What The Build Back Better Act Will Mean for Education

build back better act
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One of the biggest priorities for the Biden administration is the Build Back Better Act, and committees have been busy working on the specifics they would like to see for their causes. 

The House Education and Labor Committee released their desires out of the bill which include:

- Investing roughly $450 billion in lowering the cost of child care and securing universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds.

- Investing $111 billion to lower the cost of higher education. This aims to:

  • Provide two years of tuition-free community college
  • Lower the cost of higher ed by increasing the value of the Pell Grants—the cornerstone of student financial aid  
  • Invest in grant programs to help train new teachers and address the growing teacher shortage 
  • Make a quality degree more affordable through targeted investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions 

 - Investing $82 billion in America’s public school infrastructure. This aims to: 

  • Allow school districts to repair, modernize, and rebuild crumbling and outdated school buildings 
  • Fund targeted to schools with the greatest need 
  • Create more than 1 million good-paying jobs in communities across the country 

- Investing nearly $35 billion in proven child nutrition programs that will bolster the fight against child hunger. This aims to: 

  • Allow nearly 9 million more children to receive free school meals by expanding eligibility and eliminating paperwork 
  • Help more children get healthy nutrition over the summer for children by creating a nationwide program to provide Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (Summer EBT) benefits to eligible low-income children 
  • Provide funding to increase access to healthier foods by updating school kitchen equipment and investing in other health-focused nutrition programs 

Beyond the Ed & Labor budget, the House Energy & Commerce Committee has also written in $4 billion dollars for the Federal Communications Commission Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is focused on connecting student’s homes and libraries. 

What Impact Will It Have on Education? 

Should this bill become law in its current state, educators will see a boost to digital and online learning that has already grown dramatically during the pandemic. 

“If enacted, the Build Back Better Act's education provisions will provide desperately needed school construction assistance to low-wealth communities,” says Reg Leichty, Founding Partner, Foresight Law + Policy. “Paired with the Act's separate broadband access and affordability funding, this investment provides a strong foundation for improved access to digital learning."

These provisions are showing once again how the pandemic has blurred the lines for when and where learning can happen. It could end up being one of the biggest silver linings of the past 18 months.

Will The Build Back Better Act Become Law? 

Probably not in the current form. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has stated that the price tag would have to come down to somewhere between $1-$1.5 trillion and the Senate needs every Democrat to vote for the bill for passage. 

"Securing passage of the Build Back Better Act, however, will require the support of moderate Senate Democrats,” Leichty says. “Digital learning advocates should point these senators to the Act's focus on closing broadband access gaps in rural areas." It’s also challenging for districts to plan uses of other stimulus funds while the potential funds in the Build Back Better Act seem to be an always moving target.

It’s still uncertain where cuts would come from to bring the price tag down to one that moderate Democrats are more comfortable with, but it needs to happen quickly and efficiently to meet a proposed deadline of September 27 set by House leadership.

Susan Gentz

Susan comes from a strong policy background as a former staffer in the United States Senate and Legislative Aide in the Iowa House of Representatives. 

Along with experience at both federal and state levels, she served as the Deputy Executive Director for the Center for Digital Education, worked for a government relations firm in Arlington, VA and heavily worked on federal and state education policy at iNACOL, where she wrote published reports to move the field forward with innovative learning models, best practices, and policy recommendations.