February Pandemic Funding Update: Understanding the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act

Pandemic Education Funding February Update: Understanding the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act

I often wonder what I'd be doing right now if I were still in one of my former roles as chief of staff, policy director, education advisor to a governor, or state budget director. Last spring, I would have been focused on using the resources provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on my state's citizens in general and its teachers and children more specifically. And I wouldn't have been alone—at the time, everyone was simply trying to do the best they could in response to enormous challenges.

When I think about using the resources provided by Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act for 2021, however, my focus is more proactive:

  1. Define our education goals for 2021.
  2. Determine whether federal resources can be used to help us achieve those goals.
  3. Execute research-proven strategies with innovative methods to bring those goals to fruition.

If you're wondering how to maximize CRRSA's impact within your sphere of influence, I recommend keeping the following in mind: Act, don't react. Pick a target. Define success using measured outcomes. Move the needle. Hit the target. You've got this!

Pandemic education funding: February update

Passed in April 2020, the CARES Act included $13.2 billion earmarked for education. In our October funding update, we outlined the three areas of priority for how states planned to spend their allocated CARES Act funds as follows: 

  • Addressing the digital divide and equipping students for remote learning

  • Professional development for teachers adapting their instructional methods and curricula to better suit remote learning

  • Learning management systems and digital curriculum resources to accommodate instruction and administration conducted virtually

According to a portal launched by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) last year to track funds awarded to and used by states, about 12% of allocated Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds had been spent by the end of November 2020, along with 18% of Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds. The percent spent varies widely by state:


In a December 2020 statement, the DoE theorized that these "slow expenditure rates" suggested states were "banking on CARES Act funds to offset potential revenue declines next year." At the time, the fate of follow-up funding from Congress was up in the air, which likely contributed to states' reluctance to spend. Once the CRRSA Act was signed into law on December 27, some of that uncertainty was resolved.

Funding Round II

CRRSA provided an additional $82 billion through the Education Stabilization Fund, which allocated $54.3 billion for the ESSER Fund and an additional $4,053,060,000 for the GEER Fund.

These supplemental emergency relief funds will be awarded to address the ongoing effect of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools across the nation. The following findings from the Economic Policy Institute's September 2020 COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy report helped illuminate the scope of this impact:

  • Online learning and teaching are effective only if students have consistent access to the internet and computers, and if teachers have received targeted training and supports for online instruction.

  • Learning and development have been interrupted and disrupted for millions of students. The only effective response is to use diagnostic tests and other tools to meet each child where they are and to devise a plan to make up for the interruptions.

  • The pandemic has exacerbated well-documented opportunity gaps that put low-income students at a disadvantage relative to their better-off peers.

The CRRSA legislation was designed to address these issues. Some of the approved uses of CRRSA funds include:

  • Administering and using high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable to accurately assess students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic needs, including through differentiated instruction

  • Implementing evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students

  • Addressing learning loss among students, including low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care

As they consider how to use these funds, educators should heed the Economic Policy Institute's findings and prioritize efforts to stop learning loss, accelerate students' literacy growth, and make a long-term impact in their districts—especially on disadvantaged students. A well-designed structured literacy curriculum that is research-proven, based on the Science of Reading, and progresses from foundational to advanced literacy skills is an investment that can minimize the pandemic's effect on this school year.

–Jon Hummell, National Manager of State Initiatives, Lexia Learning

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