Current Issues in Public Policy
Hurricane and Wildfire Disaster Assistance for Schools and Students
The U.S. Department of Education has finally begun the process of providing assistance to schools and students impact the hurricanes and wildfires that impacted parts of the United States and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands this past summer. States and territories impacted by the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are eligible for rebuild funding, retroactively.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-123; February 9, 2018) provided funding for three programs to aid education:
- Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart)
- Temporary Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students
- Assistance for Homeless Children and Youth (Private school students are not eligible for this program.)
Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (Restart): Funds will be used to assist school administrators and personnel in restarting school operations, re-opening schools, and re-enrolling students. Private (non-public) schools are to be equitably included.
- The Restart legislation defines a non-public school as a non-public elementary or secondary school that is accredited or licensed or otherwise operates in accordance with State law, and that was in existence one week prior to the date the major disaster or emergency was declared for the area.
- The legislation requires that the services or assistance for non-public school students be provided in a timely manner. SEAs must work closely and promptly with representatives of non-public schools to ensure that this occurs.
- However, a SEA may not subgrant Restart funds to a non-public school. When an SEA provides services or assistance under this program to non-public schools, the control of funds for these services or assistance must be maintained by a public agency. This agency could be the SEA itself, an LEA, or another appropriate public agency. (See Section F, “Serving Non-Public Schools under the Restart Program” in the guidance document for additional information.)
- Restart funds may be used for the following activities:
- Recovery of student and personnel data, and other electronic information;
- Replacement of school district information systems, including hardware and software;
- Financial operations;
- Reasonable transportation costs;
- Rental of mobile educational units and leasing of neutral sites or spaces;
- Initial replacement of instructional materials and equipment, including textbooks;
- Redeveloping instructional plans, including curriculum development;
- Initiating and maintaining education and support services;
- Other activities related to the purposes of the program subject to approval by ED;
- The legislation expressly prohibits the use of Restart funds for construction or major renovation of schools. If necessary and reasonable, these funds may be used for minor remodeling and repair.
What information must an eligible SEA include in its initial application in order to receive a Restart allocation? In the initial application for Restart program funds, eligible SEAs will provide (1) data on the number of public and non-public schools closed as a result of a covered disaster or emergency, and the number of students enrolled during the 2016-17 school year in those schools; (2) a preliminary Restart plan that provides a brief description of how the State will use the funds to provide services or assistance to eligible LEAs and non-public schools and ensure accountability for the use of funds.
Schools located in the designated areas should have been contacted by the SEA or LEA regarding their participation. If you are eligible and have not been contacted, call your SEA immediately.
Temporary Emergency Impact Aid for Displaced Students: This program will provide payments to eligible LEAs to assist with the cost of educating students who were displaced by a covered disaster or emergency during the 2017-18 school year and who were enrolled in public schools, including charter schools, and non-public schools. Aid received under this program will provide tuition assistance for displaced students who enrolled in a different school due to the disasters.
Criteria for determining eligible non-public school displaced students under this act:
- Student resided in impacted area a week prior to disaster;
- Student was enrolled in different elementary and secondary school from original school in 2017-2018 school year due to disaster impact;
- Student attends an eligible not-for-profit school;
- School is accredited or operates in accordance with law;
- School was in operation on day of event;
- Includes one family that has applied for assistance under the program;
- Displaced non-public school students must have enrolled in a non-public school prior to Feb. 9, 2018;
- Parents must submit application to LEA (or SEA if it is so designated);
- Parents/guardians have to provide evidence children meet definitions of displaced; submit required data and documentation to LEA or SEA as directed.
Funding: Maximum aggregate aid per student (Students may be counted in only one of the following categories):
- $8,500 for those not disabled or English Learners;
- $9,000 for students who are English Learners;
- $10,000 for those with a diagnosed disability;
- Non-public school student aid: Whatever the lesser amount of that listed above or published school tuition.
Funds can be used, retroactively, only for 2017-2018 school year expenses.
The deadline for submission of State applications for these programs is May 25, 2018. If you have now, or had in the past few months, students who were displaced by the disasters, contact your LEA immediately to have your eligible students counted – even if they are no longer with you but you can prove they were in your school on specific dates.
The U.S. Department issued a Dear Colleague Letter and published a Notice Announcing Availability of Funds and Application Deadlines for these programs in the Federal Register on April 25, 2018.
They have provided a sample application that the LEA must send to the SEA that details they necessary the data points required.
School principals must complete and submit a Non-Public School Certification form for your LEA.
Principals should attempt to locate displaced families who would generate this tuition reimbursement. The parents/guardians of displaced students have to complete an application as well.
NB: States may use their own forms to collect similar information so be sure to check with LEA about the proper forms.
For further Information, refer to the Department of Education’s Hurricane Help website which has links to all K-12 program applications and sample forms. You may also email ONPE.
The Office of Non Public Education (ONPE) will be releasing FAQs pertaining to private school participation. They will be published on the NCEA website as soon as they become available.
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (new tax reform bill)
There are several education provisions in the new tax law that may benefit Catholic school students and teachers. The first three items were targeted for elimination but were preserved thanks to some advocacy and support from thousands of members of the Catholic and private school communities who contacted their senators and representatives.
- Free or reduced tuition for children of Catholic school employees will remain tax-free.
- Educational assistance of up to $5,250 annually (tuition, professional development, etc.) for school employees will remain tax-free.
- Teacher tax deduction: A $250 deduction for expenses incurred by elementary and secondary school teachers for professional development or instructional materials they purchase for their classroom is continued. The attempts to increase that to $500 were not successful.
- Expansion of 529 Accounts. In the past, funds invested in 529 savings accounts could only be used for college expenses. Under the new bill, up to $10,000 can be distributed annually to pay for the cost of sending a child to a "public, private or religious elementary or secondary school as well as for college expenses and earning on gains are not federally taxed.
The 529 expansion is a significant step in the ongoing quest for financially supported school choice. This will benefit many families who can contribute funds into accounts for their children where the gains may be withdrawn tax-free. In many states, the principal contributed to the plan is deductible for state income taxes but state laws on this point vary widely. Also, the availability of an account with tax advantages for contributors in certain states may incentivize assistance from friends or family who may not have otherwise assisted.
Catholic schools should work with their all of their families to alert them to this new provision of the 529 program. For those families, immediate and extended, who can contribute to a 529 account it is important to follow implementation guidance from the IRS as well as consultation with an accountant or financial adviser to determine if a 529 account is appropriate.
However, most families of modest or low income may not be able to take advantage of such a program and will need assistance such as tax-credit scholarship programs, vouchers, education savings accounts and other choice programs to enable them to exercise their right to select the best school for their children. The private school community will continue to advocate for the $20 billion tax credit program that was part of President Trump’s campaign promises.
The White House has released guidance documents for developing high-quality emergency operations plans for schools, institutions of higher education and houses of worship. These guides have been jointly produced by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Education and Health & Human Services on this critical topic.
These emergency planning guides are customized to each type of community and can be used to revise or create new plans and align them with emergency planning practices at the national, state, and local levels.
Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans
In addition, the FEMA Emergency Management Institute is offering a free independent study program online: Preparing for Mass Casualty Incidents - A Guide for Schools, Higher Education and Houses of Worship.
IDEA and 504
IDEA is a federal education law that provides services to some students in private schools, depending upon the funding available.
504 is a civil rights law that indicated the nature of a person's disability and the accommodations required. Private schools, even if they participate in the federal nutrition programs, are not required to write 504 plans — that is the responsibility of the local public school district.
The Catholic school accommodations plan is sufficient. See this article pertaining to 504 plans.