Summer Federal Funding Surge in DC
By Jon Bernstein, President, Bernstein Strategy Group
Congress is entering a period of intense activity before it departs for its August summer recess, which it terms a “District Work Period.” Before August, the House Appropriations Committee intends to mark up all of its FY22 spending bills and Congress will attempt to reach an agreement on and perhaps even pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure package. Waiting in the wings is a second multi-trillion-dollar budget reconciliation package that could contain major education initiatives including funding for school infrastructure, free community college, and teacher professional development.
Let’s start with FY21 education spending. The House Appropriations Subcommittee voted to approve its version of FY22 education spending legislation on July 12th. This bill largely met President Biden’s budget priorities, providing a 41% increase for the Department of Education, a $19.5 billion increase for Title I, a $2.5 billion increase for IDEA, and a billion dollars in new mental health money. The House bill also made room for significant increases to the Title IIA professional development program (+$150 million) and the Title IVA flexible block grant which provides funding for ed tech (+$85 million). While this bill will likely pass the full House, it remains to be seen what the Senate version will look like and when the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will move forward with their bills.
Meanwhile, White House and Congressional representatives continue to work on a significant infrastructure bill that will be acceptable to both parties. A group of 21 bipartisan Senators have agreed on a framework but continue to negotiate the final details of a $1 trillion infrastructure package. This framework includes approximately $65 billion in broadband funding but it remains unclear how those funds will be disseminated—to states directly, via a federal government grant process—and how they will be spent. Significantly, this framework recently picked up the endorsement of the House’s bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus,” potentially smoothing the passage of a final bill in the House. It is not yet clear whether House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott’s (D-VA) $100 billion+ school infrastructure bill, which includes support for school broadband, will be part of this infrastructure bill but there are rumors of a House push to include within the final bill some school infrastructure spending. If Chair Scott is unsuccessful in adding this priority to the final package, there remains the possibility of adding it to a gigantic partisan budget reconciliation bill that may emerge this summer or in the fall.
While Congress labors on these bills, the Federal Communications Commission is busy implementing the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which provides $7.17 billion in funding for schools and libraries to apply for funds to purchase hotspots, modems, routers, computers and home Internet access services for students and teachers who lack broadband at home. The Commission opened an application window on June 29th to support purchases made from July 1st, 2021 onwards and will close it on August 13th. If any of the $7.17 billion remains unspent the Commission may open a second application window that will either pay for prospective purchases or reimburse purchases made as far back as March 2020. The opening of this application window follows the Commission unanimously adopting new rules for the program back in May. You can find more information on the program’s rules and actually apply for funding here.
The president and founder of Bernstein Strategy Group, Jon Bernstein has been working on education, education technology and telecommunications issues since 1995. Currently, he serves as the Co-chair of the Education & Libraries Networks Coalition (EdLiNC), Co-chair of the Homework Gap Big Tent Coalition, and Executive Director of the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET). Prior to launching the Bernstein Strategy Group in 2005, Jon was a Vice President at Leslie Harris & Associates, an Attorney Advisor with the Federal Communications Commission and a Lobbyist and Interim Manager of the Federal Relations Division of the National Education Association. He also worked for The Lightspan Partnership and as a Legislative Fellow for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Jon received his B.A. from Colgate University and his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.