April 16, 2020 | Lynn Schear
Breaking down the CARES Act and what it means for you
The last several weeks have been scary, sad and surreal, and the students, parents and schools we all serve have been profoundly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The ongoing changes in the education landscape are rapid, and I’m trying hard to keep up with them to share what I can with you.
Some of you may have reviewed the changes in play at the federal level and are awaiting the implementation at the state level to better understand the impact on the 2020-21 school year. Others may benefit from my quick review of what is the CARES Act, as well as some thoughts on marketing and sales in the current environment. I hope this is helpful!
The CARES Act
On March 27, 2020 the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), providing substantial relief to children and educators who have been profoundly affected by the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Details on how this act will be implemented are changing daily.
On Tuesday, April 14, per the ed.gov website: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that nearly $3 billion will quickly be made available to governors to ensure education continues for students of all ages impacted by the coronavirus national emergency. The Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is an extraordinarily flexible "emergency block grant" designed to enable governors to decide how best to meet the needs of students, schools (including charter schools and non-public schools), postsecondary institutions, and other education-related organizations.
Although additional detail like this shows forward momentum, flexibility and potential changes in the overall funding process, here is a summary of the CARES Act:
- Relief to districts includes funding for COVID-19 response efforts, afterschool and summer learning programs, nutrition and mental health.
- Though not specifically earmarked for it, internet and remote learning services can be supported using funds from the CARES Act, including purchasing technology.
- Secretary of Education DeVos can also create additional relief for districts from requirements in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)for achievement, reporting and spending requirements under Title I, including waivers of testing requirements in reading, math and science.
- Schools can apply their remaining Title I funds to the following school year and can carry over more than the allotted 15% maximum. This also applies to Title II, Title III Part A, Title IV Parts A & B and Title V through 2021. This is important as we know the buying cycle has been disrupted this year and many of you are trying to figure out when buying commitments will be made.
- Within a 30-day period, DeVos needs to submit recommendations to Congress about Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), the Rehabilitation Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act), and further relief from the mandates of the ESSA. We should expect more legislation and clarity in late April when Congress reconvenes.
Want even more detail?
Read on for specific ways funds can be applied….
- The CARES Education Stabilization Fund earmarks $13.5 billion in emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary education, and an additional $14.5 billion for higher ed. $3 billion of these funds are set aside for governors (and referred to as the GEER Fund) to disperse to districts that State Education Agencies (SEA) identify as most needy as a result of COVID-19. Here are the GEER Fund allocations by state.
- An important provision in the Stabilization Fund stipulates (to the greatest extent possible) a commitment for any district receiving funds to continue to pay employees and contractors during periods of disruption in order to remain eligible.
- Local Education Agencies (LEA) can use the funds they receive for:
- any activity authorized by ESEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the McKinney Vento Homeless Youth Act and the Perkins Act;
- providing resources for individual school needs including online learning
- buying education technology including 1:1 devices and internet services
- mental health needs
- summer learning and afterschool programs
- support to students experiencing low-income, homelessness or foster care; with disabilities; English language learners; racial and ethnic minorities.
- meal services
- improving preparation and response to the virus pandemic including training, sanitation services and supplies
- planning for long-term closure, operational and continuity services
- continuing to employ existing staff
- working with partners in the community to address needs
- an additional $100 million is included in the CARES Act for safe schools and citizenship through Project SERV to LEAs, covering counseling and referrals for mental health services, available through September 30, 2021.
- Maintaining Educational Support: each state is eligible for funds contingent on the maintenance of educational support. That means, states who apply for these funds must maintain financial support to K12 schools in 2020 and 2021 at the average level provided during the three preceding years. The catch: the Secretary of Education may waive this requirement for states that have a significant decline in resources. Given the levels of unemployment we are currently experiencing in the US, the decline in state revenues can be expected, which leaves us in an uncertain funding situation overall.
What's Happening Now
A recent EdWeek Market Brief survey indicated that districts are still sorting out their spending plans and decisioning process now and for the fall. Although it appears federal Title I and other CARES funds will carry into next year, MCH is working to uncover how decisions are being made now for next year. We’re continuing to gather information to help you shape your marketing and will provide you updates in the coming weeks.
So…what to do in the meantime?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Communicate. If you have established relationships with district and school educators, showing your support to those professionals should be your top priority. Keeping current customers satisfied and building on existing relationships with prospects is always best practice, and now more than ever. Value added content, support services, success stories in these trying times, and listening to challenges will all help reinforce relationships and define your path forward. You wouldn’t be supporting education services if you didn’t care, so now is the time to show it.
- Email or no email? We know from years of deploying campaigns for our clients that educators read email on their school accounts throughout the summer, weekends, and vacations. Although the current crisis may have left a lot of messages unread for several weeks, your relevant messages of support and assistance may be welcomed by your clients and prospects.
- Be relevant. If you send email, social content, or make phone contact, show your understanding and care in real ways. Take the extra steps to make sure support questions are resolved, all service needs are met, and additional resources are provided to make your services valuable. Recognize the current situation and position your services in that context.
- Create opportunities to listen. We are all experiencing isolation in some shape or form. Educators are being asked to do extraordinary work from their homes and may want to connect. Ask for their feedback and listen to their needs. You might have a unique opportunity to capture feedback that is harder to obtain in a typical school day. And it might spark new ways you can provide services that are remote, digital, or solve problems you didn’t know about before.
- Prospecting & testing. As things have settled down, decision makers and influencers may have more time to review potential solutions for the fall. Test some messages in email or ads within the context of the current situation. Ask if they would be interested in learning more. You may find that something you are offering meets a planned or current need, despite the challenges of this pandemic. Testing is and has always been at the heart of prospect marketing, so now may be a good time to try a new, relevant, contextual messaging strategy.
More Answers Needed
We know the big question for all of us is when commitments will be made. Some of you may have insight about that from your customers and others want to know more about prospects. We’re working on it. In the meantime, here’s my opinion:
- More money is flowing to states and schools thanks to the CARES Act. That is a good thing for 2020-21, for students and for schools.
- Since waivers were granted for schools to carry over more money from this year AND they were given flexibility in how they spend, I think districts will be more focused on spending once they finalize plans for completing this year and gain clarity on when they will start a new school year.
- Given the current uncertainty of when schools will reconvene – and how –think about your businesses in that context and focus your content and outreach on showing flexibility, ease of doing business with you, free and value-added content, and your ability to deliver in a changing world.
- We can assume more district budgets will be focused on innovative ways to deliver learning services, be that online, delivered to the home, or self-paced. If social-distancing is part of the back-to-school plan, how will your products and services fit that model? For digital and technology companies, that makes now a good time to be building relationships and sharing the value of your services. For others, think about building the relationships with your top prospects to lay a foundation for sales when the time is right by creating value in new ways.
- Some districts may be spending now to create better access to learning in the fall, while others may hang on to their federal and state funds until they have a better handle on revenue for next school year.
We’re in this together, and know we are here to help at MCH. Shoot me an email to share what else you are interested in hearing about.
Be safe and well,