August 6, 2020 | Lynn Schear
The last couple months have been bizarre, to say the least. As our educators, students, and parents continue to wade through the murky waters of COVID-19 school plans, my team at MCH and I have been diligently monitoring the situation. One major factor that has impacted our education landscape the most is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March. A number of significant developments have occurred in both the K-12 Community and MCH since then and I hope I can help clarify some of the questions I’m sure you have.
On April 23, Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the release of $13.2 billion in funding, part of the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER). These funds were approved for immediate needs, “such as tools and resources for distance education, ensuring students health and safety, and developing and implementing plans for the next school year.” The ESSER funds are available through September 30, 2022, and states are required to provide documentation on how the money is used.
Initially, it was unclear how districts were to distribute the ESSER funds. Secretary DeVos’s original guidance stated that all students, including private school students, within district boundaries should be covered. This guidance, however, is a significant deviation from normal practice under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in that only at-risk and disadvantaged students at private schools are typically included in the formula. Public school leaders voiced concern that thousands, if not millions, of dollars would be distributed to private schools that would normally be allocated to public schools. After several months of deliberation, clear guidance was finally issued.
The final recommendation posted on the USDE website states that "if a local education agency (LEA) chooses to use CARES Act funding for students in all its public schools, it still must calculate the funds for equitable services based on students enrolled in private schools in the district. However, if an LEA chooses to use CARES Act funding only for students in its Title I schools, it has two options:
Additionally, in a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Education on June 25, Secretary DeVos stated, "The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers, and families impacted by coronavirus... In this new rule, we recognized that CARES Act programs are not Title I programs. There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions."
What this Means for You
The uses of ESSER dollars are incredibly flexible. In response to COVID-19, schools can use this funding to finance any solution - from a distance or on campus - that aids in any of the following:
Businesses that offer products or services to the education industry likely fall within those parameters. ESSER funding could cover the costs of remote learning technologies, building and bus disinfections, hazard pay, telehealth, supplemental learning opportunities, and training consultants, just to name a few.
What Could Be Next
According to the recent national market research study, K-12 Education and the Coronavirus Pandemic, conducted by MCH and Interactive Educational Systems Designs, Inc. (IESD), 81.6% of schools and districts had to send printed learning materials to families who did not have internet access. This was their solution to addressing online access inequity. Only 3.7% of respondents reported unequal online access was not an issue in their school or district.
In response to the number of students/schools unable to participate in an equitable distance learning program, the Emergency Educational Connections Act was introduced by lawmakers on April 21. The $2 billion bill was introduced to expand the federal E-Rate program allowing schools and libraries the ability to expand digital access for their students through technology purchases like devices with internet capability, hotspots, routers and modems. The senate introduced a similar bill on May 12, supported by The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), that would provide $4 billion.
Due to the significant cuts being made at the state level as a result of COVID-19 impacts on the economy, other proposals have been cropping up to help make up the difference of the economic shortfall. Amounts range from $70 billion to more than $300 billion. With cuts expected up to 25% in the next year, it appears something will be done, but details are forthcoming.
What MCH is Monitoring
As a part of our commitment to staying on top of the ongoing changes in the education landscape, MCH is tracking and trending various events. For instance, we've added new attributes to our database from 44 states and the District of Columbia to track the amount of money distributed to each school district from the state from the CARES Act as well as Title I, Part A.
In addition, MCH is surveying every school district across the country to track reopening dates, learning models, sports participation, technology investments and more. This data is free for use and is being updated on a continuous basis. You can access it by clicking here https://www.mchdata.com/covid19/schoolclosings.
There are still many questions to be answered and my team at MCH and I are working to find them. In the meantime, feel free to email me to share any insight you may have or pose any topics you are interested in hearing about.
We're in this together. MCH is here to help.
Stay healthy and safe,
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