Federal Weekly Update

Federal Weekly Update

Congressional Update 

Congress Passes Massive Year-End Spending Package

After months of delays and stalled discussions, Congress finally completed work on a spending packagejust before the holidays to fund the federal government, along with related programs including those for K-12 education, for the remainder of the current 2021 fiscal year ending on September 30, 2021. In total, the bill provides over $2.3 trillion in new spending for both regular governmental functions and to help respond to the ongoing pandemic. The first and largest component of the spending deal, totaling $1.4 trillion, provides a modest increase in funding for the U.S. Department of Education (USED) of roughly one percent when compared to the last fiscal year. Of particular note, Congress provided an additional $227 million for the Title I-A grant program under the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a 1.4% increase over last year’s levels. Funding for Title IV-A of ESSA, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program, will receive an additional $10 million (an 0.8% increase) while funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) grew by approximately 1.4% (a $173 million increase). Lawmakers also prioritized Career and Technical Education (CTE) state grants—the largest federal investment in the nation’s high schools—within the omnibus by increasing the total funding for this program by 4.1% or $52 million in additional funding. 

In addition to this annual funding package, Congress was also able to muster enough support for an additional $900 billion in additional pandemic emergency aid. Dubbed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), this component of the spending package provides roughly $82 billion for education, with $54.3 billion specifically targeted towards the K-12 community. Using the same funding structure created by the CARES Act, CRRSAA will send these additional funds to states and local school districts based on each state’s proportional share of Title I-A funding. The new spending package retains all the same uses of funds for these dollars as under CARES and slightly expands the scope of some allowable uses, most particularly those focused on the upkeep, maintenance, and retrofitting of existing school buildings to deal with the pandemic more effectively. In addition, the bill will provide $22.7 billion in targeted relief for higher education institutions and an additional $4.1 billion for Governors to use on either K-12 or postsecondary education-related issues at their discretion. 

Although this new funding is a significant and positive step in the right direction, the package notably leaves out additional funding for state and local municipalities as well as additional funds for the e-rate program to expand student access to broadband. Given that a significant portion of state and local funding supports K-12 education, and that broadband access is critical to overcoming the homework gap made more acute because of the pandemic, Congress must still work to meet these critical needs as notedlast week by NSBA’s leadership. As the fallout from the ongoing public health crisis continues, MSBA and NSBA’s advocacy team will continue to work to ensure lawmakers appreciate the ongoing funding needs of the K-12 community as we head into 2021 and the 117th Congress. 

Tumultuous Beginning to the 117thCongress

On Sunday, January 3, members of the House of Representatives were sworn in, formally beginning the 117th Congress. As part of this biennial constitutional tradition, the House also held an election to determine who would lead the chamber as Speaker. As widely anticipated, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was reelected as Speaker while Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was similarly reappointed as Minority Leader. This will be Speaker Pelosi’s fourth term as Speaker where she will preside over an extremely slim House majority—Democrats hold 222 seats while Republicans hold 211 with two current vacancies. This slim majority was on display during the vote where Speaker Pelosi received only 216 votes to secure this leadership post.

Later in the week, the final Senate races in Georgia were concluded. Both Democratic candidates—Senators-elect Warnock and Ossoff—won their respective races this week which means the Senate will be split 50-50 in the upcoming Congress. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will serve as the tie-breaking vote in the upper legislative chamber, returning control of the Senate to the Democratic Party, albeit with a razor thin margin. In total, Democrats will now move forward in the coming year with control of the House, Senate, and White House. 

As these events unfolded, lawmakers convened a constitutionally-mandated joint session of Congress to formally certify the election results from the November Presidential election on January 6 and to officially declare President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the electoral college. During these deliberations, President Trump held a nearby rally calling into question the veracity of the election results that Congress was in the midst of certifying. Following his remarks, a group of his supporters marched to the Capitol building, violently overtook Capitol security, and ransacked the Capitol building for several hours in attempt to prevent Congress from fulfilling its constitutional responsibility of certifying these election results. During the chaos over 60 police officers were injured, Vice President Pence had to be evacuated from the Capitol complex, and legislators had to be rushed to safety. Capitol police regained control of the building and wider grounds after several hours. To demonstrate their collective resolve, Congressional leaders reconvened that night and formally certified that Joe Biden will become the next President of the United States on January 20. 

Administration Update 

Education Secretary DeVos Resigns 

Late Thursday evening, January 7, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos abruptly resigned from office citing President Trump’s actions the day before in relation to the attempted insurrection that took place at the Capitol building. In her resignation letter, former Secretary DeVos stated, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.” DeVos is the second cabinet official to resign this week—Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced her resignation earlier in the day—following the violent riot that took place on Wednesday. Devos’ resignation is effective Friday, January 8. While her letter does not indicate who will replace her, a spokesperson for the department has recently indicated that Deputy Secretary of Education Mick Zais will replace DeVos and serve as acting secretary of education for the remainder of President Trump’s term. 

President-elect Biden to Nominate Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary 

On December 22, President-elect Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Miguel Cardona to oversee the U.S. Department of Education (USED) as the department’s next Secretary of Education. Cardona is currently the Education Commissioner for the state of Connecticut where he has advocated for the safe reopening of K-12 schools for in-person instruction and has recently affirmed his commitment to have the state move forward with its annual statewide assessments later this year. If confirmed, Cardona will fulfill President-elect Biden’s early campaign promise to select a Secretary of Education with classroom experience—Cardona began his career as an elementary school teacher before moving on to roles in Connecticut public schools as a principal, administrator, and assistant superintendent prior to being named commissioner of education for the state in 2019. NSBA and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) issued a joint statementon the announcement of the nomination. 

Federal Communications Commission Taking Initial Steps to Distribute Emergency Broadband Funding

The Federal Communications Commission invited public commenton the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund approved as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Act. The fund is designed to help connect low-income families to broadband. School boards should consider developing plans for notifying qualified families about this opportunity to connect their households to broadband, so that all students have access to digital learning during the pandemic and beyond.  


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