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

Press Releases

March 27, 2020

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

“We applaud the bipartisan effort to produce a final CARES bill that is much improved over the original version proposed last week. The bill moves in a positive direction on a number of our key priority areas:

  • Increasing Education Funding. The $30.75 billion education stabilization fund, including $3 billion in emergency funding to Governors for districts and colleges in greatest need, is more than triple that originally proposed. We applaud negotiators for recognizing the necessity of assisting schools and colleges in meeting the immediate costs associated with preparing for and responding to the COVID-19 crisis. To be clear, a Phase 4 bill with significantly more funding is imperative as state and local revenues contract and under resourced schools and colleges plan for and provide continuing instruction through the Spring, Summer and beyond. We are also disappointed that the CARES Act does not include the $2 billion in e-rate funding proposed by House Democrats. 
  • Targeting Aid to Areas of Greatest Need. By tying federal aid to K-12 education in part through the Title I formula and aid to colleges based on relative shares of Pell Grant students enrolled, the CARES Act is a big improvement over the Senate’s original proposal in ensuring fulfillment of the federal role that precious resources are prioritized for students from historically disadvantaged groups who are so often shortchanged by states and local governments.
  • Student Loan Relief. The CARES Act ensures a six-month moratorium in Direct Loan payments without interest accrual, but it provides no such moratorium and utterly fails older borrowers (pre-2009 students) struggling to pay federal FFEL student loans as well as borrowers of all ages with private student loans. At the same time, the new law provides billions in bail out funds to shoddy, for-profit trade schools and authorizes Governors to provide proprietary colleges and their shareholders with even more. Rather than a partial moratorium, a poll from Benenson Strategy Group found 69% of all voters would rather see full debt cancelation of every borrower ripped off by a predatory college with an unconscionably high dropout rate. In addition to exponentially increased and targeted funding for struggling public education, a Phase 4 bill should make lasting student loan relief a reality for those ripped-off by bad-actor colleges.
  • Limiting Waiver Authority. The final CARES Act is much more surgical in providing authority to the Secretary of Education to waive provisions of federal education laws designed to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, and protection of civil rights and consumers. To be clear, stakeholders and advocates will need to monitor state requests for flexibility closely as history suggests that too much flexibility can diminish services to our neediest students.

This bill is an important step toward supporting students during this pandemic, though funding alone won’t prevent the exacerbation of already yawning achievement gaps. It’s critical that we continue to provide districts, colleges, and states with the guidance, resources, and innovative approaches necessary to adapt to these unprecedented times.”