President Joe Biden has hit the ground running with several executive actions to help public education, school employees, and all Americans hurting economically from the pandemic.
- In the coming weeks, FEMA, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Education and CDC, will work with states and local governments to utilize disaster relief funds to address barriers to school reopening, including purchase of masks and sanitizing products, as well as necessary emergency changes to school ventilation.
- The U.S. Department of Education approved an extension on freezing student loan payments. The freeze, which started last March, expired without congressional action in debates over the stimulus package passed in December. Borrowers would have had to start paying again this month without the extension, which will run through September. Biden is also supporting congressional action to cancel some level of student debt, at least $10,000 per borrower. It remains to be seen just how far Congress will go in canceling debt.
- Biden directed federal officials to do everything in their power to protect the status of Dreamers, those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. His Presidential Memorandum also calls on Congress to “enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for people who came to this country as children and have lived, worked, and contributed to our country for many years.” Many DACA recipients are members of our union, serving as teachers and school employees on our campuses.
- Biden directed federal officials to extend moratoriums on evictions and mortgage foreclosure until at least March 31.
Biden has pledged to reopen all schools within the first 100 days in office by directing more federal aid to states and school districts, while also counting on the wide-scale vaccinations of school employees and more school-based rapid testing. Texas AFT stands by its position that the judgment of local health authorities and the actual safety of individual school employees and students should be the primary consideration for opening a particular school or district. However, it is clear that Biden is making federal support for clear, science-based guidelines—along with more federal aid—his top priority. Texas AFT is hopeful that significant progress will be made in getting more students and teachers back on campus safely.