Earlier today, the United States Senate passed its substitute version of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021. The measure passed 50-49 along party lines with one Senator absent from the proceedings. The $1.9 trillion total relief plan package includes a little more than $126 billion for public schools which is a slight reduction from what was in the original House legislation. The legislation requires that at least 20 percent of the funding will be used for learning loss. The Senate bill differs from the original legislation in the House by carving out $2.75 billion for governors to use for private schools.
Importantly, the legislation includes more than $7.1 billion that will provide direct funding for the homework gap, the term that commonly refers to the digital divide in education that impacts many students who lack access to devices and/or high-speed broadband when they are out of school. The funding will follow the provisions proposed in the Emergency Educational Connections Act which NSBA strongly supported by having the funding flow though the E-rate program under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). While this funding will not solve the long-term homework gap problem, it is a significant win for students impacted by this issue during the pandemic.
The legislation will now go back to the U.S. House of Representatives for a final vote since the legislation has changed from original passage in the House. Major changes in the legislation unrelated to education included removing a $15 minimum wage increase and altering unemployment benefits to $300 a week in payments through September 6 instead of $400 a week through August that was in the original House legislation. Additionally, the legislation will provide up to $10,200 in tax relief for laid off workers from households of incomes under $150,000 a year.
The House is expected to begin debate on the legislation Tuesday of this week and it is expected to pass. The President has requested an expedited timeline for passage so he can sign it into law before March 14 when the next round of unemployment benefits would expire for many workers. MSBA and NSBA will provide additional information on the legislation as we learn more.