COVID-19: A Look at the CARES Act Education Proposal

Updated: May 19, 2020

Published by NCLD.

After passing a bill earlier this week and taking preliminary steps to help our nation amidst the coronavirus crisis, Congress is hard at work on a third package. This time, it includes changes to federal education laws that have NCLD and our fellow advocates very concerned. And it falls far short of the provisions the disability community needs and deserves during this pandemic.

The bill released by Senator McConnell on Thursday evening — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — drastically expands the Secretary of Education’s authority to allow states to ignore civil rights provided under federal education laws, including

  • the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA);

  • the Higher Education Act; and 

  • the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. 

Though the CARES Act does not include a waiver of requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it does direct the Secretary to provide Congress (within 30 days) with a list of the waivers that will be needed for states to implement IDEA. These waivers would free local educational agencies (LEAs) from their legal obligations, such as completing evaluations for students with disabilities, designing and implementing individualized education plans (IEPs), and providing equal educational access to students with disabilities. While it falls short of issuing these blanket waivers right now, in 30 days it will effectively open the door to dangerous and damaging changes to the most important federal protections for students with disabilities.