The coronavirus is impacting us all, both at home and at work. Given the fluid nature of information flowing at both the federal and state levels, McGuireWoods Consulting is intent on providing our education clients minute-by-minute information to help make timely business decisions.
Federal Update on Education Policy
As it relates to education, the administration has taken several actions on the coronavirus. The U.S. Department of Education eased rules on colleges and universities, offering flexibility on higher education regulations as campus closures continue. The guidelines seek to alleviate concerns around enrollment requirements and maintaining financial aid eligibility. The Department of Education has also issued several guidance documents on providing services to students with disabilities, student privacy, and assessments and accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced flexibilities to allow meal service during school closures. As of March 18, the USDA granted waiver approvals to all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico to enable Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO) sponsors to serve meals in a non-congregate setting and at school sites during the coronavirus outbreak. Finally, President Trump announced that the government would waive federal student loan interest until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Congress is seeking some relief for K-12 and Higher Education. Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee Bobby Scott introduced the Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act. The bill, with its Senate companion being offered by Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Ranking Member Patty Murray, seeks to provide more than $3 billion in emergency funding for early childhood education programs, K-12 schools, and higher education institutions in response to the outbreak, including $1.2 billion in mandatory funding to provide Education Preparedness and Support Grants to governors to provide funding to school districts or institutions of higher education. The bill also provides $600 million in mandatory funding to provide grants to early care and education programs, $1.2 billion in mandatory funding to provide emergency financial aid to students in higher education, and $3 million in mandatory funding for grantees in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The legislation is pending.
While no formal plan has been proposed, Congressional Democrats are also considering increasing funding for E-rate and broadband infrastructure. Specifically, Democrats want to require the FCC to waive existing E-rate rules to allow schools to issue Wi-Fi hotspots or devices to students who lack Internet access at home. Several organizations that represent K-12 public and program school and public library beneficiaries support this notion and have called on the FCC to use its emergency powers to temporarily waive relevant E-rate program rules to ensure all students have Internet access while schools are closed due to coronavirus.
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