Professional Development Vouchers for Teachers and AASA's Response

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Professional Development Vouchers for Teachers and AASA's Response

The U.S. Department of Education is moving forward with its proposal from a year ago to create vouchers for teachers to use for professional development—despite a previous congressional rebuke to the idea. AASA sent this letter opposing the redirection of a $190m for “professional development vouchers” for teachers. 

 

May 13, 2020

(ADVOCACY TOOLS, ED FUNDING) Permanent link

House Intros HEROES Act in Response to COVID Pandemic

Overview: House Democrats introduced the HEROES Act, their proposal for the latest emergency supplemental in response to the COVID pandemic. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act exceeds over $3 trillion in aid. Moving forward, the bill is scheduled for a vote in the House as early as this week, and then expected to stall in the Senate. The legislation includes $1 trillion for states and local governments, in addition to $10 billion in small business grants. The bill would also send another round of direct checks to Americans, on top of the $1,200 approved in March, and extend the additional $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits that will expire at the end of July. About $175 billion would go to health care providers to reimburse them for coronavirus-related expenses and lost revenue, in addition to supporting testing efforts. The proposal allocates $100 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance program that would allocate funding to states, territories, counties, and cities to help renters pay rent and utility bills during the pandemic. The bill does not include liability protections over pandemic-related suits, which Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said must be in any future legislation.

Education Top Line: For education overall, HEROES calls for $90 billion in grants to governors to distribute among K-12 schools and public colleges to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. $58 billion is for K12 LEAs, $27 billion is for public institutions of higher education, and $4 billion for governors to support K12, higher education and related activities. Another $10 billion is set aside to address coronavirus disruption in higher education, including $1.7 billion earmarked specifically for historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. Separate from the state funding, the bill includes authorizing language of up to $5 billion aimed at closing the so-called digital Homework Gap by funding Wi-Fi hotspots and other connected devices, set to be administered through the FCC E-rate program, though our understanding is that appropriators are capping it at $1.5 billion (we’ve been pushing for $4 b in actual funding). 

  • Allocation: Funds would be allocated to states based on two things: 61% bases on the state’s relative share of the population aged 5-24 and 39% on the state’s share of low-income (Title I eligible) children.  Of the funds to the governor, 65% must be allocated to LEAs based on their share of Title I funding, and there is no reservation for state departments of education.
  • Use of Funding: LEAs can use funds for any purpose authorized under ESSA, IDEA, Perkins/CTE, McKinney Vento/homeless Education, and more, including activities to address the needs of low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including learning gaps created or exacerbated due to long-term school closures; purchasing educational technology (including internet connectivity as well as assistive technology or adaptive equipment) and providing professional development related to virtual learning; offering summer learning programs, either online or in-person; and implementing activities to maintain the operation and continuity of services and to employ existing staff (to receive funds, districts must, to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay employees and contractors). Money can be spent until September 30, 2022 and unused funds have to be returned to USED.
  • Requirements on States: States that receive some of the $90 billion in funding would have to commit to maintaining support for schools and colleges and the terms of collective bargaining agreements. States would also be required to provide assurances that students with disabilities are guaranteed their full rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. The bill would prohibit states from using the stimulus money to provide financial assistance to students to attend private K-12 schools, unless the funds are used to provide special education to children with disabilities. 
  • Technical Fixes to CARES: In making technical fixes to CARES, HEROES rescinds ability of SUED to allocate grants to states hardest hit by COVID (DeVos had indicated using funds for ‘micro-grants’, aka vouchers). HEROES also includes language intended to resolve our issue with the deeply flawed equitable services guidance developed by USED. The fix isn’t 100% accurate, but a marker for the longer conversation and a step in the right direction.
  • Related Links
    • Text of H.R. 6800, The HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act)
    • A one-pager on the legislation is here.
    • A section-by-section summary is here.
    • A resource on the state and local relief provisions is here.
     

Other Items: 

  • Equity for Recovery Rebates: The bill includes another round of direct stimulus payments and establishes that payments are equal for adults and children. This time, families with children would receive $1,200 per child (up to 3 children and limited to a total of $6000 per household) instead of just the $500 included in previous aid. The adult payment of $1200 is the same as the first round of “recovery rebates.”  The legislation also fixes some of the shortcomings in the current “economic rebate” program.  It ensures that college students, non-child dependents, and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) filers are eligible.
  • Expanded CTC, EITC, and CDCTC: The bill would make the Child Tax Credit (CTC) fully refundable in tax year 2020 and also would raise the amount of the credit to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under the age of 6. It also extends the credit to 17 year-olds. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be expanded for childless workers by reducing the age of eligibility from 25 to 19 and would increase earned income amount to $9,720 with the phaseout starting at $11,490 for a max credit of $1,487 (instead of $538).  Also for 2020, the act would make the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) fully refundable, increase the maximum credit rate to 50% from 35%, and raise the phaseout threshold from $15,000 to $120,000.  It also would doubles the amount of expenses eligible for the credit.
  • Increased Medicaid FMAP: The bill increases Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) payments to state Medicaid programs by 14 percentage points through June 30, 2021.
  • Expanded Housing Assistance: The bill includes an eviction moratorium for a year and requires a 30-day notice of eviction once the moratorium ends. It also provides more money for critical housing programs, such as $100 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance Program, $10 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers, and $3.5 billion for Section 8 Housing Vouchers.
  • Expanded Nutrition Assistance: The bill includes $10 billion for SNAP and increases the benefit level by 15 percent and the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 per month through September 2021. It also provides $3 billion for child nutrition programs, $1.1 billion for WIC, and extends the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program through the summer and until schools reopen.
  • Expanded Work Supports: The bill extends UI benefits established in prior relief packages, eliminated the 500+ employee exemption for small business loans, expands the purposes for the paid leave program, increases wage replacement, and clarifies that non-profits are covered.
  • Update on 501(c) Organizations: For the state executives, I want to flag that HEROES Act includes all Section 501(c) organizations in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Any nonprofit with 500 or fewer employees will be able to apply for PPP funds. Following are other notable provisions, among many, that are relevant to associations: the covered period for PPP loans would be extended to December 31, 2020; PPP funds could be stretched over 24 weeks instead of the eight weeks originally passed in the CARES Act; businesses and organizations that receive PPP loans would be allowed to defer payroll tax payments; coordination between the PPP and Employee Retention Tax Credit would be improved to “ensure borrowers can take advantage of both types of assistance;” and the legislation would direct the Federal Reserve to create a nonprofit-specific program within the Main Street Lending Program. 
  • Looking ahead, we need to continue to press for flexibility on IDEA, which was not included (but not surprising, as Democrats tend to be of the thought that it is reasonable to expect 100% compliance with 100% of IDEA). Sasha continues to lead our work on this effort and is coordinating with national groups and the hill to include language.
  • The bill is, at best, a mixed bag. It has some things we like (we appreciate that education is funded) but is baffling in both its overall size (a likely non starter in the Senate) and specific to education, how a $3 trillion bill only has $60 billion for education and has no flexibility around IDEA. It has good policy provisions related to equitable services and reigning in what DeVos can do related to privatization. We will follow this bill, but in terms of substance, the real tell will be in both what the Senate responds with and when.

And for your regular advocacy updates, please know that we have rounded up the five specific areas of possible member engagement into one blog post, and you can engage on our top priorities (IDEA flexibility, ERate funding for homework gap, equitable services, securing a larger investment for K12, and our COVID impact survey to inform policy on Capitol Hill in terms of response and reopening.)