Tag Archives: Senator Mitch McConnell

Another round of federal stimulus inching closer to reality

Another round of federal relief money is one step closer to becoming a reality, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Monday presented their proposal two months after Democrats passed theirs out of the U.S. House of Representatives. With substantial differences between these latest two COVID-19 relief proposals, however, there is much work to be done to negotiate a plan that can pass out of both chambers.

The $1 trillion Republican proposal, dubbed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, includes $105 billion for education, $70 billion of which would go to K-12 schools specifically. However, two-thirds of that funding, roughly $47 billion, would only flow to schools that reopen for in-person instruction and would not be available to schools that only offer virtual instruction in response to high levels of local COVID-19 infections. Schools that delay in-person instruction for safety reasons could receive some of the remaining one-third of the funding that would be split among all schools, regardless of whether they open in-person or through distance methods. Similar to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, the new proposal also includes $5 billion for state governors to spend on K-12 and higher education.

Even though states would receive funds under the Republican HEALS Act proposal based proportionately on their previous school year’s Title I funding, states would have to reserve a proportional portion of the federal funding for private schools. Private schools receiving federal funds would not be subject to the same requirements under the GOP proposal as public schools. The new proposal does not include a requirement to provide “equitable services” to private schools under the new funding as was included in the CARES Act.

The Republican proposal also includes immunity from liability intended to shield school districts and businesses that reopen amid the pandemic from lawsuits by employees or customers who are exposed to the virus or become infected as a result.

Another major headline of the Senate plan includes lower monthly unemployment payments. Payments would decrease from the current $600 per week down to $200, which could be combined with state unemployment benefits for up to 70% of a person’s wages before losing their job due to the pandemic. Those unemployment payments, created by the CARES Act in March, are scheduled to expire this weekend unless extended by Congress. The GOP plan would extend the moratorium on evictions, a provision from the first CARES Act that has already lapsed, and would provide another round of stimulus checks using the same criteria as under the CARES Act. Each individual earning up to $75,000 per year would receive $1,200, and decreasing amounts would be paid to those earning up to $99,000.

The Republican plan is part of a larger package of legislation that includes a stand-alone voucher bill filed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would create a permanent program providing up to $5 billion in tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations (SGO) that transfer public school dollars to private institutions. This is a perennial proposal advocated by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in her quest to privatize education. The new voucher bill would also direct emergency education funding meant for public schools to SGOs for private use. Expansion of these voucher programs remains a top priority of the Trump administration and Secretary DeVos, as they continue using the pandemic to promote these proposals despite repeated failures to pass them through the Congress.

The House, under Democratic leadership, passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act back in May. The House bill would provide $90 billion directly to education, including $58 billion for all K-12 schools. Unlike the Senate plan, the House bill provides a separate $950 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments aimed at preventing budget shortfalls that could lead to layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

The HEROES Act would also provide another round of stimulus checks to individuals, and would additionally raise the payout for each dependent to $1,200 up from $500 under the CARES Act. The bill would extend the full $600 weekly unemployment payments into next year, extend the suspension of student loan payments, provide up to $10,000 in student debt relief, and prohibit Secretary DeVos from imposing restrictions on populations of students who receive emergency financial relief under the CARES Act.

Each of these proposals represents the opening bid in negotiations between the two chambers and the Trump administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed a desire to vote on the Senate bill before members leave for recess August 7. The Senate bill was originally expected to be unveiled last week, but was reportedly delayed amid ongoing negotiations with the White House, which supports the Senate’s proposal. House Democrats passed their bill in May, but Senate Republicans ignored it and declined to take action on another relief package until recently.

Federal relief for schools would come at a critical time as the 2020-21 school year begins. Regardless of whether instruction is being delivered virtually or in person, school buildings across Texas will once again fill with teachers and staff, necessitating costly safety protocols. Virtual instruction poses added technology costs to districts, which are already looking at potential budget shortfalls due to declining tax revenues caused by the pandemic-induced recession.

Texas is estimated to face a $4.6 billion budget shortfall by the end of 2020, and the 2021 legislative session is already expected to feature drastic cuts in state spending. Federal relief dollars would go a long way in reducing the pressure to cut education spending here in Texas. House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the president all will have to approve any additional relief package from Congress.

General Election Results: Education impact beyond Texas’ borders

Changes in Congress

The Republican gains seen in Texas after this Tuesday’s general election were not exclusive; the party also gained substantial ground in the U.S. Congress, and the changes are likely to have an impact on education policy, at least in part.

Prior to Nov. 4, Republicans controlled the U.S. House of Representatives while Democrats made up the majority of members in the U.S. Senate. The seats picked up by Republicans in this election were enough for the party to gain control of both chambers of Congress. While this change is likely to spur more movement of education legislation in the House and Senate, the process still faces a Democratic president with the power of veto.

The change in the U.S. Senate majority party will mean a new chairman driving the legislation and policy decisions impacting education. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee and the current ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), is likely to be named chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over federal public education policy.

Based on previous education initiatives championed by Republican leaders in both chambers, we have a good idea of the legislation we can expect from the new Congress after January: a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is more commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB); measures aimed at creating school choice; and a change in funding for federal education programs and initiatives.

In a letter jointly authored by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the likely next majority leader of the U.S. Senate, the party’s top leaders committed to addressing the current education system, which they referred to as “under-performing.”

Education Measures on States’ Ballots

Although there were no statewide education initiatives on the ballot here in Texas, voters in several other states were given a chance to determine the fate of various education measures on Election Day. The issues included class size restrictions, vouchers, preschool education and school funding.

Colorado: Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded gaming to include casino gambling at horse race tracks with a percentage of the proceeds made through gambling-related taxes to be directed for K-12 education.

Hawaii: Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state to spend public money on private preschool programs.

Illinois: Voters approved a referendum question on a 3 percent tax increase for incomes that exceed $1 million, which would be used to help fund education. (Referendum questions do not change laws but give legislators and other state leaders an idea of how voters feel on certain issues.)

Missouri: Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made major changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system and teacher contracts. The plan would have created a teacher evaluation system based on student performance data, prohibited teachers from collectively bargaining around the new evaluation system, limited teachers’ contracts to no more than three years, and determined teachers’ employment based on the new evaluation system.

Nevada: Voters rejected a statutory amendment that would have increased funding to education through a 2 percent tax increase on businesses with revenue exceeding $1 million.

New York: Voters approved a proposition allowing the state to borrow up to $2 billion in bonds for certain public and non-public school initiatives: increased technology, better access to high-speed Internet, improved facilities for pre-kindergarten programs, and high-tech security features.

North Dakota: Voters rejected a measure that would have required the K-12 school year to start after Labor Day.

Seattle: Voters approved a proposition to create a preschool program that will eventually cover the cost of preschool for up to 2,000 three- and four-year-old children of low-income earners. The funding will come from a four-year tax increase totaling $58 million. Voters were given the option to choose one of two proposals or reject both options. The competing proposal would have raised the minimum wage for childcare workers to $15 per hour and created a childcare worker training program.

Washington: Votes are still being counted on an initiative that would direct the legislature to increase funding for the hiring of additional teachers, administrators, and support staff in order to reduce class sizes. (The initiative includes no new funding. Legislators will ultimately decide how to respond to the initiative. Their many options include redirecting funding from other state and local funding sources, leaving the initiative unfunded, or partially funding the initiative.)