New relief is on the way for Alabama’s public schools. A $900 billion dollar aid package was approved by Congress on December 21st and signed into law by the President on December 30th. The relief package provides approximately $82 billion to create an Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), with $54.3 billion specifically allocated for K-12 public schools nationally. That’s approximately four times more than the $13.2 billion American schools received from the CARES Act funding passed in March 2020. Alabama can expect over $900 million in relief.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what K-12 stakeholders in Alabama can expect from this new funding.
Show Me the (K-12) Money
The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) recently released a detailed analysis of projected stimulus funding levels for sixteen states, including Alabama. Alabama’s estimated $900+ million for K-12 education will be allocated in the following ways:
GEER (the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund):
$67 million projected for Alabama, with $21.5 going to public schools. This funding will be administered by Governor Ivey. For example, GEER Funds from last year’s CARES Act were spent on wifi hotspots for school buses, remote learning support, tutoring/remediation, etc.
ESSER (the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund):
$891 million projected for Alabama. This funding stream goes directly to local school districts (based on the Title I formula), who will receive approximately four times more than they received in CARES Act ESSER funding last year. In addition to the previous CARES Act approved categories (e.g., PPE, technology and devices, broadband access, summer and afterschool programming, and mental health), Congress authorized the following new funding areas:
- Addressing student learning loss more broadly, including the unique needs of those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, learning english, or dealing with a disability
- Repairing and improving school facilities to reduce the risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards
Funding For Broadband
The new stimulus package includes specific funding for broadband infrastructure that, while outside of direct funding to K-12 education, will have a substantial impact on our schools. Among the many inequities the pandemic exposed, one of the greatest was the digital divide that exists in Alabama. As most schools went remote or hybrid this fall, the need for expanding infrastructure and accessibility to high-speed internet became abundantly clear.
This round of funding includes $7 billion nationally for expanding access to high-speed internet. Almost half of the funding will go toward helping cover the cost of monthly internet bills, providing up to $50 per month to low-income families. The package also includes $300 million for building out infrastructure in underserved rural areas, as well as $1 billion in grants for tribal broadband programs.
Locally, Governor Ivey announced last week that she is extending the Alabama Broadband Connectivity program through the end of June 2021. This program provided vouchers to cover the cost of household internet for low-income students and was originally set to expire in December 2020. This extension is only for families already enrolled in the program.
Where do we go from here?
It’s critical for school districts to use this funding to address student learning loss. Learning loss is the most significant education challenge coming out of this pandemic, particularly for our most vulnerable students. Districts should focus on investing the money in ways that prioritize in-person student learning, extends student learning through summer and afterschool programs, and emphasizes student mental and physical health.
As schools continue to find ways to safely reopen, it was announced this week that Alabama’s teachers will be next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a process that is anticipated to start in February or early March. The intersection of these timelines should influence how districts decide to invest their resources.
Additionally, President-Elect Biden has referred to this stimulus package as a “down payment,” indicating his desire for additional relief legislation at the onset of his presidency. As the year unfolds, A+ will continue to monitor relief efforts and advocate for funding and policies that ensure great schools and great outcomes for every child.