Remote Learning Funding Streams
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers, the Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate Program, the local funders, and the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant appear to be the key sources of funding that K-12 schools and school districts in the United States can use to fund remote learning.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
- The ESSER Fund, which stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, is one funding source that K-12 school districts can use to fund remote learning. It is one of the three major components of the $30.75-billion Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), a fund that was stipulated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- Congress allocated a total of $67.5 billion to the ESSER Fund. Around $13.2 billion of the ESF was set aside for the ESSER Fund when the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. An additional $54.3 billion was set aside as ESSER II Fund when the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act 2021 (CRRSA), the omnibus relief package, was enacted on December 27, 2020 and the ESF was infused with an additional $81.9 billion.
- The initial $13.2 billion was allocated to state educational agencies (SEAs) in the same way Title I, Part A funds were allocated to SEAs in fiscal year 2019. The additional $54.3 billion, on the other hand, will be allocated to SEAs in the same way Title I, Part A funds were allocated to SEAs in fiscal year 2020.
- Allocation to SEAs is done by the Department of Education, while allocation to local educational agencies (LEAs) or school districts is done by the SEA.
- An SEA is required to distribute at least 90% of its ESSER grant as formula subgrants to LEAs. Only LEAs that have received Title I, Part A funds in the appropriate year or charter schools that meet certain criteria are eligible to apply for an ESSER formula subgrant. Ineligible LEAs, however, may still receive funds from the SEA's 10% reserve.
- Funds from the initial $13.2 billion should be used by September 30, 2020, while funds from the additional $54.3 billion should be used by September 30, 2023.
- School districts can use money from both the initial $13.2 billion and the additional $54.3 billion to buy connectivity products, education technology, hardware, or software. They can also use money from the additional $54.3 billion to address the problem of learning loss among students.
- LEAs are given considerable flexibility in deciding how to use their ESSER formula subgrants. The Department of Education, however, encourages them to use their ESSER subgrants on "activities that will support remote learning for all students, especially disadvantaged or at risk students, and their teachers."
The Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund
- The GEER Fund, which stands for the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, is another funding source that K-12 school districts can use to fund remote learning. It is one of the three major components of the $30.75-billion Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), a fund that was stipulated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- Congress allocated a total of around $7 billion to the GEER Fund. Around $3 billion of the ESF was set aside for the GEER Fund when the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. An additional $4,053,060,000 was set aside as GEER II Fund when the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act 2021 (CRRSA), the omnibus relief package, was enacted on December 27, 2020 and the ESF was infused with an additional $81.9 billion.
- The CRRSA requires that $1,303,060,000 of the GEER II Fund be allocated to states with approved GEER applications under the CARES Act. It also requires that $2.75 billion of the GEER II Fund be allocated to private schools.
- The Department of Education awards GEER grants to governors, and then governors award GEER subgrants to K-12 school districts and universities. Governors are required to distribute 60% of their GEER grants based on how individuals aged 5-24 are distributed across the state and 40% of their GEER grants based on how Title I children are distributed across the state.
- LEAs, particularly those most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, are eligible to apply for a GEER subgrant. LEAs can file their application for a GEER subgrant with the Governor's Office.
- GEER subgrants from the CARES Act must be used by September 30, 2022, while GEER subgrants from the CRRSA must be used by September 30, 2023.
- LEAs are given considerable flexibility in deciding how to use their GEER formula subgrants. The Department of Education, however, encourages them to use their ESSER subgrants on "technology infrastructure and professional development that will improve capacity to provide high quality, accessible distance education or remote learning."
- GEER subgrants can be used by schools to buy education technology.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act Waivers
- The Department of Education has waived certain limitations in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA), "the primary source of federal aid for elementary and secondary education," to give school districts more flexibility in how they spend funds received under this act.
- For example, the department has removed the 15% ceiling on Title IV funds for technology infrastructure or computer hardware to allow school districts to buy more hardware using those funds.
- The department has also introduced waivers that allow Title I funds to be used by non-Title I schools and that allow school districts to "transfer Title I and II funds to Title IV."
- Permitted under the CARES Act, these new flexibilities enable K-12 schools to reallocate or repurpose funds received under ESEA and move resources to areas where they need them the most. With the new flexibilities, schools can use existing funds to purchase technology infrastructure or train teachers on remote learning.
- The Department of Education has introduced a streamlined process through which states can request a waiver of the following provisions:
- Section 1127 (b) of Title I, Part A of the ESEA, which limits carryover of Title I, Part A funds to 15%
- Section 421 (b) of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), which limits the availability of prior fiscal year funds
- Section 4106 (d) of Title IV, Part A of the ESEA, which requires a needs assessment for the use of funds
- Section 4106 (e) (2) (C), (D), and (E) of Title IV, Part A of the ESEA, which establish content-specific spending requirements
- Section 4109 (b) of Title IV, Part A of the ESEA, which limits spending on technology infrastructure
- Section 8101 (42) of the ESEA, which limits the meaning of professional development
- The amount of funding received under the ESSA varies, of course, from one school to another. News articles, such as those published by District Administration and Ed Tech Magazine, only suggest that school districts take advantage of the waivers.
- School districts can also take advantage of microgrants doled out from Title I funds. Based on an article published by District Administration, these discretionary funds range from $5 million to $20 million and average $15 million each.
- These microgrants are typically awarded to districts that are hardest hit by the pandemic.
- No stipulations or caveats surrounding these waivers could be seen in the public domain.
The Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate Program
- The Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate Program is one source that schools can use to fund their remote learning initiatives. The funding comes in the form of discounts for telecommunications and information services such as internet access and internal connections.
- The discount is dependent on the poverty level of the school that is applying for the discount. According to the FCC, it could be anywhere between 20% and 90%. Schools in rural areas may get higher discounts.
- Total E-Rate funding in 2019 was capped at $4.15 billion. The E-Rate program is funded through the Universal Service Fund (USF).
- In case the demand for funding exceeds supply, the FCC prioritizes the poorest schools.
- Only non-profit elementary and secondary schools are eligible to apply for E-Rate support. For-profit schools or schools with endowments greater than $50 million are not qualified for the E-Rate program.
- Recipients of E-Rate discounts are still required to pay a fraction of the service costs.
- Local funders are another funding source that schools or school districts might want to consider for their remote learning initiatives or activities. According to an article published by Inside Philanthropy, community foundations are now redirecting grants to projects that aim to narrow the digital divide in remote learning. Surprisingly, top education funders are "largely absent" in this movement.
- For example, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has allocated $200,000 of its grant money to education technology non-profit PowerMyLearning to help the organization provide devices, internet access, and digital content to local school districts.
- It has also awarded $100,000 to KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools to help them procure laptops, internet access, and other necessary resources for remote learning. KIPP reportedly did not get any financial support from Fulton County Schools or Atlanta Public Schools, so it asked the foundation for help.
- The foundation has also awarded $75,000 to Marietta City Schools to help them loan computers and buy WiFi connectivity.
- The California Community Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation, the Oregon Community Foundation, and the New York Community Trust are other examples of community foundations that are awarding grants or are supporting local school districts in their remote learning initiatives.
- Each community foundation, of course, has its own eligibility requirements for grants. The California Community Foundation, being located in Los Angeles where there are more than 1 million immigrants, focuses on the needs of immigrants.
Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant
- The Education Stabilization Fund — Rethink K12 Education Model Grants or ESF-REM Grants provide remote learning support to schools and school districts through state educational agencies or SEAs.
- They encouraged states most affected by the pandemic to propose projects that will make the remote learning experience better for all parties involved — the children, the parents, and the teachers. All states were eligible to apply though.
- Betsy Davis, the secretary of education, announced in July 2020 that over $180 million in ESF-REM grants will be given to the following 11 states: Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.
- The amounts to be given were said to be in the range of $6 million to $20 million.
- Though the SEAs are the direct recipients of the funding, these SEAs allocate the funding to remote learning projects that benefit schools and school districts.
- New York, for example, will provide 450,000 hours of professional support to more than 190,000 educators and education leaders to help them develop effective remote or hybrid learning practices.
- Louisiana will be issuing microgrants to give more than 75,000 students access to remote learning resources. At least 12,000 of these students will receive WiFi devices or hotspots.