Administration, General

Breaking Down Biden’s $130 Billion COVID K-12 Relief Bill

The American Rescue Plan 2021 passed through Congress earlier this month, one of the first major steps of the new administration. A significant portion of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan includes nearly $130 billion towards helping K-12 public schools deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences.

This $130 billion in aid is on top of the measures in the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act from March and December of last year. It is the hope of the President and supporters that this legislation will invigorate recovery from the economic and health effects of COVID-19 in the United States. President Biden has made the reopening of schools a high priority and sees the ARP as an integral part of the path forward.

What does this mean for your school? Let’s take a look at some major areas and designations of this portion of the new relief bill.

1) Staffing

The administration definitely doesn’t want school systems to be scrambling. For this reason the highest priority of the bill is closing budget holes so districts can avoid layoffs. The authors used data from the Learning Policy Institute, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the National Conference of State Legislatures. They know that districts facing shaky finances will only continue to face challenges moving ahead and that safe and successful school reopening depends on having staff certainty.

It doesn’t stop there though, as the bill even allocates significant funding towards hiring more teachers. Additional instructional staff will make it so that class sizes can be reduced and social distancing better maintained. This was recommended by the American Federation of Teachers.

In addition to instructional staff there are also allocations for increasing custodial staff, health staff, counselors, and school psychologists. This importantly reflects the need to buffer and mitigate the continuing pandemic situation from both the physical and mental standpoint. It comes from recommendations from the CDC, American School Nurse Association, American School Counselor Association, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2) Health & Safety

Following CDC guidelines on the reopening of schools, there is an allocation in the bill to cover personal protective equipment for school staff. In addition, there will be masks for any students eligible for free or reduced lunch, as well as backup masks for any students who forget to bring their own.

CDC recommendations are also behind the earmark of specific funding for physical barriers and other materials for use in schools to keep students and staff safe.

3) Support for Students

Only second to the direct instructional staff allocations are funds intended to directly support high risk students. Though the pandemic continues to affect Americans across the spectrum, the gap between highest and lowest achieving students is only widening under the strain of instructional challenges. For this reason the bill sets aside additional funding for extended learning time, such as twenty days of additional instruction, as well as tutoring, summer school, electronic devices, Wi-Fi hotspots, community schooling, and equity gap challenge grants. This push comes from internal recommendations as well as the Learning Policy institute and Census Pulse Survey data.

It’s important to note that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates only around 4% of this money will end up in schools’ hands this year. This is because much of the funds of last year’s aid packages remain unspent. It’s also because funds will primarily go to state and local education agencies for further distribution. The CBO does estimate that the amount of money will rise significantly in 2022 and 2023 — clearly an indicator that we are only just beginning our recovery from Covid-19.

No matter what, though, it has to start somewhere, and we here at Script wish you success and safety in reopening. We are here for you in case we can help your school continue to serve its students and families in any way we can!