Cares Act Funding: A Stimulus Primer for Districts

In late March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act (CARES Act was signed into law. The stimulus bill earmarked $30.7 billion for states to spend on K-12 education.

As with any education funding legislation, there are many nuances for school administrators to navigate. 

“Future funding for K-12 education depends, in part, on how well these first relief funding options are used,” said Susan Gentz, an expert on state and federal policy initiatives for iNACOL, during Tech & Learning’s recent Future Proofing Your District Plan virtual conference. “So be sure to use your funding sources for good purposes in your districts.”   

Specific Funding Streams for K-12 Districts

Four different funding programs from the CARES Act are intended specifically for K-12 school districts. These are separate programs but linked through the stimulus bill.

  1. Elementary and Secondary Relief Fund (ESSER)
    $13.5 billion has been awarded to the states as formula grants based on the same proportion that each state receives under ESSA Title I-A. There are no requirements for how this money is spent. Districts are free to use these funds for whatever they think is best. 
  2. Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER)
    $3 billion for governors to allocate emergency support grants at their discretion to help those districts and institutions of higher education that are struggling the most with supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds will also be allocated by formulas. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) will not micromanage how these funds are used, but districts are advised to consider changing their education models. 
  3. Microgrants
    $180 million to Rethink K-12 School Models and Continue to Learn grants so states can ensure that students’ families have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning. These competitive grants are controversial as they are like vouchers. But there are no caps on the individual grants. 
  4. Student-Centered Funding Pilot
    $3 million is being made available by USDE, authorized by ESSA. It allows up to 50 districts to pool their federal, state, and local dollars to focus aid on low-income or other disadvantaged students. 

How to Apply for Cares Act Funding

In order to get funds to districts as soon as possible, the application process has been streamlined. Nothing in the ESSER application requires districts to present a full, complete plan.

State Education Agencies (SEAs) have until July 1, 2020 to apply for ESSER funding. 

USDE has also provided a state-by-state breakdown of the funds along with the minimum amounts a state can distribute to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and maximums an SEA can reserve for statewide purchases and decisions. Funds are available until Fall 2022.

Waivers from U.S. Department of Education

For this year only, there is a waiver on the restriction of carryover funds allowed from Title I, Part A of ESSA. This is a very important source of funding for districts. Be sure to use this before other funding sources or bundle it with your stimulus funds. 

States need to apply for waivers from USDE, including:

  • Spending restrictions on technology infrastructure in Title IV, Part A
  • Content-specific spending requirements
  • The definition of professional development to help shift to new and different ways to train school leaders in effective learning techniques, such as through remote learning. 

How to Use Carryover Funds

All school districts are allowed to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next. Administrators should think about developing strategies to bundle carryover funds with new stimulus money to maximize this year’s investment opportunities. 

In addition to academic and technology funding, the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to learning from home has created stress and anxiety for students and teachers. Districts may want to consider support services they should offer to address these issues.

Additional Cares Act Funding Resources

Annie Galvin Teich has more than 25 years' experience in education writing and publishing. She is an edtech industry expert in content marketing and copywriting. As a regular contributor to Tech & Learning she focuses on the information needs of district decision makers.