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CARES Act: Educational Impact for School Districts

April 14, 2020

By: Abby S. Busler

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes among its many provisions specific funding sources for Wisconsin school districts. This includes a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and an Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The CARES Act also created a higher education relief fund, but that is not applicable for K-12 schools. The core purpose of each grant program is to provide direct money to school districts and allow that funding to support areas impacted by the disruption and closure of schools from the coronavirus pandemic.

Section 18002. Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund:

The Governor’s Emergency Relief funds are allocated to the states by providing 60 percent of the funding on the basis of their population aged 5 through 24; and 40 percent of the funding on the basis of their number of children counted under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA). The funds may be used to:

  1. Provide emergency support through grants to local educational agencies that the state agency has deemed most significantly impacted by coronavirus and supporting the ability to provide those educational services and functionality;
  2. provide emergency support through grants to institutions of higher education serving students within the State that the Governor determines have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus to support the ability of such institutions to continue to provide educational services and support the on-going functionality of the institution; and,
  3. provide support to any other institution of higher education, local educational agency, or education related entity within the State that the Governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students for authorized activities described in section 18003(d)(1) of this title or the Higher Education Act, the provision of child care and early childhood education, social and emotional support, and the protection of education-related jobs.

Section 18003. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund:

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds will allocate money to school districts. The Secretary of Education will issue a notice inviting applications no later than 30 days of enactment of the CARES Act, and then will approve or deny state applications no later than 30 days after receipt.

Any grant funds allocated to Wisconsin will be dispersed as sub grants to the local educational agencies. The amount of funds will be in proportion to the amount of funds the school district received under Part A of Title I of the ESEA in the most recent year.

The local educational agency may use the funds for any of the following areas:

  1. Any activity authorized by the ESEA of 1965, including the Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, Support, and Assistance Act (20 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.) (‘‘IDEA’’), the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.) (‘‘the Perkins Act’’), or subtitle B of title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 11431 et seq.). (emphasis added).
  2. Coordination of preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies with State, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses among such entities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
  3. Providing principals and other school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools.
  4. Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.
  5. Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies.
  6. Training and professional development for staff of the local educational agency on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
  7. Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
  8. Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures, including for how to provide meals to eligible students, how to provide technology for on-line learning to all students, how to provide guidance for carrying out requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1401 et seq.) and how to ensure other educational services can continue to be provided consistent with all Federal, State, and local requirements.
  9. Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the local educational agency that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and students with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment.
  10. Providing mental health services and supports.
  11. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
  12. Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff of the local educational agency.

As a condition of receiving this grant money, the CARES Act states that the school district must continue to pay its employees and contractors to the “greatest extent practicable” during this period of disruption or closures due to coronavirus. Any money not spent within the year must be returned to the federal government.

Districts across the state will be tasked with weighing the costs of compensating all staff and contractors versus the anticipated amount of funding/reimbursement from the CARES Act. Contractors could include private bus companies and other third party vendors.

At this time, it is unclear whether the federal government will be flexible and still grant money to districts if a school district cannot continue to employ all its staff. It is also unclear whether the State Legislature will consider offsetting future state aid based on the impending CARES Act funding for districts across the state. The CARES Act pushes for school districts to retain its staff and contractors and provides additional support for districts to help its students in many different ways. The second program details many areas where districts are likely in need of additional funding, especially to support low-income students, students with disabilities, and mental health services.

Additional regulations might be issued to assist with the logistical implementation of this grant money and we will update you if/when that becomes available.

If you have any questions about this article or need further information regarding the CARES Act, please contact your Davis|Kuelthau, s.c. attorney, the author linked above, or the related practice group chair linked here.

We will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and provide guidance via our Coronavirus Legal and Business Resource hub.