The largest COVID-19 relief fund for U.S. schools is on its way with over $122 billion going directly to K-12 education and learning loss.
Under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, school districts will receive almost $110 billion to spend before September 2023 – $22 billion to address the pandemic’s impact on student learning, and $87.8 billion to spend more freely on local needs. Combined with earlier sources of funding, schools will now receive about $4,000 per student.
Which begs the question: how to put it to good use with education technology?
We’re here to answer your questions about COVID relief funding and the role instruction tools like curriculum mapping management software can play in helping students, teachers and administrators close the learning loss gap and get ahead of the next crisis.
What is this COVID relief fund about?
The latest and greatest in pandemic support is an effort by the federal government to help schools reopen safely for in-person learning and address learning loss – or the decay in student knowledge and skill that students experience when they’re not in school.
The $110 billion that K-12 schools will receive is part of the larger $122 billion initiative that also includes:
- Support for homeless children and youth
- Summer enrichment and after-school programs
- Programs and grants for students with disabilities
- Funding for private schools that serve a significant number of low-income students
In addition, $7 billion in funding is directed toward the E-Rate program, which helps students connect online.
How are school districts allowed to use their relief funding?
Of the $110 billion that districts receive, 20 percent must address learning loss directly. Schools can spend this portion to help students catch up on an estimated loss that could be as big as two-thirds of their academic year. Schools also need to make sure these interventions aid students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic on social, emotional and academic fronts.
The remaining 80 percent? Well, it’s largely up to each district to decide. There’s a lot of wiggle room to address the particular needs of their students, teachers and progress on COVID-19 recovery. The U.S. Department of Education offers examples like:
- Addressing the needs of children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness and foster care youth
- Planning for or implementing activities during long-term closures
- Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, connectivity, assistive technology, and adaptive equipment)
- Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs
What are the most effective ways that districts can use their funding?
Because the COVID relief fund guidelines are so flexible, some experts warn that superintendents will face an influx of competing interest groups that want in on the extra cash. They also warn that schools may squander the money on measures that have little to no impact. Deep cleaning, for example, may put minds at ease but does little to make schools safer.
Still, that flexibility affords schools some notable opportunities as well – like the ability to try out new, innovative instruction tools to see which are most effective for their students. The long timeline also gives schools a runway to catch up on lost learning more gradually, rather than cramming it in over a single year.
Obviously, we can’t tell you exactly how the money should be spent in your district. But we can offer up this advice: the decisions you make today will impact how your students learn tomorrow. This funding is an opportunity to support students and teachers well beyond the immediate aftermath and recovery from COVID – better preparing schools for the next time a disruption happens.
What role does education technology play?
COVID-19 forced schools to adopt new instruction tools almost overnight. From online services that let teachers lead real-time virtual classes to software that manages their curriculum maps, education technology bridged the gap between in-person and online learning when it was needed most.
This immediate shift in teaching and learning was a double-edged sword. It highlighted areas where the then-current learning environment fell short. Students who were already disadvantaged fell further behind without the same access as their more advantaged classmates. It also allowed schools to adopt technology they had never tried before, rethink the way digital tools could support students and teachers, and explore how technology could meet – rather than worsen – existing and future challenges.
In terms of addressing learning loss, education technology provides platforms where teachers and students can connect, engage and measure progress. It can help teachers focus on teaching through more effective collaboration on things like curriculum while removing a lot of administrative burden. And it can help students focus on learning by engaging them in new ways and personalizing content to meet them where they are.
What kinds of technology can help address learning loss?
If education technology is high on your list of funding priorities, the COVID relief fund is a great chance to invest. That said, it’s important to resist the call of band-aid solutions to temporary problems. The best tools do two things: they put student learning first, and will continue to help students and teachers beyond the COVID recovery process.
So which solutions will have the greatest impact? Schools have found success in approaches such as:
- Curriculum mapping management software: Platforms like Chalk help teachers create and share curriculums with each other. This means they can better plan their school year on a more holistic level, measuring where learning loss occurs, filling in the gaps, and aligning lessons across standards, subjects and grades.
- Gamification: Game-like elements such as points, achievements, feedback, class challenges and healthy competition can help students stay engaged in class and motivated to learn.
- Classroom automation: No, not robot teachers. Think chatbots that can answer frequently-asked student questions, AI that gives personalized feedback and recommendations to students, and assessments that take the burden of marking off of teachers.
- Learning management systems: Having a central place to deliver lessons, share materials, submit assignments, hold conversations and assess student work is a great way to bridge in-class and online learning during the pandemic and beyond.
With any new tools you implement, always consider the technology barrier. Will any students in your school have difficulty accessing the instruction tools you provide?
Make your investment a smart one
In the “before times,” investment in education technology was generally slow, often limited by funding roadblocks. COVID relief funding gives schools an opportunity not only to catch up, but also to grow with new instruction tools that can help combat learning loss today and promote new forms of learning into the future. The key in using that funding on education technology is making smart investments that prioritize student learning and build capacity for teachers now… and for the years that will follow.