The proposals, which Biden announced in a speech Thursday night, are part of a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that also seeks $350 billion in aid to state, local, and territorial governments.
“We can [open schools] if we give school districts, communities, and states the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they will need that they cannot afford right now because of the economic crisis we are in,” Biden said. “That means more testing and transportation, additional cleaning and sanitizing services, protective equipment, and ventilation systems in the schools.”
The plan will require approval from Congress, both chambers of which are narrowly controlled by Democrats, who have called for larger relief efforts. But some components, like a proposal for additional direct relief payments to individuals, may be sticking points for some members in both parties.
Biden’s announcement comes as schools around the country that have opened for in-person learning continue to face rolling closures and quarantines as they identify cases of COVID-19 among students and teachers. It also comes as many large districts, which have remained in remote learning since March 2020, struggle to determine when and how to reopen their buildings.
Some epidemiologists have said schools should“be bolder”about opening with proper mitigation strategies. But some teachers and administrators fear doing so in communities with rapid spread of the virus. And many education groups have said schools need additional federal aid to face the challenges of an unprecedented school year.
The CARES Act, a relief package that passed in the spring, included $13.2 billion in aid for school districts, and a spending compromise enacted in December included an additional $57 billion.
The education relief funding in Biden’s proposal could be used for a wide range of purposes, including hiring additional staff to reduce class sizes, modifying spaces to allow for more social distancing, improving ventilation systems, providing school nurses for schools that don’t have them, building up remote learning resources, and providing additional academic and social-emotional supports for students when they return to the classroom.
A portion of the new K-12 funding in Biden’s plan would be set aside for a COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant, “which will support state, local and tribal governments in partnering with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders to advance equity- and evidence-based policies to respond to COVID-related educational challenges and give all students the support they need to succeed,” according to an outline released by the transition team.
Biden’s call for state and local aid may also answer concerns from some education groups that have said the effects of education-specific relief funds may be muted if they merely backfill for budget cuts as the economy suffers and tax revenues dwindle.
The plan also calls for increased Federal Emergency ManagementAgency funding, which would allow schools to seek reimbursement for supplies like masks and cleaning equipment. And it would provide emergency expanded sick leave to allow families to quarantine without risking lost wages.
Biden’s plan calls for $160 billion in funding “to mount a national vaccination program, expand testing, mobilize a public health jobs program, and take other necessary steps to build capacity to fight the virus,” according to the transition team outline. “We can’t wait to slow the spread of this virus. And, we can’t fight this pandemic in fits and starts,” the plan says. Of that funding, $20 billion would be used for a national vaccine campaign that would include community vaccination centers and mobile units to deliver inoculations in “hard-to-reach” areas. As Education Week has reported, most states have identified teachers among their vaccine priority groups, often placing them in line behind health-care personnel, nursing home residents, and other older adults. But logistical concerns and a slower-than-expected roll-out of the first doses mean some educators and school employees have waited longer than they expected to get their first shots. Beyond school workers, higher vaccination rates in the general community will contribute to efforts to build “herd immunity,” making it less risky for adults to gather in schools and other buildings.
Of the funding included in the plan, $50 billion would by used for a “massive expansion of testing” that would include increased use of rapid tests, expanding lab capacity to process tests faster, and aid to schools and local governments to carry out testing programs.
“Expanded testing will ensure that schools can implement regular testing to support safe reopening; that vulnerable settings like prisons and long-term care facilities can regularly test their populations; and that any American can get a test for free when they need one,” the plan says.
As Education Week has reported, the Trump administration has provided 100 million rapid tests to states to help with efforts to reopen schools. But epidemiologists say schools need more tests conducted more frequently. Some districts, like New York City, have announced their own testing plans, sampling random groups of students and staff on a rotating basis to monitor the success of their mitigation efforts.
Education groups praised Biden’s proposal Thursday. “Making these necessary investments is the only way to ensure that school buildings and campuses are reopened in a safe and equitable manner and that all students have what they need to thrive,” said a statement from Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association.
Biden’s stated goal of opening “the majority of K-8 schools” is narrower than what he’s suggested in the past when he spoke more generally about opening all schools. Some districts have focused on opening classrooms for earlier grades, citing research that older students are more likely to deal with severe symptoms.
And it may be difficult to determine when and if the nation has met that goal. There is no federal data on schools’ operating status to indicate how many are open to in-person learning. Even in districts that are open, many families have opted to keep their children at home for remote learning. Even if Biden meets the goal, the 100-day threshold would elapse at the end of April, which is near the end of the school year in some states.
Resources and Connections
Job Opportunites at CREATE, RTR, and Project Inspire CREATE is looking for a Summer Residency Academy Coordinator, a Liaison of University to District Teacher Leadership, and an ANCS Cohort Hybrid Support Staff. Seehere for more information.
RTRis looking for a Director, Center for Teacher Leadership. See herefor more information.
Clarkson University Study on Teaching in the Age of COVID-19 Clarkson University’s education faculty are researching the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the daily lives of teachers. Little focus has been placed on current teachers, and yet, they have heard from Clarkson alumni and colleagues about the dramatic ways the pandemic has upended teachers' day-to-day lives and careers. They would like to learn more about the impact COVID-19 has had on teachers so that we may share that information broadly with professional journals, policymakers, at conferences, and in the media at large. They invite you to take this survey, Teaching in the Age of COVID-19. It should take no more than ten (10) minutes to complete.
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I the News In the News
Who is Miguel Cardona? Miguel Cardona remembers how overwhelmed he felt when he walked into school for the first time as a student. The son of parents who moved to Meriden, Conn., from Puerto Rico as children, he lived in public housing and didn’t speak English as a young child. “I remember my first day of kindergarten at John Barry School,” the nominee for U.S. secretary of education said at a virtual farewell celebration with Meriden leaders earlier this month, referring to an elementary school in his home city. “That day, I ended up in the nurse’s office crying, and I had to go home early. I never wanted to go back. Here I am, 40 years later, and I’m having mixed emotions about leaving the place I love.” Last month, President-elect Joe Biden announced Cardona, now Connecticut’s education commissioner, as his pick to be the nation’s top education official. Less than two years ago, Cardona was an assistant superintendent in his hometown’s 8,000-student district. If confirmed by the Senate, he could be a cabinet member within weeks. Read more here.
Amid Surges, Teachers Line Up For Their Vaccines The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classed school staff as "frontline essential workers" — meaning they're among the earliest in line to get the new coronavirus vaccines. But access and timelines vary around the country, and some teachers remain worried about coronavirus continuing to spread in schools, even if they themselves can get the shots. Read morehere.
Number of Districts Safe for In-Person Learning Shrinking, New Study Suggests As the pandemic continues to surge, fewer and fewer school districts may have community coronavirus levels that are low enough for safe in-person learning, a new study suggests. Last week, a team of researchers from Tulane University released a paper examining the effects of school reopenings on COVID-19 hospitalizations. Their study, using national data, identified a threshold — 36 to 44 hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week — below which opening schools did not increase levels of community virus spread. Above that level, however, the researchers could not rule out the possibility that in-person learning might spread COVID-19, and another recent study found that reopening schools in such areas does tend to increase caseloads. Read more here.
Please note that the articles and events in the NCTR E-Blast do not reflect the opinions of our organization, but rather represent information that we believe will be relevant to you and your programs.