U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has officially announced that $13.5 billion in emergency coronavirus funding for K-12 schools is now available.
The billions in additional aid was included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Donald Trump last month. The money will initially go to states, but at least 90 percent ultimately must be passed along to school districts via the Title I formula designed to help schools with large shares of students from low-income households.
Schools can use this pot of CARES Act money for a variety of purposes to help them deal with the fallout of the virus, which has forced dozens of states to shut down in-person classes for the rest of the school year. For example, educators can use it to provide access to the internet for students struggling to learn remotely, mental health supports, and support for special populations of students such as those who are homeless.
“This national emergency continues to shine a light on the need for all schools to be more agile,” DeVos said in a statement. “Now is the time to truly rethink education and to get creative about how we meet each student’s unique needs.” She added that there are “very few bureaucratic strings” attached to the money.
The department said it intends to process applications for the aid three days after it receives them. States have until July 1 to apply for the funds.
Remember also that school districts using CARES Act aid “shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus,” the law states. The law gives states some possible flexibility with respect to maintaining education spending levels, although the CARES Act does not afford that breathing room to districts.
While DeVos is making the aid available now, the process of applying for and receiving the CARES money and distributing the bulk of it to districts means it might be a few weeks before educators can actually start putting it to use.
Meanwhile, it’s quite possible that education cuts in some states could quickly offset the CARES Act aid. For more about the impact of the legislation’s potential impact on state K-12 budgets, go here.
Earlier this month, DeVos released $3 billion in CARES aid that governors can use to help both K-12 and higher education at their discretion. In order to obtain that aid, governors merely had to check 18 boxes and sign a three-page form to get the ball rolling.
Education lobbyists and others are hoping for a big infusion of funding in the next, so-called fourth phase of federal emergency coronavirus legislation. But it might be a while before Congress considers it, and it’s important to keep in mind how much school funding will be competing with a host of other priorities on Capitol Hill many might consider more urgent, such as coronavirus testing and resources for health-care workers.
Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before Congress in February 2020. (Graeme Sloan/Education Week)