With the passing of The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December, school districts across the country are preparing for much-needed stimulus dollars. The $82 billion relief package will provide widespread economic aid for education, including $54 billion specifically earmarked for K-12 districts.
The new package has nearly four times as much available funding as the previous CARES Act, and may serve as the first of several new stimulus packages to come available as the country recovers.
How will the dollars get distributed?
The bulk of the money allotted to stabilize K-12 schools in the latest relief bill will go directly to school districts based on the proportion of funding they receive through Title I of the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Each state can reserve as much as ten percent for administration purposes, leaving the rest for local districts.
Like the first round of COVID relief aid in the CARES Act, the latest measure allows for a broad range of uses for dollars within school districts.
What can those funds be used for?
Districts fall across a wide spectrum of mission-critical needs and progress towards meeting those objectives. While some districts may be looking to expand technology and capabilities, others may need to replace failing infrastructure. Because of this, the funds will be able to flex across the evolving demands of districts.
Though the bill leaves the door open for district leaders "to address the needs of their individual schools," it does call out some specific items:
- Repairing school facilities, especially ventilation systems, to improve air quality and reduce spread of COVID-19
- Purchasing personal protective equipment and disinfecting supplies
- Training staff on sanitization and PPE practices
- Planning for school closures
- Providing resources to address Covid-19 at their schools
- Improving coordination among local entities to slow the spread of Covid-19
- Purchasing hardware and software needed to conduct remote and hybrid learning
- Addressing student learning loss through evidence-based approaches
- Supporting school district efforts to improve preparedness
- Addressing the specific needs of disadvantaged students
- Providing services to support student mental health
- Supporting afterschool and summer learning programs
What kind of impact will upgrades funded by stimulus dollar have on schools?
With a goal of getting kids back into classrooms within his first 100 days in office, President Biden will likely launch a set of requirements to ensure facilities ready for the safe return of students and staff.
From plexiglass barriers to improved HVAC, many school districts nationwide will be using stimulus dollars to rethink infrastructure, classroom design, and other building upgrades, especially if students are not inside of school buildings.
Because so many schools have inefficient and aging systems, ventilation will be important, according to Phyllis W. Jordan, editorial director at the Georgetown University think tank FutureEd. "The bill specifically mentions it, and so you'll see a lot of districts invest in that area."
Infrastructure improvement projects can significantly improve air quality and the indoor environment for students, help schools reduce their carbon footprint, and save significantly on energy costs, another cornerstone of the incoming Biden administration.
Are schools ready to take advantage of funding opportunities?
Many district leaders are desperately in need of additional dollars to keep their facilities, staff, educational quality and community engagement afloat. However, the application and implementation of those dollars to make a tangible impact—and see quick returns—is a key area that greatly benefits from the use of experts in infrastructure and energy efficiency.
Outside partners can help to scope meaningful projects, source an expert team, and oversee the project to ensure a timely and accurate delivery. In addition, the funding received according to the allocation plan may not cover the full list of necessary upgrades. A stimulus grant could be the first step in a long-term plan that continues to build towards a modern, healthy and safe learning environment.
To maximize short-term funding opportunities while creating long-term stability in their budget, districts may use this modernization mandate in combination with an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) to accomplish more.
ESPCs allow school districts to not only address foundational infrastructure issues, such as wiping out deferred maintenance backlogs, but also reinvest savings to fund far-reaching goals, such as sustainable athletic fields and upgraded STEM labs. An ESPC partnership team also includes financial experts to help find, apply, and implement federal- and state-level stimulus opportunities as they become available.