House Democrats call for more federal aid for public education

Federal aid is seen as especially needed to support low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups. Credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats have called for more federal aid for education as the nation’s schools prepare to reopen this fall.

“Unless the federal government provides immediate relief, it won’t be a matter of whether education funding will be cut, but how deep the cuts will be,” said U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

He spoke Monday during a committee hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on public education.

Becky Pringle, vice president of National Education Association, said students will not be able to return to school safely this fall without more funds for public education.

“For us to think that we are going to send our students back to school safely and provide them with the quality education we believe they all deserve — we know that cannot happen,” she said. “We need the Senate to act right now.”

Federal aid is especially needed to support low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups, Scott and others said.

Vulnerable students are less likely to attend schools that have the resources to quickly set up high-quality online learning programs, said Scott, who represents Virginia’s third congressional district. And they’re less likely to have resources such as personal computers, access to high-speed internet service and at-home parental support.

Only 60 percent of low-income students and 60 percent to 70 percent of students in schools serving predominantly Black and Latino students regularly log in to online instruction, while 90 percent of high-income students do, Scott said.

Setbacks in education since the Great Recession, he added, have not affected all students equally, and reliance on local property taxes to fund education ensures that those with the highest need are forced to do with less, he noted.

“Unfortunately, the achievement gaps exacerbated by COVID-19 have been widened even further,” he said.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran have announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of federal dollars to reopen Florida’s public schools this fall.

GOP opposition

North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, the committee’s ranking Republican, voiced strong opposition to the calls for more federal education funding, saying it would be “irresponsible” to provide more money without first assessing the effectiveness of funds Congress has already spent.

In March, Congress enacted a coronavirus relief package that included more than $30 billion in education-related aid, of which about $13 billion was slated for public elementary and secondary schools and $14 billion for higher ed. The remainder was earmarked for a governors’ emergency education fund, which could be used for either school districts or colleges.

It also included $150 billion in aid to cities and states, which face massive revenue losses as a result of nationwide shutdown orders.

The U.S. House passed another relief package last month that the U.S. Senate has not taken up. The $3 trillion package that would provide $60 billion to help schools cover the costs of supplies to reopen safely, buy education technology, support school counselors and more, according to Education Week.

The bill also includes some $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments, which is intended to help governments fund schools as well as other government services.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dismissed the package and instead called for a more “narrowly targeted” response to the virus.

Florida Phoenix Deputy Editor Michael Moline contributed to this report.