The U.S. Department of Education has posted guidance for state education agencies and school districts, titled “Frequently Asked Questions about the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund).” (The ESSER fund is the principal source of funding for K-12 education under the federal CARES Act.)
According to the Department, this “document seeks to answer questions that are not easily understood from a plain reading of Section 18003 and other parts of the CARES Act or the ESSER Fund Certification and Agreement (C&A). It was developed in direct response to questions that the Department has received from SEA and LEA grant administrators implementing the ESSER Fund program.”
The subject of the impact of COVID-19 on school funding and on state finances affecting school funding was highlighted by two reports released this week.
The first was a report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum entitled “Uncertainty Ahead: School Finances in the Face of COVID-19.” The report was covered by major media outlets throughout the state and will likely have an influence on the thinking of the public and lawmakers regarding the fiscal situation facing schools. The report also includes significant discussion of school fund balances. We suggest school leaders should review it.
The report starts by noting that: “School districts have seen their operations upended by COVID-19, with classroom teaching canceled and districts scrambling to move instruction online. Districts have larger reserves than in 2012, yet they face great challenges and uncertainty as they draft preliminary 2020-21 budgets. That uncertainty includes potential cuts in critical state aid, particularly if federal relief for state revenue losses is not forthcoming.”
The second report came in the form of a memo from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), with sobering news that state tax collections dropped significantly in April 2020 as compared with the previous April.
In a conference call to education stakeholders U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced today that her agency is ready to start accepting applications from states for the release of more than $13.2 billion in emergency relief available to state and local education agencies. State educational agencies (such as the DPI) will be awarded the funds for distribution to local school districts and independent charter schools.
This funding, known officially as the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER Fund), comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump in late March. It is meant to support continued learning for K-12 students whose educations have been disrupted by school closures due to the current public health emergency.
Wisconsin’s share of ESSER funding will total just under $177.8 million, of which $157.3 million is to be distributed to school districts and independent charter schools, and is to be allocated in proportion to the share of the state’s Title I, Part A allocation each receives. The DPI’s preliminary, rough estimates have suggested that districts are likely to receive supplemental funds totaling 75 to 80 percent of their 2019-20 Title I allocation. In addition, nearly $17.5 million will be left to the DPI to distribute. The department is working on a plan for that, which will likely attempt to allocate funds to provide every school district with at least some minimal level of funding–creating a funding floor so to speak. (more…)
Gov. Tony Evers has sent a letter to Pres. Trump (along with the governors of Michigan and Pennsylvania) seeking federal funding to combat the COVID-19 related losses to the State of Wisconsin which he projected to be $2 billion in lost revenue.
From the Associated Press:
“The governors, all Democrats, urged Trump in the letter to work with Congress to send $500 billion to states and local governments facing budget shortfalls. The letter was dated Wednesday, the same day that Evers signed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature that clears the way for spending about $2 billion the state is receiving in federal funds.
“But Evers said that doesn’t go far enough in addressing the crisis in Wisconsin. He told Trump that the state’s unemployment rate sits at about 15% and Wisconsin is expected to lose more than $2 billion in tax collections over the next year.”
In addition to the increases in funding for Title I and IDEA programs we addressed in our previous post, the federal budget deal provides additional funding for many other K-12 education programs.
According to the information released by the House Committee on Appropriations, the federal 2020 fiscal year appropriations bill includes the following increases:
Lawmakers and the White House appear set to wrap up appropriations bills for federal fiscal year 2020 and avoid a government shutdown. A deal reached earlier this week to pass actual appropriations bills avoids having to rely on Continuing Resolutions to keep the federal government operating and allows substantive changes in budget levels and programs.
Action on the federal budget deal will be split between two bills, one (H.R. 1158) focused primarily on national defense and national security-related programs and a second bill (H.R. 1865) focused on domestic programs, including education. The House is planning to take up the two spending bills first followed by the Senate. The President is expected to sign the legislation following full passage.