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Democrats Boost COVID-19 School Aid, Cut State and Local Relief in Revised Bill

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A new relief bill released by House Democrats Monday would provide $175 billion to help K-12 schools handle the effects of the coronavirus, roughly triple the amount they earmarked in their last emergency aid proposal. While that represents a potential win for school districts and state and local education departments, Washington is still a long way from reaching a deal on a new virus relief package after months of acrimonious and unsuccessful negotiations.

And while Democrats' proposal—which is an updated version of the HEROES Act that Democrats passed in May—beefs up the education funding from what they pitched in the spring, it also cuts direct relief to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments from over $900 billion in the original HEROES bill to approximately half that amount in the revised version. Such emergency aid could play a big role in offsetting looming—or in some cases already enacted—cuts to education budgets. 

Overall, the new HEROES Act clocks in at $2.2 trillion, compared to the $3.4 trillion version of HEROES previously passed by the House.

The $175 billion in the bill's education stabilization fund would support schools' efforts to make up for lost instructional time, school cleaning, education technology and internet access, mental health services, and other costs associated with the pandemic. The aid could also fund other activities authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act and other federal laws. There's also $12 billion to help connect students to the internet and close the "homework gap" that's been a big issue for schools during the pandemic. 

In addition, the bill includes $5 billion to address school infrastructure needs for things like ventilation systems, $4 billion for governors to spend on K-12 and higher education, and $57 billion in child care grants. It would also provide $32 million to help cover coronavirus-related costs of administering the National Assessment of Educational Progress. 

For months, education organizations and lobbyists have been crying out for lawmakers to approve vastly more resources for public schools than the roughly $13 billion in direct aid for K-12 included in the CARES Act; see this pitch for $175 billion that dates back to April, for example. 

The bill would not require schools to offer in-person instruction in order to tap the relief money. That's been a major point of contention in Congress, and President Donald Trump has pressured schools to reopen buildings. (With the school year well under way, most states have left that decision up to local school districts.)

Republicans in control of the Senate have sought to condition the majority of $70 billion in relief for public and private schools on whether they offer some kind of face-to-face instructional time. Democrats have flatly rejected this idea. The Democrats' updated HEROES Act also doesn't include an expansion of school choice, which Senate Republicans have included in their bill that's bottled up in the Senate. 

And unlike Democrats' proposals, the GOP's bill includes no fiscal relief for state and local governments. 

Photo: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. speaks during a news conference Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)


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