The federal government has just made an unprecedented investment in education. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act provides almost $125 billion for education, and the vast majority of that funding — at least $109 billion — will go directly to local school districts. The amount of funding each state and each school district receives is based on the share of Title I funding they receive under federal law. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has already begun sending this money to states.

This marks an opportunity for families, educators, and local leaders to get involved in determining how ARP funds are spent by their school districts and in their schools and to ensure that federal funds are spent well and on the students who are most underserved by schools. States must submit an application for these funds to ED no later than June 7, 2021. This application requires states to consult with stakeholders, including students; families; civil rights organizations; school and district administrators; superintendents; teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, school staff and their unions; stakeholders representing the interests of students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, students and youth in foster care, migratory students, students who are incarcerated, and other underserved students; and, if applicable, tribes and charter school leaders. States must describe both how they solicited input and how they incorporated this input into the spending plans, included in their application.

What does ARP mean for families, advocates, educators, and local leaders who are eager to provide input about how this unprecedent funding should be used by their school districts and in their schools?

School districts must develop two public plans: 1) within 30 days of receiving funding, a plan that that includes information about when the district will return to in-person instruction; and 2) within 90 days of receiving funding, a plan that details how the school district will use ARP funding. Like states, local districts must also engage a diverse set of stakeholders in developing local plans to use this funding. States must then review this second set of public plans from each school district to ensure the planned activities meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs and address the opportunity gaps that existed before, and were exacerbated by COVID-19.

State and districts are on a tight timeline. So, now is the time to reach out to district administrators and school board members who may already be identifying and developing plans for using these funds. But, first, find how much funding your state will receive — and how much it must provide to school districts across the state — by visiting this allocation table. Some, but not all, state education agencies (SEAs) have already begun posting estimates of how much funding will be allocated to each district.

Then in conversations with decisionmakers and leaders about local district and school spending plans, ask these five key questions to ensure federal stimulus funds are used equitably:

  1. How is the district engaging a diverse and representative set of stakeholders — including students, families, educators, and the broader community — in developing a plan to use these funds and implementing that plan?
  2. What data will the district use to identify student needs — including needs that were unmet prior to the pandemic — and monitor how students are progressing?
  3. How will the district ensure funding is targeted to the students who need it the most?
  4. How will the district target additional resources, including federal stimulus funding, to create safe and equitable learning environments and provide whole child supports, particularly for vulnerable and systematically neglected students?
  5. How will the district implement evidence-based strategies to address unfinished instruction, accelerate learning, and respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs?

Read more for answers to these questions and more specific actions you should be watching for in your district.

With this funding, school districts have a chance to close opportunity gaps that existed prior to COVID-19, especially for students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English learners, students with disabilities, and students experiencing housing insecurity. It is critical that local stakeholders remain vigilant to ensure federal funds are directed to the students who need it most and that states and districts are leveraging this federal investment to drive significant change in our education system.