Legislative Update—Biden's First 100 Days

AFSA has been working hard on Capitol Hill and with the White House to move education to the front burner. Our efforts are showing dividends, as the first 100 days of President Biden’s term have been historic for K–12 education funding, and we have witnessed significant victories for organized labor. Here is a quick review:

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, signed into law by President Biden, provides $122 billion to K–12 schools and fulfills AFSA’s request for significant federal investments to reopen schools safely. As AFSA pointed out in our July 2020 task force report on “Reopening Schools Safely in the Age of COVID:” “A safe reopening will cost a great deal of money.” After considering all that was needed to reopen schools safely—sanitizing supplies, PPE, additional medical staff, transportation, internet access, etc.—and various cost estimates, AFSA urged the federal government to provide $175 billion for this purpose. Adding ARPA’s $122 billion to the $67 billion plus from CARES Act I and II, the federal government has now provided nearly $190 billion for K–12 school reopenings, $15 billion more than we sought. These funds can be used for all school needs related to the pandemic, up to and including improving indoor air quality and ventilation in school buildings. ARP also focuses funding on combating learning loss, requiring states to devote about 75% of their state set-aside and school districts to devote 20% of their allocations to investing in summer learning programs, afterschool programs, tutoring and other activities to help students regain some of the academic ground they lost during the pandemic. ARP also makes significant investments in students with special needs ($3 billion), homeless students ($800 million) and remote learning ($7.17 billion). The U.S. Department of Education already has released two-thirds of this funding (roughly $80 billion) to states, with the remaining one-third slated for dissemination once each state provides the department with its in-person school reopening plan. While some states (Texas) are holding up allocating their shares of the $122 billion to their school districts and others are requiring school districts to provide spending plans before receiving the money (New York), most school districts should see this money soon. Regarding the $7 billion for remote learning, which will allow schools and libraries to purchase hotspots, computers and home internet access service for disconnected students and educators, AFSA is working with the FCC on a rulemaking that will establish how these dollars will flow. Next up—school infrastructure funding in the next major budget reconciliation package.

President Biden’s FY22 budget proposal, released in early April, proposes to make additional massive investments in education, seeking 41% more in funding for the Department of Education than it received last year. Its biggest request is a $20 billion increase for Title I, which would more than double the budget of a program designed to provide additional support and services to disadvantaged students. Biden’s budget also would provide a $2.5 billion increase for IDEA, which supports students with special needs, and $1 billion for mental health services. While this budget does not detail all of his spending plans—for example, it fails to discuss how much he plans to invest in Title II-A, which provides funds for professional development, including a set-aside for principals and school leaders—we remain hopeful that other investments in key programs will follow. Currently, AFSA is working with its allies, including NAESP and NASSP, to secure from Congress a major funding increase for Title II.

President Biden’s Cabinet now includes a former principal, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, and a card-carrying union member, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, the former Boston mayor. AFSA joined with its Connecticut and Boston affiliates, respectively, to support both nominees and was among the first to offer our congratulations. Just recently, AFSA held a meeting with the chief of staff for the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and plans are in the works for high-level events and collaborations with the department. One issue we are pushing is greater focus on school leadership.

Labor legislation that will uplift private and public sector unions already is making its way through Congress and AFSA is pushing hard for enactment. At the end of last month, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make significant pro-labor changes in support of collective bargaining, passed the House. It awaits action by the Senate which, under current rules, would require a 60-vote supermajority to overcome a filibuster and speed it toward passage. Meanwhile, we are anticipating the introduction soon of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would offer opportunities for public sector workers in "right to work" states to organize and collectively bargain. We have been assured by Senate Democrats that language negotiated by AFSA to ensure these new rights would apply to supervisory employees remains in the bill. We look forward to championing this bill.