Virginia Foxx, Mark Johnson shun pleas for more federal education aid amid pandemic

Virginia Foxx, Mark Johnson shun pleas for more federal education aid amid pandemic

Rep. Virginia Foxx (Courtesy photo: C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON — North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx voiced strong opposition Monday to calls for more federal funding to help the nation’s schools as they prepare to reopen this fall.

The Republican lawmaker said it would be “irresponsible” to provide more federal education aid without first assessing the effectiveness of funds Congress has already spent.“More spending does not guarantee better outcomes,” she said during a hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on public education in the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Foxx, a former teacher and community college president who represents the state’s 5th congressional district, is the committee’s ranking Republican.

During the hearing, she suggested that the federal government is not responsible for educating the nation’s children. “I’m a student of the Constitution, and I’ve read it many, many times, and I fail to find the word ‘education’ in there,” she said.

Mark Johnson, North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, echoed Foxx’s stance in testimony he delivered at the hearing. “I don’t believe it’s in the Constitution for the United States, but we appreciate the support,” Johnson said.

Foxx did not speak to the specific needs of low-income students, students of color and other marginalized groups in her opening remarks — the theme of the Democratic-led hearing.

Instead, she pointed to guidance issued in April by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that suggested students in private schools should benefit from a representative share of the education aid passed in a coronavirus relief package adopted in March.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

The package included more than $30 billion in education-related aid, of which about $13 billion was slated for public elementary and secondary schools and $14 billion for higher ed. The remainder was earmarked for a governors’ emergency education fund, which could be used for either school districts or colleges.

Committee Chair Bobby Scott of Virginia and other congressional Democrats sent a letter to DeVos last month objecting to the effort. “The department’s new policy will direct districts to allocate additional resources and services to wealthier private school students, thereby leaving a smaller amount of funds available to serve public school students,” he wrote.

Foxx asked whether students in various settings — public, private and charter schools — deserve equitable support from the federal government.

Johnson said they did. “This is an unprecedented crisis that is affecting everyone,” he said.

Education official pleas for aid

The COVID-19 relief package passed in March also included $150 billion in aid to cities and states, which face massive revenue losses as a result of nationwide shutdown orders.

On Monday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., projected that state budget shortfalls will total $615 billion over the next three years.

North Carolina faces a $1.6 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2020, according to the National Conference of States Legislatures.

The U.S. House passed another relief package last month that the U.S. Senate has not taken up. The $3 trillion package that would provide $60 billion to help schools cover the costs of supplies to reopen safely, buy education technology, support school counselors and more, according to Education Week.

The bill also includes some $1 trillion in aid to state, local, territorial and tribal governments, which is intended to help governments fund schools as well as other government services.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dismissed the package and instead called for a more “narrowly targeted” response to the virus.

At Monday’s hearing, committee Democrats made a strong appeal for more federal education funding. “Unless the federal government provides immediate relief, it won’t be a matter of whether education funding will be cut, but how deep the cuts will be,” Scott said.

Becky Pringle, vice president of National Education Association, agreed. Without more money for public education, students will not be able to return to school safely this fall, she testified. “For us to think that we are going to send our students back to school safely and provide them with the quality education we believe they all deserve — we know that cannot happen,” she said. “We need the Senate to act right now.”

Michael Leachman, vice president for state fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, agreed, calling the need for more aid “urgent.”

Federal aid is especially needed to support low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups, Scott and others said.

Vulnerable students are less likely to attend schools that have the resources to quickly set up high-quality online learning programs, said Scott, who represents Virginia’s 3rd congressional district. And they’re less likely to have resources such as personal computers, access to high-speed internet service and at-home parental support.

Only 60% of low-income students and 60-70% of students in schools serving predominantly Black and Latino students regularly log in to online instruction, while 90 percent of high-income students do, he said.

Setbacks in education since the Great Recession have not affected all students equally, and reliance on local property taxes to fund education ensure those with the highest need are forced to do with less, he added.

“Unfortunately, the achievement gaps exacerbated by COVID-19 have been widened even further,” he said.