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Legislative Column

  • Biden’s American Rescue Plan Proposes $130 Billion Investment to Reopen Schools


    Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation


    The new 117th Congress is moving quickly to consider President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The Plan includes individual $1,400 rebate checks; additional funding for vaccines, testing, and tracing; expanded unemployment insurance; and numerous other components. Also included is $130 billion in federal assistance for K-12 schools, $40 billion for higher education, and $40 billion in child-care investments.

    The prospects of bipartisan support for the Administration’s American Rescue Plan faded within days of the announcement, however. A proposal from a group of 10 Republican senators for a relief package less than a third of the Biden Plan that included only $20 billion for education garnered little serious consideration. The $175 billion request for school stabilization aid from the major national K-12 education groups in early April has become the standard for evaluating the proposals that followed. 

    Multiple legislative proposals from both sides of the aisle were offered without success during the summer and fall of 2020. The Senate Republican majority in conjunction with the Trump Administration offered the $1.1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act in late July 2020 with $105 billion in education aid, including $70 billion for K-12 schools, but most of it was conditioned on reopening school for in-person learning. In September, a “skinny” version of the HEALS Act at $600 billion was redesigned by the Senate majority with similar amounts for education.  

    In May 2020, the House Democratic majority had offered a $3.4 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that included $58 billion for K-12 schools. A separate Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief bill was also introduced in July by now-Senate Education Chair Patty Murray that proposed $175 billion for K-12 schools in addition to higher education and child-care assistance. And in September, a scaled-back $2.2 billion HEROES 2.0 was offered by the House majority, also with $175 billion for K-12 schools.  Nonetheless, these proposals could not gain sufficient legislative traction until the lame duck session of the 116th Congress when a $54 billion public school relief program was agreed to as part of a modest $600 billion pandemic package – again far short of the $175 billion requested by the nation’s K-12 school groups. 

    On the other hand, the new Biden American Rescue Plan at $130 billion for schools, coupled with the $54 billion in year-end K-12 relief and the initial $13 billion approved last spring, would reach, if not exceed, the original level of elementary and secondary school funding requested by the major national education organizations in early April.

    The expedited federal budget reconciliation process now underway in both houses of Congress will provide a way to overcome the dilatory legislative tactics that delayed pandemic relief in the past with a simple majority vote. School officials understand from the Great Recession of 2008-09 that reestablishing financial stabilization for public elementary and secondary schools will be years in the making, as will the recovery from unfinished learning experienced by our students. Nonetheless, the Biden American Rescue Plan with its $130 billion investment in K-12 is critical to that recovery and is strongly supported by the Council of the Great City Schools.