July 30, 2020

CARES Act Education Dollars a Promising Start, But More Federal Aid Needed to Prevent Deep Cuts to K-12, Higher Education

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

After Governor DeSantis vetoed $295.5 million in education spending for the FY 2020-21 budget, Florida's total education budget still grew by $732 million over the previous budget year. However, many education proponents and local leaders, pointing to the twin pressures of the COVID-19 crisis and population growth, contend that the funding is far from enough. The COVID-19 pandemic caused childcare centers, schools, colleges, and universities across the state to close their doors and move online. At the very time that schools need extra resources to provide a healthy environment, the revenues that propel education in the state have steeply declined. 

In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which earmarked $30.75 billion to K-12 and higher education systems. Florida received $2.04 billion through the CARES Act’s Education Stabilization Fund, more than one-third of which — $693 million — went directly to school districts to help with a range of COVID-19 response related expenses.

Higher education institutions in the state directly received $874 million, half of which was required to go directly to students.

DeSantis has broad discretion to spend the remaining $475 million. Of the $224 million earmarked for childcare support, his office earmarked $86 million for safety net reserves and $136 million to support childcare centers and childcare for first responders and health care workers, and to ensure that no parents lost their school readiness subsidies during the crisis.

DeSantis is aiming the remaining $251 million mostly at supports to reduce the “achievement gap” by funding reading coaches, reading and civics curriculum, and data collection. The governor also has earmarked $35 million toward short-term industry certificate programs and $2.5 million toward a “Job Market Dashboard.” Notably, DeSantis also vetoed the entire budget — $29.4 million — for Complete Florida, a program that helps adults complete their degrees online, and also served as a hub for online learning resources for schools and libraries across the state.

Education Stabilization Funds are not included in the 2020-21 budget passed by Legislature in March. While the initial funding boost is helpful, many school leaders are sounding the alarm that more federal support for schools is critical. On April 28th, 2020, the superintendents of Broward, Orange, Miami Dade, Duval, Palm Beach, and Pinellas school districts joined a letter sent to Congress calling for $175 billion more in education stabilization funds.


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