3/30/2020 — 

PROVIDENCE, RI – As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shuts down schools and college campuses and impacts families and communities nationwide, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced over $115 million in federal funding to help students, schools, and teachers across Rhode Island.

Senator Reed says more federal support is needed, but this federal funding should be a down payment toward helping K-12 schools and colleges and universities that are facing unprecedented operational and financial upheaval.

Reed, who served on the bipartisan taskforce that negotiated provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), helped include $30.75 billion in emergency relief funds for the U.S. Department of Education, which is more than triple what Republicans originally proposed.

The CARES Act creates an Educational Stabilization Fund to support schools, colleges, and universities during the COVID-19 national emergency, with three separate pools of funding to support K-12 schools; higher education; and state-directed efforts.

“School districts, colleges, and states are facing unprecedented challenges and the federal government needs to step up with resources, tools, and support.  We’ve got to ensure schools have the resources to help students continue their education.  We made major improvements to the CARES Act and I pushed for more federal education funding in the bill, but this level was the maximum Republicans were willing to support,” said Senator Reed, who noted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law by President Obama, dedicated over twice as much for education – about $77 billion for schools -- and that was when students were still able to go to school every day.  “I think this is one of the areas where Congress under-invested in the CARES Act and I will continue pushing for more education dollars in the next phase of rescue and recovery legislation.”

The CARES Act includes:

K-12 Schools: $13.5 billion will be used for K-12 emergency relief grants with funds allocated on the same basis as the Title I-A formula under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Schools will have flexibility in how they use the funds, with possible areas of spending including, but not limited to: purchasing technology to assist students with distance learning and WiFi access; cleaning and disinfecting supplies; teacher training and professional development; addressing the unique needs of low-income students, those with disabilities, English learners, and racial and ethnic minorities; ensuring school-based services like meals and special education continue during closures; and providing mental health services.  Rhode Island will receive $46,350,000.

Higher Education: $13.95 billion is available for a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.  The U.S. Department of Education disburses 90 percent of funds directly to institutions and the vast majority will go to public colleges and universities, based on proportion of Pell and non-Pell full-time-equivalent students.  Of this funding, at least half must be used exclusively to provide direct emergency aid to students, such as “grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.”  Students who are currently participating in the Federal Work Study program can continue to receive work-study payments from their institution if they are unable to work due to workplace closures.  Colleges and universities may use their portion of the funds on a broadly defined basis.  Rhode Island’s share of Higher Education Emergency Relief funds is estimated to be $60,023,000.

State-Directed Funds: The bill allocates nearly 10 percent ($2.95 billion) of the Education Stabilization Fund for direct disbursement to governors.  Rhode Island may use this funding to support K-12 schools and colleges and universities based on need.  Governors may provide these funds to both public and private institutions within the state, but are not required to award a set percentage to either K-12 or postsecondary education.  States must apply for these funds, and the U.S. Department of Education must approve or deny all applications within 30 days of receipt.  Rhode Island will receive $8,709,000 of this federal funding.

Education Stabilization Fund allotments are also provided to tribal colleges and designated minority-serving institutions.  Additionally, about $349 million is reserved expressly for schools hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a priority for small schools that receive less than $500,000 in the larger pool of grants, as well as to minority-serving institutions of higher education that have remaining unmet needs.

The CARES Act also provides student loan relief by ensuring a six-month moratorium in Direct Loan payments without interest accrual.  This will provide over 37 million borrowers with relief from the financial pressure of making monthly student loan payments for approximately six months.  However, unfortunately, this moratorium does not apply to all private student loan borrowers or borrowers with commercially-held FFEL loans and Perkins Loans.