Senate passes relief bill with billions in education funding, sends back to House

The Senate passed its version of a relief package that includes approximately $126 billion in funding for K-12 education, down from the nearly $130 billion provided by the House.
By: | March 8, 2021

The Senate on March 6 passed its version of a relief package that includes approximately $126 billion in funding for K-12 education, down from the nearly $130 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, H.R. 1319, as passed by the House.

The 50-49 party-line vote sends the amended legislation back to the House for final approval as legislators work to meet a March 14 deadline for final passage and signature of the bill into law.

“The American Rescue Plan [Act] will help get students safely back to the classroom for in-person instruction as quickly as possible and get students back on track by making sure schools can secure adequate [personal protective equipment], reduce class sizes to increase social distancing, improve ventilation, address learning loss, and more,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., after the passage of the bill.

As passed by the Senate, the American Rescue Plan Act adds a $2.75 billion tranche of funds for nonpublic schools in an Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools fund and removes the required equitable services reservation from the ESSER funds included in the House version of the bill. The Senate bill would also require states to send 87.5 percent of ESSER funds received to local educational agencies — a decrease from the 90 percent pass-through requirement in the House-passed version of the bill.

In addition to the required 5 percent reservation of state funds to support activities that address learning loss through “evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning, extended day, or extended school year programs,” the Senate added new requirements for state reservations of funds from ESSER funds provided by the bill. The new required state reservations include:

  • At least 1 percent of funds reserved to implement a summer enrichment program that addresses academic, social, and emotional needs for students disproportionately affected by the pandemic disruption to education, including racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, English learners, students who are migratory, students experiencing homelessness, and students in foster care.
  • At least 1 percent of funds reserved to implement evidence-based afterschool programs to meet the needs of the student groups named above.
  • 2.5 percent of funds reserved to purchase educational technology for students served by local educational agencies in the state, including low-income students and students with disabilities. The funds may be used for assistive technology or adaptive equipment.

As in the House version of the bill, no more than 0.5 percent of funds may be reserved for administrative costs at the state level.

Maintenance of effort and equity

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include state maintenance of effort and maintenance of equity requirements, as well as local maintenance of equity requirements. As passed by the Senate, the local maintenance of equity provisions would require, as a condition of receiving ESSER funds provided by ARPA, that LEAs not reduce the per-pupil allocation to high-poverty schools by more than a certain amount in FY 2022 and 2023, or reduce the number of per-pupil, full-time equivalent staff by more than a certain amount in FY 2022 and 2023.

Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of advocacy and governance with AASA: The School Superintendents Association, said while her organization supports the overall bill, they were disappointed in the inclusion of funds for nonpublic schools as well as local maintenance of effort provisions in the law. “This represents a significant policy change, buried in a budget proposal and pushed through with neither public discourse and consideration nor opportunity for feedback from the practitioners and ‘boots on the ground’ to ensure the well-intentioned policy even stands a chance of addressing the important work of equity,” she wrote of the maintenance of effort requirements.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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