In light of the current situation with COVID-19, Congress has been working overtime to address the needs of the country. The third stimulus package has been passed by both chambers of Congress and has been signed by the president. For LDA members, concerns have been raised about using this vehicle as a way to waive parts of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). While waiver language remains, hopefully any use of this secretarial authority will be limited and carefully crafted by the U.S. Department of Education.
The CARES Act contains an Education Stabilization Fund that will provide $30.75 billion to elementary and secondary schools and higher education institutions. Of that amount $13.5 billion will be go out as formula grants to states, with states then distributing 90 percent of their share to local school districts for response to the coronavirus. These funds may also be used to connect K-12 students to the internet and provide hardware, and an additional $25 million is earmarked specifically for distance learning needs in rural communities.
Another $14.25 billion is designated for emergency relief for higher education institutions. Colleges and universities will use these funds to deal with transitioning to online learning and to provide grants to students for housing, educational materials, technology, and health and child care.
The remaining $3 billion will be distributed under governors’ discretion to school districts most hard hit by the emergency situation. Funds may be used to bolster districts’ capacity to continue educational services and generally continue operating in some fashion. Governors may also allocate some of these dollars to higher education.
Regarding the original language on possible waivers of provisions of the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), the legislation no longer singles out special education. Rather, the waiver language also extends to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. It states, as in the original bill, that no later than 30 days after passage of the bill, the Secretary of Education will send a report to the congressional education and appropriations committees with recommendations for any additional waivers – beyond current secretarial waiver authority – needed for IDEA, Section 504, ESSA, and Perkins. These waivers would be time-limited based on the presidential declaration of emergency.
There are also other important provisions in the Act for children and families. Some of those include more funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Child Nutrition Programs, the schools under control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), and Head Start.
LDA will monitor closely if and how the waiver language is used. In addition, we anticipate this will not be the last package Congress puts forward, so we will be paying attention to all issues impacting individuals with learning disabilities.