How States are Using Federal COVID Aid to Help Students & Schools

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By Carissa Moffat Miller, Chief Executive Officer, CCSSO


Students, families and educators have begun the third school year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. We at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have been honored to support state education leaders in their work to offer remote and safe in-person learning options, address student and educator mental health needs, and continue essential school nutrition programs – all while keeping students, educators and communities safe.  

CCSSO strongly advocated for regulatory relief provided by the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies, and for additional financial support from Congress. The largest portion of that financial support was $122 billion provided in the American Rescue Plan. Some of those funds will be set aside for state education leaders to propel efforts to address the vast impacts of the pandemic on student learning and well-being.

Each state is required to submit a plan, informed by stakeholder feedback, for the use of those funds to the U.S. Department of Education. These plans reflect some of the ways in which states intend to use emergency relief funds to support students and schools now and over the next few years to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An analysis of the 35 state plans that had been submitted by the end of July found states generally focused in four main areas: addressing unfinished learning, supporting mental health and wellbeing, building teacher capacity, and improving data and funding sustainability.

Addressing Unfinished Learning

States are using a variety of evidence-based strategies to accelerate learning to meet each student’s individual needs.

Many states and districts are turning to tutoring to help students close any gaps in learning. Part of the state set-aside in Illinois will be used to create a tutoring program, with tutors identified and paid through a structure created by universities and community colleges.

Others, like Idaho, set statewide expectations and guidelines to ensure a safe and successful school environment. The Idaho Back to School Framework will be updated by state leaders as necessary to remain current with changes to government guidelines.

While safe in-person learning remains the best option for most students, some are uncomfortable or unable to return to school buildings. Wyoming developed a classroom-based virtual education program adopted by almost all districts, and virtual education will remain an option in the 2021-2022 school year.

Supporting Mental Health and Well-Being

In recognition of the trauma and stress that faced both students and teachers, states are prioritizing health and wellness and investing in programs and services to aid student and teacher health and well-being.

In Alaska, officials provided up-to-date COVID-19 guidance, a health and safety toolkit, and professional development. The resources will be updated weekly.

Ohio released its Whole Child Framework in fall 2020. It encourages an increased focus on non-education data – including on physical and mental health, unemployment claims, and neglect and abuse reports – to make better needs assessments.

When schools closed, eliminating access to school meal programs, Montana made food insecurity a top priority and switched to a new model that allows students to have wider access to meals.

Building Teacher Capacity

States are also working to address an increasing number of teacher and leader vacancies, while offering professional learning that meets the current moment.

West Virginia temporarily allowed college students finishing education degrees to serve as substitute teachers, and in 2021, the state legislature approved a streamlined educator certification process.

In Kansas, leaders are continuing to work with higher education partners to develop pathways to the classroom that will encourage diversity in the field, starting with a pilot with the Kansas City Teacher Residency program.

South Dakota is leveraging an existing Blue Ribbon Task Force to continue addressing the issue through increased teacher salaries, mentoring, and alternative certification pathways.

Data and Funding

States are using new and existing assessments to support the identification of individual students and groups most impacted by the pandemic, with an eye on sustainable funding.

Washington state required its districts to closely monitor disparate outcomes between different student groups as they develop plans, including disaggregating data and using an equity analysis tool to develop plans.

Missouri will implement a data interoperability system to bridge gaps between districts’ existing data platforms to make data more user-friendly and ensure that the data and analysis of it are as accurate as possible.

In Washington, D.C., leaders will use funds to speed improvements to a data system, including laying groundwork for collection of course-level data and expanding access to early childhood data.

While we know much more work is underway across states, these plans offer a glimpse into some of the ways in which states are using these historic funds to support students and schools as they respond to and recover from the pandemic. States have taken a comprehensive approach to address students’ academic, physical and mental health and wellbeing, and to work to address longstanding issues in our education system that were exacerbated by this public health crisis.

CCSSO will continue to support states as they implement these plans in the years to come.

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