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Written by Susan Gentz
on March 25, 2021

President Biden completed his first major promise in office: getting Congress to pass the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, known as the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). Along with several initiatives to help struggling individuals from the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill provides the single largest flux of federal funds to education in history.

$122 billion will be distributed down to the state education agencies (SEAs), and then again to the local education agencies (LEAs). The first two rounds of stimulus funds required very few spending requirements or funding rules for the states. That has changed for the third round of funds.

What’s in the Bill?
At least 20% of funds must be used to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. The remaining funds can be used for any allowable use under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act; and Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.

Other uses include:

  • Mental health services
  • Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity as well as assistive technology or adaptive equipment) 
  • Addressing learning loss
  • School facility repairs to reduce risk of coronavirus transmission and support student health 
  • Summer learning and supplemental after-school programs 
  • Conducting activities to address the needs of students from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and youth in foster care 
  • Coordinating with public health departments 
  • Implementing public health protocols, including policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for school-reopening 
  • Implementing activities to maintain the operation and continuity of services and to employ existing staff 

The Alliance for Excellent Education has a helpful fact sheet here.

Not only are there requirements for how LEAs must spend their funds, but also SEAs. The ARPA requires states to spend their 10% state set-aside for the following uses:

  • 5% to address learning loss 
  • 1% for evidence-based, comprehensive after school programs 
  • 1% for evidence-based summer enrichment 
  • 2.5% for educational technology 

Some of the new accountability provisions under ESSA include the term “evidence-based,” (from section 8101(21)(A) of the ESEA). When used with respect to a state, local educational agency, or school activity, evidence-based means an intervention that demonstrates a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes. The criteria for identifying “evidence-based” interventions based on each of ESSA’s four levels are as follows:

  • Strong evidence from at least one well-designed and well-implemented experimental study;
  • Moderate evidence from at least one well-designed and well-implemented quasi-experimental study; or
  • Promising evidence from at least one well-designed and well-implemented correlational study with statistical controls for selection bias; or
  • Demonstrates a rationale based on high-quality research findings or positive evaluation that such activity, strategy, or intervention is likely to improve student outcomes or other relevant outcomes; and includes ongoing efforts to examine the effects of such activity, strategy, or intervention.

ARPA Emphasizes the Importance of Student and Teacher Well-Being
The last significant conversation that Congress had around social and emotional well-being in schools came shortly after tragedy struck in Florida. Congress was debating funding levels for Title IV-A, which includes providing safe and healthy schools. COVID-19 has once again brought forth the care and concern of social-emotional needs, and requires that funds be used to address the crisis in mental health for students and teachers. These funds must be invested now, on the front end of the crisis to minimize long-term impacts for a generation of students.

Want to learn more about accessing ESSER II funds? Check out my How to Access Stimulus Funds in Your District webinar, hosted by Gaggle. Available on demand, this informative session offers my advice to help your district make the most of these education dollars.

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