NSTA Legislative Update: $13.2B in Emergency Money for K–12 Schools Now Available by Jodi Peterson

On April 23 Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that more than $13.2 billion in emergency relief funds are now available to states and districts to support K–12 students whose educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus.

The money is part of the $31 billion education stabilization fund under the $2 trillion CARES Act economic relief package (H.R. 748) signed into law on March 27.

Schools and districts can use funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) for tools and resources for distance education, ensuring student health and safety, and developing and implementing plans for the next school year. To see how much your state will receive under the ESSER Fund, click here.

State education agencies (SEAs) must allocate 90 percent of their ESSER funds to districts, including public charter schools, in proportion to the amount of FY 2019 funds the district received under ESSA Title I. Up to 10 percent of the SEA’s award may be retained for the state department of education to address needs related to responding to coronavirus. Local leaders have the flexibility to determine how to use their ESSER funds, as long as they are in compliance with applicable federal education laws. See more on how Title II and Title IV are used here.

States have until July 1 to apply for the funds, and ED says it will process each submitted form within three business days of receipt.

As reported in earlier Legislative Updates, in response to the pandemic the Department of Education has already allowed states to cancel federally mandated standardized testing and has developed a streamlined process for providing states with funding flexibilities to repurpose existing K–12 education funds.  The Department of Education has also announced $3 billion in emergency block grants that governors to use at their discretion to support schools and colleges and $12.5 billion for higher education.

A joint press release from the FCC and Department of Education states that funding “provides more than $13 billion in grants that elementary and secondary schools can use for purposes that include remote learning.  More specifically, the CARES Act states that local educational agencies (LEAs) may use the funding for “[p]urchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity).”  The application for such funds provides that, “The SEA (state education agency) must assure that, when applicable, it will provide technical assistance to LEAs on the use of ESSER funds for remote learning . . . .” It also indicates the U.S. Secretary of Education’s interest in reporting on the use of funds to address “the digital divide, including securing access to home-based connectivity and remote-use devices . . . .”

ED Rolls out Stimulus Grant to “Rethink” Education

On April 27, Secretary DeVos announced that  more than $300 million in discretionary grant funds  will be available for states hardest hit by the coronavirus  to create “adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K–12 and postsecondary learners in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.”

The Department will divide the stimulus grant funding between two competitions: $180 million for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant and $127.5 million for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.  

State education agencies can apply for funds to the Rethink K–12 Education Models for

  • Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning
  • Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting
  • New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and lives

Critics were quick to point out that this discretionary grant was largely a voucher program designed to thwart money away from public education. In a press statement Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said  “DeVos is using what little discretionary money was provided for education in the CARES Act to move full-steam ahead with turning our public schools into online cash cows for her corporate friends and offering families vouchers that divert resources away from the schools that need those resources.”

The Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants are designed to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning programs in order to get Americans back to work.  More information on this grant will be forthcoming.

Read more here.

DeVos Seeks New Funding Priority to Provide Professional Development Vouchers to Teachers

Secretary DeVos is proposing a new funding priority that would give teachers vouchers or stipends to choose their own professional development courses. Under her proposal, educators would receive vouchers to pay for their own individual professional development opportunities rather than rely on those selected or approved by state or local leaders. DeVos is seeking to use existing funds under the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program by making PD vouchers a funding priority. The department is seeking comments from educators and the public about this proposal until May 13. More here.

SEED and EIR Grant Applications Now Available

The U.S. Department of Education has released their Notices Inviting Applications (NIAs) for the 2020 Supporting Effective Educator Development Program (SEED) and Education Innovation and Research Program (EIR) grant competitions. Code.org has put together high-level summaries of each program here: 2020 Dept of Education: SEED Grant Program Highlights  and 2020 Dept of Education: EIR Grant Program Highlights. Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.


Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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