By Jocelyn Salguero
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, created the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund. This fund provides $13.5 billion in pandemic relief aid for K-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.
State Education Agencies began distributing ESSER funds to school districts in May. While 90% of the ESSER fund must go directly to districts, states have the option to reserve 10% of the allocation for statewide emergency needs. Over the past few months, some states have begun to announce their plans for the set-aside. NCSL is tracking these announcements and implementation of the ESSER fund.
Based on a preliminary review of state plans, some common themes for how states are using their set-aside include: promoting educational equity, purchasing technology, providing professional development for teacher and school leadership, and directing funds to non-Title I schools. Some states, such as Oklahoma and Oregon, are also combining the ESSER state set-aside with the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.
Recognizing that learning loss likely occurred due to extended school closures, some state plans aim to provide support to the most vulnerable student populations. New Mexico and Montana plan to send funds to districts to provide special education services to students with disabilities during school closures or the transition back to in-person instruction. Indiana plans to target funds to help students with disabilities, English learners, small rural districts and juvenile correctional facilities. The Michigan Department of Education also announced an educational equity fund, which aims to reduce the digital divide.
As instruction has transitioned online, the pandemic has exposed the “digital divide” for students who lack home internet connectivity and devices.
- The Oklahoma State Department of Education will allocate a part of its set-aside for a Hotspot Grant to provide connectivity to low-income students.
- Oregon is also using their set-aside and the GEER Fund to support districts as they transition to remote learning, expanding internet access, and purchasing of educational equipment.
- New Jersey will allocate a portion of its set-aside to purchase digital devices and internet connectivity. Additionally, the state will commit funds from philanthropic donations and its Coronavirus Relief Fund for public schools and private schools to address the digital divide.
With instruction transitioning to a virtual or a hybrid-model in some states in the fall, some states are planning to provide additional learning resources and professional development for school leaders and teachers. Florida is using a portion of its set-aside to close literacy achievement gaps by providing textbooks to all elementary schools in need of improvement and at-home reading packets for families to reinforce reading skills taught in school. Wisconsin and Virginia will support existing programs to provide teacher training and professional development opportunities, expand openly-licensed education resources to support online instruction, and develop a statewide learning management system.
Since ESSER funds were allocated based on a district’s share of Title I students, districts that did not have any Title I eligible students did not receive relief aid. New Jersey and Washington have both dedicated a portion of their set-aside to Non-Title I schools that did not receive these funds. Montana is also using a portion of the state set-aside to supplement the 90% distribution to ensure that every eligible school district receives at least $10,000.
We expect more states to announce plans as the upcoming school year approaches. NCSL will continue to track how states have been using their set-aside allocation.
Jocelyn Salguero is a policy associate in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Program.