With Democrats Divided, Advocates Push To Save Key Education Priorities In Biden’s “Build Better” Plan

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Update

The House will resume consideration of the $ 1.2 infrastructure bill on Friday morning after Thursday night slips away without a vote.

Negotiations that would secure moderate Democrat support for President Joe Biden’s separate social spending bill – the deal progressives are waiting for to vote for the infrastructure package – are continuing.

“Much progress has been made this week, and we are closer than ever to a deal,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “But we’re not there yet, so we’ll need a little more time to finish the job, starting early tomorrow morning.”

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Meanwhile, Biden signed a continuing resolution Thursday night, avoiding a government shutdown and giving the Senate until Dec. 3 to work on the fiscal year 2022 budget. The president’s proposed budget includes significant increases for the government. title I, special education and community schools.

“There is so much more to do,” the president said in a statement. “But passing this bill reminds us that bipartisan work is possible and it gives us time to spend longer term funding to keep our government running and serving the American people.”

Democrats, however, wanted to include language that would raise the debt ceiling, which the government will reach on October 18. Republicans voted against this plan.

WWith Congress tackling overlapping budget issues this week, advocates are primarily focused on saving President Joe Biden’s bold agenda for schools and families.

The proposed $ 3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan, which Biden says would reduce costs that “crush families month after month and year after year,” includes significant increases for early childhood education , preparation of teachers and principals, construction of schools and the community college. . But Democrats don’t have enough support to pass it, even though they use a process known as reconciliation, which doesn’t require a single Republican vote.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who along with fellow Democrat Krysten Sinema of Arizona opposes such sweeping legislation, made it clear in a statement Wednesday night that he could not be convinced otherwise.

“From the outset of this debate on reconciliation, I have been convinced that any expansion of social programs must target those in need, and not beyond what is fiscally feasible,” Manchin wrote. “While I have hope that common ground can be found that translates into another historic investment in our country, I cannot – and I do not want to – support trillions of spending or an all-or-nothing approach that ignores the brutal fiscal reality facing our country. “

The debate over the president’s agenda revealed strong divisions among Democrats, as Republicans united against the compromise proposals. The disagreement among Democrats is most evident over the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed over whether to vote on Thursday. Moderates called for a vote on funding for roads, bridges and broadband, while progressives said they would not support the infrastructure bill unless they got a vote on it first. broader reconciliation bill.

Adding to the tension, Congress will try to avoid a government shutdown on Thursday by passing a continuing resolution that keeps government open beyond fiscal year-end. Democrats must also meet the October 18 deadline to prevent the United States from defaulting on its loans.

The House on Wednesday passed party-favored legislation to increase the government’s debt limit by $ 28 trillion – the total amount the government can borrow to cover its obligations. But the bill is not expected to pass in the Senate. A default can lead to another recession, hamper economic growth and make it much more difficult to cover the costs of the reconciliation bill if it is passed.

Democrats argue that the Trump administration was partly responsible for the spending increase, so Republicans should take some responsibility for raising the limit. But Republicans have said that as long as Democrats control Congress and the White House, they can add it to their reconciliation bill.

The current stalemate has some wondering if the bill will survive.

“You have to understand that there is now a very small but real chance that the bill will stall,” Rick Hess, senior researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said of the proposed $ 3.5 trillion package.

The drop in the total price, perhaps as low as $ 1.5 trillion, could “trigger brutal intramural battles between [Democrats]”Hess said,” and “would certainly offer a stress test of various Democratic priorities.”

Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for modernization of schools, is among those pushing to keep their priorities in the final package. She met with Senate staff about the $ 82 billion planned to build and repair schools.

“They seem pretty low-key, like they don’t really know what’s going on,” she said, adding that they “support the problem, but it doesn’t seem like a must.”

The reduction in funding for school construction, she said, could impact another key priority in the package – the universal preschool. While Biden’s $ 200 billion plan would put some classrooms in community centers, schools are also expected to accommodate more pre-K students.

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“May still be effective”

Some observers have suggested that it is possible to negotiate amounts versus expensive arrangements, such as pre-kindergarten, childcare, and free community college.

“All of these could still be effective even if the top numbers drop,” said Julia Martin, legislative director of Brustein and Manasevit, an education law firm.

But Shantel Meek, a professor at Arizona State University and director of the Children’s Equity Project, said she hoped lawmakers wouldn’t reduce the preschool proposal by “pitting access and quality against each other.” In order to [universal pre-K] to keep the promise that we know it can, we need quality access – that means supporting the whole child, the whole family.

Others fear that some of the smaller provisions will be removed from the package, such as the $ 4 billion to maintain the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which bridges the digital divide for students who learn at home.

“We want to make sure that the connectivity [and] the devices provided… are not able to turn off and disconnect students, ”said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for advocacy and governance at AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Originally part of the American Rescue Plan, the $ 7 billion program allows school districts to purchase devices for students and cover the cost of home Internet service. According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than $ 1.2 billion in funds have so far been awarded to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 organizations that include both. A second application window runs until October 13.

Even though all education-related proposals remain in the package, Martin warned that one way negotiators could lower the final figure is to increase states’ share of costs. The pre-K proposal, for example, currently calls on the federal government to cover 100% of the cost of services to all 3- and 4-year-olds during the first two years, with states contributing increasing percentages of the cost to the child. over time. .

“My concern would be if state matches were to increase,” said Martin. “I think this would result in a patchwork implementation at best and could make it more difficult for states to access funds.”

Linda Smith, director of the Early Childhood Development Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Institute, said another option would be to limit the number of years covered by legislation or limit the program to children with greater needs. . But she said it would be difficult to do after the president promised it would be universal.

Nonetheless, she hopes the early childhood proposals will remain a centerpiece of the final plan.

“It always gets a little crazy when sausage making takes a big leap forward,” she said. “I still think something will come out of it. “

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