As the coronavirus crisis continues to place tremendous strain on the education system, teachers and school leaders, support staff, district leaders, and state policymakers are working quickly to ensure the well-being of students and families. The federal government created three stimulus bills to provide relief and assistance: The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R.6074), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201), and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (S. 3548). The CARES Act, signed by the president on March 27, 2020, is the largest stimulus bill in U.S. history. Of the roughly $2.2 trillion dollars the law provides in relief, $30.75 billion has been allocated for educational purposes ($13.5 billion for K-12, $14.25 billion for higher education, and $3 billion for governors to use on K-12 or higher education). Learn more about the CARES Act here.

While the federal response was swift and necessary, states must now prioritize the needs of K-12 students who have been disproportionally impacted by this pandemic, including students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English learners, as well as students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and students engaged in the juvenile justice system. The effects of the coronavirus have exacerbated existing inequities, and it is critical that these funds be used to address the deep opportunity gaps that students and families across the country are facing.

To ensure federal stimulus funds are used equitably, state leaders must:

1. Ensure districts distribute funds equitably to schools. The U.S. Department of Education will distribute funds to states based on the state’s share of Title I aid. States must then distribute 90% of these funds to districts based on how much the district receives in Title I aid. The law does not require districts to use a specific formula or set of priorities when distributing funding to individual schools. Therefore, the state must ensure districts allocate funds to the schools with greatest needs, including those with the highest numbers of students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English learners.

2. Ensure school districts have an equity-centered plan to use funding. To ensure that all students have equitable access to learning opportunities during and after school closures, including access to technology, high-quality instructional materials, and social emotional and mental health supports, states must ensure school districts develop plans for how the district will meet the continued needs of all students, and particularly the unique needs of students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and English learners. These plans should be based on community and parent feedback about how stimulus funds can best support these students and be aligned with existing district plans (e.g., Title I plans). Districts must also have robust communications plans and supports in place that incorporate the home languages of families in their school community, to assist families and caregivers who are struggling to access resources or support student learning at home.

3. Use state funding to meet the needs of students who are the most vulnerable. States may reserve up to 10% of the funding they receive for state-level activities. That funding should be used to:

  • Create or expand mental health/crisis hotlines and other virtual supports that will be critical for students, educators, and school system employees (or laid off employees) and their families around the state.
  • Ensure that districts that serve large numbers of students from low-income backgrounds have the additional supports and resources they need to meet the needs of their students. Specifically, these resources can assist with outreach and instructional support so that students who cannot currently participate in distance learning receive the technology and technical assistance to do so, or to receive instructional continuity and learning opportunities through other means.
  • Provide direct support for McKinney Vento liaisons in districts with large concentrations of students experiencing homelessness.
  • Provide direct support for coordinators of programs for special education and English learners in districts with large concentrations of students with disabilities or English learners.

4. Publicly report on — and ensure districts publicly report on — the use of these funds. The state must ensure all local education agencies (LEAs) that receive funds make publicly available how they and schools within their boundaries are spending their allocations, explicitly describing how they will meet the unique needs of students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and students engaged in the juvenile justice system.

5. Ensure additional funding is allocated equitably. The CARES Act provides governors with $3 billion that they may use at their discretion for either K-12 or higher education. The CARES Act does not specify how governors should distribute this money, but funds must be targeted toward school districts, and institutions of higher education, most significantly impacted by the pandemic. Beyond stimulus resources, the state education agency (SEA) should now begin to think about how to strategically use their regular funding streams in coming years to close learning gaps resulting from school closures and ensure all students ultimately meet grade-level standards by supporting students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities who had less access to high-quality educational experiences before this pandemic and whose need for social, emotional, and academic support and services is even more urgent.