How is education changing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
It started when millions of K–12 and college students across the country found themselves suddenly unable to go to their schools or locked out of campuses, and teachers were forced to shift to online learning with little or no time to ramp up on remote-learning tools or digital lesson plans.
Now, as schools and campuses strive to close technology gaps in their infrastructure and broaden student access to distance-learning tools and devices, education itself faces a potential long-term shift. To help schools manage the crisis, Congress passed the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes nearly $31 billion to support educational needs.
CARES funding is a critical first step in helping educational organizations develop continuity of operations, as well as consider long-term plans and create new hybrid modes of education that will support both “regular” and “flex” modes of education.
What does CARES funding provide for K–12 and higher education?
There are several significant components in the CARES Act to support the rapid shift to distance learning.
Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER)—This fund allots $13 billion to support immediate K–12 education needs. This includes strengthening protocols to minimize the spread of infectious disease and focusing on the need for continuity. ESSER also can help districts invest in technology infrastructure and distance-learning tools that allow teachers to conduct online classroom instruction without interruption and foster faculty training. State education agencies are eligible to apply through July 1 and must allocate most of the money to local education agencies.
Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)—This includes different ways to distribute $14 billion in relief funds to higher education institutions. Half of the funding must be distributed directly to students. Fifty percent may be used by universities and colleges to cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including remote learning, IT capacity and distance-learning training. Higher educational institutions may apply through a Department of Education (DoE) grants process.
Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF)—This $3 billion fund serves public and private K–12 schools, early childcare centers and higher education institutions. The DoE will award this funding to state governors based on a formula detailed in the CARES Act. Funding can be used flexibly by the governors as they deem necessary.