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Amy Li

Budget and Policy Post
May 14, 2020


COVID-19: Federal and State Actions Affecting K-12 Education and Child Care

The emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has required schools to respond to unprecedented challenges—shifting from traditional educational settings and routines to focusing on distance learning and student meal distribution. The state’s child care providers also have faced numerous changes to the way they must operate to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The federal and state governments have taken various steps to assist K-12 schools and child care providers in their response to COVID-19. This post provides a brief summary of the major federal and state actions taken through April 2020. ­­

K-12 Education

In this section, we discuss recent federal funding, federal waivers and flexibility, and state actions intended to provide relief to schools in response to COVID-19.

Federal Funding

On March 27, 2020, the President signed H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides federal relief aimed at mitigating the economic and public health consequences of COVID-19. Of the $2.2 trillion in federal funding contained in the CARES Act, $30.8 billion is for a newly created Education Stabilization Fund. This fund is for higher education institutions, elementary and secondary schools, and states to cover costs related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Figure 1 provides an overview of the components of this fund. Below, we discuss the major elements pertaining to K-12 education.

Figure 1: Overview of Education Stabilization Fund

School Relief Funding Provided With Broad Discretion, Allocated Through Existing Formula. Most of the federal relief for schools is provided through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund totaling $13.2 billion. This funding will be allocated to states based on the Title I, Part A formula under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). (The Title I, Part A formula uses the number of low-income and disadvantaged children to allocate funding.) California is eligible to receive about $1.6 billion. Of this amount, at least 90 percent is to be sent to school districts and charter schools proportional to their Title I funding under ESSA. Up to 10 percent of the amount is available for statewide emergency needs in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, as determined by the California Department of Education (CDE). On April 23, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the funding application for states. States must apply by July 1, 2020. ED intends to release funds to a state within three business days of receiving its application. The state has one year from when the funds are received to allocate this funding to schools. ED has clarified that any expenses incurred after March 13, 2020—considered the start of the emergency—are eligible for reimbursement. Allowable uses for the local assistance grants are broad and include:

  • Activities Aligned With Existing Federal Programs. Any activities consistent with existing federal education programs, such as special education services, career technical education, and supplemental services for disadvantaged student groups.

  • COVID-19 Response. Coordinating, developing, and implementing COVID-19 response efforts, as well as purchasing supplies to clean facilities.

  • Distance Learning. Planning for delivering instruction and meals during long-term school closures, purchasing education technology for students, providing mental health services, and providing supplemental learning opportunities for disadvantaged students.

  • Staff Resources. Resources and training for staff to address the needs of their individual schools.

Relief Package Also Gives States Some Flexible Education Funds. In addition to relief funds earmarked for schools, the CARES Act provides $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. Of this funding, 60 percent is allocated to states based on their population aged 5‑24 and 40 percent is allocated based on the number of low-income and disadvantaged students counted under Title I, Part A of ESSA. California is expected to receive $355 million. This funding is to support emergency grants to (1) schools most impacted by the outbreak, as determined by CDE; (2) higher education institutions most impacted by the outbreak; and (3) education-related entities providing emergency services. States have considerable discretion in deciding how to allocate funding among these three categories. ED released the application on April 14. According to the Department of Finance, the Governor is in the midst of applying for these funds. States must apply by June 1, 2020. ED intends to release funds to the Governor’s office of each state within three business days of receiving its application. Upon receiving California’s allocation, the Governor has 45 days to submit a more detailed plan to the federal government regarding how he intends to allocate the funds among education entities in the state. The Governor has one year from receipt of the state’s funds to distribute awards to selected education entities.

States Are Expected to Maintain Education Funding at Recent Levels. As a condition of receiving a state allocation under the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, states are to maintain their support for education. Specifically, states must agree to maintain their support for higher education and K-12 education at the average annual level it provided in the prior three fiscal years. The U.S. Secretary of Education may waive this requirement, however, for states that experience a “precipitous decline in financial resources.”

Some Funds Available for States With Highest COVID-19 Burden. The CARES Act set aside $308 million for states with the highest COVID-19 burden. Funding will be awarded through two competitive grant programs—one to improve distance learning and one to create short-term training programs to help individuals return to work. On April 30, ED released rankings based on state shares of (1) population without broadband access, (2) low-income students, (3) confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita, and (4) students attending rural schools. ED estimates awarding, at most, 23 grants with available funding. Based on these four indicators, California ranks in the bottom 20 states and would not receive priority for funding.

Relief Package Provides One-Time Augmentations to Existing Federal Programs. In addition to the Education Stabilization Fund, the CARES Act augments funding to various existing federal programs likely to be involved in response efforts. The programs related to K-12 education include:

  • Child Nutrition. The CARES Act provides an additional $8.8 billion for the various child nutrition programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This funding is intended to allow children to receive meals while school is not in session. The CARES Act does not specify how the additional funds are to be used. Most child nutrition programs, however, are reimbursed based on the number of meals served to eligible children.

  • Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV). The CARES Act provides $100 million to expand the Project SERV program to cover costs associated with the response to COVID-19. (Project SERV provides funding for schools to quickly reopen after experiencing a major disruption to the learning environment.) Schools and higher education institutions are eligible for grants for cleaning and disinfecting schools, offering mental health services, and providing distance learning. At the time of this writing, ED has yet to release application information for these grants.

  • Distance Learning and Telemedicine. The CARES Act provides $25 million for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program administered by the USDA. Rural school districts and higher education institutions are eligible for funding to help improve distance learning and broadband connections in their area. Most rural state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, and federally recognized tribes also are eligible for funding. The program requires a 15 percent match of awarded federal funds. The USDA is accepting applications for this funding until July 13, 2020.

Federal Waivers and Flexibility

In addition to providing funding relief, ED and other federal agencies have issued several waivers to expand the allowable uses of existing federal funding and provide greater program flexibility to state and local agencies. We describe the major actions below.

  • Standardized Testing Waivers. States may request waivers for all
    2019‑20 standardized testing requirements. To obtain a waiver, states must apply to ED and certify that administering assessments is not possible due to widespread school closures. California received approval to waive assessment requirements on March 27, 2020.

  • Funding Flexibility. The federal government allows states to apply for greater flexibility for spending federal funds. In particular, states can extend the period of availability for federal fiscal year 2018 funds by one year—from September 30, 2020 to September 30, 2021. California has applied for and obtained this flexibility. The federal funding flexibility waiver affects provisions of ESSA Titles I through V, as well as the McKinney-Vento Act, which provides funding for homeless youth.

  • Child Nutrition Waivers. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed by the President on March 18, 2020, authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to waive several requirements of existing federal child nutrition programs until September 30, 2020. The Secretary has issued several waivers which eliminate or modify existing federal child nutrition program requirements. Some of these program changes are intended to ensure that nutrition programs can adhere to appropriate safety measures. For example, USDA now allows meals to be served in non-congregate settings and picked up by the parents of eligible children. Prior to the enactment of the FFCRA, meals were required to be served in congregate settings and consumed by participants on site. The FFCRA also authorizes USDA to grant waivers from various other program requirements, such as meal patterns, area eligibility, and program monitoring.

  • Additional Waivers Recommended by Secretary of Education. The CARES Act requires the Secretary of Education to recommend to Congress additional flexibilities for schools to meet the needs of students during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Secretary submitted these waiver recommendations on April 27, 2020. Most notably in special education, the Secretary recommended extending the time frame for toddlers with disabilities to be evaluated for school-based services and waiving service requirements associated with federal scholarships for special education teachers and staff. The Secretary also recommended waiving certain program and funding requirements for career technical education, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation programs. Congress would need to adopt new legislation for these waivers to take effect.

State Actions

The state has taken several actions to support schools during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Governor has issued a number of executive orders, and CDE has published information and resources intended to provide guidance to schools in the event of closures. The Legislature enacted Chapter 3 of 2020 (SB 117, Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review) consistent with the Governor’s executive order. We discuss the major effects of these actions below.

Fiscal Relief in Event of School Closures. Executive Order N-26‑20, issued on March 13, 2020, specified the Governor’s intent that schools continue to receive state funding if they close due to COVID-19. Chapter 3 made several statutory changes for this purpose. Most notably, Chapter 3 waives penalties in existing law that reduce funding for schools that do not meet the minimum instructional days or minutes requirements. In addition, Chapter 3 specifies the state will calculate average daily attendance for 2019‑20 through the end of February—rather than mid-April—to exclude days when students may not have attended school due to COVID-19. Average daily attendance is used to allocate funding from the Local Control Funding Formula and special education, which comprise the vast majority of state funding to schools.

Funding for Cleaning and Supplies. Chapter 3 also included $100 million in Proposition 98 funds to be used for purchasing personal protective equipment and sanitizing and cleaning school facilities.

Expectations During School Closures. Executive Order N-26‑20 also sets expectations for school districts in the event of a closure. Specifically, the executive order states that districts should ( 1) provide educational opportunities for students through distance learning or independent study, (2) provide school meals to students in non-congregate settings, (3) continue to pay employees, and (4) arrange for the supervision of students during the school day (to the extent practicable).

Other State Waivers and Flexibility. The state has taken other actions to address issues that have arisen due to COVID-19. We discuss some of the major actions below.

  • Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Time Line. State law requires each district to develop a strategic plan known as the LCAP. Districts must adopt an LCAP every three years and update the plan annually. On April 22, the Governor signed an executive order extending the deadline for LCAP adoption from July 1, 2020 to December 15, 2020. In lieu of adopting an LCAP on July 1, 2020, school boards must adopt a written report to the community that explains changes in program offerings in response to COVID-19 school closures. This report must include a description of how the district is meeting the needs of English learners and low-income students, delivering distance learning, providing meals in non-congregate settings, and arranging for the supervision of students during ordinary school hours.

  • Student Access to Technology. On April 20, 2020, the Governor announced the Broadband in Schools Initiative. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and CDE will partner to distribute $30 million to help cover costs for computing devices, hotspots, and broadband Internet service for student households. CPUC and CDE are in the process of determining criteria for allocating these funds. The state has also solicited donations from private entities to expand distance-learning access by providing some children with Internet hotspots, tablets, and other devices.

  • Teacher Preparation. The COVID-19 outbreak has also affected teacher preparation and credentialing. Test centers that administer assessments that teachers must pass to earn a credential were closed until May 1 and will have reduced capacity when they reopen. Some prospective teachers are also unable to meet their student teaching requirements, as most schools have closed for the remainder of the school year. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) took several actions at its April meeting to address these issues. Most notably, the CTC (1) extended the deadline for prospective teachers to meet the basic skills requirement if they had not previously failed the basic skills assessment, (2) offerred a one-year “good cause” extension on existing credentials or permits (excluding emergency credentials), and (3) provided more discretion to preparation programs over how they determine whether a prospective teacher has met student teaching requirements.

Child Care and Preschool

In this section, we describe recent funding and programmatic actions intended to provide fiscal relief and help child care providers serve families during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Federal Funding

Increased Federal Funding for Child Care and Preschool Programs. The CARES Act provides a $3.5 billion increase to the Child Care Development Block Grant. California’s share is $350 million of the federal allocation. States can use the funds to (1) continue payments and assist child care providers that have experienced decreased enrollment or closures due to COVID-19; (2) provide child care assistance to health sector employees, emergency responders, and other workers deemed essential during the response to COVID-19; and (3) clean and sanitize, or other necessary activities to maintain or resume the operation of child care programs. The state is required to use funds to supplement, but not supplant, state funding for child care and preschool programs. California received its allocation at the end of April. The administration plans to include a proposal for how to expend the funds as part of the May Revision.

State Actions

The state has taken several actions to support child care and preschool providers, and families during the COVID-19 outbreak. The actions provided fiscal relief for child care providers and temporarily changed program requirements to ensure providers could safely care for children during the COVID-19 outbreak. We discuss the major actions below.

Fiscal Relief for Existing Providers and Families. Chapter 3 provides the state Superintendent authority to address 2019‑20 contractual and reporting requirements for child care and preschool programs through informal directives and bulletins. As a result of this authority, the Superintendent issued a number of flexibilities for providers and families. For example, to provide fiscal relief for families, the Superintendent temporarily waived fees that some families pay for state subsidized child care. To provide fiscal relief for providers, the Superintendent allowed voucher providers to continue to receive payment for 30 days after closure, or for 30 days after a child has stopped attending due to COVID-19. (State law and regulations already hold harmless providers that contract directly with the state if they have to close or experience a decline in attendance due to an emergency.)

Augmentations for Additional Slots and Equipment. On March 16, 2020, the Legislature passed Chapter 2 of 2020 (SB 89, Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review), which allocated up to $1 billion for COVID-19 response. Of this amount, $50 million was provided for temporary child care vouchers based child care for essential workers and an additional $50 million was provided for gloves, face coverings, cleaning supplies, and labor costs associated with cleaning.

Temporary Waivers of State Laws and Regulations. On April 4, 2020 and April 7, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Orders N-45‑20 and N-47‑20, respectively, which temporarily waived state laws and regulations governing child care and preschool programs. The orders also directed CDE and the Department of Social Services to issue guidance in a number of areas. The most significant guidance is described in greater detail below.

  • Eligibility Changes. The state has expanded eligibility for the remainder of the current fiscal year to allow essential workers to receive state subsidized child care. The expanded eligibility also includes new prioritization rules which specify at-risk populations receive first priority, followed by income eligible essential workers (families who earn at or below $69,620 annually for a family of three). Essential workers who exceed existing income eligibility requirements receive last priority.

  • Classroom Size Caps. For child care providers, the state has temporarily limited the number of children that can be served in one room. Prior to this guidance, the number of children served in one classroom was limited by licensing based on the size of the classroom. The new guidance specifies that no more than ten children are to be served in one center-based classroom. For family child care homes, no more than four infant children, or no more than six children (at most two infants and four other aged children), can be served in one home. These limits apply for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

  • Staffing Ratio Modifications. The state has also changed the required number of staff members per child in licensed settings. For example, the state now requires one teacher for every four infants served by direct contract providers. Prior to COVID-19, the state required direct contract programs to have one staff member present for every three infant-aged children, but specified that one teacher must be present for every 18 infant-aged children. (Teacher positions require more educational requirements compared to other staff positions.) This means to serve six infants in one center-based direct contract program, a provider would now need two teachers instead of an aide and a teacher as was previously allowed. These new ratios apply for the remainder of the current fiscal year.