Just as the education world is deciphering the last round of stimulus funds, President Joe Biden announced $130 billion for education relief once he enters office. In his address to the nation, he stated that, “We’ll also do everything we can to keep our educators and students safe, to safely reopen the majority of our K through eight schools by the end of the first 100 days. We can do this if we give the school districts, the schools themselves, the communities, the states, the clear guidance they need as well as the resources they need, that they can’t afford right now because of the economic dilemma they’re in.That means more testing and transportation, additional cleaning and sanitizing services in those schools, protective equipment, and ventilation systems in those schools.”
The $130 billion is part of a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which specifically addresses the following needs:
- Reduce class sizes and modify spaces so students and teachers can socially distance
- Improve ventilation
- Hire more janitors and implement mitigation measures
- Provide personal protective equipment
- Ensure every school has access to a nurse and increase transportation capacity to facilitate social distancing on the bus
- Hire counselors to support students as they transition back to the classroom
- Close the digital divide that is exacerbating inequities during the pandemic
- Provide summer school or other support for students that will help make up lost learning time this year
- Create and expand community schools
- Cover other costs needed to support safely reopening and support students
These funds will also include provisions to ensure states adequately fund education and protect students in low-income communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.
The plan requires that districts must ensure funds are used to not only reopen schools, but also to meet students’ academic, mental health, and social and emotional needs in response to COVID-19 (e.g., through extended learning time, tutoring, and counselors), wherever they are learning.
Funding can be used to prevent cuts to state pre-K programs. A portion of funding will be reserved for a COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant, which will support state, local, and tribal governments in partnering with teachers, parents, and other stakeholders to advance equity- and evidence-based policies to respond to educational challenges related to COVID-19 and give all students the support they need to succeed.
In addition to this funding, schools will be able to access FEMA Disaster Relief Fund resources to get reimbursed for certain COVID-19 expenses and will receive support to implement regular testing protocols. The president’s plan “invests $50 billion in a massive expansion of testing, providing funds for the purchase of rapid tests, investments to expand lab capacity, and support to help schools and local governments implement regular testing protocols. Expanded testing will ensure that schools can implement regular testing to support safe reopening.”
Education advocates are praising this proposal, but it is far from becoming what his final package will look like. There is also no specific mention for E-rate funds, which is another area where education advocates will be looking to add funding for students and districts. Even if the package does get passed, opening schools in the first 100 days will still be sometime in April, when many schools are close to being finished for the year.
The last round of stimulus funds took a lot of time and negotiation, but Biden has a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Senate. This will be the first true test for the Biden administration. Can he unite the members? We’ll have to wait and see.