority for schools for several months.
  • A requirement for states using the relief package not to cut their own education budgets for three years. This "maintenance of effort" requirement has been a major concern for local districts, which worry that without it, states will take federal K-12 aid only to cut their own school spending. 
  • Language that prohibits U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from "diverting funds away from public schools" to help "wealthier" private school students. That's not a reference to vouchers. Here's more about that issue

"Democrats are laying out a path to save millions of child care slots, nearly two million education jobs, and keep this pandemic from widening disparities that already harm students of color disproportionately," Murray said in a statement about the new relief bill. 

Remember that the last COVID-19 relief package, the CARES Act, provided $31 billion in direct aid for K-12 and higher education. The Democrats' new legislation dwarfs that. The House-passed HEROES Act for virus relief includes about $58 billion in direct aid for school districts and close to $1 trillion in state and local government relief. 

Meanwhile, on the House side, lawmakers passed the $130 billion Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act Wednesday afternoon, as part of a broad infrastructure package called the Moving Forward Act. The K-12 infrastructure aid would include $100 billion in direct federal spending and $30 billion in bond-issuing authority.

To garner support for the bill, Democrats have pointed to a report from a federal watchdog released in early June estimating that 36,000 schools need significant HVAC repairs. That's potentially a big concern during the pandemic. 

"This legislation will invest construction funds, targeted at high-poverty school facilities that put the health of students and staff most at risk," Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House education committee, said in a Tuesday statement urging lawmakers to vote for the bill. 

However, House Republicans said the Moving Forward Act would be "bad for our nation's schools" in part because it would tie schools down with federal mandates and "bureaucratic red tape." They also criticized the bill because it would make it relatively difficult for some charter schools to access infrastructure aid, compared to traditional public schools. 

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