The State of Summer Learning Grants
An Analysis of States’ Use of ARP Summer Enrichment Funds
As a part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), state departments of education were required to set aside 1% of their funds to support summer enrichment programs, which amounts to a collective $1.2 billion across all 50 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. These funds are intended to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on students’ academic, social- emotional, and mental health needs and are separate from set-asides designed to address learning loss and for comprehensive afterschool programs during the regular school year. ARP also allows states to set-aside an additional 2.5% (about $3 billion nationally) in “flex funds’’ to support any or all of these activities.
This report examines trends in how states are using their summer-specific funds—with a focus on alignment to evidence-based best practices, the targeting of funds, and types of programming—while also highlighting what we see as promising and concerning practices from individual states.
Our analysis—which includes the review of state ARP plans, state department of education websites, and direct communication with state staff—resulted in five key findings:
- States had an overwhelming deference to local control, resulting in few research-based grant requirements. For example, just 10 states—Alabama, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming—have requirements about the length of programs and instructional time that are aligned with best practices, and only five—Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Washington, DC—are requiring grantees to have research-aligned low staff-to-student ratios.
- Grant programs among states have split their focuses between academics and re-engagement. A plurality of the states with information available are taking a balanced approach to summer programming, providing both academic and enrichment opportunities for students, which generally is what research indicates results in the best outcomes. Additionally, 19 states are requiring grantees to include programming designed to address either social-emotional learning and/or mental health-–with most other states encouraging grantee to include this programming.
- States are actively working to develop and foster collaboration with community-based organizations (CBOs). At least 22 states are using some or all of their funds for summer grants to CBOs, including large organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs, as well as smaller local groups like Oakland Reach. Among those, four states—Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, and Washington—are tapping statewide afterschool networks as significant partners, drawing on their expertise and connections with communities and families. Additionally, 15 states are requiring collaboration between districts and local CBOs, with districts and CBOs in Oklahoma and Utah required to jointly apply for funding.
- Many programs and grants are thoughtfully targeted to serve student groups most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. States are taking varied approaches to targeting based on their identified priority populations. For instance, Washington, DC, is prioritizing schools with at least 70% “at-risk” students; while Nebraska created a map to identify areas of the state most in need by combining data on schools identified for support and improvement under ESSA, COVID cases, and the CDC’s social vulnerability index; and Missouri modified state funding rules to incentivize rural districts to apply for grants.
- State departments of education are feeling rushed and overwhelmed as they develop and implement their investments. Departments have limited capacity and have faced bureaucratic delays at the state and federal levels that have shortened planning time. As a result, states generally haven’t engaged in additional stakeholder engagement beyond state plan requirements to ensure programming meets the needs of communities. And few states have proactively focused on or planned for the reporting and evaluation of summer programming, which is critical for continuous improvement and demonstrating the student impact of federal relief funds.
Based on these findings, we have a set of five recommendations for federal, state, and local policymakers and advocates to push for high-quality summer programming and robust reporting and evaluation of programs in support of programmatic improvements and fiscal sustainability over the remaining two summers of ARP funding and beyond.
View the full report and read our recommendations here.*
View a full video of our webinar on the topic—”Making the Most of Summer: State Summer Learning Plans”—here.
*An earlier version of this report mentioned that Missouri had explicitly told districts (or charters) not to collaborate and to limit information sharing with CBOs. However, it has since been brought to our attention that Missouri’s guidance was revised on June 1, 2022. This revision provided a method for LEAs to collaborate with CBOs and claim attendance hours.