Three Bills with Big Implications for Schools

Several pieces of legislation in Congress could have a meaningful impact on education.

Topics: Advocacy and Legislation, Pandemic Leadership

NAESP Launches Research Series on the Pandemic’s Impact on the Principalship, Changes Going Forward

NAESP, the NAESP Foundation, and the American Institutes for Research recently launched the Leaders We Need Now (LWNN) research project, a series of three briefs focused on how the pandemic has affected the work of principals and the impact these changes will have going forward. In the first brief of the series, Leaders in the Tumult: Schooling Innovations and New Perspectives From a Year Interrupted, NAESP members recount how their schools changed in 2020–2021 and reflect on which changes might endure, including the of use flexible staffing practices to hire and retain staff and building partnerships with community entities to strengthen mental health supports for students. The second brief will center on how the pandemic has changed the principal profession. The third brief will detail policy actions that principals say policymakers must take to address these new realities.

Read the First Brief

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Congress Debates Three Bills with Big Implications for Schools

Though Congress has already provided $197 billion in pandemic relief funding for K-12 schools, including the most recent American Rescue Plan approved in March 2021, federal funding for K-12 programs continues to draw significant attention from lawmakers. A triad of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, reconciliation legislation, and the FY22 appropriations bill all have significant implications for K-12 schools. Each impacts schools in unique ways and all are at different stages in the legislative process. Below, NAESP’s advocacy team provides legislative analysis of these bills and their prospects for becoming law.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

After months of legislative haggling, false starts, and threats to torpedo the bill, on Nov. 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on a vote of 228-206, including 13 Republicans. Passed by the Senate in August with strong bipartisan support, the bill had been stalled in the House for months as Democrats tried to negotiate a deal on a separate piece of legislation (below). The measure includes standard infrastructure priorities such as roads, bridges, and airports, but it also includes funding for education and education-adjacent programs:

  • $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
  • $1 billion for local cybersecurity grants (LEA-eligible funding)
  • $65 billion for broadband deployment and expansion
  • $7.2 billion for the Transportation Alternatives Program with “Safe Routes to School” programs to eligible for funding
  • Extends the Secure Rural Schools program for three years

Reconciliation Legislation

Though the aforementioned bill focuses on infrastructure, it does not include funding for school infrastructure. NAESP has focused advocacy efforts on getting school infrastructure included in the reconciliation legislation, a budget maneuver Democrats are using to try to advance some of their key domestic policy priorities. In short, the reconciliation process enables the majority party in the Senate to advance legislation with a simple majority vote (51), so long as it complies with certain Senate rules, namely that it includes only “mandatory” spending. A House version of the reconciliation bill included $82 billion for K-12 infrastructure grants to upgrade and modernize schools. But as talks between the House and Senate have progressed, some lawmakers have insisted on lowering the overall size of the bill, triggering reductions to and eliminations of programs. Recent versions of the bill have nixed infrastructure funding. One challenge to getting K-12 infrastructure included in the legislation is a belief among some policymakers that additional money for school construction is not needed because it is an allowable use of funding under previously passed COVID relief bills (e.g., the American Rescue Plan). While it is true that COVID relief funding can be used for new projects such as renovations to ventilation systems, U.S. Department of Education guidance cautions against using COVID relief funding for large capital projects that require significant capital investments, entail approval from the state, and have complex federal spending requirements. The guidance points out that “remodeling, renovation, and new construction are often time-consuming, which may not be workable under the shorter timelines,” for the relief aid, which must be obligated by September 2024. NAESP will continue to push for a strong federal investment in school infrastructure.

Still, the most recent version of the bill includes some important K-12 provisions:

  • $200 billion for universal pre-K: For FY 2022-2028, the bill provides federal funding to cover the cost of universal, high-quality, free, inclusive, and mixed delivery preschool services on a voluntary basis. Under the legislation, the federal government would cover 100 percent of state expenditures in FY 2022-2024, 90 percent in FY25, 80 percent in FY26, 70 percent in FY27, and 60 percent in FY28. Read more about the universal pre-k provisions here.
  • $112 million for principals: NAESP has been pushing Congressional leaders to include direct funding for principal support in the reconciliation bill, and Congressional leaders responded by including $112 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, and bolster one-on-one principal coaching, among other state- and district-specific school leadership needs.
  • $112 million for teacher residencies: Funding will go to higher education institutions and districts to improve how teachers are trained for the profession, namely by providing more clinical-based practice opportunities before teachers “take the reins” of a classroom. This funding also focuses on addressing the root challenges of attracting and retaining a high-quality, diverse educator workforce.
  • $112 million for grow your own programs: Funding for grow your own programs seeks to help support staff such as paraprofessionals receive training to become classroom teachers, as well as to promote the profession to high school students to attract more individuals to the field.
  • $160 million for IDEA personnel: To help address shortages with special education teachers, the bill includes funding to help attract, train, and better compensate additional personnel to support students with disabilities.

The process to advance the reconciliation legislation has been inextricably linked to passage of the infrastructure bill. With that legislative package now approved, a final vote on the reconciliation bill could occur as soon as this month.

FY22 Appropriations 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, including:

  • $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 school counselors and psychologists
  • $2.3 billion for Title II, an increase of $150 million over FY21 levels

The Senate recently released its version of the FY22 funding bill, but no further action has been taken. For now, the Department of Education is being funded at FY21 levels until Dec. 3 through a short-term funding mechanism known as a continuing resolution. In order for the FY22 budget to be approved, the House and Senate would need to come to an agreement on funding levels, something that so far as remained elusive.

School Based Vaccination Survey

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the CDC approved the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 years. The approval means about 28 million children in the U.S. in this age group are eligible for the vaccine. NAESP would like to hear from its members to learn more about how the approval of the vaccine impacts schools and what additional supports might be necessary.

More information on the COVID-19 vaccination for 5-11 year-olds can be found here.

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