ERN Statement on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Charles Barone

March 23, 2020

“Public Education Aid Should be Exponentially Larger”

Education Reform Now (ERN) Chief Policy Officer Charles Barone and Director of Strategic Initiatives for Policy Michael Dannenberg released the below statement in response to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act:

“The current draft of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act does not go far enough to provide financial assistance to public schools and colleges, support heightened demands of education equity, and guardrail against abuse and pet ideological agendas.

  • Increase Aid: While we were pleased to see that, over the weekend, Senate Republicans and the White House agreed to provide some support to our nation’s K-12 schools and institutions of higher education—$28 billion in stabilization funds for K-16 education ($20 billion for K-12 and $8 billion for higher ed)—it is insufficient in addressing the exponentially greater need facing school districts. During the economic crisis of 2009, between tax relief and direct spending, nearly one in six dollars in President Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act went to education. A comparable sum in magnitude for all of education—Pre-K-12, higher education, and student loan debt relief—is appropriate and necessary.
  • Equitable Distribution of K-16 Resources: Critically, all Phase III stabilization and stimulus education resources should be distributed to schools, colleges, and students equitably, with the greatest amount of federal education dollars going to the schools and individuals with the greatest need, taking into consideration different costs in different geographic areas. That means distribution of state fiscal stabilization funds based largely on the targeted federal Title I program formulas; distribution of institution of higher education funds based largely on Pell Grant student enrollment; and, a guarantee that all Phase III education aid goes to public schools, with public charter schools that operate as school districts provided the same kinds and levels of support as traditional local educational agencies.
  • Reduce the Digital Divide: Currently, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) E-rate program helps offset the cost of internet access in schools and libraries. To support current homeschooling needs, the Administration should direct the FCC to allow its E-rate program to fund home internet access for students as well. This policy change can impact educational equity dramatically for millions of students and help close the digital divide.
  • Maintain Accountability:  We believe the authority afforded the Secretary of Education to grant waivers under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is sufficient to provide states where schools are closed the leeway to forgo the administration of annual assessments and accountability determinations for this year, with the stipulation that the identification of schools in need of improvement and accompanying supports be carried over from last year. Over the short-term, USDOE should encourage states to offer formative assessments in lieu of summative assessments so that educators and parents can gauge student progress and identify which students are falling behind. Current law provides ample flexibility, with appropriate guardrails, for states and districts that need to repurpose funding away from classroom-based instruction to online learning and other supports. We do not support changing the list of policies under ESSA that the Secretary is barred from waiving.
  • Adhere to IDEA: We oppose any waiving of provisions of law or regulation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal government has ample authority to offer guidance to states and districts on how to maximally and reasonably meet the needs of students with disabilities while at the same time serving as many students as possible through online learning and other supports for those whose schools are closed.

Now is the time to rise above politics and reaffirm our support for public schools, public colleges, and education equity. We are hopeful that all involved will continue to work together in good faith at this unprecedented time in our nation’s history.”