CARES Act Funding Webinar: Questions Answered

As you may know, a significant portion of the federal economic relief bill—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)—is allocated to government programs focused on educational institutions, families and children. This includes $30.5 billion in Education Stabilization Funds dedicated to K-12, Higher Education and a Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund for local K-12 and colleges.

At our June 2  webinar, our team shared insights about the CARES Act  and information to help our clients  assist  schools, districts, and higher ed institutions maximize this funding.

Webinar participants had a lot of thoughtful questions, and while we addressed many, we were unable to answer all of them in the time allotted. Below, we have categorized the questions and responses into two sections: 1. The use of funds and how they will be allocated, and 2. Communicating with customers about these funds. We hope this information is helpful to you.

If you would like to review the webinar, it is available here.

 1. Use of Funds/Allocation

Q. How can funds be used/what items can K-12 schools pay for with CARES funds?

A. CARES funding for K-12 schools is provided through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The program allocates funds to districts based on their Title I allocations. The uses for ESSER funds are flexible. According to the U.S. Department of Educationopens PDF file , CARES Act funding may be used for any activity authorized by ESEA, IDEA, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Perkins Act (CTE), or the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. In addition, ESSER funds may be used for other activities to help with the response to COVID-19, such as preparedness and response efforts, sanitation, professional development and distance learning as well providing principals and school leaders with the resources necessary to meet the needs of their schools. If you have a product or service that can help students learn, teachers teach, and administrators support all the above—either on-site or remotely—schools can use CARES money for your solution.

Here are examples of activities eligible for ESSER funds, listed hereopens PDF file :

  • School Meals: To offset costs due to serving school meals (i.e. meals not covered through USDA reimbursements), cover additional personnel expenses (i.e. ‘hazard pay’, hours) or logistical costs (i.e. transportation).
  • Distance/Remote Learning: To cover costs of devices, connectivity (i.e. hot spots, wireless, internet service), printing/preparing learning packets, instructional resources/tools, and other technology costs (i.e. hardware, software, assistive technology, outfitting buildings/buses with Wi-Fi, online learning platforms, subscriptions).
  • Facilities/Equipment: To cover costs of sanitizing/disinfecting buildings, additional personnel costs (‘hazard pay’, hours, etc.) and equipment (i.e. gloves, masks, PPE, cleaning supplies).
  • Mental and Physical Health: To cover the costs of counseling, telehealth, school nursing, therapeutic services, and wraparound services and supports (i.e. contracted hours, professional learning, programs).
  • Supplemental Learning: To cover costs of extended learning, remediation, and/or enrichment opportunities for students (i.e. summer learning, afterschool programs, additional pay for teachers and staff, extended schedules).
  • Professional Development: To cover costs of additional professional development for school leaders, teachers, and staff (i.e. trainings, extended professional development days, consultants, programs.).
  • At-Risk Student Populations: To cover costs of specific activities, services,  programs, and/or targeted interventions directly addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
  • Continuity of Core Staff and Services: To restore any potential district fiscal year 2021 budget reductions due to decreased state and/or local revenue. To cover costs of offsetting the need to furlough or reduce the salaries of any state or locally funded school, school-based staff and/or continue core operations (i.e. transportation, utility, and other operating costs).

Q. Is the ESSER funding in addition to the Title I funds for each district?

AYes. However, while the Title I formula was used to determine CARES fund allocations for states and their districts, ESSER funds are not Title I funds. The uses for ESSER funds are much more flexible than Title I funds.

Q. How can colleges and universities use CARE funds?

A. CARES funding for higher education is through Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) funds.
The U.S. Department of Education guidance for HEER funds indicates that the CARES Act allows higher education institutions to use up to one half of their total HEER funds received to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to COVID-19 as long as they do not include payments to contractors for the provision of pre-enrollment recruitment activities, including marketing and advertising; endowments; or capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction or religious worship. The funding for these Recipient Institutional Costs is separate from the funding previously made available for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students.

For example, institutions may use the funds for recipient institutional costs to purchase equipment or software, pay for online licensing fees, or pay for internet service to enable students to transition to distance learning because these costs are associated with a significant change in the delivery of instruction due to COVID-19. Additionally, institutions that purchased computers or other equipment to donate or provide to students on or after March 13, 2020, the date a National Emergency was declared, may reimburse themselves for that equipment. More information is available here.opens PDF file

Q. Are current Title I or other federal funds being rolled over? Or are they still operating under the "use it or lose it"?

A. Using a streamlined process, states can receive waivers to rollover their current ESEA funds including the Title I, Parts A-D, Title II, Title III, Part A, Title IV, Parts A-B, and Title V programs.

The U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, notified states in an April 6, 2020 press release of the following waivers:

  • Section 1127(b) of Title I, Part A of the ESEA to waive the 15% carryover limitation for Title I, Part A funds.
  • Section 421(b) of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) to extend the period of availability of prior fiscal year funds, for Title I, Parts A-D, Title II, Title III, Part A, Title IV, Parts A-B, and Title V, Part B programs, and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Youth program.

More information is available hereopens PDF file .

 Q. Is any of the CARES funding going to private K-12 schools?

A. The CARES Act establishes two new funds to which equitable services requirements apply. Specifically, a district that receives funds under either the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Fund), which provides $3 billion to states to distribute to K-12 and higher ed institutions,  or the ESSER Fund is to provide equitable services to students and teachers in non-public schools in the same manner as provided under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).

The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a rule for public comment to help ensure all students whose learning was impacted by COVID-19 are served equitably by emergency funding authorized by the CARES Act no matter where they attend school.  The interim final rule, which is effective immediately, outlines how local education agencies (LEAs) must calculate the emergency funds available for providing equitable services to students and teachers in private schools.

Providing equitable services is long-standing law under ESEA. LEAs allocate no money to private schools under these equitable services provisions but provide secular, neutral, and non-ideological services to private schools after consulting with private school leaders about the needs of students and teachers.  Under the CARES Act, LEAs have broad latitude about the uses of funds, but it is expected that most of the emergency funding will go toward services like cleaning, equipment to protect student and staff health, training in remote instruction, and distance education tools.  The rule discourages the limited number of financially secure private schools from seeking equitable services.

More details can be found here.

Q. Is there more information about the $25M for distance learning from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)?

A. These CARES funds are being administered through the USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program, which helps rural communities use telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. More information is available here.

Q. Do you have a breakout of the allocation of funds by state?

A. There are two ways to access contacts in K-12 and higher education institutions:

  1. Based on MDR’s proprietary formula, we created selections for our education database to help you target influencers and decision-makers in K-12 districts, public schools and higher education institutions based on ESSER and HEER funding allocation ranges.
    • MDR K-12 CARES District Allocation Select: Based on the $13.5 billion ESSER fund, you can reach administrators and teachers in more than 12,000 public school districts and the schools that report to them.
    • MDR Higher Education Institution CARES Allocation Select:This data is based on the $6 billion HEER fund for covering institutional costs related to the transition to distance learning due to COVID-19. You will find college administrators, deans and faculty members from more than 3,500 colleges and universities.
    • You can find more information about MDR’s CARES Act selections here.
  1. CARES-ESSER funding for K-12 public school districts is available in MDR’s MarketView.  Actual ESSER grant dollars for each district, as reported by their state departments of education is provided with the Grants add-on feature. Currently, ESSER grants for districts in thirty states (AK, AL, AR, CA, CO, GA, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, ND, NJ, NM, OK, PA, SC,SD, TX, UT, CA, WA and WV) are posted in the Grants feature and more are being added each week as the data becomes available.

Now is the time to be talking to schools and districts about using CARES funds for your products so when the dollars are requested from their states, your solution is already under consideration or a part of their plan. Districts and schools are making decisions and applying for funding now. You want to be involved in those conversations instead of waiting for states to receive their allocations.

Q. Are districts required to provide information on how they will be spending the funds?

A. This will vary by state, but there will be reporting requirements from the U.S. Department of Education, many of which are yet to be defined. To receive funds, districts will submit an online application to their state department of education, including a brief narrative of their most important educational needs; information regarding how they will provide equitable access to students, teachers, parents, and families; and a budget outlining their intended use of allocated funds. School districts are encouraged to begin planning now to meet these application requirements.

Q. Will MDR be able to provide the report(s) on the amount both K-12 and higher ed accounts "individually" will be receiving by state? Is there a list of schools and the funding each of them will receive? What's the best resource for that?

A. MDR created a proprietary formula, which are ranges of dollars expected to be allocated that will provide you with insights into how the CARES funding is likely to be dispersed to states, school districts, and colleges and universities. In addition, MDR’s Marketview includes the states that have been awarded their funds and have released the information.

Q. How much of this funding do you believe will go to staffing needs due to anticipated budget cuts? If states have a shortfall in their education funding can CARES dollars be used to backfill that funding?

AU.S Department of Education guidance confirms that ESSER funds may take the place of state or local funds for allowable activities. However, the program does contain a Maintenance of Effort  requirement, which is designed to keep states from substantially reducing their support for K-12 education. You can learn more hereopens PDF file .

2. Connecting with Customers

Q. Is it insensitive/inappropriate to use CARES funding as a headline to get attention?

AIt is important that school and district leadership have actionable information about the CARES funding, what it can be used for, and deadlines for their state applications. As they close out this school year and create plans for the next, school leaders have more on their plates than ever before and anything you can do as their industry partner to help them navigate the CARES funding process is likely to be appreciated.

Q. Do you have lists of schools that use Google Classroom?

A. Yes, MDR offers comprehensive technology data, including LMS (learning management system) selects identifying which brand schools and districts are using, including Google Classroom.

Q. What is the best way for companies to connect with districts in need of resources? Directly or through another specific entity or institution?

A. At this time–and always–it is important to make connections with school and district influencers as well as individuals that you already have relationships with. MDR’s data connects you directly to school and district leaders, providing a great tool for developing those relationships. In addition, leveraging channels where teachers and administrators access information, such as MDR’s, social media and conferences, are great ways to connect and share information about your solutions.

We hope this information provides you with information to help you and your customers navigate the federal funding available to education through the CARES Act. The MDR team stands ready  to answer your questions and help you develop strategies to reach and engage your customers.