School districts still awaiting funds from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) plan may soon be receiving the much-anticipated federal dollars.
The U.S Department of Education (DOE) announced on Tuesday that every state education agency, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico received approval of their submitted plans before the end of last month. As a result, the DOE has distributed all $122 billion of the ARP ESSER funds.
“These funds are critical to helping states and local districts safely keep schools open for in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, including responding to recent challenges arising from the Omicron variant,” The DOE stated via press release. “As of last week, with the help of ARP funds, about 96 percent of K-12 public schools were open for full-time, in-person instruction.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona added, “I am proud that, with the approval of these plans, states have 100 percent of their funds and robust plans to help schools remain open and help students thrive. We are urging states and school districts to deploy funds now to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Omicron variant, on our school communities,” he stated. “We continue to encourage state and local education leaders to utilize funds for testing, personal protective equipment, and staff recruitment and retention. In areas where these funds are being deployed quickly, we are already seeing the positive impact that this infusion of federal support is having directly in schools and communities. We know what it takes to keep our schools open safely for in-person learning, and these funds will help us achieve that goal.”
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The DOE website includes a link to all state plans as well as their total award amount. Each state education agency is also required to post each school district’s plans for the use of the funds for transparency purposes. Many school districts cited ventilation improvements, staff hiring and retention, mental health services, high dosage tutoring programs, after school and summer learning partnerships, as use of the funds, the DOE stated.
The DOE also noted that it took action to address labor shortages in schools by writing letters for state school chiefs and district superintendents on how ESSER funds can be used to address the labor shortages impacting schools. A FAQ was also issued clarifying it.
Additionally, through Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, states were given the option to temporarily waive the portion of the commercial driver’s license skills test that requires applicants to identify the “under the hood” engine components in hopes to increase the number of school bus drivers. However, so far only New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have implemented it.
The DOE stated it also clarified that the funds can be used to facilitate hiring AmeriCorps members to support schools, students and ease the burden on staff.