Federal Education Updates



Keep up with recent federal education activity from Congress and the U.S. Department of Education.

June 2020

June 30, 2020 | Senate HELP Committee Introduced $430 Billion COVID-19 Relief bill for Child-Care and Education: The $430 billion bill provides $345 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund including: $175 billion for K-12 schools, $132 billion for higher education, and $33 billion for a Governor’s fund. The bill also provides a maintenance of effort requirement establishing that states will not cut their own education spending for three years. Read more.

June 30, 2020 | Supreme Court Rules on State Aid to Religious Schools: Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue examined whether the Montana Supreme Court violated the U.S. Constitution when it struck down a tax-credit scholarship program that allowed students to use the scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 siding with Montana families. The Court ruled that states must allow religious schools to participate in programs that provide scholarships to students attending private schools, a decision that opened the door to more public funding of religious education. Read More.

June 30, 2020 | CDC Released Guidance on COVID-19 Testing in K-12 Schools and Universities: The guidance advised against universal testing of faculty and students. The CDC recommends that schools implement preventive measures like social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting. For Universities, the CDC recommends broader testing for people who have been in contact with infected patients in settings where the disease can quickly spread, such as residence halls, bathrooms, and lounges.

June 26, 2020  | Borrower-Defense Veto Override Fails: The House failed to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a bill that would have undone DeVos’s borrower-defense rule. The rule goes into effect on July 1, 2020.

June 25, 2020 | DeVos Announces Interim Final Rule on CARES Act Equitable Services Provision: The rule requires school districts to calculate the private school share of CARES Act funds: (1) Based on total enrollment in private schools if district makes funds available to all students in district; or (2) Based on the total number of low-income students in Title I and participating private schools, if district only uses funds in Title I schools. This rule follows up on the April 30 guidance and goes into effect immediately, although the Department will offer a 30-day comment period. The announcement and final rule can be found here.

June 19, 2020 | DeVos Announces Workforce Grant Competition via CARES Act: The $127.5 million Reimagine Workforce Preparation Grant Program seeks to expand sector-based education and training programs and support local entrepreneurship through small business incubators. States should submit their completed application no later than Aug. 24, 2020. Additional information on the grants can be found here.

June 15, 2020 | DeVos announces rule limiting student eligibility for CARES higher education emergency aid: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a new regulation that would limit eligibility for the higher education emergency aid in the CARES Act to students who qualify for federal financial aid. The interim final rule reflects the Department’s April 21 guidance, which would restrict aid for undocumented students and others who don’t qualify for federal student aid. The rule will take effect immediately after it is published in the Federal Register, which the department said would happen on June 15. The department said that it would not retroactively enforce the new rule against colleges. The agency will also accept public comments on the policy for 30 days.

June 8, 2020 | Department of Education Releases CARES Act Maintenance of Effort Guidance: The U.S. Department of Education released guidance on the maintenance of effort (MOE) provision for the Education Stabilization Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act requires states that accept either the K-12 or governor’s funds to maintain support for both K-12 and higher education in FY 2020 and FY 2021 at a level at least equal to the average funding levels for FY 2017- FY 2019. The guidance explains the methodologies states may use to quantify their support for K-12 and higher education. Notably, the department reports it does not anticipate reviewing MOE waiver requests for either FY 2020 or FY 2021 until September 2021.

June 8, 2020 | Trump Vetoes Bill to Overturn DeVos’ Borrower Defense Rule: President Donald Trump vetoed House Joint Resolution 56a Congressional Review Act resolution that would block the Trump administration’s rewrite of the Obama-era “borrower defense to repayment” rule. House leaders are preparing for a veto override vote on July 1, but will likely lack the votes to override it.

June 1, 2020 | CDC Announces Guidance for Reopening Schools During the Pandemic: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance, including a school decision tool, to assist administrators in reopening K-12 schools. The guidance is supplemental and does not replace any state and local health and safety laws, rules or regulations.

May 2020

May 11, 2020 | Title IX Sexual Misconduct in Education Final Regulation Released: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a new Title IX rule for how K-12 schools and universities must handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment. The rule requires schools to use trained personnel to evaluate evidence to investigate and make decisions on complaints. When facing a complaint, every student must be given the right to written notice of allegations, the right to an advisor, and the right to submit, cross-examine and challenge evidence at a live or virtual hearing. The hearings are optional for K-12 schools. When making decisions, schools must select one of two standards of evidence: the “preponderance of the evidence” standard or the “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

Schools must respond to misconduct that occurs at events where the institution “exercised substantial control” over both the accused and the context where the misconduct occurred. For colleges, this include off-campus harassment at houses owned or under the control of school-sanctioned fraternities and sororities. The rule also expands the government’s definition of “sexual harassment” to include sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. Additionally, K-12 schools must respond promptly when any school employee has notice of sexual harassment. The regulations are in effect Aug. 14, 2020.

May 4, 2020 | Education Department Does Not Recommend IDEA Waivers, Asks Congress to Consider Other Flexibilities: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced she is not recommending that Congress pass any additional waiver authority concerning the Free Appropriate Public Education and Least Restrictive Environment requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The department is requesting that Congress consider additional flexibilities on administrative requirements under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and IDEA.

April 2020

April 30, 2020 | Education Department Provides $1.4B to HBCUs, Minority Serving Institutions and Colleges and Universities Serving Low-Income Students: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that $1.4 billion in additional CARES Act funding will be directed to Minority Serving Institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, as well as institutions serving low-income students. Institutions may use this funding to cover operational costs, such as lost revenue, reimbursements for prior expenses and payroll. Funds may also be used for technology costs and grants to cover the costs of attendance for eligible students. Institutional allocations can be found here. Schools have until Aug. 1, 2020, to apply for the funds. 

April 27, 2020 | Education Department Announces $300M in Grant Competitions for States: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced two grant competitions with funds authorized by the CARES Act: $180 million for “Rethink K12 Education Models Grants” and $127.5 million for the “Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.” Within the “Rethink” competition, state education agencies can apply for funds under one of three priorities: microgrants for families for access to technology and educational services, statewide virtual learning and course access programs, or new models for providing remote education. Approximately 13-14 grants will be awarded through the “Rethink” competition. The “Reimagining Workforce” competition will award around 8-9 grants to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning programs. For additional information about how to apply, please visit the OESE website.

April 27, 2020 | Education Department Makes $13.2 Billion Available in Emergency Coronavirus Relief to School Districts: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that more than $13.2 billion in emergency relief funds allocated by the CARES Act are now available to state and local education agencies to support continued learning for K-12 students. Funds can help states and districts provide tools and resources for distance education, support student health and safety, and develop and implement plans for the next school year. The department intends to process each submitted form within three business days of receipt. More information can be found here.

April 27, 2020 | Education Department Provides $6 Billion in Additional Grant Funding to Support Higher Education Institutions: DeVos announced an additional $6.2 billion grant to support higher education institutions. The funding is available through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the CARES Act. The funding for these "Recipient Institutional Costs" is separate from the funding previously made available for "Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students." To access the funds, higher education institutions must submit a Certification and Agreement for Recipient Institutional Costs, which can be found here.

blog iconApril 23, 2020 | Blog: Education Department Releases Application for Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund


April 20, 2020 | Education Department Announces Streamlined Waiver Process for State and District Funding Flexibilities: State education agencies can now apply for waivers that grant additional flexibilities on state and district funding using a streamlined waiver form. Among the new flexibilities, states can allow districts to carry over more than 15% of their federal FY 2019 Title I funds to the next fiscal year. States can receive a waiver to extend the period of availability of FY 2018 funds for many Elementary and Secondary Education Act categorical programs (including Title I A-D, Title II, and Title IV A-B) until Sept. 30, 2021. The waiver also allows states to grant districts flexibility within allowed uses of Title IV-A funds, including waiving the 15% limit of use of funds to purchase technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning. These additional flexibilities were authorized by the CARES Act and complement previously announced waivers on federal state assessment and accountability provisions.

April 14, 2020 | ED releases $3 Billion in Emergency Education Block Grants for Governors:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that governors can now apply for their allotment of the nearly $3 billion Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, as authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funds can be used at the direction of the governor to provide support to K-12 schools, postsecondary institutions, and other education-related organizations, including child care providers and non-public schools. State allocations for the GEER Fund can be found here. Governors can apply for funds by completing a short application. The Department expects to obligate the funds within three business days of application. 

blog icon April 10, 2020 | BlogHigher Educaion Provisions in CARES ActThe Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, provides funding and flexibilities for higher education institutions to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

blog iconApril 6, 2020 | PodcastCOVID-19: State and Federal Responses to Education and Child Care | OAS Episode 89

On this episode, we talk with two NCSL experts about how the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schools and child care and how the state and federal governments are responding.

Our first guest in Austin Reid, the director of NCSL’s Education Standing Committee and an expert on federal education policy. He reviews the funding for education in the recently passed $2 trillion federal stimulus bill, how student borrowers will be affected and steps states have taken to address the crisis.

Our second guest is Jeni Palmer, who follows a wide range of child care issues for NCSL. She explains that the child care system was not functioning well before the pandemic and the emergency has made a bad situation worse. She reports on what states are doing to shore up the system during the crisis.

blog icon April 1, 2020 | BlogCARES Act Gives State Education Funding, Flexibility in Wake of COVID-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, provides funding and flexibilities for states to respond to the COVID-19 emergency in K-12 schools.

March 2020

March 31, 2020 | DeVos Announced Deadline Extension for Career and Technical Education (CTE) State Plans: Education Secretary Betsy Devos announced an extension for states that need additional time to submit their state plans for FY 2020-2023 under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). The Department of Education will allow states and local Perkins recipients to receive their first installment of Perkins V funds on time even if they need an extension. Information on the new flexibilities can be found here.

March 30, 2020 | Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Stops Collection of Defaulted Federal Student Loans: The Department of Education has halted all collection actions and wage garnishment for federal student loan borrowers for at least 60 days starting retroactively on March 13. The secretary directed the department to refund approximately $1.8 billion in offsets that have occurred since March 13 to more than 830,000 borrowers.

March 23, 2020 | DeVos Waives Interest on Student Loans, Offers Deferred Loan Payments: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on March 20 announced that all borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days. In addition, each of these borrowers will have the option to suspend their payments for at least two months. DeVos also directed all federal student loan servicers to grant an administrative forbearance to any borrower with a federally held loan who requests one. The forbearance will be in effect for a period of at least 60 days, beginning on March 13, 2020. 

March 23, 2020 | DeVos Offers Assessment Waivers for States:On March 20, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the Department of Education will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year. Any state that receives this waiver may also receive a waiver from the requirement that this testing data be used in the statewide accountability system.

March 16, 2020 | Senate Votes to Overturn Administration’s Borrower Defense Rule: Senate lawmakers voted to approve SR 56a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would block the Trump administration’s rewrite of the Obama-era “borrower defense to repayment” rule. The final vote was 53-42, which included 10 Republicans voting in favor of the CRA. The rule was finalized last year and raises the standards that student borrowers must meet to receive debt forgiveness after being defrauded by colleges. The revised rule requires borrowers to demonstrate they suffered financial harm from their college’s misconduct and that the college made deceptive statements with knowledge of its misleading nature. The rewrite also requires borrowers to apply individually instead of allowing automatic discharges for groups of students and eliminates the Obama-era rule’s prohibition on predispute arbitrationThe House passed a similar measure in January that would restore the Obama-era rule. The White House is expected to veto the resolution.

blog iconBlogNCSL Gathers Education Resources for Legislators on Coronavirus


March 9, 2020 | Department of Education Delays Changes to Rural School Funding Formula: Education Secretary Betsy Devos this week delayed previously announced changes to the allocation formula for the Rural and Low-Income School Program that would have resulted in funding reductions to approximately 800 rural schools across the country. The changes were announced in February via a letter to state chiefs’ school officers, but received bipartisan pushback from Congress that resulted in the reversal. Under the formula changes, districts must determine student poverty using census data, rather than the number of students receiving free or reduced-price meals. While this measure has been allowed since 2003, the Department of Education has determined census data must be used to comply with federal law. DeVos stated the formula changes would be delayed for a year to give time for Congress to fix language in the law.

March 2, 2020 | DeVos Announces Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault in K-12 Schools: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced a new initiative to combat the rise of sexual misconduct in elementary and secondary schools. The initiative aims to improve the department’s Office of Civil Rights’ enforcement of Title IX in K-12 schools, which will include nationwide compliance reviews in schools and districts to examine how sexual assault cases are handled under Title IX. The department is anticipated to release the final Title IX regulations in the coming weeks.

February 2020

February 24, 2020 | ED Launches School Safety Website: The Trump administration launched the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse website: SchoolSafety.gov. This website is a collection of resources for K-12 administrators, educators, parents and law enforcement to use to prepare for and address various threats related to safety, security and support in schools. The launch of the website fulfills a key recommendation from the 2018 Federal Commission on School Safety.

February 10, 2020 | President Trump Urges Congress to Approve Federal Tax Credits for School Choice: During his recent State of the Union address, President Donald Trump urged Congress to approve federal tax credits for school choice. He also called for an expansion of career and technical education and promoted his administration’s support for historically black colleges and universities and religious liberty in schools. In the weeks leading up to the State of the Union, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos traveled across the country to promote the administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.

January 2020

January 27, 2020 | Supreme Court Hears Case on Public Funding for Religious Schools: On Jan. 22, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case that could have significant implications for public education and school choice policies. In this case, the plaintiffs argued that Montana violated the U.S. Constitution when it struck down a tax-credit scholarship program that allowed students to claim the credits to attend private schools, including religious schools. The Montana court ruled that the subsidy violated a state constitutional provision barring any state aid to religious schools, whether direct or indirect. Thirty-seven states have similar no-aid policies, often known as “Blaine” amendments, which prohibit the use of government funding for religious purposes. Opponents argue that such prohibitions discriminate against religious families and schools, while others argue that allowing public funds to be used for private and/or religious schools could harm public education.

January 21, 2020 | House Votes to Overturn Borrower Defense Rule: House lawmakers voted to approve HJ Res. 76, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would block the Trump administration’s rewrite of the Obama-era “borrower defense to repayment” rule. The final vote was 231-180, which included six Republicans voting in favor of the CRA. The rule was finalized last year and raises the standards that student borrowers must meet to receive debt forgiveness after being defrauded by colleges. Democrats argue the new rules make seeking loan forgiveness too burdensome for defrauded borrowers, while Republicans have defended the rule as necessary to rein in costs for taxpayers. Senate Democrats are planning to force a vote on the measure in the coming weeks. The White House has already threatened to veto the resolution.

January 13, 2020 | Trump Signs FUTURE Act: On Dec. 19, Trump signed into law the FUTURE Act, a bipartisan bill that permanently authorizes $255 million in annual funding for historically black colleges and universities and other institutions serving minorities. The law also streamlines and simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, allows for automatic income recertification for federal student loan borrowers in income-driven repayment plans, and authorizes a small increase in Pell Grant funding.