ED Review (03/19/21)

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March 19, 2021


American Rescue Plan 

On March 11, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021, providing additional relief to address the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (White House web site and fact sheet, as well as Secretary Cardona’s statement). 

The ARP includes a total of $169.5 billion in funding for education, with $129.6 billion for K-12 education and $39.6 billion for higher education.  It also includes $7.2 billion in funding for the federal E-Rate Program, extended to provide devices and connectivity to students, educators, and the patrons of public libraries.  In addition, it includes $39 billion for early childhood programming. 

Specifically for K-12 education, the ARP provides $122 billion for new Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund awards to State Education Agencies (SEAs), which must allocate 90% of their funding to local educational agencies (LEAs).  Allocations to both SEAs and LEAs are based on their relative shares of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I, Part A funding.  LEAs must use at least 20% of their funding to address learning time loss for students.  They can use the remaining 80% for other activities that address needs arising from the pandemic. 

The Department announced earlier this week that it will make ESSER Fund allocations available to SEAs this month, so that they may immediately fund health and safety measures consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, address disruptions to teaching and learning resulting from the pandemic -- especially for students hardest hit -- and get students back in classrooms quickly and safely (Department letter to Chief State School Officers and fact sheet). 

The act also provides more than $3 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) state formula grants, another $2.75 billion in Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools, $850 million for the nation’s Outlying Areas, $800 million to meet the pandemic-related needs of homeless children and youth, and $190 million for Tribal Education Agencies, Alaska Native Education, and Native Hawaiian Education. 

Specifically for higher education, the ARP provides $36 billion for public and private non-profit colleges and universities and $396 million for for-profit institutions under the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund.  Schools are required to spend at least half of their allocations on emergency financial aid grants to students.  Another $200 million will be allocated based on exceptional need, and $3 billion will flow to the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other minority-serving institutions. 

Notably, per the act, all types of student loan forgiveness -- including after 20 and 25 years in an income-driven repayment plan -- will be tax-free through December 31, 2025. 

The “Help Is Here” tour spotlighted education on March 17.  Secretary Cardona participated in a remote local media tour and spoke from the White House Briefing Room about how the ARP will help achieve President Biden’s goal of safely reopening the majority of K-8 schools within his first 100 days in office.  Meanwhile, the First Lady visited a school in Concord, New Hampshire, and the Second Gentleman participated in a listening session in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with working women, including parents and teachers.


National Safe School Reopening Summit 

Following the President’s signing of the American Rescue Plan into law, the Department announced more details on its plans to support schools in safely returning to in-person instruction.  The agency will provide best practices, guidance, and technical assistance to schools as they navigate reopening, while the American Rescue Plan will provide billions to help schools implement safe reopening measures and address the academic, social, and emotional needs of students.  All of these efforts are part of Secretary Cardona’s priority to support schools and students across the country and were fully detailed in the President’s Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers. 

First, the Department will convene a virtual National Safe School Reopening Summit on March 24 to share best practices, discuss successful mitigation and reopening strategies, and learn from students, educators, and other experts.  The summit offers a forum for researchers and practitioners to discuss strategies for addressing the needs of students -- with a focus on those students most underserved -- as many schools continue their work to safely reopen.  It will feature experts from the CDC and the Department who will discuss how schools can safely reopen and how the Administration is providing resources to schools, educators, and students as they work to reopen safely and address student needs.  (Note: More details about the summit, including registration information, will be released in the coming days.) 

Second, the Department is launching a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse, starting with a “Lessons from the Field” webinar series.  This clearinghouse will highlight lessons learned and best practices that can help schools and districts identify opportunities to utilize American Rescue Plan funds to meet their unique needs.  It will include resources that target the needs of students and teachers, faculty, and staff in early childhood programs, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities in three key areas: Safe and Healthy Environments; Providing Supports to Students; and Teacher and Staff Well-Being, Professional Development, and Support.  (Note: The webinar series will begin on March 31, and the agency is requesting information submitted to bestpracticesclearinghouse@ed.gov.) 

Third, the Department will release the second volume of its K-12 COVID-19 Handbook in early April, providing research-based strategies to address the impact of COVID-19 on students, educators, and staff, especially for historically underserved students and communities that have been hit hardest. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reopening schools, the Department will work with state and local communities to ensure schools and campuses are able to quickly access new funding and know how to utilize it to support their reopening efforts and address the needs of students. 


Protect Against COVID-19

In its Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, the CDC outlines five essential mitigation strategies to reopen and keep open schools.  It also suggests additional strategies that, if available, may further advance COVID-19 prevention in schools.  The Administration is working on bolstering the availability of these additional strategies.

Concerning testing, the CDC is providing $10 billion to states to support COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff, and students.  Also, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), partnering with the Department of Defense (DOD), plans to make awards and operationalize “coordinating centers” by the end of April under its $650 million pilot program to expand COVID-19 testing for K-8 schools and underserved populations in congregate settings through testing hubsThese programs showcase the importance the Administration places on continued testing, even as vaccinations roll out. 

Concerning vaccines, the President directed U.S. states and territories to prioritize the vaccination of educators and staff in pre-K-12 schools and childcare centers throughout this month, with the goal of providing these frontline essential workers with at least one vaccine dose by the end of March.  In support, the CDC launched a new web site with the latest information about how educators, school staff, and childcare workers can get vaccinated and released a toolkit to help program leaders communicate about vaccination, with ready-made materials such as flyers, letters, newsletter articles, posters, social media messages, and stickers for individuals after they have been vaccinated.  And, check out #SleeveUpForSchools. 


This week, the Department announced it will streamline debt relief determinations for borrowers with claims approved to date that their institution engaged in certain misconduct.  The agency will be rescinding the formula for calculating partial relief and adopting a streamlined approach for granting full relief under the borrower defense to repayment provisions.  This change is expected to help 72,000 borrowers receive $1 billion in loan cancellation. 

Full relief under the regulations will include:

  • 100% discharge of borrowers’ related federal student loans;
  • the reimbursement of any amounts paid on the loans, where appropriate under the regulations;
  • requests to credit bureaus to remove any related negative credit reporting; and
  • the reinstatement of federal student aid eligibility, if applicable. 

This is the Department’s first step in addressing borrower defense claims and the underlying regulations.  It will be pursuing further actions, including re-regulation, in the future. 


On March 6, President Biden signed two executive orders establishing a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the U.S. and around the world.  The first order establishes the White House Gender Policy Council to ensure that the Administration advances gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls.  The second order directs the Department to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies for consistency with the Administration’s policy to guarantee education free from sexual violence, including the Title IX regulation issued under the previous administration and any actions taken pursuant to that rule. 


  • Secretary Cardona issued a statement on March 5 regarding Federal Student Aid (FSA) leadership, accepting the resignation of FSA Chief Operating Officer (COO) General Mark Brown and announcing FSA Deputy COO for Partner Participation and Oversight Robin Minor as acting COO.
  • At the recent SXSW EDU conference, the Secretary spoke with Dr. Tinisha Parker and actress Connie Britton about ways communities can step up to help children heal, learn, and grow together.
  • In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Secretary shared a story about an art teacher who inspired him to become an educator.
  • In his latest blog post, Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Director Mark Schneider announced that IES was awarded $100 million under the American Rescue Plan to conduct new research related to learning losses caused by COVID-19.  IES will use these funds to help support learning recovery.  He also shared other current and planned IES activities.
  • The Department of Agriculture announced a nationwide extension (through September 30, 2021) of several waivers that allow all children to continue to receive nutritious meals this summer when schools are out of session. 


“We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them, and do it without waste or fraud; that we can vaccinate the nation; that we can get our kids safely back in school; that we can get our economy back on track by helping hundreds of thousands of small businesses open and stay open; and that we can give people of this nation a fighting chance with relief checks, lower childcare costs, lower healthcare costs, and so much more.  That’s our job.  That’s our responsibility.” 

-- President Joseph Biden (3/15/21), in remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan 


Join the Federal School Safety Clearinghouse on March 24 from 4 to 5 p.m. Eastern Time for an informational webinar on school safety grants available to the K-12 education community via the Department of Justice. 

Reminder: The next webinar in the Department’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) briefing series, looking at differing abilities in STEM, is scheduled for March 25, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. ET.  Anyone may watch live or the archived session.  Previous briefings are posted on the agency’s STEM landing page. 

The 28th Annual Federal Inter-Agency Holocaust Remembrance Program, “A Chance to Survive,” will be held virtually on April 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET. 

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