Reed Helps Deliver Major Boost for RI Schools in ‘Coronabus’ Bill
PROVIDENCE, RI – With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full throttle, millions of students being forced to learn remotely, and school districts nationwide facing budget uncertainty, Congress approved an infusion of $82 billion in financial support for America’s schools in the COVID-19 Relief Package that was attached to the far-reaching 2021 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which was recently signed into law.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) supported passage of the bill, which includes $54 billion for pre-K-12 schools; $23 billion for higher education; and a $4 billion state-directed education fund that Governors nationwide may direct at their discretion for both public and private education institutions. The measure also includes $10 billion for child care; $7 billion to expand broadband access and security; and continues significant funding for school meal programs. Senator Reed, who introduced the Rebuild America’s School Act (S. 266) earlier this year, helped include language to support emergency facilities repairs for schools to address coronavirus-related needs nationwide, such as improving ventilation and air quality in classrooms.
Separate from the $900 billion COVID relief measure, Senator Reed helped include language to expand eligibility for Pell grants and simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to help determine a family’s expected annual contribution to college expenses and eligibility for need-based federal aid. It is also the form Rhode Island residents complete to determine eligibility for the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship, a program that is available to Rhode Island residents attending colleges or universities in Rhode Island.
Senator Reed estimates Rhode Island will receive nearly $300 million in education funding from this COVID-19 Relief package. This new funding would build on the $115 million in federal funding for education the state received through the CARES Act to help students, schools, and teachers across Rhode Island.
“We need to accelerate learning recovery and economic recovery and this package focuses on both. Teachers, schools, and states are facing unprecedented challenges and rising costs due to this pandemic. This federal funding will provide critical support and enhanced capabilities. Students have lost so much classroom learning time and we’ve got to ensure schools have the resources to safely and fully reopen and help students continue their education. It is vital for kids’ academic progress as well as their social and behavioral development. This federal funding should provide a big boost to Rhode Island’s efforts to make classrooms and communities more pandemic-resistant,” said Senator Reed. “In order to get our economy working again, we must safely and effectively reopen schools.”
Back in March, Reed noted that the CARES Act significantly under-invested in education, providing just $30.75 billion in emergency relief funds for the U.S. Department of Education, and vowed to press for additional federal education dollars for Rhode Island in the next phase of rescue and recovery legislation. That level of CARES Act funding directed $115 million in federal education dollars to Rhode Island.
Reed is again calling for more education aid, referring to this installment as “another critical down payment.” Reed stated: “It has been clear since March that teachers, families, students, and communities need more support from the federal government. This targeted but limited relief is another critical down payment, but it doesn’t come close to delivering what is needed to help teachers and communities nationwide address their individual needs.”
The 2021 Omnibus Appropriations Bills and COVID-19 Relief Package includes:
K-12 Schools: $54 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). This quadruples the level of K-12 funding in the CARES Act. It will provide schools flexibility in how they use the funds, with possible areas of spending including, but not limited to: providing personal protective equipment (PPE), reorganizing buildings and classrooms to make them more COVID-19 safe; hiring additional staff to comply with social distancing policies; improving ventilation, purchasing technology to support remote instruction, or offering summer school or after school programs.
Senator Reed estimates Rhode Island will receive about $185 million.
Higher Education: $22.7 billion for higher education, with $1.7 billion set aside for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and $908 million in grants for students attending for-profit colleges. The U.S. Department of Education disburses 90 percent of the Higher Education Relief 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. Colleges and universities may use their portion of the funds on a broadly defined basis.
The Omnibus Appropriations bill boosts the maximum Pell Grant award by $150, to $6,495 for low- and middle-income families. It also simplifies FAFSA, which is used by students to apply for college financial aid.
Rhode Island will receive an estimated $102.7 million in Higher Education Relief funding.
State-Directed Funds: $4 billion for direct disbursement to governors. Rhode Island may use this funding to support K-12 schools and colleges and universities based on need. Federal law requires Governors to earmark $2.7 billion of this money for private schools. 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 is projected to receive $10.95 million of this federal funding.
Schools across the state will also benefit from other federal funds in the bill, such as $22 billion that has been set aside for testing and vaccinations and an additional $7 billion for broadband connectivity and infrastructure. This includes $3.2 billion for an emergency home broadband program that makes available $50-per-month emergency broadband benefits to help people who are laid off or furloughed during the pandemic pay their Internet costs.