- State education agencies can request spending extensions for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on their own behalf, as well as on the behalf of districts in their states, according to eagerly awaited guidance issued Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.
- State and district administrators had sought clarity on the Education Department's "late liquidation" policy issued in May, saying a streamlined approach was needed for the efficient and effective use of the one-time federal COVID-19 recovery money.
- While the new 2-page guidance addresses request and approval procedures for the $13.2 billion CARES allocation for K-12, state and district administrators are calling on the Education Department to also clarify spending deadlines under the $121.9 billion American Rescue Plan — the largest of the three federal pandemic recovery allocations.
The CARES Act obligation deadline is Sept. 30, and 96% of the funds have been spent as of this week, according to the Education Department's letter. Beyond today, states and districts have another 120 days to spend — or liquidate — those funds. On top of that, the Education Department is allowing another 14 months for spending, meaning the actual draw down of CARES dollars could stretch to March 2024.
To help streamline requests, individual state email addresses were created for submissions. Though requests should be made by Dec. 31, the department said it would still consider applications made after this date.
In its letter to state and district CARES grantees, the Education Department emphasized that if a state is making an extension request on behalf of districts, it has to ensure accountability of the expenses, maintain documentation regarding the expenditures' timely obligation, and continue its oversight of the proper use of funds.
James Lane, a senior advisor in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote in the letter that the liquidation extension process for states and districts under the CARES Act is "designed to provide flexibility for States and subgrantees to address critical, ongoing challenges in a manner that maximizes impact and supports schools in operating safely and addressing the impacts of the pandemic on students’ mental health, well-being, and academic needs."
State and local education administrator organizations said that while they are pleased the department addressed unspent CARES money, they are eager to know how it will handle extensions for spending under ARP, which has an obligation deadline of Sept. 30, 2024. Organizations are also seeking guidance for the $54.3 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which carries a Sept. 30, 2023 obligation deadline.
Staffing limitations, supply chain hurdles and other challenges are creating the need for more spending flexibility, the organizations said.
"We strongly encourage the department to release timely guidance that provides states and local school districts the same flexibility to spend down funds from the two subsequent federal relief packages, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act and the American Rescue Plan (ARP),” said Carissa Moffat Miller, CEO of Council of Chief State School Officers, in a statement on Thursday.
AASA, The School Superintendents Association, referred in a statement to an Aug. 29 letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, signed by nearly 700 district leaders who wrote that ARP late liquidation guidance is "desperately needed."
"Without this guidance, the goal of ensuring expeditious and wise federal investments that will accelerate student learning and address longstanding educational inequities in our education system will be increasingly impossible," AASA said in a statement Thursday.
Collectively, the three federal K-12 COVID-19 emergency allocations designated for districts, known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, total $189.5 billion.