Helping Schools Reopen and Recover


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By Emily Maher, Leo Garcia, Austin Reid and Patrick Lawler | May 11, 2022 | NCSL Fiscal Road to Recovery Brief Series

About the Fiscal Road to Recovery Brief Series

This six-part brief series examines state CSFRF spending priorities a year after the program launched and showcases examples to help inform policymakers as they combat the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic disrupted American education systems at every level. A McKinsey report estimates that K-12 students were on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading at the end of the 2021 school year. The same report estimates the impact of unfinished learning on the US economy could range from $128 to $188 billion each year pandemic-impacted students enter the workforce. Adding to these concerns, total enrollment in higher education dropped by 5.1% since the pandemic began. The problems aren’t just academic. Students of all ages also report dealing with mental health challenges.   

Recognizing the detrimental effect the pandemic had on learning and mental health, policymakers across the country have made education a priority for federal stimulus funds.  Twenty-eight states and territories have invested $7.3 billion of Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSFRF) for education, including $4.4 billion for K-12 and $2.9 billion for higher education, or almost 6% of all allocated funds. This brief outlines common ways states used the funds to address educational priorities.

Broad Latitude in the Use of Recovery Funds Towards Education

Under the U.S. Department of Treasury’s final rule, states and territories are encouraged to create temporary education recovery programs to address ongoing disruptions, negative impacts of disrupted education, educational shocks to student well-being, and accelerate academic recovery. Considerable latitude is provided to state leaders to meet a diverse range of child, adult, and community educational needs. Broadly, recipients can use funds toward revenue replacement for government services related to education.

Treasury guidance emphasizes addressing educational disparities for households and communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Policymakers are also encouraged to invest in evidence-based interventions, like tutoring programs. The ruling also stresses “broader pre-existing disparities” in educational outcomes exacerbated by the pandemic.

28 States and Territories Prioritizing Education

Priorities In Education

K-12 Academic Supports

Recent data from Curriculum Associates, a provider of K-12 diagnostic tests, suggests nearly all elementary and middle school students are performing below grade level in reading and math compared to historic averages, with low-income students and students of color being disproportionately affected by these trends. States have responded by allocating recovery fund dollars to support academic recovery efforts, such as:

  • Maryland: $435 million to support the “Blueprint for Maryland's Future,” a 2021 piece of legislation that invests in comprehensive changes in five policy areas across the state’s education system.
  • Nevada: $200 million for grants to school districts and charter schools to address learning loss.
  • Florida: $125 million for the New Worlds Reading Initiative which delivers free books to students in grades K-5.

K-12 Student Mental Health Support

A recent Center for Disease Control survey of high school students taken in 2021 showed that more than a third of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. States have responded to student mental health challenges by expanding access to mental health in schools, examples include:

  • Minnesota: $34.6 million to develop partnerships to expand student access to mental health services. Additionally, the legislature appropriated $6 million to fund mental health services for students and educators through School-linked Mental Health Grants administered by the Department of Human Services.
  • Wisconsin: $50 million for Beyond the Classroom Grants which funds programming for school-aged children to help increase enrollment capacity, provide additional learning opportunities, or increase mental health support.
  • Arizona: $12 million to establish the Leading Men Fellowship to recruit and train students in minority communities to provide evidence-based social-emotional education.

Higher Education Student Financial Aid and Student Supports

College affordability was a significant issue prior to the pandemic. For some students, losing a job during the pandemic disrupted their ability to continue funding their education. States have responded to college affordability concerns by investing CSFRF funds to provide increased need-based student financial aid, such as:

  • Connecticut: $40 million for the Roberta Willis Need-Based Scholarships, which provides financial support to students with demonstrated need to attend Connecticut public or non-profit private colleges.
  • Virginia: $100 million to the State Council of Higher Education for need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduate students from low- and moderate-income households at public colleges.
  • Colorado: $49 million to the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative Fund, which provides institution-based scholarships and support services.

Higher Education Facilities and Program Development

States have allocated a significant amount of higher education recovery funds to address deferred maintenance or make long-term facility investments at colleges and universities. Maintenance efforts especially focused on improving the health and safety of facilities for students and faculty.

  • Texas: $325 million directed to the Higher Education Coordinating Board for university construction.
  • Florida: $350 million to address deferred maintenance needs in the state’s college and university facilities that will improve the health and safety of such facilities.
  • North Dakota: $89 million to expand facilities at institutions. Projects included renovations at Minot State University, a laboratory remodel at Dickinson State University, and funding for renovations and space education and research initiatives at the University of North Dakota.

Educational recovery is critical to repair damages from the pandemic. Federal stimulus funds provide additional resources for states to work alongside local school districts to repair learning losses. Whether the funds are used to fill long-standing needs exacerbated by the pandemic or to meet emerging concerns, state and local leaders are making significant investments in education.

This brief lists only some of the ways recipients have used the CSFRF program to support educational needs related to COVID-19. Additional examples and program details can be found in NCSL’s allocation database.

States, territories and the District of Columbia must obligate federal recovery funds by December 2024 and spend them by December 2026. Until then, NCSL will continue tracking how these funds are prioritized and allocated.

Emily Maher is a senior policy specialist with NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program. She covers budget, tax, state-local, and economic development issues for NCSL. 

Leo Garcia is a policy analyst with NCSL's Fiscal Affairs Program. He covers economic development, budget, and tax issues for NCSL.

Austin Reid is NCSL’s senior legislative director for Education Policy. He covers federal education policy and represents NCSL’s education interests before Congress and the Administration.

Patrick Lawler is a legislative associate for Education Policy and Budgets and Revenue Policy. 

Additional Resources 

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