Education-Related Regulatory Flexibilities, Waivers, and Federal Assistance in Response to Disasters and National Emergencies


The 21stcentury has seen the operation of elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educational institutions and the education of the students they enroll disrupted by natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods, and by national emergencies, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001. This report is intended to inform Congress of existing statutory and regulatory provisions that may aid in responding to future disasters and national emergencies that may affect the provision of or access to education and highlight the actions of previous Congresses to provide additional recovery assistance.
This report reflects the most recently available guidance, as of the date of publication, related to education-related disaster response and flexibilities. It will be updated should new or additional statutes be enacted or guidance be issued.
The majority of federal aid for disaster management is made available from the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford DisasterRelief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act; P.L. 93-288). Under the Stafford Act, public school districts charter schools, private nonprofit educational institutions, public institutions of higher education (IHEs), and federally recognized Indian tribal governments are eligible to receive assistance for activities such as debris removal, infrastructure and equipment repair and replacement, hazard mitigation, and temporary facilities.
In addition to the assistance available through the Stafford Act, assistance is available through numerous provisions in education laws. At the elementary and secondary level, there are several existing provisions that may be helpful in providing assistance in response to a disaster. TheElementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) grants the Secretary of Education (theSecretary) authority to issue waivers of any statutory or regulatory requirement of the ESEA for a state educational agency (SEA), local educational agency (LEA), Indian tribe, or school that receives funds under an ESEA program and requests a waiver. In response to past disasters, waivers have been granted to address funding flexibility issues and accountability requirements.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants the Secretary authority to waive state maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements and requirements to supplement, not supplant, federal funds under certain circumstances. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical EducationAct grants the Secretary authority to waive certain accountability metrics and provides some flexibility with regard to MOE requirements. The Secretary is not, however, able to waive all statutory and regulatory requirements with respect to the acts. Under the ESEA, for example, the Secretary may not waive civil rights requirements or prohibitions against the use of funds for religious worship or instruction. Under IDEA, for example, the Secretary may not grant waivers from the right to a free appropriate public education.
At the postsecondary level, various provisions exist to ensure continuity of operations and continuity of federal funding following a disaster. Under the Higher Education Act (HEA), theSecretary of Education has authority to waive several of the requirements for aid recipients, IHEs,and financial institutions when a disaster has been declared. In particular, waivers have been provided from various requirements related to the disbursement, repayment, and administration of federal student aid. Under Title 38 of the U.S. Code, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)may extend payment of veterans educational assistance benefits to cover periods when enrollment is interrupted.

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