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Legislative Column

  • American Rescue Plan Legislation Includes Historic K-12 Federal Assistance


    Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation

    The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) proposed by President Biden was signed into law on March 11. The massive recovery legislation moved through Congress under the expedited Budget Reconciliation process requiring a simple majority vote in the House and Senate. The bill affects virtually all sectors of the economy and all segments of the American population. In fact, the ARP (P.L 117-2) includes the largest single investment in federal elementary and secondary education aid in the nation’s history and was designed to safely reopen schools and address unfinished learning.

    Some $122.8 billion will be provided under the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER III), which will be distributed based on the state and local share of FY20 Title I formula allotments. This amount is in addition to the $54 billion (ESSER II) provided in the year-end Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA). And the funds in the new bill may be used in much the same manner as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and ESSER I funds provided last spring. 

    The new legislation reserves 20 percent of school district allocations for “learning loss” activities to address academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. In addition, each state education department must devote half of their 10 percent set-aside to learning loss. The ARP also provides $7 billion for the FCC’s E-Rate program to cover the costs of student devices and off-campus internet connectivity, which is not allowable under current E-Rate requirements. Moreover, an additional $2.5 billion is appropriated for the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act formula grants for the program year beginning July 1. To be sure, careful planning will be critical in coordinating the various streams of new and traditional federal funding, as well as state and local funding sources, over the next few years to address student learning needs and support services, in addition to maintaining safe school facilities.

    School districts will not be responsible for private school equitable services with their new ESSER allocations like they were under the CARES Act. The new ARP Act provides a separate $2.75 billion appropriation to states to administer services under the Education Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program created in the earlier December 2020 relief legislation.

    A sizeable portion of the new relief package is directed to individual assistance, including $1,400 in individual and dependent rebates, child and other low-income tax credits, and expanded unemployment insurance payments. Additionally, $360 billion in general state and local government subsidies are provided, as well as multiple health system investments for testing, tracing, supplies, vaccinations, personnel, and other services. These new state and local government grants may help with intergovernmental budgeting and may mitigate the need for state, city, or county budget cuts.

    The Biden COVID-19 Task Force also announced that $10 billion would be devoted to school-based virus testing and screening. The Council of the Great City Schools remains hopeful that the Biden COVID-19 Strategic Plan will result in eligible FEMA reimbursements finally being available for many of our school districts’ emergency expenditures over the past year. 

    The U.S. Department of Education has announced the state-level allocations for the ESSER III funds, so school district formula allocations should follow shortly.