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The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is a $430 billion bill proposed on June 30 by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in response to the COVID-19 impact on schools and their communities. The bill, a product of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), clarifies and adds to the CARES Act which was enacted in late March. Though the bill was introduced just over a month ago it remains a proposal and lawmakers have yet to finalize a package for schools, despite the nearing start date.

The bill sets aside $345 billion for education in general, with a little over half going to K-12 schools. Specifically, the bill aims to: direct money to education agencies with more students from low-income families; set aside money for migrant and homeless children and English language learners; increase “liquidity and cash flow” to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) so they can tap into their assets. CCCERA goes further to protect educators, students, and school communities from state budget cuts by requiring that states receiving federal funds maintain or increase state education spending for three years. The bill contains several other points, but generally aims to enact a robust and equitable funding plan meant to tackle the gap in education and technology access for our most vulnerable students and families.

In addition to a greater sum of aid and more thoughtful allocation, the bill condemns Education Secretary DeVos’ implementation efforts to limit aid eligibility for Dreamers and undocumented students and repeals the Secretary’s discretionary spending fund, a percentage of aid to be spent at her discretion under laws written into the CARES Act. In May DeVos distributed over $350 million from the fund to small, private, primarily religious universities whose typically smaller and wealthier student bodies would receive more money per student than universities with more low-income students. She also distributed $180 million in grants for states, with the “absolute priority 1” being the creation of “microgrants” which could pay for technology and services to support remote learning —  but could also be used for private school tuition. Both of these inequitable allocations are remedied in CCCERA which solidifies how money can be spent across the public and private sector and provides an updated formula that places more weight on the headcount of low-income students in a given school.

Policy Analysis:

As the nation is gearing up for the school year lawmakers have yet to strike a deal on a stimulus package that will not only help the economy, which seems to be their main priority, but also address the inequities in education that have been exasperated by the current public health crisis. Not all families will be able to support remote learning at home or have access to or money for technology required for effective remote learning, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, Republicans and Democrats have been going back and forth for months on an all-inclusive proposal while our youth and school communities have been waiting for answers.

CCCERA policies, supported by advocacy groups, educational agencies, professional organizations, and families, provide much needed funding and spending clarifications which address the multiple levels of inequities in our education system. This bill shows that legislators are hearing what the people have been demanding and continue to demand — an educational system that is built to help everyone succeed. The bill also recognizes the people’s calls for transparency and accountability in government, as it seeks to remedy DeVos’ violation of “Congressional intent” when implementing the CARES Act. Instead of “equitable services” for private schools, she gave large grants to private institutions and required that a greater percentage of federal aid goes to private schools than what is normal under the law by counting all students instead of just low-income students — this was not what was intended by the law as equitable and is an abuse of power. Only by bringing accountability and transparency to the forefront and closing these loopholes can lawmakers prevent further misuse of funds and ensure that students’ rights to quality and accessible education are not trampled on.

S.4112 goes above and beyond the stimulus proposals currently being debated. However its passage is by no means assured. For S.4112 to become a law lawmakers from both parties must treat education, especially public education, as a nonpartisan priority. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for additional review, but even if it is forwarded to the Republican Majority Senate for a vote, chances of it moving on to the House are slim. Nor is it likely to be signed by the President — who before COVID was planning on cutting the education budget by about 8% for the next fiscal year. Since the stimulus package as an all-in-one deal is taking the stage, schools and students must patiently wait in hopes that democrats will negotiate for more and equitable funding for schools. 

Resistance Resources: 

NASSP — The National Association of Secondary School Principals has an action page with education justice issues and a convenient fill-in template that sends emails to your local elected representatives. It also has tools that help you register to vote, find relevant elected officials, and prepare you to vote on relevant educational policies.

NEA EdJustice — The National Education Association’s EdJustice site provides information and resources for addressing injustices in education, including relevant petitions, pledges, and events. Join their “League” to connect with other advocates and organize in your community.

Educators for Excellence — Educators for Excellence connects Educators and school communities with tools to advocate for progressive policies that will help under-resourced schools and students have better access to and quality of education. They have templates, contact info, and links to help you reach out to the appropriate governing bodies and demand justice.

Healthy Schools — Healthy Schools is a 501(c)3 that partners with the CDC and EPA to provide expert advice and action plans to school leaders and governments in order to create healthy and safe schools. They’ve created an extensive plan and action tool-kit to address the pandemic, check out their resources for organizing and assisting in its implementation in your local schools.

Sources:

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