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Campaign Updates

05/5/2020 | Organizing for Education Justice

Grassroots Organizations Urge House to Fund Elementary and Secondary Education

The Center for Popular Democracy Network pushes for cancellation of student debt, full funding for public schools in the next relief package


Today, the Center for Popular Democracy, a network of community organizations, released a letter to the House of Representatives calling for immediate and long-term spending for elementary and secondary education. The letter, signed by 21 organizations including Detroit Action, One Pennsylvania (OnePA), Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) and the Make the Road network, among others, urges Congress to pass another economic stimulus package that injects funding into state and local authorities for education funding. The letter comes a day before the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor/HHS) Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled, "COVID-19 Response."

The latest major spending bill, the CARES Act, allocated $2 trillion dollars, yet less than one percent of that was allocated toward education funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor’s Educational Stabilization Fund. Especially given the resource-intensive shift of public education toward distance/online learning, and the expected budgetary shortfall in states and localities, the letter signers note that public education needs deep federal investment in order to survive. The letter acknowledges the important, but small step taken by Congress in passing the CARES Act, but implores Congress to do more. 

“Following the Great Recession of 2008/9, Congress provided over $100 billion for education relief funding, yet has only provided $16 billion through the CARES Act. Instead of padding the pockets of Wall Street investors, Congress needs to ensure a huge additional stimulus package with far more funding for education stabilization. Anything less would be to condemn millions of students -- low-income students and students of color in particular, to a schooling system in a worse position than it was following the decade since the Great Recession,” said Dmitri Holtzman, director of education justice campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy. “We need a spending bill that prioritizes investment in our public education system, at unprecedented levels, to meet the short, medium and long term health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.” 

A full copy of the letter is available below.

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May 5, 2020

Representative Bobby Scott

US House of Representatives

Education and Labor Committee

1201 Longworth House Office Bldg

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Honorable Member Bobby Scott and the honorable members of the Education and Labor Committee:  

Re: The urgent need for additional immediate and long-term economic stimulus and relief for Elementary and Secondary Education funding.

We are the Center for Popular Democracy, a national network of 53 affiliated grassroots organizations in 131 cities in 34 States, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. On behalf of our members and the communities they represent, we write to you today with an urgent appeal that you ensure that Congress pass a further economic stimulus package, which includes a massive injection of funding for state and local authorities for the purposes of stabilizing education funding. 

While we recognize the important steps taken by Congress in passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) in March this year, as members of the Education and Labor Committee we are certain you will agree that this funding package alone is wholly insufficient. If there is to be any hope of adequately and equitably managing the health and economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our education and schooling system, hundreds of billions of dollars more will be needed by states and local education authorities over the next few years.  

Although the full extent of the economic impact (in the short, medium and long term) of the coronavirus on our education system is yet to be seen, creating much uncertainty, what should be clear and certain is our government’s commitment towards the stabilization of education funding and the protection of our most vulnerable students. In light of this, we wish to highlight the following:  

The CARES Act education funding is a drop in the bucket:

The CARES ACT provides $13.5 billion to elementary and secondary schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, and an additional $3 billion dollars for education through the Governor’s Education Stabilization Fund. However, this funding falls far below the levels required to ensure adequate and equitable stabilization for K-12 schooling during and beyond the COVID-19 epidemic. In fact, the funding for education under the CARES Act, makes up less than 1% of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package. With respect, this is an unconscionable reflection of the level of priority given to education needs.  

  • The CARES Act funding is wholly insufficient given the the significant costs of continuing education during shelter-in-place orders and the need for unprecedented shifts to distance/online learning during extended school closures, the need for continued and expanded provision of school-based meals programs, the anticipated loss in state revenues (between 15% - 20%) and the likelihood of proposed budget cuts in response to the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic. For example, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently estimated that state budget shortfalls will ultimately reach about 10% in the current fiscal year and as much as 25% in the 2021 fiscal year (according to current projections).  

  • By way of further example, in 2009, in response to the economic consequences of the Great Recession, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided over $100 billion dollars for education, dwarfing the $16.5 billion currently allocated under the CARES Act. Moreover, before COVID-19, many states had not even recovered to their funding levels prior to the 2008 economic meltdown. Studies have shown that districts and states with the highest-need populations (often poor, Black and brown communities) were the hardest hit by austerity measures adopted in response to the Great Recession. Without a further and massive injection of funds to support education stabilization in the next stimulus package, most states will surely be in an even worse economic position than what they were in the decade following the Great Recession. 

  • While  §18008 of the CARES Act provides that: States that receive funding from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund or the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund must maintain education funding for the current and next fiscal year; this requirement can be waived by the US Secretary of Education if states have experienced a “precipitous decline in financial resources.” State revenues have already begun a precipitous decline (and will continue to), and it is impossible to see how they can be expected to maintain current levels of funding for the next two fiscal years on their own. 

We need adequate and equitable funding for elementary and secondary education relief and stabilization: 

In light of the above, as part of the next unequivocally necessary federal stimulus package,  Congress MUST include at least the following if there is to be any hope of adequate and equitable relief for elementary and secondary education in response to the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress MUST: 

  • Reject and prevent all funding cuts to public schools and public education.

  • Allocate a minimum of an additional $175 billion towards the Elementary and Secondary Education Stabilization Fund and the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund in the next stimulus package: to provide for meals, access to technology and internet services/support for distance learning, and services for special needs students, at least. In addition, Congress should provide directives to facilitate the expansion of broadband internet services in rural areas, where access to internet services are typically less so than in urban cities. Universal, quality and affordable broadband and internet services are indispensable towards the education needs of our communities across the country. 

    • We acknowledge the House plan, introduced by Representative Clyburn and others, to allocate $80 billion for the expansion of access to broadband internet services to rural and low income communities, and support this plan as a step in the necessary direction.     
  • Identify specific equity criteria for the use of federal funding for education stabilization.

  • Make a commitment to fully funding Title I and IDEA Programs in the 2021 fiscal year and thereafter, including a directive towards using a portion of those funds for the expansion of community schools. Title I funding goes to schools with high concentrations of students in poverty and the IDEA provides funding to ensure the proper education of students with disabilities. Both programs are severely underfunded, which harms the education of low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities. In 2017, Title I funding was short by $33.3 billion and IDEA funding was short by more than $21 billion. Funding shortfalls have resulted in a lack in basic infrastructure needs. The federal government must fulfill its promise to fully fund the education of low-income students and students with disabilities, particularly in this time of crisis. 

    • Provide funding to hire full-time nurses who are equipped with adequate medical supplies in every school. Approximately three million students attend schools with police but no nurses. The federal government should provide grants, especially to Title I schools, to hire full-time nurses. Local organizations have long demanded these basic staffing needs be met to ensure their health and safety, which are now more important there ever given the current crisis.

    • Create a grant program for local districts to hire more guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists, equitably targeted to schools in Black, brown, and low-income neighborhoods. 

  • Immediately issue a restriction from using relief funding or funding under the Charter School Program for primarily-virtual charter schools. While virtual schools may seem a viable alternative education provider during the crisis, studies show how ineffective they are. Virtual charter schools led overall to the loss of 72 days of instruction in reading and 180 days of instruction in math over a 180 day school year. Virtual charter schools were also found to provide poor return on public investment, graduate only about half of their students, and often incentivize cutting costs by their administrators. There is currently no mention of virtual charter schools in the regulations for the Charter School Program’s grants. This omission must be replaced by a strict limitation on public funding being used to uphold virtual charter schools. 

    • In April, US Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos announced the allocation of more than $300 million of CARES Act funding towards two grants (Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant and $127.5 million for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant), in a clear attempt to politicize the allocation of federal stimulus funding so as to further her agenda of education privatization. This move is no more than a thinly veiled voucher program and attempt to divest from public education models. This will only further disrupt the road to recovery if left unchecked. Congress must protect further stimulus funding from being used for such a nefarious agenda aimed at undermining the public education system even further.  

  • Redirect federal funds currently used to criminalize and surveille young people into critically needed staffing and infrastructure programs. All federal funding towards criminalizing students must be divested. There are several funding programs that run through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), Bureau of Justice Administration and other federal offices which funnel federal dollars to ineffective and criminalizing grant programs. These programs pay for police, metal detectors, military grade equipment and more. There is no substantial evidence that school-based police create a safe school environment, but there is undeniable evidence it leads to an increase in children being funneled into the criminal legal system. During a pandemic, the federal government should not waste money on failed strategies and should instead invest in the supports and resources that truly make our schools and communities safe - nurses, supplies, and food. Congress could redirect some of these funds towards a fund similar to the 2010 Education Jobs Fund, providing funding directly to public school districts to be used only for personnel costs, and could be earmarked for educators, nurses, counselors etc. 

  • Expand funding for Pell Grants by $100 billion over the next ten years to help cover the cost of living for students.

In addition to the prioritization of funding to stabilize elementary and secondary education, in light of the broader economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we are calling on Congress to also cancel all student debt.

  • Cancel ALL Student Debt: The student debt provisions in the CARES Act left out nine million student loan borrowers, were overly complex and unworkable and, in some cases, provided regressive tax giveaways that would only benefit the highest income borrowers. In order to provide relief to the millions of families saddled with unbearable student debt, we must:

    • Cancel all federal student debt. This is debt owed TO the federal government, and immediate cancellation is easy to administer and would provide immediate relief to families in crisis.

    • Halt involuntary collections, social security or tax refund seizures, wage or federal wage garnishments for all student loan borrowers in default. 

    • Extend the suspension on payments and waiving of interest outlined to all borrowers, not just those with federally-held loans. 

    • Remove the temporary income tax exclusion for employer-paid student loans. Ensure any emergency relief funds received by for-profit colleges are subject to bans on using them for executive compensation or advertising. 

    • Ensure no one who consolidated to become eligible for relief ends up with an increased loan balance and clarify that no interest will capitalize. 

    • US Education Secretary, Besty DeVos, recently excluded undocumented students from receiving financial support through the CARES Act. Congress must prevent such unconscionable action in future and ensure that undocumented students are specifically included in all further education relief and stimulus funding and federal support.  

Honorable member Bobby Scott and honorable members of the Education and Labor Committee, we thank you for your previous efforts to prioritize education needs in the first stimulus package. But, we implore you and Congress to do more. 

We trust that you receive this letter with the urgency it deserves, and look forward to further engagement with you as the committee and as individual congressional representatives to whom our members across the country are calling on to do what is needed, and nothing less. 

Signed, representatives from the following organizations: 

Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO)

Detroit Action

Florida Student Power Network (FLSPN)

Future of Tomorrow (FOT)

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO)

Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS) 

Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) 

Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA)

Make the Road Connecticut (MTRCT)

Make The Road Nevada (MTRNV)

Make The Road New Jersey (MTRNJ)

Make The Road New York (MTRNY)

Make The Road Pennsylvania (MTRPA) 

Maryland Communities United (MCU)

One Pennsylvania (OnePA) 

Our Future West Virginia (OFWV)

Rights & Democracy (RAD) - New Hampshire and Vermont

Sistas and Brothas United (SBU)

Step Up Louisiana (Step Up LA)

Texas Organizing Project (TOP)

Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC)