House and Senate Education Committees Conduct Hearings on Reopening K-12 Schools

In the past week, both the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee conducted hearings to discuss the challenges facing states as they look toward reopening schools in the fall. The hearings were conducted as Senators are faced with deciding how to move forward with a possible future COVID-19 response package and what to include in that package. The House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act last month and continues to pressure the Senate to act.

In the Senate, the hearing, COVID-19: Going Back to School Safely, focused on the realities that schools, districts, and states are facing, including adherence to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, additional expenses of reopening and maintaining social distance, and looming state and local budget cuts.

“This is a perfect storm as we face increased needs and decreased resources,” said witness Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska Commissioner of Education. Panelists discussed additional issues, including:

  • The dangers of in-person instruction for high-risk students and educators
  • The major challenges with providing remote learning, including access to the internet, devices, and assistive technology
  • The need for schools to address student learning loss and educational services gaps, especially for students with disabilities, homeless students, and others
  • The potential need for legal liability shields for teachers and schools
  • The school lunch program
  • Confronting systemic racism

The House hearing, Budget Cuts and Learning Loss: Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Public Education, included a primary focus on the financial impact of state and local budget cuts on students and teachers. Chaired by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the Democrats focused on the need for Congress to pass the HEROES Act, which includes about $90 billion for K-12 schools, as well as the disproportionate impact Secretary DeVos’ actions have on schools regarding the use of Title I funds for private and religious schools (known as the Equitable Distribution clause).

Ranking Member Foxx (R-NC) and colleagues challenged the need for additional federal stimulus funding at this time. Like the Senate, Members from both sides of the political aisle shared concerns about student and teacher safety but differed on the federal government’s role in state planning, the provision of funds, and the implementation of plans to reopen schools.

To view the Senate hearing, go here.

To view the House hearing, go here.

From CEC Policy Insider – 6/16/2020

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