State waiver applications for relief from maintenance of effort fiscal requirements for COVID-19 stimulus funding will need to include details of a state’s fiscal burdens and how state revenues have impacted K-12 and higher education programs, according to guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education Monday.
The Education Department emphasized state spending for K-12 and higher education should be at proportional levels compared to annual funding from fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Waiver decisions will be rooted in the consideration of impacts to students, the guidance said.
The guidance comes as K-12 school systems determine how to effectively and appropriately spend a record amount in stimulus funding provided over the past year. The $200 billion in total emergency funding is equivalent to about $4,000 per pupil, according to Michael Griffith, senior researcher and policy analyst with the Learning Policy Institute.
Neither the legislation authorizing the stimulus funding — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act; the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act; and the American Rescue Plan Act — nor the Education Department’s MOE guidance specify how states should determine its support for K-12 education in relation to MOE requirements. But it does provide flexibility in quantifying the amount of that support, the guidance said.
For example, when calculating the legislation's fiscal support, states must include funds provided through its primary elementary and secondary funding formula but could also include figures from categorical and other fiscal supports, such as interest from endowments targeted for K-12 support.
“In receiving this unprecedented federal investment, states have a responsibility to ensure that they are maintaining their commitment to education funding,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in an emailed statement. Cardona also said the Education Department’s priority in reviewing MOE waiver requests will be to ensure federal pandemic relief and recovery funds are expanding resources for K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions and their students, and not replacing existing state commitments to K-12 and postsecondary education.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states also are required to maintain the amount of state financial support for special education and related services for children with disabilities. States, however, can apply for a one-year waiver due to “exceptional or uncontrollable circumstances,” such as a natural disaster or a “precipitous and unforeseen decline” in a state’s financial resources. Other uncontrolled circumstances, including a public health emergency, may also be considered, according to guidance issued in March from the Education Department's Office of Special Education Programs.
As districts and states decide how to spend education stimulus funds, administrators should follow the fiscal parameters for spending, such as deadlines for funding obligations and spending, as well as look for strategic ways to invest the funds, education experts advise. For example, a district might not be able to commit to providing pay raises for all school employees, but it might be able to provide signing or recruitment bonuses for educators and school staff, said Griffith during a Tuesday webinar on high-quality tutoring strategies hosted by the Learning Policy Institute and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
The Education Department is expected to issue guidance on the maintenance of equity provisions from the American Rescue Plan in the “near future.”