Twelve states have now received their portion of the Governors’ Emergency Education Relief Fund, a block grant created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that can be used for K-12 or higher education.
States have until June 1 to apply for the funds and have to use the money within a year.
The recipients, so far, include California, slated to receive $355 million — which is the largest slice of the almost $3 billion pie, but won’t make up much of what Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to cut from both the K-12 and higher education systems to plug a $54 billion state deficit.
Other states approved so far include New Jersey, with $68.8 million, Massachusetts and Louisiana — both with about $50 million — and Kentucky, with $43 million. And Pennsylvania, which is eligible for $104 million, is awaiting approval, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Few details, however, are emerging on how the states plan to allocate the funds, which are to be directed toward “needs related to COVID-19.”
“We won’t yet be commenting on the specifics here,” said a spokeswoman in New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy‘s office.
In South Carolina, which has received $48 million, officials are “coordinating efforts for use of these funds, and the governor and Superintendent [Molly] Spearman have compiled task forces to make recommendations,” said Ryan Brown, chief communications officer for the South Carolina Department of Education. “No decisions have been made as of yet.”
South Carolina lawmakers also plan to rewrite the 2020-21 budget, which likely will no longer include funding for teacher raises.
In Oklahoma, which has received almost $40 million, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt originally suggested directing some of the money toward the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Fund — the type of tax credit scholarship program U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos favors — as well as expanding Advanced Placement courses in rural areas.
But state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has since laid out her own proposal for how to use the funds: providing internet access to areas of the state where connectivity is still lacking.
“This is paramount to finally bridge the digital divide that has existed for many Oklahoma students and families,” according to the proposal for a subgrant process. “The GEER funds provide an opportunity to support statewide digital transformation by allowing [local education agencies] and their communities to innovatively steer awarded funds directly to those with the highest need.”
While the National Governor's Association has posted information on the grant program, it is not tracking approvals or state leaders' plans for the money.
Some former state officials, however, are watching how governors will decide to direct the funds.
“What will governors do? That is the question many are asking regarding the billions of stimulus dollars headed to states for a variety of COVID 19 relief efforts,” said Laura Worley Fornash, a former Virginia education secretary who now works as a consultant. “The needs are great whether it is for early childhood programs that have remained open for essential workers, expanded continuous learning programs and platforms or for higher education institutions.”