This is an unprecedented time with an unprecedented amount of federal funding becoming available for districts. How this funding is leveraged will determine whether your district is focused on stop-gap measures or on creating equitable, long-term change for students by putting the necessary systems in place to support technology for learning.
Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), $122 billion is becoming available to K-12 schools, on top of $13.2 billion through the March 2020 CARES Act and $54 billion through the December 2020 COVID Relief Package. In addition to these funds, state revenues did not fall as dramatically as expected, so local budgets are relatively healthy and grant opportunities exist.
How districts leverage this funding is crucial. The new relief funding is meant to solve immediate needs to get students back in school; it does not ask districts to get students back in a way that mirrors 2019, or even 2020. Instead, this is an opportunity to invest meaningfully in sustainable systems that will carry you through the next 10 years, a catalyst for a new way of standing up our schools and communities.
While technology will change, needs likely won’t. Be mindful that your plans don’t create cliffs 3-5 years from now, as this kind of funding is not expected again. While some of the funding must be spent quickly, some of it can be spent in multi-year contracts.
Ensure all students have access to working devices, both at school and at home. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most districts went 1:1 during the 2020-21 school year, either through allocation of existing carts full of devices, through the purchase of new devices, and/or by leveraging devices provided by families. The need for a device for each student won’t go away when students return to in-person or hybrid learning. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds provide Local Education Agencies (LEAs) like districts and charter networks one-time funding based upon Title I shares to support the needs of students, especially those most significantly impacted during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. ARP ESSER can be leveraged for the purchase of hardware and software to conduct remote and hybrid learning. (Learn more: Surviving the funding cliff)
Also included in ARP ESSER is $3.2 billion in Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) While broader than education, families can use it for education. The EBB provides eligible households discounts on broadband and devices.
Ensure teachers and students have reliable, high-speed access in schools. A device for each student only takes them so far when the majority of learning is through online platforms and tools, even in school. Education Superhighway outlines two targets districts and schools should strive toward for in-person teaching, learning, and operations:
- An external internet connection to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of at least 100 Mbps per student.
- Internal Wide Area Network (WAN) connections from the district to each school and among schools within the district of at least 10 Mbps per student.
Ensure all students have reliable, high-speed access outside of school. Even when students return to 100 percent in-person learning, the “homework gap” will remain because often students go home to insufficient or nonexistent internet access. The EBB provides discounts on broadband service for eligible households. However, many households aren’t able to receive EBB. This is why E-Rate has been expanded to enable schools and libraries to provide telecommunications, connective devices and other eligible equipment to students, teachers, and library patrons for internet use at home or at other locations outside of the school or library.
When building your long-range plans, consider multiple funding sources and whether the sources are renewable, (Learn more: Surviving the funding cliff)
March 2021 ARP ESSER
The March 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) provides LEAs one-time funding based upon Title I shares to support the needs of students, especially those most significantly impacted during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.
While broad and flexible, it can be leveraged for the purchase of hardware and software to conduct remote and hybrid learning, including “educational technology (including hardware, software, connectivity, assistive technology, and adaptive equipment) for students that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including students from low-income families and children with disabilities,” according to the Department of Education’s ESSER fact sheet.
- May be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared. Available for obligation by State Education Agencies (SEAs) and subrecipients through September 30, 2023.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB)
The Consolidated Appropriations Act established the EBB which directs $3.2 billion to eligible low-income households in the form of discounts off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices. While broader than education, families with students can certainly benefit from it for education. Under the EBB, eligible households can receive:
- A discount toward broadband service.
- A one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a device from participating providers if they contribute $10–$50 toward the purchase price.
- For Fiscal Year 2021, and available until expended.
Emergency Connectivity Fund
For families who are not able to contract their own internet service or purchase devices, the Emergency Connectivity Fund allocates $7.17 billion through the E-Rate program to close the homework gap. This funding supports schools and libraries in providing access and devices to students, teachers, and library patrons for internet use at home or at other locations outside of the school or library.
- Likely for one year after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
December 2020 ESSER II Fund (CRRSA/COVID Relief Act)
Citing the need for technology and access stemming from long-term closures, ESSER II gives districts the ability to invest in devices, assistive technology, and connectivity for students.
- May be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared. Available for obligation by SEAs and subrecipients through September 30, 2022.
March 2020 ESSER I Fund (CARES Act)
The first significant relief funding was primarily targeted at supporting schools as most of the country shifted to online or hybrid learning. With this funding many districts purchased additional devices for students to use for virtual learning. Learn more: Lifecycle Planning
- May be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared. Available for obligation by SEAs and subrecipients through September 30, 2021.
The funding sources enacted since March 2020 primarily addressed the additional costs created by the pandemic and its impact on our schools. They were not designed to fill in pre-existing budget gaps, so general district budgets will still be responsible for the majority of day-to-day costs of running a school system.