How school districts can get the most out of the CARES Act

April 10, 2020

As COVID-19 has hit the country, IT teams at school districts have never been so important. Their efforts have been invaluable as school districts ensure our kids can continue learning from home. This is no small feat. Even for schools with existing classroom management software, BYOD policies and practices, and teacher proficiency in using online tools, moving to online-only teaching is a huge undertaking.

The government has recognized that this challenge requires special funding. On March 27, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act. This stimulus package includes $13.5 billion for education, with various provisions that allow for increased spending on education technology.

Here’s what your school district needs to know about what funds are available and how you can leverage them for new EdTech funding.  


How the CARES Act supports EdTech use—and how it doesn’t

The stimulus package sets aside $13.5 billion for K-12 education for a wide range of educational purposes, such as providing education services to English-language learners or students with disabilities, providing mental health support to students, and offering remote education programs during school closures. It also provides $3 billion for states to use as they see fit for K-12 and post-secondary education. 

On April 6, U.S. Secretary of Education Bets DeVos announced a new process for providing state funding flexibilities. This streamlined process is part of an effort to best meet the needs of educators and students during the COVID-19 national emergency.

"By extending additional funding flexibility to schools, we are helping to ensure student learning continues and supporting teachers as they transition to virtual classrooms. Local leaders have asked for the ability to steer more resources to local needs, and these new tools will help them do just that," said DeVos. 

Additionally, the package provides $25 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Programs to support distance learning and broadband access. Unfortunately, despite lobbying by education advocates, the package does not provide additional funds for the FCC’s e-rate program, which supports many schools’ use of technology and the internet. 

Although it doesn’t provide additional e-rate relief, this funding still offers numerous venues to improve school districts’ internet connectivity and use of technology. States can choose to use the money to provide students with their own devices. And schools dipping their toes into online learning may be able to purchase or license videoconferencing and learning software suited to their specific needs, rather than using what’s available for free (as many educators are learning, Zoom may not always be the best choice for online learning.)


CARES Act sign in front of stack of books


How waivers and additional state funding further support tech use

Federal support for EdTech use goes beyond simply providing funds. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has also given states more latitude in using these funds more flexibly. 

States can apply for waivers to loosen the regular restrictions on how they spend federal funds. Most relevant to education technology, the USDE can waive restrictions on the way states use Title IV funds, which are regularly subject to a limit of 15% being used for technology. 

States such as Virginia and Oklahoma have already received approval for more flexibility in how they spend federal education funds. Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma’s State Superintendent, stressed the importance of this waiver. 

“This is a critical step in giving school leaders much-needed latitude as they face the economic uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Other waivers, such as those for testing and accountability requirements, may also indirectly influence what type of technology school districts choose to implement. States including Georgia and New Jersey have received formal approval to waive testing for the remainder of this school year. School districts that do not need to administer distance testing will have different technology needs than those in states where testing has not been waived. 

Additionally, some states are announcing their own support for education technology. For instance, the California Department of Education announced $100 million to, in part, “... focus on implementing a distance learning infrastructure that is equitable and accessible to all students.”

For the most up-to-date news on the funds available for your school district to invest in technology, check with your state education department. 


Seizing the moment for EdTech

EdTech has never been as vital as it is now. Without it, kids would not be able to continue their education during this health crisis. 

As a result, school districts’ tech needs are skyrocketing. Teachers (and parents!) need more training and support on how to use education technology. Remote learning creates new hurdles for connectivity, systems access and security. Tech budgets are straining to keep up with the demand. 

The CARES Act, Title IV waivers, and individual state funding can help. All school district administrators should be taking advantage of this support to strengthen their technology infrastructure and offer better remote learning tools. 

Want to discuss how to ensure a smooth transition to remote learning? Get in touch today.

Topics: Distance Learning

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