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White House, Senate GOP Weigh Draft K-12 Aid Deal as Democrats Defend Strategy

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Congress is still far from reaching agreement on a new coronavirus aid package. But key elements of a draft deal being discussed between GOP lawmakers and the White House have emerged. And Democrats are pushing back on the sentiment that Republicans have outflanked them and are seeking to provide more relief for K-12 in proposals lawmakers have floated so far.

According to a summary of the draft circulating on Capitol Hill, the package being considered would provide $105 billion to education, with $70 billion going to K-12 schools. Of that amount, $30 billion would be distributed to states for K-12 in general. Another $30 billion would be reserved only for schools that hold in-person classes, and would be contingent on districts having a reopening plan. 

Another key detail, according to the summary, is that of the $30 billion generally available for K-12 for states, the federal government must distribute the money to states within 15 days of enactment, and states must send it to districts within a subsequent 15 days.

This relatively speedy timeline for getting federal money out to schools is set against the backdrop of the start of the new school year, with many districts set to reopen in some form in early or mid-August. President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have publicly pressured schools to hold face-to-face classes in the upcoming school year, but many educators have decried this demand, which has become a crucial piece of negotiations over a new aid package. 

The remaining $10 billion for K-12 would go to private schools in some form, according to the summary. Remember that some private schools received previous emergency federal aid intended to help small businesses stay afload during the pandemic. And there would be $15 billion for child care.

And there's no aid for state and local governments in the draft deal, a potentially important point for K-12 funding. (More on that below.)

Elsewhere, governors would receive $5 billion to distribute to both K-12 and higher education at their discretion, while about $29 billion would go to higher education. 

Keep in mind that the details of this aid package for K-12 have not been officially released and could change after ongoing negotiations. There's still a fair amount we don't know. And as of Thursday morning, Republican senators were still negotiating with the Trump administration about a broader coronavirus aid package and had not released it officially. 

Democrats, meanwhile, have publicly rejected the idea of conditioning federal virus aid to schools reopening with in-person learning.

Signals and Defense

It remains unclear how exactly private school aid and school choice will figure into an aid package. For weeks, the Trump administration has pushed for tax-credits and relief for private schools to be included in any new virus relief package.

And late Wednesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., unveiled the School Choice Now Act that would set aside 10 percent of K-12 virus aid for state and local districts for students scholarships to support private school tuition and home schooling, as well as $5 billion in permanent federal tax credits for similar purposes. However, it's not clear what the introduction of that stand-alone bill signals about the fate of tax credits, emergency relief for private schools, or school choice.

Meanwhile, Democrats say that despite how some proposals are being characterized, their proposals provide far more relief to education than what Republicans are offering.

Josh Weisz, the communications director the House education committee, said the $105 billion in education proposed by Republicans—and which was mentioned publicly by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the Senate floor earlier this week—is dwarfed by the combined funding amounts of various Democratic proposals that address child care and school infrastructure, as well as direct aid to K-12 districts. 

To make his point, he shared the chart below. For reference, "Heroes" is the broad virus aid deal passed by the House, "HR 2" refers to an infrastructure bill, and "CCCERA" refers to this legislation from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act

DemEdFundingChart.pngAmong other things, Weisz highlighted the $915 billion in "additional state and local relief." Without that aid, he noted, direct aid to K-12 from Congress could be more than offset by massive state and local cuts to education. Indeed, the amount of state and local government relief in any final aid package is going to have a significant effect on how national school funding fares in the near future; we highlighted the issue earlier this month.

Yet various education groups and some Democrats have been lobbying for a much larger targeted K-12 relief package than the $58 billion in direct district aid provided for in the HEROES Act. And it's not entirely clear why back in May, in addition to those other funding streams that will help schools, House Democrats who wrote the HEROES Act did not include a $175 stabilization fund for K-12 schools, like Murray's bill does, or some other larger figure

Photo: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, July 20, 2020, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)


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