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K-12 funding: 5 ways schools can spend their COVID stimulus funds

Amanda ClarkApril 19, 2021

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Administrator’s guide to federal funding

Unsure of how to use federal funding for your school or district? Check out this free guide for government-approved ideas and guidelines

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Administrator’s guide to federal funding

Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, schools in need are getting much-deserved financial assistance. We likely won’t see this kind of funding again in our lifetimes. So, you should consider long-term investments/strategies for your school. Not sure about what you can do with the CARES funding that the government approved? We’ve got you covered with these five ways you can spend your COVID-19 relief funds.

Table of contents

What is the CARES Act?

According to the Treasury Department, “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses, and preserve jobs for American industries.” 

Since the CARES Act was passed last year, two more funding bills have passed: HR 133 (December 2020 – October 2023) and this most recent American Rescue Plan (ARP) (March 2021 – October 2024).

HR133 provides $54.3 billion for public K-12 education funding, while the ARP provides $122 billion. 

In short, K-12 schools across the U.S now have COVID-19 relief money to spend. And although administrators and school leaders are grateful, this comes with the added pressure of deciding how to spend it, and what the appropriate way to distribute the funds is. 

Here are five options to consider while asking yourself how you can spend your new federal funding for your school.

1. Planning, coordinating, and implementing activities during long-term closures

The COVID crisis has closed schools in 188 countries, heavily disrupting the learning process of more than 1.7 billion children, youth, and their families.  

The new stimulus funding encourages spending on planning, coordinating, and implementing activities during these long-term closures. After experiencing disrupted learning in 2020, having an action plan for when, and if, students find themselves back home for extended amounts of time is vital. 

Here are some ideas on how you can spend your COVID relief funds on activities during long-term closures: 

  • Budget for outdoor pod activities: High numbers of individuals in indoor spaces forced many schools to close their doors during the pandemic. One option is to use your budget to prepare for small outdoor classes in pods. This would require more staff and substitutes, but it could be an option for your school with funding in place.
  • Premade activities: Consider investing in learning materials for premade boxes that include tactile materials for students to take home in case of unexpected school closures. These would require time to put together and an upfront cost for materials. That said, they would provide students with something physical to have at home and accomplish in addition to online learning. And even if you have no more school closures, these boxes can still go to good use. 
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Administrator’s guide to federal funding

Unsure of how to use federal funding for your school or district? Check out this free guide for government-approved ideas and guidelines

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2. Supporting teachers with training and more

Did you know stress topped the list of reasons why most teachers quit even BEFORE the pandemic? However, now teachers face a whole new set of challenges. 

With so many changes and after-effects due to COVID, you may want to consider putting your funds towards training and mentoring teachers.

Here are some ways to integrate teacher training and mentorship:

  • Funding courses, guest speakers, etc., related to teaching online and supporting students during a pandemic.
  • Providing assistants or paraprofessionals to high-need classrooms.
  • Budgeting and preparing substitutes for long leaves of absences.
  • Encouraging webinar training and conferences on schoolwide initiatives.

3. Purchasing educational technology 

With increased online learning and low-income families facing socioeconomic barriers, schools could spend their COVID relief funds on technology. 

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) points to the following tech upgrades to consider:

  • Internet software and hardware for connectivity issues (increased broadband, more modems, faster WiFi, etc.)
  • Technology aids in student and instruction interactions (computer game subscriptions, online courses, resources, learning management systems, online grading portals, etc.)
  • Assistive technology (dictation software for special needs students, reading pens, Ipads, tablets, etc.)

4. Addressing learning loss among students

According to The National Academy of Sciences study (April 2021), “learning losses are up to 60% larger among students from less-educated homes.” 

In response, some administrators plan to use stimulus funding in education to address the learning loss among students. 

Here are some options to consider: 

  • Incorporating accelerated learning
  • Implementing “targeted and intensive” programming 
  • Focusing on basic literacy and numeracy programs
  • Offering learning camps and tutoring
  • Adopting increased communication with parents (through schoolwide SMS messaging, personalized messages, attendance, etc.).
  • Increasing resources for low-income students, special needs students, ELL learners, minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care.
  • Administering high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable to accurately assess students’ academic progress and help educators meet students’ educational needs.
  • Promoting evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students. 
  • Providing information and assistance to parents and families so they can effectively support students, including in a distance learning environment. 
  • Tracking attendance and improving student engagement in distance education.

5. Providing mental health support for students

According to Mental Health in America, the mental health of our youth is worsening. In 2021, 9.7% of U.S. youth “have severe major depression” compared to 9.2% in 2020. 

The report also notes the rate was highest among “youth who identify as more than one race” at 12.4%.

To combat this significant problem, you can choose to use CARES Act funds to increase students’ mental health resources

Here’s how you can spend your COVID relief fund to help benefit mental health:

  • Employ more professional counselors
  • Hire guest speakers to discuss mental health topics
  • Invest in online courses focused on mental health 
  • Implement a mindfulness and meditation course for students
  • Offering canine therapy

You hold the complete picture of your K-12 funding needs

Just like many other administrators, you are most likely relieved that help is on the way. But with so much information on how to spend Covid relief funds and other pressures, you have many decisions to make. 

Hopefully, this comprehensive list of five ways you can spend your Covid relief funds will get you started. Above all, remember: you are dealing with unforeseen and unpredicted circumstances, but have faith that you can get through this successfully.

Only you hold the complete picture of what your school does and does not need. So, in addition to these suggestions, trust your instincts. Here’s to moving forward!

Administrator’s guide to federal funding

Unsure of how to use federal funding for your school or district? Check out this free guide for government-approved ideas and guidelines

Get my copy
Administrator’s guide to federal funding

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