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When Will the Feds Get More Coronavirus Aid to Schools? Don't Wait Up

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The federal government is in the process of rolling out billions in federal coronavirus aid for schools that Congress approved last month. But when should the education community expect another round of emergency help from Washington for K-12?

It's perfectly fair to believe that schools will get another round of relief eventually. But maybe don't hold your breath.

Why are we saying that? Late last week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced that barring an "emergency" the House would not come back into session until May 4. Early this week, the Senate followed the House's lead. So Capitol Hill will almost certainly be largely dormant until early next month. Then it'll likely take several days, if not a few weeks, to negotiate a new, so-called "fourth phase" of Washington's emergency response to the virus.

It's not as if lawmakers haven't thought or talked about that next phase. And groups like the teachers' unions have already put external pressure on Congress about it (more on that later). But those points quickly take you to the fact that disagreements about what the fourth phase should include, or whether there should be a next phase at all, emerged even before President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act into law. 

Meanwhile, consider the CARES Act itself. Trump signed the legislation March 27, although the details of the bill had been public for several days, giving the U.S. Department of Education a little time to begin planning how it would distribute the money. It took the department roughly two and a half weeks to go from Trump's signing ceremony to officially inviting states to apply for $3 billion in CARES Act education aid for governors. (It has yet to release $13.5 billion in money earmarked almost entirely for local school districts.)

That's actually not such a stately place by Washington standards; some might call it pretty speedy. But it might feel like long time for school districts, educators, and students who have experienced a sudden and jarring shift to remote learning, if indeed they've been provided with and had access to that option at all. And those same parties are wondering what their schools will look like and be able to provide when they eventually reopen—although there are already rumblings that some schools might not be ready to reopen in the fall.  

Remember that governors still have to apply for that $3 billion in aid, get approved, get the money, plan how they want to distribute it (if they haven't done so already), and then allocate it to K-12 and higher education. The Education Department has promised a speedy approval process for CARES aid in general. But how many more days or weeks will go by for all those steps to take place in states? And of course there is a separate process for the $13.5 billion in district aid that hasn't happened yet. 

On March 30, shortly after the CARES Act became law, we wrote about what education groups were looking for in the anticipated next round of coronavirus aid. At the time, it looked like Congress might be back in session April 20. Here's what we wrote at the time, based on that schedule: 

[I]t's almost certainly going to be several weeks before Capitol Hill crafts, debates, and (possibly) passes another coronavirus aid bill.

Even if money for student connectivity makes it into the bill, when would the cash actually reach districts and other relevant organizations? Mid-May? Early June? How much of the school year would be left by that time for the schools that are still in session at all? Would that money still help a lot?

Now consider an entirely new timeline for additional coronvirus emergency money if Congress does not come back until May 4. 

And all that is assuming that a fourth round of federal coronavirus aid will include money for K-12. It's not unreasonable to think that it will. And any new emergency aid for state budgets, for example, will likely benefit schools. But we'll have to wait and see if, and how much, education will get earmarked in a new coronavirus package. 

Districts may have decided that they're going to sock away a lot of the coronavirus aid they get for the next fiscal year, when things could really get tough for schools—education finance guru Marguerite Roza at Georgetown University has counseled this approach. 

But also remember that a constellation of education groups have already asked Congress for more than $200 billion in the next phase of coronavirus relief. While some school districts might want to save for the next school year, other districts might want to spend the money as soon as they can get it.

Photo: From left, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., and White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow attend a a meeting to discuss the coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


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