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How CARES Act Funds Can be Used to Support Remote Learning

Written by Kajeet on June 30, 2020

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As part of the government’s efforts to ease some of the burden brought on by the pandemic, the CARES Act funding bill was passed, which, in total, made approximately $30.75 billion available to provide relief for educational institutions under the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF).

Each of the four distinct categories within the Education Stabilization Fund can, in part at least, be applied to fund student connectivity and devices. Here are the four categories at a glance:

  1. Education Stabilization Fund Discretionary Grants($180 million in the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant and $127.5 million in the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant for $307.5 million in total)
  2. Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund($3 billion)
  3. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund($13.5 billion)
  4. Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund($14.25 billion)

Education Stabilization Fund Discretionary Grants 

More than half of the Educational Stabilization Fund Discretionary Grants, or $180 million, is available through the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant (ESF-REM) that makes provisions for remote learning.

The grant stipulates that state educational agencies must fulfil one of three absolute priorities when applying for funds. Of the three absolute priorities, two can be used to provide access to distance learning.

Absolute priority 1 states that “applicants must provide funding through microgrants…to allow parents…to meet the educational needs of their school-age children, through increased access to high-quality remote learning to support their educational needs...” States are expected to outline how they will use the funds and what providers (of connectivity and devices, for example) would be available through the microgrants.

Under absolute priority 3, states can “propose their own educational strategies that demonstrate a rationale…to address the specific educational needs of their States, as related to remote learning.”  

More information about the ESF-REM can be found here.

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund 

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (or GEER Fund) is a flexible, emergency relief fund allocated to state governors to support educational institutions most significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including school districts, charter and non-public schools, postsecondary institutions, and education-related organizations.

States have a lot of room to decide how the funds will be spent, so there’s no one standard for GEER fund disbursement across the country that applies to all states.

There’s a good chance that the funds will be used for distance learning, including student connectivity and devices, as remote learning was mentioned in the funding announcement.

One thing to note is that not every type of institution will be eligible for GEER Fund subgrants in every state, since that depends on the criteria set by the governor. For example, in New Jersey, the governor announced plans to allocate its $68.8 million entirely to public colleges and universities. The governor of Minnesota, on the other hand, plans to use its $43 million GEER Fund allocation on supporting the technology needs of K-12 students as well as “students in higher education including critical technology needs of students.”

Since the GEER Fund is to be disbursed quickly, most governor’s offices have already announced their plans. A good place to source for information would be your state governor or education agency’s website, although general information is available on the website of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Our recent blog post summarizing the GEER Fund also offers helpful tips for administrators and educators to keep in mind.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund 

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) functions much like the GEER Fund in that there seems to be some flexibility in how funds can be used, though unlike GEER, there also seem to be additional restrictions. This means that remote learning can be supported, and indeed the reporting requirements outlined suggest that recipients are expected to make provisions for remote learning (including student connectivity and devices).

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) of approximately $13.2 billion will be awarded to SEAs who are obligated to “subgrant no less than 90 percent of their ESSER Fund award to LEAs (including charter schools that are LEAs)” in their state.

The SEAs must also ensure that a school district that receives an ESSER Fund subgrant provides “equitable services” to students and teachers of non-public schools within the district. Support for non-public schools comes with certain restrictions, including that “in providing services or assistance to students and teachers in non-public schools, the LEA or another public agency must maintain control of the funds, and title to materials, equipment, and property purchased with such funds must be in a public agency.”

One of the compliance assurances mentioned in the Notice of Funding concerned remote learning: “The SEA must assure that, when applicable, it will provide technical assistance to LEAs on the use of ESSER funds for remote learning, which includes both distance education as defined in section 103(7) of the HEA and distance learning as defined in ESEA section 8101(14), so that students can continue learning during school closures.”  

More information about the ESSER Fund can be found here.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund 

The largest of the allocations under the Education Stabilization Fund of the CARES Act is reserved for higher education institutions. A total of $14.25 billion is available across several categories, including a student aid and institutional portion. Funding will also be made available to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), and other institutions that fall under the Fund’s Strengthening Institutions Program and Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

Within the different funding categories, there are opportunities to use the grant funds for student connectivity and devices, although much of the funds will be given to students directly in the form of grants. This blog post by CLASP discusses CARES Act funds for higher education in greater detail.

In her letter to college and university presidents announcing the HEER Fund, Secretary DeVos urged colleges to consider boosting their remote learning capabilities: “While I know you face many challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage you to use these awards to expand your remote learning programs and build your IT capacity. These activities will help ensure that learning can continue for your students during the Nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen your position to support continued learning in the future.”

More information on the HEER Fund can be found here.

Key Takeaways about the Education Stabilization Fund

Each of the categories under the Education Stabilization Fund of the CARES Act allows for spending on remote learning hardware and software, though the extent to which the funds will get into the hands of every school that needs it, and the way it will ultimately trickle down to individual students, remains to be seen.

Besides emergency funding for education available through the CARES Act, revisions are being to existing funding streams to provide additional support for educational institutions throughout the country that have been severely impacted by COVID-19.

Using the CARES Act to fund your distance learning program? We’d love to hear about it. Submit a comment below to start a conversation.

Topics: 1 to 1, WiFi for Students, distance learning


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