How States are Supporting School Districts with CARES Act Funding

Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020 to address the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. With $13.5 billion going towards the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), and an additional $2.9 billion to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, states need to decide how the money is allocated, to whom, and how it can be used.

Here is a look at how Wisconsin and Colorado have taken steps to give their school district’s guidance.

Both Wisconsin and Colorado have made efforts to clearly outline the dollar amount allocated to the state, how much is to be distributed at the state level (SEA) and how much is allocated to Local Education Agencies. Further, both states have published district-by-district ESSER fund distributions to their websites, clearly showing exactly how much money each Title-IA school should be receiving. Many other states have similarly created CARES Act information pages on their respective department webpages. 

Colorado’s ESSER Funding page on the Department of Education webpage clearly explains in which cases public, charter, and private schools are eligible to receive funds, as well as the state’s role in ensuring each LEA has a smooth application process in order to receive them. 

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) has put together a School Finance FAQ that explicitly addresses  district administrators’ questions about school finance during Covid-19. The document is updated regularly, with each question posting the date of the most recent update. Among these questions is a section dedicated to the Purchase of Technology for students during the pandemic, with details on which federal programs will allow for certain technology purchases, or for specific student groups. 

Wisconsin’s School Finance FAQ answers many of the specific questions districts will be asking as they navigate their budgeting and finance questions. The WDPI has included best practices regarding funding from state grants. The department does its best to provide considerations on when state grants, such as their Community Service Fund, can be tapped into to address community response, and when districts should be taking advantage of the ESSER funds being distributed by the CARES Act. 

Few states are focusing on technology when advising their districts on how CARES funding can be spent. LEAs are facing a huge number of budgeting concerns, and states are largely leaving how to spend their money up to the districts, beyond informing them how to access the various grants.