On Friday, May 15, 2020, the House passed a new $3 trillion Coronavirus relief bill that includes additional aid for K-12 schools. However, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, faces an icy reception in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senators say they won’t even consider the bill as it contains provisions that have nothing to do with relief from the Coronavirus.


The HEROES Act would create a $90 billion “state fiscal stabilization fund” for the U.S. Department of Education to support K-12 and higher education. About 65 percent of that fund—or roughly $58 billion—would go through states to local school districts. Also, another $1 billion will indirectly benefit the schools by blocking further state cuts of education funding.


While generous, this bill falls woefully short of the goals of education groups who have been pushing for at least $250 billion for education in new funding. In the recent letter they sent to Congress, they spelled out both the rationale behind their request as well as their bucket list of requests.


Rationale Behind the Request

  • To date, over 30 million people have applied for unemployment due to COVID-19, and fiscal experts predict that nearly 50 million jobs may be lost. This would bring the unemployment rate above 30 percent. Such a level would top the peak unemployment rate during the Great Depression.

  • Practically every state in the country has recommended closing schools for the remainder of the school year. This has impacted more than 55 million K-12 students.

  • Before the current recession, 13 million children lived in poverty. The plethora of job losses during the pandemic will mean that those numbers will increase significantly. And all of those children living in poverty will have less access to essential services that they would have otherwise received in school.

  • With nearly 100,000 deaths already, due to COVID-19, many of the students returning to school will be grieving for a loved one. Others will face the trauma that may result from sheltering in place in hazardous or abusive environments. These adverse childhood experiences will undoubtedly impact these students for decades to come.

  • The cuts in the hundreds of millions to school budgets can already be heard from several states. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come. The ramifications will extend beyond K-12. In the past, such cuts meant that colleges increased tuitions. This financial pain will be exacerbated for those further down on the economic ladder.


Specifics of the Request

  • “At least $175 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund distributed directly to [K-12 districts and colleges and universities], with minimal state set-asides in an equitable and targeted fashion.”

  • “$25 billion to be allocated to Title I, IDEA, and other ESSA programs serving historically marginalized students to provide targeted support to vulnerable students most likely to be affected by prolonged school closures.”

  • “$4 billion should be allocated for an Emergency Connectivity Fund via the FCC’s E-rate program to ensure all K-12 students can access online learning at home.”

  • “Increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program maximum allotment per month by 15 percent, and increasing the minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30.”

  • “Additional longer-term funding for school psychologists, after-school programs, specialized services for homeless students and those in foster care, and other programs.”

  • “The request for schools also says congressional relief should focus on students from low-income households and special education, as well as efforts to help students connect to the internet. And the groups say it should support key programs under laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”


The letter sent to the leaders of the Congress was penned by more than 70 organizations, ranging from the two national teachers’ unions—the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—to groups like the Center for American Progress, the Education Trust, GLSEN, the NAACP, Sandy Hook Promise, and Teach For America.


What’s behind their strong push can be summed up in the following passage in the letter. “While we don’t yet know what the full impact of the novel coronavirus that has spread across the nation will be, we do know that both the economic hardship and the grief and trauma that ensue from COVID-19 will be unprecedented for today’s school-age children and college students.”


Although the outcome remains to be seen, education groups are hopeful that if not immediately, then over time, the imperative of the federal government helping schools will convince Congress to lend a greater hand to ensure our country’s future through its schoolchildren.