American Rescue Plan Update: How New Federal Funding Can Help Schools, Students And Families

A student works on a math problem at a whiteboard while wearing a mask.

This is a guest post from our strategic partner, David Deschryver. David is co-director of Whiteboard Advisors’ research practice and a federal funding and policy expert. You can also join David for an insightful overview and discussion on the available US federal funding and how you can navigate them for your EdTech planning here.

The ongoing pandemic is creating economic uncertainty. In some states, the economic recovery is much better than initially projected. Idaho is an example of such a well-positioned state. Others, however, face ongoing health and economic challenges that may impact school budgets for years to come - and it’s not useful to point out those states, but you know if you are in one.

Congress has passed three stimulus packages to help schools respond to the pandemic, including the American Rescue Plan. What do school officials need to know about the bills?

Here are the key takeaways:

American Rescue Plan Update // How New Federal Funding Can Help Schools, Students And Families

Each stimulus package provides schools with considerable spending flexibility, though each successive bill contains modest additional rules and guardrails.

The CARES Act, passed in March of 2020, includes a $13 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I). ESSER I identifies 12 "allowable uses," including any activity authorized by federal legislation including the ESEA, IDEA, AEFLA, Perkins, or McKinney-Vento.

Generally, these funds are being used to ensure equitable access to distance learning - that students have laptops and Internet access and that health and safety precautions are in place for students and staff. The key themes include health and safety, academic continuity, mitigating “learning loss”, teacher support, and planning for what's next.

The second stimulus, HR 133, passed in December 2020, includes a $54 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II). The fund identifies 15 "allowable uses" and, like ESSER I, these are very flexible. The distinction is that ESSER II has more focus on educational programming than ESSER I.

The uses of funds include addressing "learning loss," using education technology to aid in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, providing mental health services and supports, and planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs.

The American Rescue Plan of March 2021 authorizes $121 billion for districts and states for education via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund III (ESSER III). At least 90% of these funds must flow to local districts, and districts must use at least 20% of their dollars to address learning loss through the use of evidence-based interventions.

After that, districts may use the remaining funds for activities identified in the law (which are very flexible). States may take up to 10% for statewide activities. Of that amount, states must use not less than 5% to address learning loss, not less than 1% for evidence-based summer enrichment programs, and not less than 1% for evidence-based afterschool programs.

How much will each district get? Soon every state educational agency will provide its districts with a final allotment figure, but we didn’t want to wait. We ran our own estimates. They are only estimates and unofficial — but they are likely pretty accurate. You can get those here.

Broad Spending Flexibility

School districts have time to plan for the use of the stimulus funds. School districts have until September 30, 2022, to obligate their share of the first $13 billion stimulus, ESSER I. (“Obligation” refers to the date of creating a legal contract to spend funds. Actual flow/disbursement of funds can occur later.)

They have until Sept. 30, 2023, to obligate their share of the sequel, the $54 billion ESSER II, and until September 30, 2024, to obligate the ESSER III (American Rescue Plan) funds. All considered this provides a predictable amount of flexible federal funding for the next few years.

Time To Plan

Keep the focus on learning and familiarity. Students can see you up at the familiar SMART Board and keep the continuity of a classroom experience remotely to better learn and retain information. Attention is captured and imagination fires.

Build meaningful connections in blended learning environments
With classrooms looking different these days, it can be challenging to build connections with students you’ve never seen. Connect across any distance with video conferencing for truly engaging learning experiences.

All-inclusive learning
Whether remote or in class, teachers and students can interact easily with one another via a larger, high-res video gallery.

Teaching environments are becoming increasingly complex. But you can maintain your tactile workflow of teaching and familiar front-of-room instruction with Zoom video conferencing on your SMART Board.

Funding Stability

The stimulus bills are critical for the budgetary stability of schools over the next few years. How school officials coordinate these funds with state and local dollars and invest in efforts to address learning loss, student mental health, and the panoply of issues that have been agitated and exposed by the pandemic will be something to closely watch.