A Look At What The Coronavirus Rescue Package Could Mean For Ga. Schools

President Donald Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last week. The rescue package includes over $30 billion for public schools and colleges.

Education advocates urged Congress to include $2 billion toward the federal E-Rate program to provide students with broadband internet and internet-connected devices. The package doesn’t include E-Rate funding but does allocate $25 million to support distance learning in rural school districts.

Widening The ‘Homework Gap’?

Joe Fleming, a lobbyist with the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), says a lack of access to broadband internet is a big hurdle for the state’s rural districts trying to shift to digital learning.

“We’ve got what some are now calling a ‘homework gap,’ where the more prosperous districts are able to furnish their students with laptops and additional access to the internet,” he says. “There are many counties in Georgia that don’t have that option.”

Fleming says the CARES Act is a good bill. It includes money for food subsidies, early education and mental health care.

“It’s good for schools,” Fleming says. “Is it enough [money]? Probably not.”

There seems to be a consensus among advocates that while the rescue package will help, the money won’t go far enough. It includes $3.5 billion for child care block grants to states. Georgia expects to receive more than $140 million of that. 

Still, Mindy Binderman, executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), says it’s just a start.

“The CARES Act is a great first step for providing financial and regulatory relief for Georgia’s child care industry,” Binderman says. “However, additional state, federal and philanthropic support will be needed to support essential workers in need of child care and provide critical financial support to our state’s child care providers.”

Meanwhile, state agencies are doing what they can to help. Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) and nonprofit Quality Care for Children (QCC) are helping essential employees find child care through a statewide call center, ALL-GA-KIDS (1-877-255-4254). DECAL has also partnered with the YMCA to set up child care centers at metro Atlanta hospitals to provide free child care for medical workers.

National child care groups have called for more money for that purpose —supporting essential workers.

“Congress must not fail the providers and educators who make it possible for our economy to run,” said Lynette Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America. “Additional funding for child care will be needed in the next stimulus package if we are serious about providing child care for our …essential workers who are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and ensuring there is a child care system at the end of this national emergency.”

Some Needed Relief

The CARES Act includes $13.5 billion in stabilization grants for school districts and $3 billion in stabilization funds governors can use at their discretion. However, the bill says any state or school district getting money from the stabilization fund “shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) will receive more than a billion dollars through the CARES Act.

The Southern Education Foundation, which promotes equity in education for students of color and low-income students in the South, applauded that piece of the package.

“Despite the structural financial challenges faced by HBCUs, the environment HBCUs have fostered for students has proven to be supportive, nurturing, academically rigorous, and community-focused.,” Raymond C. Pierce, SEF’s president and CEO said in a statement.

The package contains more than money, though. It also gives Education Secretary Betsy DeVos the authority to waive federal standardized testing requirements. (Georgia has applied for a waiver.) The bill also sets student loan interest rates to 0% for at least 60 days. Borrowers can also suspend loan payments for at least two months.

Included In The CARES Act:

  • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs
  • $3.5 billion for child care block grants (Georgia expects to get more than $140 million)
  • $750 million for federal Head Start early education programs
  • $5 million to clean and disinfect schools and child care centers
  • $25 million to support distance learning in rural school districts