In addition to the nearly $300 billion states received through the Education Stabilization Fund, the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund has provided another major boost for education.
According to NCSL’s tracking, 38 states allocated $9.8 billion in relief funds for education, including $6.6 billion for K-12 education, $2.5 billion for higher education and $735 million for early childhood education.
Relief funds were expected to be obligated by Dec. 31, 2021. With that deadline passed, NCSL is providing a final update to a September 2020 article on how states have invested these funds to support education. States commonly invested the funds to purchase COVID-19 mitigation supplies, to address the digital divide and to provide direct support to schools, institutions of higher education and early childhood education providers.
At least 30 states invested coronavirus relief funds to support K-12 education. Common strategies included supporting COVID-19 mitigation strategies, increasing virtual learning capacity and providing financial assistance to schools.
At least 17 states directed funds to help schools establish COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Maine spent part of the $364 million it allocated for K-12 education to make facility modifications to increase social distancing capacity and add school medical staff. Idaho provided $10 million in PPE for schools, while Minnesota spent $6 million for on-demand saliva testing for public and private school educators, staff and child care providers.
At least 16 states used funds to bridge the digital divide. Maine, Mississippi and Oregon launched programs to expand access to broadband in rural schools and communities. Mississippi allocated $200 million to support rural broadband expansion and purchase hardware for students. Alabama launched a $100 million public-private partnership, called Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students, to provide vouchers for families of students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals to buy equipment and high-speed internet service. Similarly, Tennessee created a $50 million technology grant for school districts to purchase Wi-Fi devices and laptops. Louisiana spent $8 million on computers and mobile devices.
At least 11 states provided direct relief to schools to address the impact of COVID-19. Ohio distributed $100 million to schools through a formula that accounted for total student enrollment, transportation costs and enrollment counts of students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and English learners. South Dakota distributed $75 million through two rounds of direct $500 payments to students and families, which could cover in-person or distance learning costs.
At least 26 states supported colleges and universities with coronavirus relief funds. Strategies included providing direct financial support to institutions, distributing refunds and financial assistance to students, and bolstering virtual learning and telework capacity.
Direct Financial Support
At least 15 states distributed funds directly to their higher education systems to maintain state funding, compensate for increased costs or revenue loss, and support student success. Colorado provided $450 million to, among other goals, increase student retention and completion at state public institutions. Institutions receiving the funds committed to raise their fiscal year 2020-21 resident undergraduate tuition rate by no more than 3%. Michigan also allocated $200 million dollars to maintain state higher education funding, while Washington provided $44 million to maintain operations at the state’s community and technical colleges.
Financial Assistance for Students
Several states provided direct support to students by offering tuition refunds and assistance, reimbursing alternative housing costs and providing debt relief. New York gave $60 million in refunds for room and board costs in the SUNY and CUNY systems. Similarly, New Jersey distributed $225 million to institutions, which were allowed to provide refunds for tuition, room and board, meal plans and other fees. New Hampshire offered $6 million in tuition assistance grants for community college students, among other higher education investments.
Maine, New York and Vermont allocated funds to reimburse students for finding alternative housing arrangements when campuses were closed or when they were required to quarantine off campus. Pennsylvania offered $2.2 million in private student loan interest forbearance, while Alaska provided nearly $1 million in relief for student borrowers.
Virtual Learning and Telework
At least 16 states used COVID relief funds to increase virtual learning and telework capacity at institutions. Alabama allocated over $104 million to its public and private institutions, including more than $43 million to support virtual instruction at two- and four-year public institutions. The state also provided $44 million in COVID-19 response grants to colleges and universities, much of which was dedicated to telework expenses. North Dakota spent $44.5 million to transition classrooms to a hybrid instructional environment, which included purchasing virtual simulators, providing instructional resources and restructuring classrooms for virtual learning. Arizona used $2 million to establish the Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute, a public-private partnership that provides virtual professional development to teachers.
Early Childhood Education
At least 12 states used coronavirus relief funds to support early childhood education. New Jersey spent $250 million to help child care facilities and in-home child care centers cover increased costs and to modify facilities and hire additional staff. Michigan allocated $125 million to offset child care costs for families of essential workers. Alaska provided $13.1 million to child care providers to address facility needs. Massachusetts provided $3 million to support its residential education school system.
NCSL will continue to track and analyze how states are spending COVID-19 relief funds on education. In addition to the funds summarized here, states are also obligating and spending relief aid through the $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund passed in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. NCSL is tracking the recovery fund and plans to analyze its impact on education in the coming months.
Austin Reid is a senior legislative director and Patrick Lawler is a legislative associate in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations Program.