Closing the Gap: the CARES Act and You

By Jeremy Thompson, Instructional Coach

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This year, the world has been gripped by an unprecedented set of unique challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, one of our greatest challenges has been the pandemic’s impact on our nation's children.

Moreover, this crisis is unpredictable: many uncertainties are potentially unresolvable or unknowable, including the duration of the pandemic, its risk to young children, and its long-term impact on public health and safety, the economy, state and local revenues, and the family unit.

The crisis has already affected 2020 spring and fall school semesters, delayed school openings, and is predicted to impact the rest of the current school year. As a result, distance learning in some form (fully remote, blended, or some combination of methods) has become the new standard for instructional delivery, and is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

As a result of recent legislation, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) have significant flexibility in their use of funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including which schools and students are supported and how funds are used, providing schools with opportunities for addressing this unique set of challenges. Schools can effectively work to bridge the gap that exists between students and their LEAs by utilizing products and services covered by various funding sources within the legislation.

The $2.3 trillion CARES Act provides time-sensitive, one-time funding and flexibility to help states to respond to the COVID-19 emergency in K-12 schools. The Act provides:

  • $30 billion Education Stabilization Fund for K-12 and higher education programs
  • More than $4 billion for early childhood education
  • Other support such as forgivable loans to nonprofits, including many providers of after-school or summer programs

SEAs must award funds within one year of receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education. The initial award period continues through June 30, 2021; LEAs have until September 30, 2022 to expend funds.

According to a report this spring by the Wallace Foundation regarding oversight of CARES Act funding sources, it will be crucial for responsible parties to coordinate with stakeholders to develop plans for using these funds. A consistent approach to spending should stay congruent with required reporting duties relating to Title Ⅰ, IEP, and ELL one-to-one and intervention/differentiation statutes and compliance measures.

Because CARES Act funds are supplemental to existing budgets and flexible in their applications, they can be combined with other funding sources (including those provided under ESSA plans) to facilitate a holistic, integrated approach. Such combinations should be completed within the first 100 days of school when attendance counts are due.

Distance learning in some form has become the new standard for instructional delivery, and is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Given the widely variable effects of the pandemic, invested parties must engage in ongoing conversations about choosing the best tools, resources, and delivery systems. Partnerships should be developed with a sense of both urgency and patience.

Closing equity gaps in remote learning is the Act’s primary focus. School, district, and state leaders should evaluate the potential impact of the crisis on children’s social, emotional, and academic development, and on the education system as a whole. These leaders should make plans to utilize these funds in targeted ways, with special emphasis on students most at risk, including economically disadvantaged and special needs students.

The Distance Learning Gap

Closing the gap will require navigating this uncharted territory in a range of environments, some conducive to learning, others rife with dilemmas and distractions, exposing social, economic, and digital disadvantages.

At Learning A-Z we’ve sought to:

  • Identify the roles and attributes required to provide essential distance and hybrid instructional support opportunities across the spectrum of in-person and remote learning experiences
  • Assist in meeting the diverse needs of children, especially those in grades K-5, with award-winning learning tools and techniques

To learn more about our role in assisting diverse learning communities, view our webinar, CARES Act Funding for Schools: Bridging Gaps in Funding, Access, and Achievement, as a valuable next step to connect your CARES Act funding to solutions with the greatest potential impact on learning.

Register now to:

  • Learn how CARES Act funds can be used to support all students, including students with IEPs and ELL needs
  • Explore the supplemental blended learning solutions from Learning A-Z that can help you have the most impact
  • Adopt best practices for assessing your needs and making budget decisions that align with CARES Act guidance and with your educational goals

Join our webinar to learn more about the objectives, guidance, and compliance requirements for CARES Act funding, and how to maximize the impact on learning for students today and into the future. Register Now!

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Explore our comprehensive collection of CARES Act information and resources to help you make informed funding decisions and meet the needs of all students.

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