Early Signs of States’ CARES Act Education Spending Priorities
May 28, 2020
By Nicholas Munyan-Penney and Charles Barone
As Congress continues discussions on the next round of COVID funding, it’s still largely unclear how states are planning to spend the $16.2 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds under the CARES Act. States have been eligible to apply for the Governor’s fund since April 14th and the application for the larger pot of state funds opened on April 23rd. States have until June 1 and July 1, respectively, to apply for each set of funds.
While the Department of Education still has not formally announced which states have already applied or received funding, unofficial accounts suggest that more than half of states have applied for ESSER funds, while only twelve governors have received GEER funding. ED has touted the flexibility of the funds, while encouraging states and districts to use the funds for “technology, distance learning resources, training and long-term planning.” The department also released guidance focused on allowable uses and how to distribute funds to districts.
How states will ultimately spend the relief money is still emerging, as many have posted little if any information on state department of education websites. We’ve compiled the guidance and plans–and included relevant links–that states had published as of 5/27 in the table below. On most measures, we’ve seen a slight uptick in transparency since our last update however, 13 states have still published no information on the status of their CARES Act funding.
- Of the states that have applied for funds, only six have published their applications online: Kentucky has posted its GEER application; Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania have published their ESSER applications. This is an increase of 2 states since our last CARES Act update.
- Another 16 states have released information on priorities or suggestions for uses of CARES Act funds. This is an increase of 4 states since our last CARES Act update.
- 13 other states have released guidance or FAQs, but these documents are much broader and largely reiterate provisions and allowable uses as stated in the CARES Act. This is an increase of 1 state since our last CARES Act update.
- 26 states have released estimated LEA allocations (which are simply equal to each district’s current share of Title I funds), to allow districts to start planning how they will use funds. This is an increase of 3 states since our last CARES Act update.
Louisiana stands out as moving most aggressively in their planning process and distribution of funds. On May 1st, the state distributed $260 million of $287 million ESSER funds while simultaneously releasing comprehensive guidance on funding priorities designed to address the most pressing needs when schools reopen. The state plans on distributing the rest of the funds using competitive grants, based on alignment with state priorities. North Dakota has also been very transparent about its process: the state’s Department of Public Instruction has published its ESSER application and clear guidance for districts and has conducted three related training sessions. Kentucky is also leading states in transparency; KDOE has published both its ESSER and GEER fund applications, as well as separate documents laying out state priorities for each fund.
Other states are currently working on engaging various stakeholders in how to use funds; Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming have released surveys to solicit ideas on how best to use the state’s discretionary funds and Arkansas has convened a working group to discuss funding priorities. Similarly, South Carolina is soliciting questions from district leaders to help shape their forthcoming guidance.
Among the nearly half of states that have released some information on how they will spend federal funds, a few areas emerge as clear priorities for states. Given the focus on the digital divide during school closures, it’s no surprise that technology topped the list, with 20 of 22 states focused on increasing connectivity through digital devices and access to Wi-Fi.
A majority of these states are also prioritizing supporting high-risk student populations (particularly students with disabilities), professional development for teachers related to distance education, and high-quality digital curriculum. Five states also plan to support developing virtual and distance CTE opportunities, while another five are directing funds to ensure the continuity of food service. Taken together, these priorities suggest that states are primarily focused on addressing the current needs of LEAs and their communities.
We are increasingly seeing states also beginning to focus on upcoming challenges. Eleven states—AZ, CT, GA, IN, KY, LA, NV, NM, and UT—plan to fund social-emotional learning initiatives to ensure students are ready to access curriculum after experiencing COVID-related trauma. Additionally, eight states—AR, GA, HI, IN, NE, NV, NM, and UT—are planning to devote funds to equipment and infrastructure to support reopening schools; six states—FL, HI, IN, KY, MS, and NC—have stated commitments to use CARES funding to support efforts to stem learning loss through summer programming, with Florida indicating it will have both remote and in-person small group learning; and five are directing some funds to intensive academic interventions.
There is also evidence that states are considering dramatically altering how schools are organized. Four states—FL, IN, LA, and PA—are planning on using relief funds to support new staffing arrangements, as schools consider starting the school year with a blended-learning approach or with older, at-risk teachers delivering instruction remotely. Three states—IN, LA, and UT—also plan to fund an extended school day and/or year using federal funds.
While these states give us a glimpse into how states plan to use COVID funds, they represent only a portion of states who have already submitted their applications to the Department of Education. Increased transparency on the part of states, particularly around the portion of funds designated for state departments to distribute, would provide a clearer roadmap for districts as they continue to plan for summer programs and fall reopening options, as well as clearly illuminate gaps in funding for lawmakers considering additional relief.
August 16, 2018
June 27, 2018