State’s schools, Department of Education get $129 million from CARES Act

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,864 views 

Arkansas’ K-12 public schools and the state Department of Education will receive almost $129 million from the $2 trillion CARES Act passed last month by Congress.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Thursday (April 23) that $128,758,638 will go to Arkansas state and local education agencies.

That amount is the state’s share of more than $13.2 billion created by the CARES Act for an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. “CARES” stands for “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.”

According to the press release, education leaders can use the funding for immediate needs including distance education, student health and safety, and planning for next school year. The release said local leaders will have “flexibility” in how they use the funds.

“This national emergency continues to shine a light on the need for all schools to be more agile,” the release quoted DeVos saying. “Now is the time to truly rethink education and to get creative about how we meet each student’s unique needs. The funding made available today has very few bureaucratic strings attached and empowers local education leaders to do just that. I encourage them to focus on investing in the technology, distance learning resources, training and long-term planning that will help education continue for both teachers and students, no matter where learning takes place.”

Funding to the states is distributed based on each state’s allocation from the 2019 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. State education agencies must allocate 90% of their ESSER funds to local education agencies, including public charter schools. Funding for local schools will be based on the proportion they received in fiscal year 2019 under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced April 6 that all Arkansas public schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year after first closing them temporarily March 15.

Since then, schools have continued to educate students using alternative methods of instruction including using digital devices and online instruction, paper instructional packets, and video lessons provided by Arkansas PBS. Ninety percent of the state’s 255 school districts are providing meals to students.

Dr. Richard Abernathy, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, said schools likely will spend much of the money on remediation programs such as summer schools to help students catch up from their lost instruction time this year. Other expenses include increased access to technology, counselors for students who have faced mental health stresses while living at home, and school nurses.

He said superintendents on Zoom meetings have said they are planning for various fall scenarios, including normal school hours, a second shutdown if the virus reoccurs, or a partial opening where students from different grades attend half the time on a rotating basis.

State agencies have until July 1 to apply for the funding. The release said the department plans to process funding requests within three days. Any funds not awarded by state agencies within a year will be returned to the U.S. Department of Education and reallocated to the states.

ADE spokesperson Kim Mundell said of the $129 million grant, “We welcome the much-needed additional funds and are working through the details provided by the U.S. Department of Education regarding the use of the funds. We’ll be coordinating with districts in the near future.”