Education funding a flashpoint in Covid relief

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Weekly Education: Coronavirus special edition. Each week, we will explore how the pandemic is reshaping and upe...

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Weekly Education: Coronavirus special edition. Each week, we will explore how the pandemic is reshaping and upending education as we know it across the country, from pre-K through grad school. We will explore the debates of the day, new challenges and talk to movers and shakers about whether changes ushered in now are here to stay.

This newsletter is a weekly version of POLITICO Pro’s daily Education policy newsletter, Morning Education. POLITICO Pro is a policy intelligence platform that combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

EDUCATION FUNDING IS A FLASHPOINT IN COVID RELIEF — As Democrats advance their Covid relief package through Congress, Republicans are stepping up their attacks on school funding in the proposal.

— House Democrats early on Saturday morning passed their sweeping $1.9 trillion Covid legislation, without any GOP support, sending it to the Senate. The legislation has about $170 billion for schools and colleges — which the Biden administration has said is crucial to accomplishing its goal of reopening a majority of K-8 schools within the first 100 days.

— Republican leaders argue that the school funding isn’t necessary because much of the existing relief money for schools hasn’t yet been spent. It’s part of a broader GOP attack seeking to cast Democrats and the Biden administration as responsible for school closures — a message echoed by former President Donald Trump during his first major post-presidency speech at CPAC on Sunday.

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— Republicans leaders have seized on a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the billions in education relief in the bill would be spent over the course of the next seven years. The CBO said its estimate was based in part on the rate of how previous Covid relief for education was spent.

Democrats and education groups say that federal data on how the existing Covid relief money has been spent doesn’t capture the reality of how school budgeting works. Even though the money isn’t recorded as spent by the federal government, schools “have budgeted for every dollar they are scheduled to receive from the COVID relief bills and are still anticipating more significant costs they will be unable to meet without additional federal funds,” a coalition of education groups wrote to Congress last week.

— “The fact that the money has not been spent does not mean that it hasn’t all been obligated,” Rep. Bobby Scott, the chair of the House education committee, told reporters on Friday. He said that educators across the country are pleading for more assistance to help them safely reopen schools.

— Scott said that some of the money is designed to be spent in the future as schools try to find ways to remedy lost learning during the pandemic. “We’re asking them to do more than just open the schools,” Scott said. “We’re asking them to make up for lost ground. That may require summer school, extended days and everything else, which means that they’re going to have to be spending more than they were spending before.”

— More context: The spending rate for CARES Act money is faster than the CBO predicted last year after the law was passed. The CBO said at the time it expected $4 billion of the nearly $31 billion would be spent in fiscal 2020. But it turns out that $11.16 billion of CARES Act education money was spent in fiscal 2020, according to federal spending records. Since the beginning of fiscal 2021 on Oct. 1, $3.85 billion of CARES Act education funding has been spent so far through Jan. 28, according to those records.

SENATE POISED TO CONFIRM CARDONA — The Senate this afternoon will hold a final vote on the nomination of Miguel Cardona to be President Joe Biden’s Education secretary. Cardona cleared a key procedural hurdle last week with 16 Republican senators joining with Democrats to advance his nomination.

— The Senate will resume consideration of Cardona at about 3 p.m. today with a final vote set for about 5:30 p.m.

— What to watch next: First lady Jill Biden is headed to Cardona’s hometown of Meriden, Conn., on Wednesday. The White House hasn’t yet released any more details about her trip.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK: ACICS BACK IN THE HOT SEAT — The first meeting of the federal advisory panel on college accreditors of the Biden era kicks off this week. And it will start where the Obama administration left off: with the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the controversial accreditor of for-profit colleges, in the crosshairs.

— The backstory: The Obama Education Department revoked federal recognition of ACICS in 2016 in one of its most drastic actions to crack down on the for-profit college industry. But the Trump administration reinstated the accreditor, arguing it had been unfairly targeted and had made improvements to how it monitors schools.

— On Thursday, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity will meet via video conference to debate new recommendations by the Education Department’s career staff to again terminate ACICS’ federal recognition.

— The NACIQI meeting will be unlike any other because the panel will discuss and vote on four separate reviews into ACICS by Education Department staff. All four of the reviews — two of which were ordered by former Secretary Betsy DeVos and two of which department staff began independently — conclude with the recommendation that the Biden administration terminate ACICS. The results of each review, the department staff wrote, provide “a stand-alone basis for termination.”

JUDGE ORDERS SEARCH TO TURN OVER DEVOS EMAILS ON STUDENT DEBT CLAIMS — The federal judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s lengthy delays in resolving student debt relief claims on Friday ordered the Education Department to turn over DeVos’ emails that relate to the case.

— U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California ordered the department to search for email messages related to the Trump administration’s 18-month pause in deciding loan forgiveness applications. That includes searching the email account of DeVos, his order says.

During a hearing last week, Alsup rejected the Justice Department’s objection to including DeVos in the search for emails.

— The order comes amid an ongoing dispute over whether DeVos will have to sit for a deposition in the case, which was brought by a class of roughly 160,000 former for-profit college students seeking loan forgiveness on the grounds that they were defrauded. That issue is still pending before a federal judge in Florida.

NEW DOCS: TRUMP-BIDEN TRANSITION BRIEFING AT EDUCATION DEPARTMENT — Under a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency has released its transition briefing documents that were prepared by the Trump administration for the new administration. Take a look at them here.

The Brookings Institution is out with a report weighing in on the student loan forgiveness debate: “Student debt cancellation should consider wealth, not income.”

— As school closures near first anniversary, a diverse parent movement demands action: The New York Times.

— D.C. school leaders warn that not every student will be able to get an in-person slot this academic year: The Washington Post.

— Los Angeles teachers eligible for vaccine starting today: Los Angeles Times.

— Schools face a substitute teacher crisis. These districts are getting creative to fix it: NBC News.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of Morning Education incorrectly stated the name of the Brookings Institution.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Education funding a flashpoint in Covid relief
Education funding a flashpoint in Covid relief
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