- The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Congress' latest COVID-19 relief bill, passed a final 220-211 vote in the House and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden. It includes $122.8 billion for K-12 under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, in addition to a separate $7.2 billion for E-rate through the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which district leaders pushed for after previous emergency packages failed to include E-rate funding, and nearly $3.1 billion for IDEA and $1 billion for Head Start.
- States must distribute 90% of ESSER funds received to districts, including charters, within 60 days. The remaining funds must be used by states to address learning losses and social-emotional needs of students, put in place summer enrichment and afterschool programs, purchase ed tech, and address any other emergency or administrative needs.
- Districts must use at least 20% of their funding toward addressing students' SEL needs and learning loss through summer programs, extended school days, extended school year programs or other intervention methods. The remaining funds can be used toward carrying out general district needs related to COVID-19.
Districts are able to use the remaining funds meant for general needs to address a variety of issues, including:
- Activities related to IDEA, ESEA and Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
- COVID-19 preparedness and response.
- Meeting needs of marginalized students, including students with disabilities, English learners, homeless students and others.
- Sanitation training or professional development to limit spread of disease.
- Purchasing sanitization and cleaning products.
- Providing technology and meals.
- Providing mental health services.
- Putting in place summer or afterschool programs.
- Administering assessments.
- Improving indoor air quality and repairing facilities.
Compared to the House version of the bill, the Senate's revision provides approximately $3 billion less for K-12. And while the money provided for districts has been much-awaited, superintendents worry about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 that they say cannot be solved by limited federal funding.
"We have to be able to make sure that this long-term plan that we have is not a one-year deal, it's more like a three-year deal, to be honest," said John B. Gordon III, superintendent of Virginia's Suffolk Public Schools, during a roundtable discussion with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Elie Bracy, superintendent of Portsmouth Public Schools in Virginia, agreed.
"It would be good to know ahead of time that this funding is going to be recurring at least to a certain point so that we know how to spend and plan to make this happen," he said, adding climbing out of COVID-19's impact could take up to five years. "We know that we have our work cut out for us."
Some expenses and outstanding challenges superintendents foresee include air ventilation problems as parents push for a return to school, maintaining proper social distancing and other health measures in school buildings, providing teacher compensation and packages for additional work like summer programs, and arranging for professional development and additional bus drivers.
"When those funds are gone, so are those same support positions that we brought in," Bracy said.
However, Scott said funding provided so far under the emergency packages has been "exceptional" and will be difficult to continue. He added he knows of a "significant" number of lawmakers who don't think additional funding is necessary, and that it will be difficult to get multiyear funding without education leaders providing proof the funding has "made a difference."