Giving our schools a lifeline: Where to find funding in the COVID-19 era

Dr. Judy Riffle shares COVID-19 funding solutions for hard-hit K-12 schools


“With COVID-19, we’ve made it to the life raft. Dry land is far away,” said epidemiologist Mark Lipsitch.

COVID-19’s depraved influx upset the world’s landscape; especially hard hit were our K-12 schools. Row the proverbial life raft with me and find COVID-19 solutions for your K-12 schools.

At present, two COVID-19 relief bills passed Congress and became law in March and December 2020, respectively.

  1. The CARES Act allocated $13.2 billion towards State education agencies (SEAs) to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on local education agencies (LEAs) and charter schools. The CARES Act delivered $307.5 million for school grants. This was divided into two arenas: “$180 million for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant and $127.5 million for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.” The CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) was signed into law in March 2020, allocating $13.2 billion. State Education Agencies (SEAs) were awarded these funds to provide to schools based on Title I formula funds. The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF) provided three billion dollars in formula grants based on the number of people aged five to twenty-four in each state and forty percent based on each state’s population count of children under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).
  2. Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) was signed into law in December 2020. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos announced that more than $300 million in grants was available to help states “create adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K-12 and postsecondary learners.” Also, $54.3 billion for K-12 schools, was largely delivered through Title I funding. That is about four times what schools received in the CARES Act approved in March. $22.7 billion for higher education with $1.7 billion set aside for minority-serving institutions and close to $1 billion towards for-profit colleges. An additional $4 billion was earmarked for governors to spend at their discretion, with $2.7 billion of that for private schools.

As of February 9, 2021, in partisan fashion, Congress is considering the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. Democrats and Republican members of Congress are jockeying before a final vote. If approved, the ARP would deliver $130 billion to K-12 schools and $35 billion to fund higher education. $5 billion is allotted to governors for the "hardest hit" K-12, higher education or early education programs. Currently, there are 700 proposed amendments to the ARP, with a final vote coming before March 14, 2021.

Non-profit foundations provide a safety net for schools during the COVID-19 crisis. Think outside of the box and work in concert with local non-profits and other sponsors.

Listed below are a sampling of foundations that assist schools during COVID-19:

There are many solutions to assist schools during COVID-19, but Wellcome Director Jeremy Farrar rightly summed it up: "Science is our exit strategy.”

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