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The CARES Act & The IDEA

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the ‘‘CARES Act” is designed to make many important improvements to help our nation during the COVID-19 crisis. Passed March 26th, there continue to be questions and concerns about the education provisions in the Act and their implications for students served in special education.

Education Provisions in the CARES Act

The CARES Act allows the Secretary of Education to waive provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Specifically, states can apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive federal requirements under ESSA such as the requirement to administer state assessments, provide educator training in person, and the limits on funding spent on technology for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Institutions of higher education also have increased flexibility to provide education virtually.  

Regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the bill does not provide waiver authority to the Secretary of Education, but does require the Education Department to submit a report to Congress within 30 days indicating which waivers may be needed to help states and districts comply with IDEA.  Ongoing vigilance and advocacy is needed as this process moves forward to make sure that any proposed waivers support compliance with IDEA rather than weaken rights and protections.

Funding Boosts in the CARES Act

The total cost of the package is more than $2 trillion. In terms of education, the law provides $30.75 billion to support public schools and institutions of higher education. Specifically, the Act allocates:

  • $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education to use for planning and coordinating during long-term school closures and purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students.
  • $3 billion for Governors in each state to allocate, at their discretion, emergency support to school districts and institutions of higher education most significantly impacted by coronavirus. 

The rest designated for institutions of higher education.

Other provisions in the bill that impact students and families include:

  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grant for immediate assistance to child care providers to prevent them from going out of business and to otherwise support child care for families, including for healthcare workers, first responders, and others playing critical roles during this crisis.
  • $750 million for Head Start programs to help respond to coronavirus related needs of children and families, including making up for lost learning time.
  • $1 billion for Community Services Block Grant for local community-based organizations to provide a wide-range of social services and emergency assistance for those who need it most.
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to increase flexibility for schools to feed students. 
  • $15.51 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in anticipated increases in participation as a result of coronavirus. 

As new emphasis is placed on on-line learning, it is concerning that the bill included no funding to provide students with internet access or equipment at home. 

Next Steps for Advocates

Even with the additional funding provided by the CARES Act, there will be a need for more guidance and greater clarity to ensure that states and districts direct these funds toward increasing equity. Funds must be used to support and provide access to students with disabilities, and others who are most impacted by this crisis.

The Education Department must submit its report on IDEA waivers in late April.  The next 30 days will be important ones as we work to protect the civil rights of students with disabilities.

Here is a quick way to email your U.S. Congressmen about this important issue: http://cqrcengage.com/actionnetwork/app/take-action?engagementId=506927