wifi hotspot school bus

As part of its effort to bridge the digital divide, South Carolina is using federal relief funds to equip 500 state-owned school buses with Wi-Fi hotspots for vulnerable communities.

10 Trends in State Education Plans for COVID-19 Relief Funds

By Patrick Lawler and Austin Reid | Dec. 7, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

The American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress in March, provided a third package of aid for K-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, or ESSER. While two-thirds of these ESSER III funds, which totaled $123 billion, were available immediately, states were required to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Education to receive the remainder. All 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have submitted plans, and 48 have been approved.

NCSL analyzed the 52 submitted plans to understand how states plan to use the ESSER III funding. While 90% of ESSER funds flow directly to school districts, states are required to set aside 5% of funds to address learning loss, 1% for summer school programs and 1% for after-school programs. States may also use 2.5% to pursue other recovery strategies.

NCSL has provided highlights of each state plan here. Across plans, NCSL identified 10 common trends in ESSER III spending.

Addressing Unfinished Learning

States were required to devote at least 5% of ESSER funds to address unfinished learning due to the lost instructional time during the pandemic. For example, the Indiana Legislature allocated $150 million to create the Student Learning Recovery Grant, which will fund additional instructional time before and after school and during breaks. New Jersey allocated over $135 million to establish an Acceleration Coach and Educator Support grant for local education agencies to provide teachers access to high-quality curricula and instructional technologies to address unfinished learning. Funds will also be used to train teachers and staff on positive school climate, social and emotional learning, and culturally responsive teaching practices. Washington state is investing $3 million in Ninth Grade Success Pilots to help students transition to high school, while Kentucky has allocated $10 million to scale up professional development for teachers on the science of reading.

At least 29 state plans have devoted resources to accelerate learning through academic tutoring. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee will recruit and develop statewide tutoring corps. Arkansas’ corps was established by SB 564 to provide tutors to low-income students to address learning loss.

Another 31 plans devoted resources to specifically address the needs of students with disabilities. Illinois plans to invest $33 million in Special Education Collaboratives, which will address lost instructional time and provide summer learning and enrichment services for students with disabilities.

Additionally, at least 25 plans have identified curriculum development and implementation as a statewide priority. Connecticut plans to achieve a long-standing goal of designing a statewide K-8 model curriculum that includes high-quality instructional materials and implementation strategies. Kentucky has also pledged $2 million to support schools’ and districts’ curriculum-development process.

Responding to Mental Health Challenges

At least 20 plans outlined strategies to address the mental and emotional health needs of students and staff. For example, Oklahoma has announced the creation of a School Counselor Corps to ensure students have access to the counseling resources they need. Maryland will spend $3.2 million to address the effects of adverse childhood experiences on students, while New York will provide mental health first-aid training to all school districts.

Most states plan to develop or strengthen data systems to increase engagement with students who may be struggling academically or socio-emotionally. In fact, six states plan to use funds to create early warning systems to identify at-risk students and provide effective interventions. Montana’s plan incorporates HB 632, which establishes an early warning system and builds educator capacity to respond to student needs. Louisiana’s Department of Education is creating a position to manage and implement its Child Welfare and Attendance Program.

Bridging the Digital Divide

With the increased reliance on virtual learning, 19 plans invested in increased student access to internet connectivity, devices and online resources. Delaware will provide students and educators access to an online reading platform and a digital book collection, which includes the Delaware Public Library System’s catalog. South Carolina equipped 500 state-owned school buses with Wi-Fi hotspots for vulnerable communities.

Improving the Teacher Pipeline

At least eight plans included initiatives to address teacher shortages and strengthen the educator pipeline. The Virginia Legislature appropriated $11.5 million to support the recruitment efforts of school districts facing the most acute shortages. South Carolina’s Department of Education will partner with the state higher and technical education systems to employ postsecondary students as summer teaching interns. This will allow students to learn the necessary steps to earn teacher certifications and develop a pipeline for these students to become certified teachers.

Advancing State Goals

At least 13 plans will use funds to expand career and technical education. Pennsylvania will invest $43.5 million in area career and technology education centers. Georgia plans to invest the entirety of its reserve funds in career, technical and agricultural education programs. New Mexico has set up a joint program with local municipalities to provide summer internships for students.

Other plans included new investments in pre-K and rural education initiatives. New York has allocated $195 million to support a multiyear expansion of universal pre-K for 4-year-olds along with another $15 million for pre-K expansion grants. Georgia will use its funding to create the Office of Rural Education, which will establish state and community partnerships to channel resources to low-wealth school districts with low student populations in distressed regions of the state.

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

Patrick Lawler is a legislative associate and Austin Reid is a senior legislative director in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations Program.

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