State Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s powerful, budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance, appeared this morning on a Zoom webinar sponsored by the Badger Institute to address the state’s fiscal condition. It was the most candid look at state finances we have had in a long time.
While Rep. Nygren indicated that state revenues have stabilized and the fiscal reality is better than he would have thought likely when the pandemic began back in March, the veteran Marinette Republican emphasized that most of the negative impact on state revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt in the second year of the current 2019-21 biennium.
Rep. Nygren repeatedly noted that any decisions that can be made now to reduce spending in the second year of the current two-year state budget will make the next biennial budget easier so lawmakers will not have to make cuts (or such big cuts).
Addressing his comments at one point specifically to school leaders, the longtime JFC chair said, “My advice to schools is to reduce expenditures in the current school year so that you have cash on hand… so you have some cushion going into the next budget.”
Progress on an additional federal coronavirus relief package seems to have stalled somewhat, dimming hopes that more federal relief for schools can be enacted before the new school year starts in many states. Also unaddressed is the fate of the expansion of federal coronavirus unemployment benefits that ran out over the weekend.
Although negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, key senators, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate majority leader, appear not to have been a part of them. For now, the talks are said to be largely taking place between the White House and the leadership of the House of Representatives.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly hosted the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, for closed-door meetings on Saturday. They were joined in further meetings today (Monday, 8/3) by Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
With the U.S. Senate set to debate a fifth COVID-19 supplemental spending bill next week, the politics around providing additional federal help for schools has become intertwined with the politics of reopening schools.
President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have made no secret of their desire to condition any new money for schools on whether or not they reopen for 5 day-a-week in-person learning. And yesterday, the Washington Post reported that:
“The White House and Senate Republicans are developing plans to prod schools to reopen by attaching incentives or conditions to tens of billions of dollars of new aid as part of the next coronavirus relief bill.”
These discussions about attaching conditions to any new aid come as a growing number of districts have already said they’re planning to start the school year using remote or virtual instruction rather than in-person classes. (more…)
Last week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, and 17 Senate Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA).
The bill (numbered as S. 4112) is seen as Senate Democrats’ opening bid in the debate with Senate Republicans over providing additional COVID-19 stimulus funding for education.
Following a relatively quiet June on Capitol Hill, Congress is expected to be very busy in July as they race to complete important work – including passing another COVID-19 emergency response bill – before the lengthy August recess begins on August 7.
This is an opportunity for school leaders to seek substantial federal funding to help schools reopen safely this fall, amid huge financial uncertainty caused by declining state tax revenues. Without such federal assistance, the prospect of dramatic cuts to state school aid looms large as states look to trim their budgets. (more…)
The U.S. Department of Education has posted guidance for state education agencies and school districts, titled “Frequently Asked Questions about the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund).” (The ESSER fund is the principal source of funding for K-12 education under the federal CARES Act.)
According to the Department, this “document seeks to answer questions that are not easily understood from a plain reading of Section 18003 and other parts of the CARES Act or the ESSER Fund Certification and Agreement (C&A). It was developed in direct response to questions that the Department has received from SEA and LEA grant administrators implementing the ESSER Fund program.”