K-12 Funding Remains in Spotlight on Capitol Hill
Three key pieces of legislation in Congress could have a significant impact on federal funds for schools.
Congress is currently debating three pieces of legislation that all have significant implications for K-12 schools—a bipartisan infrastructure bill, reconciliation legislation, and the FY22 appropriations bill. Following the passage of $197 billion in federal pandemic relief funding since March 2020, Congress is showing no signs of pumping the breaks on federal support for K-12 schools. Below, NAESP’s Advocacy team breaks down these three pieces of legislation and the prospect of them becoming law.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
This $1.2 trillion package passed the Senate in August with bipartisan support and includes funding for roads, bridges, airports, and other infrastructure priorities. The funding package, though, leaves out a key NAESP advocacy priority: K-12 infrastructure grants to support schools in upgrading and modernizing their buildings. A recent nonpartisan government study illuminates why schools urgently need federal funding: In about one-quarter of all school districts, at least half of their schools need upgrades or replacements to major building systems, such as heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, plumbing, or windows. Though school infrastructure was left out, the legislation does include other important investments: $15.7 billion for lead pipe removal in homes and schools, $5 billion for zero-emissions school buses, $500 million for energy efficiency improvements in schools, cybersecurity grants, $65 billion for broadband deployment and expansion, and an extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
As mentioned above, the bipartisan infrastructure bill did not include direct funding for K-12 infrastructure. As a result, NAESP has turned its attention to another legislative vehicle to try to secure school infrastructure funding: the reconciliation process. Democrats in the Senate and House are using this arcane budget maneuver to try to advance some of their key domestic policy priorities. The reconciliation process enables the majority party in the Senate to advance legislation with a simple majority vote (51), so long as the legislation complies with certain Senate rules, namely that the legislation applies only to “mandatory” spending. This process means the majority party in the Senate can circumvent the 60-vote threshold of the filibuster. As part of the process, the various committees of jurisdiction receive a funding allotment to craft their portions of the bill. In this case, the House Education and Labor Committee received $779.5 billion and passed the bill out of committee. The full House has yet to vote on the legislation. Below is an overview of the education-related provisions the committee included in its bill:
- $198 million for principals: NAESP has been pushing Congressional leaders to include direct funding for principal support in the reconciliation bill, and the committee responded by including $198 million in grants to state education agencies and districts to strengthen the infrastructure and systems around how principals are prepared, mentored, coached, and supported. This funding would allow states and districts to expand principal residency programs, boost job-embedded professional developing, fund mentoring and induction support for early career principals, bolster one-on-one principal coaching, among other state- and district-specific school leadership needs.
- $82 billion for K-12 infrastructure grants: The measure includes school infrastructure grants that would go to state education agencies and districts via Title I formula. The funding breakdown: $1.2 billion in planning grants in FY22 and $39 billion in each of fiscal years 2023 and 2024.
- $450 billion for child care subsidies and the federal share to cover universal pre-K services: The bill provides $20 billion in FY22, $30 billion in FY23, and $40 billion in FY24 to support child care expenses (the provision includes a sliding scale, capping child care expenses at 7 percent of household income). For fiscal years 2022-2028, the bill provides “such sums as may be necessary” to cover the federal share of the cost of universal preschool services.
- $35 billion for school nutrition: The legislation lowers the Identified Student Percentage threshold from 40 percent to 25 percent, making more schools eligible to provide free meals; extends summer electronic benefits transfer, allowing states that participate in the Women, Infants, and Children program to provide the benefit; and allows states to implement the Community Eligibility Provision statewide.
- $198 million for teacher residencies: Grants would go to states to expand teacher residencies at universities and districts to help strengthen the educator workforce and build a stronger, diverse pipeline of educators.
- $197 million for “grow your own” programs: To address teacher shortages and to attract more individuals into the teaching profession, the committee included funding to expand “grow your own” programs, which includes pathways for paraprofessionals and boosting interest in the teaching profession among high school students.
The process to advance both of these bills—the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation legislation—has been bogged down in intra-party squabbles and disagreements over the appropriate size and scope of these pieces of legislation. One complicating factor at play is that progressive and moderate House Democrats are at odds over how to sequence the votes of the bills. House leadership previously committed to bring the Senate-passed infrastructure bill to the House floor by Sept. 27. However, House progressives have indicated they will not vote for the legislation unless they can be assured the reconciliation bill will pass the Senate, which is not guaranteed. Moderate Senate Democrats have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag of the reconciliation bill, so a scaled-down bill is likely given that all 50 Senate Democrats must support the bill for it to advance. NAESP is working behind the scenes with allies on Capitol Hill to ensure as these bills move forward the provisions that benefit principals are not watered down or removed. Be on the lookout very soon for an NAESP action alert calling on Congress to include school infrastructure grants and the investments in educator supports in the final reconciliation bill.
In May, the Biden administration released its FY22 budget, which included a nearly 40-percent increase in funding for the U.S. Department of Education. Over the summer, the House passed a funding bill that includes significant funding increases to core K-12 programs. The Senate has not yet taken action on this legislation, meaning current FY21 funding levels will continue until Congresses passes the FY22 funding bill. Highlights of the FY22 funding bill passed by the House:
- $36 billion for Title I, an increase of $19.5 billion over FY21 levels
- $17.2 billion for IDEA, an increase of $3.1 billion over FY21 levels
- An additional $1 billion to increase the number of counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals in K-12 schools
- $2.3 billion for Title II, an increase of $150 million over FY21 levels
Other Updates and Tidbits
- Administration announces new COVID measures: The Biden administration announced actions to slow the spread of the Delta variant, including boosting COVID testing at schools and a new grant program for districts penalized by their state for implementing COVID-19 prevention measures. In addition, the Department of Labor will soon issue a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to either ensure their workers are vaccinated or require unvaccinated employees to produce a weekly negative test results. This requirement will not be a blanket requirement for all states, but it will likely affect those states with an OSHA state plan.
- Follow the money: How Are States Spending Pandemic Education Relief Funds?
- Vaccination for kids 5-11 on the horizon? This week Pfizer announced it will be submitting data to the FDA for its vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, following trial results showing a 95 percent success rate in protecting kids from the virus.
- Mask policies and school disruptions vary across the country: A handy map that shows various mask policies and the number of school disruptions per state.
- Bus driver shortages: School staffing shortages include bus drivers.
- Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too: Who’s looking out for principals’ wellbeing?
Danny Carlson is associate executive director of advocacy and policy at NAESP.
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