The effects of the pandemic have left almost no one untouched, and education is one area in particular that has experienced tremendous hardship. In December 2020, the former administration signed into effect a $900 billion stimulus package that includes section H.R. 133, which provides $70 billion to help public and private schools recover from the pandemic. This bill is of paramount importance for anybody with skin in the education game (which is all of us), so we’ve provided an overview of how H.R. 133 works.
What’s in it for educators and students?
The slice of stimulus package pie set aside for education includes $54 billion in emergency funding for elementary and secondary schools and $4 billion for the Governor’s Relief Fund. (There is also $22 billion for higher education.) The bill includes provisions that permit states and school districts to determine how the money will be spent. Like the CARES Act, H.R. 133 contains 15 categories of approved use of funding, and allows states and districts to decide which categories they will address.
One of the targets of H.R. 133 is learning loss. It is estimated that, overall, students have lost anywhere from a few months to years of learning. (We did a deep data dive in this blog and this guide to the whole issue.) Disadvantaged students--who were already hurting before the pandemic--have been disproportionately affected. H.R. 133 is for all students, but it is especially focused on this group of students. Category 12 allocates funding that specifically targets learning loss among low-income students, children with disabilities, English language learners (ELL), racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessnes, and children in foster care. Again, the districts will determine how they want to address learning loss among these students. STEMscopes’ summer school enrichment and learning loss support programs are appropriate applications of these funds.
Category 9 of H.R. 133 is also relevant to learning loss. It permits the purchase of direly needed resources, such as “hardware, software, and connectivity” (in other words, Wifi). This section is especially important for lower-income students, many of whom still lack the technology needed for distance learning. Moreover, many of them live in urban areas where in-person learning is less likely to be offered. Getting computers and Wifi to these students is a pressing need in addressing learning loss. But to support the needs of students lacking internet connectivity, STEMscopes has taken an offline-access approach, enabling users in our 2021 summer update to use the curriculum without needing internet access.
Getting and using the funds
You may be wondering how the school districts are getting the money and who will decide how it will be used. The federal government will grant funding to each state’s educational agency. The states are then required to allocate at least 90 percent of the funds to school districts, who will in turn decide how they spend the money. The funding will be available through September 30, 2023 and can be used for expenses dating back to March 13, 2020 when COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. Each district’s allotment will be determined by student population: The more students a district has between the ages of 5 and 17, the more money it will receive.
To remain eligible for funding, states must submit a report to the federal government outlining how the money is being used in the districts. As mentioned earlier, states and districts will have to address certain education-related categories. They do not need to spend funding in every category, but one area they must address is learning loss among disadvantaged students. Needless to say, these students deserve our very best, and H.R. 133 will equip us to better serve them.
For education, as with so many areas affected by the pandemic, there is a long road to recovery ahead. H.R. 133 will help pave the way. One of its hallmarks is the flexibility it gives to districts in how they spend the funding. This feature will give administrators, teachers, parents, and students a voice. After all, they understand their needs better than anyone.