Every day, we see more districts announce they will begin the school year in a fully online environment. On July 15, both Houston and San Francisco school districts announced this will be part of their plans for the upcoming fall. As more districts pursue this route, it is critical to develop a strategy that allows for the most effective use of funds.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides several streams for districts to consider as they are looking to fund distance learning opportunities for students.
There are four specific funds in the CARES Act that speak directly to K-12 education:
- $13.5B for K-12 districts through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER)
- $3B for the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Fund)
- $180M for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant
- $425M for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Along with these funds, there are additional ways to help with going fully online in the fall. The CARES Act has several places where broadband opportunities are available for districts to partner with states and localities on resources necessary to ensure access and equity for students. For example, the Institute for Library and Museum Services received $50M dollars in funding for expanding digital network access, purchasing internet accessible devices, and providing technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts and related technical support. This is only one example where districts could take advantage of funds that are not found in the education stabilization funds.
A recent survey from the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators and Whiteboard Advisors shows that superintendents from 195 districts are focusing their CARES Act funding on hardware, software, and social and emotional learning (SEL). It is critical to understand that there are many new federal opportunities for partnerships between districts and local governments.
Not only are there funds in the CARES Act to consider, but there are several federal programs already in place to assist districts and families for distance learning. Districts can take advantage of the E-Rate program to help ensure students are connected, and families can take advantage of the Lifeline program to connect at home. The Lifeline program was modernized in 2012 to include access to broadband for low-income families.
District leaders across the nation are hard at work on advocacy efforts to bring more federal dollars to education. So far, most districts have focused their funds on getting online learning opportunities up and running. Of course, there is more to distance learning than being connected; however, it’s the first step in addressing the digital divide and ensuring access for students. If the trajectory of online or hybrid learning environments continues for the fall (which is likely), then districts will need to consider other needs for high-quality learning environments. “Crisis schooling” is no longer an option—this is the time to create the plan for how to engage with students and help them with their general well-being after months of quarantine.
Want to learn more about how you can effectively use these funding streams? Click the button below to register for our Back to School 2020: Maximizing District Budgets to Support Student Safety and Distance Learning webinar on Thursday, August 20 at 3:00 PM ET. I'll be joined by a panel of education leaders to discuss strategies for leveraging federal funds to support distance learning, hybrid models, and in-school learning.