education, remote learning

How States Are Using the Coronavirus Relief Fund to Address Education Challenges

By Jocelyn Salguero and Austin Reid | Sept. 3, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

Significant attention has been paid to the nearly $31 billion in direct funding to states and territories for education through the Education Stabilization Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), available for COVID-19-related expenses, has emerged as another potential source of aid for schools and colleges. According to NCSL’s latest tracking, 27 states have allocated a total of $11.5 billion of CRF for education, with $7.2 billion for K-12 education and $4.3 billion for higher education.

The CRF is distributed based on state population with a guaranteed minimum distribution of $1.25 billion per state. Tribal governments received $8 billion. In most states, a portion of the funding went to local governments serving populations over 500,000. While district and university leaders have fairly broad flexibility in spending Education Stabilization Fund resources, guidance from the U.S. Treasury requires states to justify their use of CRF aid as “necessary expenditures incurred” as a result of the pandemic.

Relief for K-12, Early Childhood Education

Some states are providing direct grants to school districts to assist with unexpected COVID-19-related expenditures. Tennessee is distributing an $11 million noncompetitive grant to support districts with continuous learning-plan implementation throughout the year. Montana is allocating $75 million to school districts to cover reopening expenses.  

As instruction has transitioned online, states have dedicated their CRF to providing students with internet connectivity and devices. Alabama has allocated $100 million for a public-private partnership to increase internet access for K-12 students. The program, called Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students, will provide vouchers for families of students currently eligible for free and reduced-price school meals to purchase equipment and high-speed internet service. Mississippi is allocating $200 million to rural broadband expansion and purchasing hardware for K-12 schools. Tennessee will provide a $50 million technology grant that school districts can use to purchase Wi-Fi devices and laptops. And Idaho is distributing a $30 million grant to school districts and charter schools to help close the state’s digital divide.

Other states have focused on providing support to early childhood education. Massachusetts provided $3 million to the Department of Early Childhood Education to support the residential education school system. Pennsylvania allocated $2 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program and $7 million for the Pre-K Counts program.

Relief for Higher Education

Colleges and universities face their own challenges and unexpected COVID-19-related expenses. So far, states are using the CRF to prepare for students returning to campus, support virtual instruction and provide private student loan relief.

Connecticut directed $25 million to its state colleges and universities to assist with the cost of acquiring personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing buildings, and housing students. Maryland is allocating up to $90 million to reimburse state universities for COVID-19-related expenses, including support for their public safety activities.

Colleges and universities are leveraging technology to manage the transition to virtual instruction. North Dakota allocated $44.5 million for virtual simulators, classroom and facility restructuring, technology needs, telework equipment and software, and instructional resources. Missouri is allocating $10 million to support the expansion of remote learning capabilities, including internet connectivity and devices.

States have also allocated a portion of their CRF to provide relief to private student borrowers and assist students with tuition costs. The CARES Act paused payments, interest accrual and collections on federal student loans until Sept. 30. However, the law excluded students who hold private school loans. Recently, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to extend the temporary cessation of payments and the waiver of all interest on student loans held by the Department of Education until Dec. 31, 2020. Pennsylvania allocated $2.2 million to student loan interest forbearance to relieve borrowers from interest payments on non-defaulted private loans that are held and identified by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. Vermont has allocated $5.1 million to the Vermont Student Assistance Corp. for tuition assistance and skills enhancement grants.

NCSL will continue to track how states are using their COVID-19 relief funds for education.

Jocelyn Salguero is a policy associate in NCSL’s Washington, D.C., office, working with the Budgets and Revenue and Education committees. Austin Reid is the education committee director in NCSL’s State-Federal Division.

Additional NCSL Resources