State Policy Network
Driving student-centered education reform through the American Rescue Plan Act
From school choice to teacher empowerment to student-focused funding, this policy menu covers short and long-term education reforms that states and school districts can accomplish with federal coronavirus aid dollars.

Ideas for States and School Districts

The unprecedented federal funding authorized across three legislative packages to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity to drive student-centered reforms that addresses the pandemic’s education and other impacts on our nation’s students and drives systemic education reform. In fact, a majority of parents view these resources as an opportunity to make “bold changes” in education policy and three-fourths believe these resources will provide direct benefits to their families, according to a recent Walton Family Foundation poll. While these federal funds far exceed demonstrated emergency education needs, the efforts of education policy and advocacy leaders to empower students, families, and teachers are more important than ever as states and school districts plan to expend these incredible federal resources.

Contents:


Overview: The Opportunity and American Rescue Plan Allocations

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act enacted in March 2021 included $122 billion for the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund.

Allocation of ARP ESSER and Funds

School districts: Ninety percent of ARP ESSER ($110 billion total) will be granted to school districts.

States: Ten percent of ARP ESSER ($12 billion total) will be directly administered by state departments of education for the implementation of evidence-based:

Governors: Unlike the CARES and CRRSA Acts, ARP includes no Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. However, ARP creates a new Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund providing states $195 billion to address the fiscal effects of COVID-19 and address the diverse needs of their communities. This fund is more than one-third larger and considerably more flexible than ARP ESSER.

It could be leveraged by governors to expand education opportunity, especially given the GEER II prohibition on supporting private school choice options* except for “students who receive or received such assistance with [GEER I] for the 2020-2021 school year and only for the same assistance provided such students under [GEER I].”

*Specifically, GEER II restricts providing “direct or indirect financial assistance to scholarship granting organizations or related entities” or supporting “vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, education savings accounts, scholarships, scholarship programs, or tuition-assistance programs.”

Our Challenge

We have a dual responsibility:

Student-centered reforms can include:

The following menu of ideas is organized in key issue areas—school choice, student-centered funding, teacher empowerment, career and technical education, early childhood education, assessments, and transparency—and covers short and long-term reforms at the State and school district level.


General Recommendations

What to Avoid

What to Pursue

Multi-Year Spending Plan: Create a multi-year spending plan, which begins to leverage state and local funds to sustain benefits and reforms when federal funds run out. For example, programming could be:

States: Use state-level set-asides to influence school districts, as they implement 90 percent of ARP ESSER funds.

School Districts: Instead of administering all funds at the school direct level as many school districts have with ESSER I, provide all or a portion of funds to schools within a district so that school leaders can best meet the needs of their unique students. Note: Although ARP ESSER and ESSER II have a separate fund, Emergency Assistance to Non-public Schools (EANS), to support to non-public school teachers and students, recall that, under ESSER I, school districts are still required to provide equitable services to non-public school teachers and students.


Supplemental Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs)

Supplemental ESAs that focus on the provision of certain types of educational services and supports could be provided to families. A majority of parents say they would take advantage of new education options offered through new federal resources according to a recent Walton Family Foundation poll.

1. Personal Learning Loss Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund; Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

A state or school district could provide supplemental ESAs to students who are below proficient or who did not have access to in-person instruction. Personal Learning Loss Grants could provide access to learning loss interventions, including high-quality tutoring provided by any state-certified teacher.* Such grants could also be targeted to a specific content area, such as three-year reading grants to students who are not proficient by grade three. Given the greatest learning loss is projected in math, grants also go to students who were not proficient in math prior to the pandemic and whose learning gaps likely were exacerbated.

*Recall evidence-based learning loss intervention is a statutorily designated use for both State departments of education (5 percent of the total State allocation) of and school districts (20 percent of the school district allocation).

2. Personal Special Education Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund; Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Instead of providing school districts with additional funds to provide or refund district-determined compensatory education services, a State could provide supplemental ESAs to students with disabilities to choose special education services and supports, including those in the student’s IEP but not provided during the pandemic. School districts could also allow parents to choose from which compensatory education services their child would benefit most through such supplemental ESAs.

3. Educational Enrichment Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund; Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Given evidence-based summer enrichment activities and after-school programming are statutorily designated uses for state departments of education (each one percent of the total state allocation), a state could provide supplemental ESAs to students from low-income families to access educational enrichment opportunities including those offered by private providers. Similarly, school districts could provide educational enrichment grants to students from low-income families or another student group impacted by COVID-19.

4. Trauma Recovery Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund; Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Due to the mental and behavioral health impacts of the pandemic, a State or school district could provide supplemental ESAs to students to access trauma-specific mental health services from the provider that best meets a student’s needs.

5. Personal Education Pathway Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund; Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

To help secondary students access high-demand career pathways, a state or school district could provide supplemental ESAs to access concurrent or dual enrollment, apprenticeship pathways including pre-apprenticeships, industry-recognized apprenticeships, and short-term job training programs.

Learning Pods

1. Subgrants to Learning Pods Networks

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

To support this unique, small group, and multi-age instructional model, a state could provide subgrants to learning pod networks on a per pupil basis. Learning pod students may be homeschool students or students enrolled in a district public, charter, or virtual charter school.

2. Learning Pods in Partnership with Public School Districts

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund; Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

A school district could partner with a learning pod network or support the creation of independent district learning pods. Instruction could occur in a non-school location, collocated at a district public school, remotely, or through a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction. Physical collocation in a district public school may be especially helpful when school districts have insufficient student seats and facilities are available. A state could utilize state ESSER funds to provide additional subgrants to districts or a district could use its ESSER formula allocation to fund such programming.

3. Learning Pods in Partnership with Virtual Schools

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

A state could utilize state ESSER funds to fund a statewide virtual charter or private school partnering with a learning pod network or creating independent learning pods. The curriculum and instructional resources could be provided by the statewide virtual charter or private school while instruction could be delivered by guides in an in-person, hybrid, or remote learning pod environment.

Charter Schools

1. School-based Charter School Funding

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

To ensure charter schools receive funds equitable to other public schools, a state could provide grants to (1) charter schools in a school district that did not receive funds at the school district’s discretion and (2) charter schools that are a school district that did not receive funds because of hold harmless or maintenance of effort and equity provisions.

2. Student-based Charter School Funding

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

States could provide per pupil grants to charter schools to address inequitable per pupil allocations in state and local funds.

3. Charter School Replication and Expansion Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

Given the accelerated learning gains charter schools provide, a State could also provide grants to support the replication or expansion of high-quality charters. This may be particularly impactful in a state without an active federal Charter Schools Program grant.

4. Charter School Incubation

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant; ARP ESSER school district grants.

A charter authorizing state or school district could provide start-up grants to incubate a new charter school model. A charter micro school of this new model could be temporarily collocated at a school district and, in addition to other start-up costs, ESSER funds could be used to pay for school district facility rent.

5. Virtual Charter School Creation or Expansion Grants

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

A state could seed the creation of a statewide virtual charter school or fund its expansion.

Course Choice

1. Statewide Course Choice

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

To unbundle education at the course level, a state could create or expand a statewide course choice program through which a student may design a full-time, part-time, or supplemental education program. State ESSER funds could be used to develop new courses, pay course per-pupil fees, administer the statewide course choice program, and develop the statewide course choice platform.

2. Districtwide Course Choice

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER school district grants.

School districts could create a supplemental course access program focusing on a specific policy goal such as credit recovery, career exploration, or expanding gifted and talented offerings, especially to educationally disadvantaged students. Similarly, school district ESSER funds could be used to develop new district courses, pay non-district course per-pupil fees, and administer the district-wide course choice program.

Open Enrollment

1. Local Funding of Open Enrollment

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

In a newly implemented open enrollment policy, a state could use ESSER funds to cover the local funds that a student would otherwise generate to ensure the full per pupil allocation follows a student to their district public school of choice. In addition to the regular state funds that follow a student to a public school that is not residentially assigned, the State ESSER funds could be used to gradually implement local fund portability over and up to a four-year period (ending September 30, 2024, when funds are no longer available for obligation).

2. Transportation for Open Enrollment

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant, ARP ESSER school district grants.

While most school districts are required to provide transportation to schools within that school district, to facilitate inter-district open enrollment, a state could directly fund all out-of-district transportation costs through school year (SY) 2023-2024. Similarly, state or school district ESSER funds could fully cover transportation in SY 2021-2022, gradually transitioning to another local funding arrangement to be sustained in the long-term.

3. State Incentives for Open Enrollment

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

In states in which inter-district open enrollment is voluntary or mandatory but dependent upon capacity, a state could require participation in open enrollment as a condition of receiving ESSER state set-aside, GEER, or Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund resources.

Student-Centered Funding

1. Student-Centered Allocation of District Funds to Schools

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER school district grants.

To empower school leaders, ensure equitable support of charter and magnet schools, and to provide the foundation for portability or “backpack” funding, school districts could disseminate all (or a portion) of their ESSER allocation to schools on a per pupil, student-centered basis.

For example, $1,000 base per pupil with the following weights:

  • Special Education: $900, $600, or $300 depending on student disability
  • Free and Reduced-Price Lunch: $300
  • English Language Learners: $300
  • Additional weights may include secondary students, military-connected students, homeless students, and students in foster care.

2. Implementation of New Funding Formulas

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant, Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

To enable a transition to a state student-centered funding formula, a state could provide transition grants to school districts experiencing revenue losses under the new formula. For example, such grants could hold the school districts 80 percent harmless in year one (FY 2021); 60 percent in year two (FY 2022), 40 percent in year three (FY 2023), and 20 percent in year four (FY 2024).

Should a state be unable to transition to a student-centered funding formula, it could fund a study of how much students currently generate based on student characteristics (Special Education, Free and Reduced Price Lunch, English Language Learners, etc.) to inform a potential future formula transition, disseminating the study to state legislators, school districts, school leaders, and the public.

Teacher Empowerment

1. Teacher Stipends for Intensive Tutoring

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant, ARP ESSER school district grants.

A state or school district could provide high-performing, certified teachers with stipends to provide intensive tutoring to students who have experienced learning loss or students who are below proficient in a content area.

2. Creation of a Marketplace for Teachers’ Services

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

Similarly, a state could fund the establishment or expansion of teacher marketplaces where professionals can offer their services statewide and students can choose a teacher, learn synchronously, and build a relationship with an educator.

3. Teacher-driven Professional Development

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant, ARP ESSER school district grants.

Instead of one-size-fits-all, school district-selected professional development, a state or school district could provide teacher professional development vouchers in which teachers can select from approved professional development providers providing evidence-based services.

4. Teacher Performance Bonuses

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER school district grants.

A school district could provide teacher performance incentives for two years of growth (from the 2018-2019 to the 2020-2021 school year), as opposed to the increasingly frequent practice of providing automatic teacher bonuses or hazard pay for working during the pandemic.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)

1. Incentivizing Industry-Recognized Credentials

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant.

To ensure CTE opportunities are responsive to employers and, thus, likely to lead to a high-wage job, a state could provide grants to existing CTE providers to transition to a curriculum that culminates in an industry-recognized credential (IRC). Such grants could cover equipment necessary to align to the IRC and costs associated with the IRC assessment.

A state could also provide grants to noncredit-earning programs that culminate in an IRC, as these programs are generally more responsive to labor market needs but are not eligible to receive federal student aid.

2. Expanding Access to Earn and Learn Opportunities

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grant, ARP ESSER school district grants.

To expand work-based learning opportunities for secondary students, a State or school district could match the wages that employers provide to students.

3. Meaningful Postsecondary Transition Plans

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER school district grants.

A school district could partner with local community colleges to provide secondary students with postsecondary transition plans, helping ensure such plans are integrated across the secondary and postsecondary systems.

Early Childhood Education

1. Child Care During Innovative Instruction

Recommended ARP resources: ARP CCDBG.

Given waivers on family income requirements and prohibitions on providing child care during instruction, a state could use ARP Child Care Development Blog Grant (CCDBG) funds to facilitate unique learning environments like early childhood learning pods.

2. Choice in Child Care

Recommended ARP resources: ARP CCDBG, Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds.

A state could also use ARP CCDBG or other funds to provide child care grants to parents who may choose from a diverse marketplace of child care providers, including private and faith-based providers.

3. Private Child Care Providers

Recommended ARP resources: ARP Child Care Stabilization Grants.

To further support diverse child care providers, a state could ensure private providers have equitable access to ARP Child Care Stabilization Grants ($24 billion) to assist providers in defraying pandemic-related costs and compensating employees, many of whom worked throughout the pandemic while K-12 schools were not providing in-person instruction.

Assessments

1. Parent-driven Assessments

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grants.

To help parents identify potential learning loss, a state could provide virtual state assessments aligned to state academic standards that parents can administer at home. A state could also fund alternatives to state assessments that better capture and communicate student learning, including formative, competency-based assessments.

2. Parent-focused Assessment Information

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grants, ARP ESSER school district grants.

To help families leverage assessment data to inform their children’s education needs and paths, a state or school district could create parent-focused resources, including personalized videos explaining assessment results.

3. Access to Credit and Credential-Earning Assessments

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER state grants, ARP ESSER school district grants.

A state or school district could also pay fees for dual and concurrent enrollment, AP exams, CLEP tests, and IRC exams, so that secondary students successfully transition to college and career.

Transparency

1. Publish Budgets, Contracts, and Per-pupil Funds

Recommended ARP Resources: Minimal cost leveraging ARP ESSER state grants administrative funds.

At the direction of a governor, state legislature, or through voluntary action, a state could publish all state department of education, school district, and school level ESSER budgets and contracts funded by ESSER or GEER. A state could also show both state and school district allocations on a per-pupil basis.

2. Conduct Parent Surveys

Recommended ARP Resources: ARP ESSER school district grants.

To facilitate parent input and articulate areas of alignment and misalignment with what families want for their children, a school district could direct school-level parent surveys on the services and supports students most need and publish the results.


Timeline and Next Steps for States and School Districts


Opportunities to Engage

School District Plans

Before publishing both the reopening and use of funds plans, school districts must seek and take into account public comment. Both plans must also be published and made publicly available.

In the use of funds plan, school districts are required to engage in meaningful stakeholder consultation in developing its plan, specifically including teacher unions.*

*The US Department of Education requires meaningful stakeholder consultation to include “students; families; school and district administrators (including special education administrators); and teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, school staff, and their unions;” and “Tribes (if applicable); civil rights organizations (including disability rights organizations); stakeholders representing the interests of children with disabilities, English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children and youth in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students.”

State Plans

Similarly, states are required to engage in meaningful stakeholder consultation in developing their state plans to receive the remaining one-third of ARP ESSER. State plans will be published on the US Department of Education’s website with their review/approval status.

Governors and State Legislatures

Although state and district superintendents have direct decision-making authority over these funds, many state legislatures and governors have significant influence either officially (e.g. some state legislatures must vote to accept ARP ESSER funds and may add additional requirements by which the state department of education must abide) or unofficially (e.g. many state superintendents and commissioners are appointed by governors).

Categories: Policy Solutions
Organization: State Policy Network