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Coronavirus Relief Package Offers Up More Than $30 Billion For Education

The U.S. Capitol building on March 25, the same day the Senate unanimously passed a historic $2 trillion deal in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Alex Edelman
AFP via Getty Images
The U.S. Capitol building on March 25, the same day the Senate unanimously passed a historic $2 trillion deal in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The U.S. Senate's $2 trillion coronavirus relief package includes more than $30 billion for education, with more than $14 billion for colleges and universities and at least $13.5 billion for the nation's K-12 schools.

Help for K-12 will come, in part, from what's called the Education Stabilization Fund. Part of this money is meant for protecting jobs and paying staff while school is out of session. It can also be used to pay for Internet-connected devices and equipment for districts moving to remote learning. But lawmakers chose not to expand dedicated funding for technology through the federal E-Rate Program, as some in the Senate had called for.

Many school districts have already sprung into action to continue feeding students while their doors are closed. The Senate bill aims to support those efforts with $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs.

In addition to the money, the bill gives Education Secretary Betsy DeVos new power to grant states waivers from various federal education laws and regulations, including testing and accountability.

The rescue package also includes help for colleges and universities, many of which are facing an economic downward spiral after emptying their dorms, moving classes online or in some cases shutting down altogether. Many schools have already refunded part of tuition fees and room and board costs for students. And colleges are pressed to continue paying staff while funding the often costly transition to online learning.

Higher education leaders worry the more than $14 billion lawmakers put aside won't be enough to save many small schools with low endowments from closing — it's a far cry from the $50 billion those leaders asked for earlier this month. This comes at a time when colleges were already feeling the crunch of low-enrollment and deflated state funding.

The Senate bill puts federal student loan payments on hold and uses a funding formula that gives schools with large numbers of Pell Grant recipients more money.

The House is expected to take up the package on Friday.

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Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.