As the dust from the election continues to settle, many in Congress have begun to turn their attention back to addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on schools. There is renewed hope for a new COVID-19 relief package following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) recent call for legislation to be passed before the new year. While a relief package is still necessary and would help address some of the more immediate needs of schools as they navigate what are sure to be difficult winter months, policymakers are also working on legislation aimed at addressing educator job loss due to budget cuts, health concerns, and other problems stemming from the pandemic.
The pandemic has been strenuous for all involved and has severely impacted districts’ abilities to retain educators in schools. Analysis from the National Education Association in early June found that nearly 2 million education jobs could be lost due to looming budget cuts caused by the pandemic. While budget cuts are one of the main reasons job losses are being seen across the educator spectrum, many teachers and principals are considering leaving their professions due to concerns over their mental and physical health. A survey of NASSP members in late August found that 45 percent of principals reported that pandemic working conditions are accelerating their plans to leave their schools.
Obviously, these trends are very concerning and have caught the eye of several legislators who are determined to curb educator loss from the pandemic. On the House side, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) have introduced the Save Education Jobs Act (H.R. 8691). This bill would establish an Education Jobs Fund to stabilize the education workforce, delivering up to $261 billion to states and school districts over 10 years. Ninety percent of the funding from this bill would go toward saving the jobs of teachers, school leaders, school psychologists, social workers, nurses, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, librarians, and more from inevitable budget cuts because of the COVID-19 crisis. The remaining 10 percent of the funding could be used for professional development, support for educators, and mental health services—preventing further erosion of the workforce.
On the Senate side, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) recently introduced the Educator Jobs Fund Act of 2020. This bill would create its own Educator Job Fund wherein states could apply for additional funds from the federal government to help maintain staffing levels and create more jobs in education, including principal jobs. Originally, the bill focused mainly on teacher positions, but NASSP advocacy staff was able to work with Sen. Booker’s office to ensure the inclusion of principal positions in this bill as well. The bill also puts in place important equity provisions to support high-poverty local education agencies and prioritize staffing stability in those areas, as they will most likely be the hardest hit by the pandemic. Lastly, the bill also provides funds to help build teacher and principal pipelines by providing funds for teacher and school leader preparation programs.
While both bills face an uphill climb to passage in the current Congress, they serve as important markers of increased federal support to address educators’ needs in light of the pandemic. NASSP will continue working with policymakers on Capitol Hill to amplify the needs of principals and their schools to help provide much-needed assistance and relief during the pandemic and beyond.
Zach Scott is the senior manager of federal engagement and outreach at NASSP.