Utilize CARES Act Funding to Improve Distance Learning

April 21, 2020

School districts need to confront the crisis of today and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. The potential for future school closures and distance learning looms large. Today, it's difficult to know when or if schools will physically open their doors for the 2020/2021 school year.

department-of-education-289x300Where Will Assistance Come From?

In response to our current circumstances, 13.3 billion dollars are being directed to states through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funds will go to those state educational agencies that apply for funds in the same proportion as they received funds under Part A of Title I for the most recent fiscal year. 

Additionally, the Department of Education is providing a waiver process to allow existing federal funds to be used for a variety of purposes to best serve the continued learning needs of students and teachers. The flexibility the waivers offer provides school leaders with the resources to address the needs of their particular districts, including:

  • Allow districts to carry over Title I money from this academic year to the next without previous limits; 
  • Set aside the requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Schools would be able to spend over the limit on digital devices;
  • Extend the time schools have to spend funds allocated for a range of federal education grant programs; and
  • Broaden what qualifies as professional development to more rapidly train educators for distance learning 

As of mid April, twenty-eight states had received spending waivers from applicable requirements.

"Across the country, students, teachers and families are proving that learning can and does happen anywhere. By extending additional funding flexibility to schools, we are helping to ensure student learning continues and supporting teachers as they transition to virtual classrooms. Local leaders have asked for the ability to steer more resources to local needs, and these new tools will help them do just that." --Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos   

What Will Schools Need?

The relief package was developed with the belief that districts would need greater functionality in technology and additional teacher training to assist with the transition to remote learning. The past several weeks have been a distance learning dress rehearsal, where the actors improvised, and the scripts were written. Next year, stakeholders will be expecting front row seats to polished performances. This means improvements to education delivery methods, increased monitoring of student participation, and, most importantly, communication systems to keep families and schools connected and engaged.

What Can You Do To Prepare?

The allocated funds are anticipated to reach states within the next 2-3 months meaning the time to plan is now. According to a recent survey conducted by EdWeek, 7% of district leaders said they have a ‘thorough and extensive plan’ in the event that schools must remain closed. Around 50% say they have at least started planning for that possibility. Draft your plan and earmark federal funding for technology infrastructure and tools to help your district succeed no matter where your students and teachers are based. 

“SchoolStatus has been a lifesaver as we transition into eLearning. It was always an amazing tool, but now it has become invaluable.” Assistant Principal, Gulfport School District

What Tools Will Benefit Your Educators Today and For Years To Come?

SchoolStatus pairs student data with parent communication tools providing a ‘one-stop-shop’ for educators.

Reach every parent during remote learningWith a single system, teachers have access to all the student data aggregated at the district and distilled down to the individual student. Armed with data, educators use the communication tools for informed conversations to support students in the classroom and at home. When educators can’t directly observe students in the classroom, having their student’s data easily accessible is a must. When monitoring from a distance, the aggregated student information in SchoolStatus will help spot trends, identify gaps, and make data-driven decisions. Teachers need a reliable way to connect with every family. Consistent, timely communication will help teachers engage parents as partners in the new normal of distance learning.

Allowable Uses of the $13.3 billion in the K-12 Relief Fund:

  • Any activity authorized by the ESEA of 1965, including the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, Support, and Assistance Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, or subtitle B of title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

  • Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the local educational agency that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and students with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment.

  • Providing principals and others school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools.

  • Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.

  • Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures, including for how to provide meals to eligible students, how to provide technology for online learning to all students, how to provide guidance for carrying out requirements under IDEA and how to ensure other educational services can continue to be provided consistent with all Federal, State, and local requirements.

  • Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies.

  • Training and professional development for staff of the local educational agency on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.

  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
  • Coordination of preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies with state, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses among such entities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
  • Providing mental health services and supports.
  • Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.

  • Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff of the local educational agency.

"Other districts have struggled more because their communication was one-way. With SchoolStatus we have very good two-way communication with parents that allows us to instantly connect." Deputy Superintendent, Morgan County Schools

There’s no going back to the way things were. It’s time to plan for what’s coming when school restarts. Build your capacity for data-informed communication starting today.

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