The second session of the 116th U.S. Congress, which began January 7, 2020, has been unlike any other in this lobbyist’s more than 20 years of experience in Washington, D.C., and, indeed, unlike anything our nation has ever seen. After becoming the third president in our history to be impeached by the House of Representatives, President Donald Trump was acquitted in the U.S. Senate February 5 of abuse of power and obstruction of justice articles. The process laid bare the deep partisan divisions in both Congress and America and further damaged the ability of our political parties to come together and find solutions to problems facing our nation. However, that all changed by late February when reports began to emerge of the spread of the new coronavirus in China and other Asian countries, and Congress woke up to the growing global crisis.
As of this writing, Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, passed four large legislative packages intended to provide funding for our frontline hospitals and health care professionals to fight the virus, as well as provide funding for the many businesses and Americans affected by the closures and stay-at-home orders implemented across states and cities. The largest of those packages, S.748, or the CARES Act, was signed into law by the president March 27 and is a $2.2 trillion relief package that provides billions of dollars in health care funding related to treating COVID-19 patients. CARES also includes economic stabilization provisions such as direct payments to taxpayers and small business loans to keep employees on the payroll.
The CARES Act also contains more than $30 billion for the U.S. Department of Education in flexible funding meant to be disbursed quickly to states, school districts, and institutions of higher education. This includes $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education formula funding to be provided directly to states to help schools respond to the coronavirus and related school closures, meet the immediate needs of students and educators, improve the use of education technology, support distance education, and make up for lost learning time. Another $3 billion in flexible formula funding is provided to states based on their education needs. The bill also gives the education department authority to waive certain obligations of states and school systems, including assessment, reporting, professional development, and funding allocation requirements. ATPE is working with our allies in Washington to fight any attempts by the department to use its flexibility or divert CARES Act funding for the creation of private school vouchers. As of early May, discussions of another virus relief legislative package are underway in Congress, including talk of additional federal funding for school districts to address the evolving pandemic.
Throughout these unusual and uncertain times, ATPE continues to advocate in Washington, D.C., for federal laws and policies that protect your ability to effectively educate students and retire with financial security. Our work continues with both parties on legislation to repeal the arbitrary Social Security offsets (the Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision) that unfairly reduce the benefits of those who also qualify for a public pension such as the one most of you will receive under the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE has been working closely with both parties on legislation (HR3934 and HR4540) that will repeal the WEP and replace it with a much fairer proportional formula to calculate your Social Security benefits. Additionally, ATPE and other organizations are actively advocating for inclusion of a WEP repeal-and-replace provision in the next virus-related stimulus package or end-of-year spending package.
Like all Americans, we are hopeful the social distancing measures we have undertaken, along with the development of treatments and a vaccine, will allow our country to reopen and return to a new normal in the coming months. At that point, ATPE will turn our federal advocacy efforts back to opposing policy proposals coming from the executive branch that aim to reduce overall federal education funding, reduce program funds by consolidating them into block grants, reduce early childhood funding, and establish vouchers for private schools.
In the meantime, stay home, stay safe, and stay involved. Use ATPE’s online resources, including TeachtheVote.org, to receive the latest updates on our advocacy efforts in Texas and in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, we will continue to let elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels know how their actions affect your ability to be a professional educator who makes a positive difference in the lives of your students.
David Pore is a partner in the Hance Scarborough law firm and manages the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. With over 20 years of public policy experience, David has been a federal lobbyist for ATPE for over 15 years. Before that, he held senior staff positions in the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress and was part of the ATPE Governmental Relations team from 2002–2004 before going into private practice.