How To Use New School Funding To Improve Safety and Close Learning Gaps

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on April 27, 2021
What COVID-19 Safety Expenses Can Public Entities Cover With Federal Funds?

While many schools across the United States have already reopened, they still face significant challenges when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and helping students who may have fallen behind after many months of remote learning.

The new American Rescue Plan includes $122 billion in school funding for K-12 districts in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Superintendents and administrators can use this federal school funding to reopen buildings safely and also mitigate some of the long-term effects of the coronavirus.

Here’s a closer look at what funding is coming and how to use it.

How much school funding will schools receive?

The American Rescue Plan allocates this school funding, known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER), on a state-by-state basis. States received $81 billion in funding immediately after the president signed the American Rescue Plan, and local governments have already been encouraged to distribute these funds to ensure schools can reopen safely in the spring. This is roughly two-thirds of the total amount of school funding they will receive. To receive the remaining third, administrators need to submit their reopening plans and explain how they intend to meet their students’ needs.

This school funding can be used for costs dating back to the original declaration of a national emergency on March 13, 2020. State Education Agencies (SEA) have an obligation to distribute 90% of all funds within 60 days of receiving them. These funds are available to these agencies and sub-recipients through September 30, 2023.

For more details on when your district will receive funding, contact your local representatives and SEA.

How can districts use the new school funding?

Generally, the administration has recommended using the money swiftly and efficiently, with the primary goal of reopening schools as quickly and safely as possible. According to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, administrators should “invest in mitigation strategies to get students back in the classroom and stay there” while addressing the pandemic’s impacts on students.

Daniel Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA), said these funds should also address less visible problems, including “learning loss, implementing with equity, supporting and addressing mental health and social, emotional needs for staff and students.”

Administrators should also consider using ESSER funds to provide vaccinations and streamline testing effectively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will also provide states $10 billion to test K-12 faculty for COVID-19.

Additionally, the Education Department has emphasized administrators should use school funding with equity in mind. That includes paying attention to students most impacted by the pandemic, including those from low-income backgrounds and communities of color, as well as students with disabilities.

Are there any restrictions or requirements?

Importantly, these funds have some limitations in terms of how schools choose to allocate them. In particular, the Education Department requires states to pay attention to the following three reservations:

  • Five percent of the total allocation must be used to mitigate learning loss through interventions, such as “evidence-based summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year programs”
  • One percent of the total allocation must be used for “evidence-based summer enrichment programs”
  • One percent of the total allocation must be used for “evidence-based, comprehensive afterschool programs”

Additionally, the Education Department is required to allocate $800 million to support and identify homeless children and youth.

What specific actions can school administrators take?

While the American Rescue Plan offers some guidelines and restrictions, it gives administrators the flexibility to use available school funding in a variety of ways. Where they choose to invest it will depend on their student population and what updates they may need to make to their buildings and technology to ensure students can effectively learn while staying safe.

The Education Department has provided an extensive list of what the ARP ESSER funds may be used to address, including:

  • Investing in resources to ensure schools can reopen effectively according to CDC guidelines; improving ventilation; securing personal protective equipment (PPE); and improving space management to ensure social distancing 
  • Avoiding extensive layoffs and hiring more educators to mitigate learning loss caused by the pandemic
  • Developing strategies to provide “social, emotional, mental health, and academic” resources for students impacted most by the pandemic
  • Funding additional learning programs, including those in the summer, after school, and others
  • Hiring additional personnel, including custodial staff and nurses
  • Ensuring physical distancing and safety on buses
  • Securing Wi-Fi devices and hotspots for students without easy access to remote connectivity

The Department has also specified there are additional uses for this school funding as long as they align with the overall goals of maintaining safety and addressing learning gaps.

How can iOFFICE help schools with space management and space planning?

Given the emphasis on safely reopening, superintendents and administrators of public schools should look into using their funds to purchase technology solutions that help them implement new space management strategies.

That includes reconfiguring classrooms and office space. 

iOFFICE’s space management software and space planning feature, Space-Right, allows you to create safer spaces with the click of a mouse. Simply upload your floor plans and set your distancing parameters, and the intelligent algorithm will recreate new floor plans with appropriate physical distancing.

It will also identify potentially unsafe spaces where you need to limit capacity or repurpose, such as small faculty rooms or conference rooms designed to accommodate only a few people.

If you need to reduce capacity in your classrooms but don’t have enough space to spread everyone out, you can also use Space-Right to create assigned shifts for students to come to school on alternating days.

Effective space management has benefits beyond COVID-19. 

The latest research from independent analyst firm Verdantix shows most global organizations are rethinking their approach to space planning to achieve long-term objectives. Many are redesigning office spaces to make them more comfortable for employees and more conducive to collaboration. 

Rather than maintaining assigned seats for every individual, for instance, they are making some workspaces reservable for employees who may prefer to work remotely a few days a week. They are also acknowledging the need for more meeting rooms and huddle areas where employees can gather. 

Your school buildings remain an important hub for learning and hosting enrichment activities, but the way students and faculty use them has evolved in the past year. So should your space management strategies. 

What other solutions can we invest in to maintain safe spaces?

Other solutions our customers have used to reopen workplaces are just as effective for maintaining safety in schools.

Our wayfinding software turns digital displays into interactive maps faculty, visitors, and students can use to find classrooms, new drop-off and pick-up points, and sanitizing stations. This can decrease density in high-traffic areas such as hallways and lobbies while helping students feel more comfortable in their new environment.

iOFFICE’s touchless visitor management system also makes it easy to conduct wellness screenings for students and staff. It also enables you to screen visitors against a security watch list, keeping students and faculty safe in the long term.

You can use our facility management software alongside occupancy sensors to optimize your custodial staff’s cleaning schedules. Rather than sanitizing every surface, they can print a report of which rooms and desks were used during the day so they can work more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Looking for more resources? Learn how to make the most of available school funding by downloading this helpful guide.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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