The quick and safe reopening of K-12 schools this spring is the U.S. Department of Education’s greatest priority, said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona during a press call Wednesday, the same day state education leaders received notices of their funding allocations under the federal American Rescue Plan.
The $122.8 billion in funding for K-12 schools should target the impacts from COVID-19 in PreK-12, particularly for programs that help students who need the most support, according to Cardona's letter to state leaders. The ARP funds, which will be sent to states this month, can also be spent on safety protocols, hiring of additional staff and teachers, extended learning programs and more.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide $10 billion to states to help fund COVID-19 testing for K-12 teachers, staff and students. Those allocations will be made in early April, according to HHS.
Cardona, who has visited schools virtually and in-person since recently being confirmed as education secretary in President Joe Biden’s administration, said students deserve to be back in school buildings learning and enjoying milestone moments this spring, such as high school graduation and school plays. Those events might not look the same as before 2020 but some can be done creatively and with the use of safety precautions, he said.
“We know that our students are looking forward to being back with their friends, with their teachers, and in a safe learning environment where their needs can be met,” Cardona said.
Regarding expectations for next school year, Cardona said schools should continue consulting with health and safety experts and use strategies aligned with safety recommendations. With the increased rollout of vaccinations, Cardona said he anticipates schools could open for in-person learning for all students with mitigation practices in place.
My top priority is to make sure America’s schools continue to reopen safely. But to do so quickly, we will need to work together. This summit will bring students, teachers, & experts from across the country to the table to share best practices and find the solutions we need. pic.twitter.com/134cFgXnKY— Secretary Miguel Cardona (@SecCardona) March 17, 2021
Cardona also spoke about the Education Department’s virtual National Safe School Reopening Summit planned for March 24 at noon EDT. The summit will include remarks from Cardona, First Lady Jill Biden and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, according to a department press release.
Additionally, educators will share best practices about collaborations, equitable practices, social and emotional learning, academic development and more, the release said. Other topics addressed during the summit could include maintenance of effort provisions and declines in student enrollment, Cardona said.
“Part of our goal at the agency is really to share information on what's working and how schools could benefit, so that those students could get to those places, so that they could walk the stage and graduate, and they could be in the classrooms where they're going to get the attention that they need to be successful in life,” Cardona said.