New Developments in COVID Relief & Policies for Reopening Schools

Plus updates on the secretary of education nominee, National Leader's Conference, and a new study on the changing role of principals.

Topics: Advocacy and Legislation, Pandemic Leadership

COVID Relief 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 at least $200 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.

Biden Proposes New Funding, Policies for Reopening Schools

On Jan. 14, then-President-elect Biden proposed an additional $130 billion focused on reopening schools safely. The funds would provide schools resources for more regular COVID-19 testing, addressing transportation and ventilation needs, providing PPE, hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes to allow for social distancing, hiring nurses, providing more counselors to address students’ social and emotional needs, and providing additional learning supports for students (like summer school or tutoring).

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the homework gap experienced by the 16 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home. Even before the current crisis, students living in poverty and in rural communities faced significant challenges in finishing their schoolwork from home because of broadband accessibility issues. To address these challenges, the funding package also includes around $7 billion for the E-Rate program.

Congress Considers Biden’s $130 Billion K-12 Proposal
Over the next few weeks, Congress will debate President Biden’s $130 billion proposal, which could be passed and signed into law by early March. If approved, the legislation would follow the funding apportionment formula included in previous coronavirus K-12 funding bills.

Other Policies Directed at Reopening Schools
As part of his $130 billion request, President Biden is also proposing other various policies aimed at reopening schools within his first 100 days of office. The order directs FEMA to authorize and guarantee full access to disaster relief and emergency assistance for K-12 schools under the Stafford Act. It directs FEMA to fully reimburse states and local governments for supplies such as PPE. The federal government would also support expanded COVID-19 testing by working with state and local leaders to support the purchase of rapid tests to be used in schools. Biden’s plan also directs the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services to develop and release guidance that helps schools understand what measures are necessary to support safe reopening and to continue to provide updated resources as schools’ needs and the available evidence evolve. Finally, the package indicates that the federal government will collect and share data on school, district, and state progress toward safely reopening and will identify opportunities to address challenges—particularly those related to educational equity.

Secretary Of Education Nominee Advances

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, 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. On Feb. 11, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions advanced Cardona’s nomination to the full Senate, which will vote on the nomination in the coming days. Read NAESP’s Statement on Cardona’s nomination here.

Virtual National Leaders Conference Open to All Members

NAESP’s National Leaders Conference (NLC) gathers elementary and middle-level principal leaders from across the country to build attendees’ leadership skills, knowledge around how federal policies and programs impact principals and schools, and how to advocate on these issues. This year’s NLC is being held Feb. 22-24, and for the first time ever will be virtual, providing an opportunity for all NAESP members to participate. Sessions will include discussions on how education funding will be impacted by COVID, education policy priorities in states, and what to expect on K-12 issues from the new Administration and Congress in 2021. To coincide with this year’s “Hill Day,” NAESP will also be sending out an action alert on February 24th, encouraging NAESP members to ask their member of Congress to support more COVID response funding for schools.

New Study to Focus on Changing Role of Principals

NAESP and the American Institutes for Research have launched the Leaders We Need Now study to provide principals and other leaders information about how principals’ work has changed—and what needs to change—in 2021 and beyond. The study addresses the following key questions:

  • How have principals’ work and priorities changed in 2020?
  • What changes do principals consider indelible, and which ones are temporary?
  • What have principals relied upon to support changes in their practice, and what gaps or challenges have they faced?

The study sample will be randomly selected from NAESP’s 17,000 members and will engage over 200 principals from across the U.S. in conversation about their work and the future of the principalship. The project will release several briefs in spring and summer 2021 that will address how principals’ roles have shifted in response to the global pandemic and renewed calls for social justice.