COVID Relief Funding Bill Is Passed

A look at what a new funding bill—as well as a new administration–means for 2021.

Topics: Advocacy and Legislation, Pandemic Leadership

Congress (Finally) Passes COVID Relief Funding For Schools

After months of back-and-forth negotiations, Congress passed a COVID-19 relief bill in late December 2020 that includes $54 billion in direct funding for K-12 schools. The funding will be distributed to states via Title I formula, and state education agencies must distribute at least 90 percent of these funds directly to districts (state allocation funding levels can be found here). Schools can use the funds for a wide variety of activities including, but not limited to, any activity allowed under ESSA; providing principals with the resources necessary to address the needs of their schools related to coronavirus; purchasing supplies to sanitize, clean, and disinfect, including purchasing PPE; purchasing education technology and devices; and providing mental health services and supports. Since March 2020, NAESP has advocated for $175 billion for K-12. So though this deal provides much needed resources to schools and districts, NAESP views it only as a starting point and will continue to push for additional funding to help schools address the myriad challenges they will face in the coming months, including decreased state and local K-12 aid.

Former NAESP Member Nominated For Secretary Of Education

On Dec. 23, 2020, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Dr. Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education commissioner and a former teacher and public school principal, to be the next secretary of education. A former NAESP member and 2012 NAESP National Distinguished Principal, Cardona would bring educator experience to the role, an attribute Biden identified as a priority. If confirmed by the Senate, Cardona will face a slew of challenges, including moving forward on President-elect Biden’s pledge to reopen schools within the first 100 days of his administration. Cardona would be the second education secretary of Puerto Rican descent, after former education secretary John B. King Jr., who served under President Barack Obama. Cardona’s parents came to the U.S. mainland as children from Puerto Rico.

Read NAESP’s Statement on Cardona’s nomination here.

Biden Administration: K-12 Priorities


Federal education funding could look much different under a Biden administration. During the campaign, Biden put forward proposals to triple funding for the Title I program, provide new funding for school infrastructure, dramatically increase federal spending for special education, and provide federal supports for funding universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-old children. He has also said he would double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, and social workers in schools.


Big shifts in K-12 policy are likely as well. President-elect Biden’s agenda for K-12 education will depend on the balance of power in Congress and which party controls the Senate (more below). At the top of the new administration’s K-12 agenda will be confronting the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on students and schools. Biden has lauded the latest round of coronavirus funding but has indicated more funding will be needed, including for schools. Beyond funding, the Biden administration could look for other ways to support schools in the aftermath of coronavirus on issues such as addressing learning loss, beefing up in-school mental health supports, and strengthening access to and quality of remote learning.

Executive Orders and Regulatory Action

The Biden administration will also likely look to executive orders and regulatory action that do not require congressional consent:

  • Addressing disparities in school discipline: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits policies and practices that intentionally discriminate against minority students. The Obama administration applied a “disparate impact” approach to school discipline, releasing guidance indicating that disparities in suspension and expulsion rates could be seen as evidence of discrimination. The Trump administration repealed the guidance. The Biden administration will very likely reinstate it.
  • Boosting diversity and supporting desegregation: The Biden campaign’s platform states that he “will reinstate Department of Education guidance that supported schools in legally pursuing desegregation strategies.” To address this, the administration could write new guidance that clarifies how school officials can use and coordinate federal education funding to support desegregation strategies as a component of school improvement.
  • Testing and accountability: During the campaign, President-elect Biden indicated that he would reduce the role of standardized tests in schools. So far though, the former vice president hasn’t committed to doing away with summative assessments. One potential outcome is a mix of waivers and guidance.

Senate Control Undetermined, Focus On Georgia

As it currently stands, Republicans hold 50 seats in the U.S. Senate, with Democrats holding 48 seats. The remaining two are the Georgia seats, which will be decided by a runoff election being held today. If Republicans were to win one or both of the seats, they would retain control of the Senate. Such a result would mean a divided Congress. If Democrats were to win both Georgia Senate runoffs, Democrats would gain control of the Senate. Already in the majority in the House, Democrats would control both chambers, giving the Biden administration more opportunities to advance its K-12 agenda.