Federal Update

AJE is happy to share these highlights and updates from the US Department of Education.


The Department released the state plan application template for the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.  This application supports states in describing how they will use federal resources to continue to reopen schools, sustain operations, and support students — particularly those most impacted by the pandemic.  Last month, states received access to two-thirds of their ARP ESSER allocation, or $81 billion.  After the final one-third is made available, upon approval of their plans, states will have received access to nearly $122 billion (Secretary Cardona’s letter to Chief State School Officers and fact sheet).

The plan is an opportunity for states and school districts to engage the public to ensure that the needs of students and communities are best reflected in state and local spending.

In their plans, states must describe how they and districts will demonstrate transparency in their planning, identify and meet the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic, choose effective evidence-based interventions, and prioritize educational equity, inclusive stakeholder engagement, and strong fiscal safeguards.  These plans will provide critical information to the public and the Department about the use of unprecedented funding.  They will also inform the agency’s technical assistance to states and districts, as well as the agency’s approach to monitoring implementation of funding.

States must submit their ARP ESSER applications by June 7, and the Department will approve applications and distribute remaining funds expeditiously once plans are received and reviewed.

To further support states in completing their applications and meeting ARP ESSER requirements, the Department also issued a notice of interim final requirements with additional details. Also last week, the Department announced state allocations under the $800 million ARP ESSER Homeless Children and Youth Fund and distributed $200 million in funding.  With this announcement, the Secretary issued a letter to Chief State School Officers underscoring the urgent need to use these funds to identify those who are homeless, offer wrap-around services in light of the impact of the pandemic, and provide assistance to enable homeless students to attend school and fully participate in school activities, including in-person instruction this spring and upcoming summer learning and enrichment programming.  Remaining funding will be allocated as soon as June.

In the coming weeks and months, the Department of Education will continue supporting reopening and recovery efforts.  Beyond helping more schools implement strategies to reopen for in-person learning, it will work with communities to ensure students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs and educator and staff well-being are met.  It will also work to ensure federal funding is utilized to rebuild the education system back better than it was before March 2020.


In a recent letter to superintendents, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg outlined current efforts to address questions regarding the 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).  The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recognizes that the pandemic has affected the way that many schools provide instruction.  To assist districts and schools that have offered virtual instruction for all or part of the school year, OCR has added new instructions and directional indicators to district- and school-level forms, clarifying how to respond to in-person, virtual, and hybrid educational environments.  (Note: For technical assistance, superintendents may reach out to the CRDC’s Partner Support Center at crdc@aemcorp.com or 855-255-6901.)


The agency hosted the latest in its “Lessons from the Field” webinar series, running bi-weekly through June.  This third webinar, “Family and Community Engagement and Returning to In-Person Instruction,” featured a brief overview of research and a panel of practitioners sharing promising practices and effective strategies for meaningful family and community engagement.


The Department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released two Fast Facts that take a closer look at the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Section 618 data and Part B personnel.


The Secretary held a roundtable discussion with students who have experienced homelessness, centering the conversation on lived experiences and critical federal investments (tweet).

Separately, on the Homeroom blog, read “A Story of Homelessness, Perseverance, and the Impact of Caring Educators.”


On May 12, eligible households will be able to enroll in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to receive a monthly discount off the cost of broadband service from an approved provider.  The program is open to households with children receiving free or reduced-price lunch or school breakfast and Pell Grant recipients (press release).

On April 20, Secretary Cardona participated in an open press roundtable with students, educators, and school administrators who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders (tweet).

On April 26, honoring the Month of the Military Child, the Secretary participated in a roundtable with military-connected students who are in schools near military installations around the world.

A new Homeroom blog focuses on supporting both first-generation and low-income students beyond the college acceptance letter.

Other new Homeroom blogs: “Let’s Talk About Title IX” and “Education’s Role in Second Chance Month and National Reentry Week.”

 According to the “2020 State of Preschool Yearbook,” by the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER), the pandemic set back state preschool enrollment and funding across the country, more than any other education sector.

This week, the Department launched the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative, a professional learning community of 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, three territories, and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) working together to use federal relief funding to support as many students as possible through educational and enriching summer programming (press release).

The Department launched the Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse, highlighting the innovative work underway nationwide in continuing to reopen K-12 schools, early childhood centers, and higher education institutions.  The web site includes resources targeting the needs of students on three key topics: safe and healthy environments; supports for students; and teacher, faculty, and staff well-being, professional development, and supports (press release).


The next webinar in the Department’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) briefing series, focused on summertime learning, is scheduled for May 4, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Eastern Time.  Anyone may watch live or the archived session.  Previous briefings are posted on the agency’s STEM landing page.

During the STEM for All Video Showcase (May 11-18), one can view short videos depicting federally funded projects improving STEM and computer science education.  Interested parties are also invited to discuss the videos online with presenters and other visitors and vote for their favorite presentations for a public choice award.

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