Aug 10 2021

Navigate Government Funding to Optimize Network Health

A wave of pandemic-era grants presents a rare opportunity for schools and districts to fund tech purchases that fuel student success.

Federal money for tech purchases sounds great — and it is. But many education leaders are struggling to untangle acronyms and application deadlines as they seek their share of new federal funding.

“One challenge is just the overwhelming state of education, what they’ve experienced over the past year,” says John Harrington, CEO of the consulting firm Funds for Learning. “Then you bring in these fantastic opportunities, but there are deadlines and new forms, and it’s a challenge when the rules are still being written. It would be great if we could pause and give people a chance to plan, but it’s all happening in real time.”

DISCOVER: Complimentary CDW•G resources help educators and IT leaders prepare for the future of learning.

Here’s what district leaders need to know to make the most of this moment — including what steps they must take by the end of September to avoid missing out on a source of nearly guaranteed funding.

ESSER I Funding Information

What Do K–12 Leaders Need to Know About ESSER I?

What Is ESSER I? Part of the CARES Act passed in March of 2020, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (known as ESSER I) provided $13.1 million to state educational agencies to pass on to local districts and charters.

What You Need to Know: While the deadline to spend ESSER I funds was originally in December of last year, it was extended to September 30 of this year. All funds have already been distributed. As is true of all ESSER funds, districts can use the money for costs dating back to March 13, 2020.

ESSER II Information

What Do K–12 Leaders Need to Know About ESSER II?

What Is ESSER II? The December 2020 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act provided $54.3 billion for a second ESSER fund.

What You Need to Know: States have until January 2022 to dole out the funds to districts. School administrators should apply to their state education agency to receive funding. The ESSER II funds are designated for “preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID-19,” including efforts to address learning loss, prepare schools for reopening and improve air quality. While schools have until September 2022 to use the funds, they should spend the money as soon as possible, advises Michael Flood, senior vice president and general manager of education at Kajeet. “There has been a tendency for districts to hold some of this money back in case things get worse,” Flood says. “I totally understand that, but the risk is, if the money is sitting there not being spent, Congress might say, ‘You clearly don’t need it,’ and try to claw that money back for other programs.”

ARP ESSER Information

What Do K–12 Leaders Need to Know About ARP ESSER?

What Is ARP ESSER? Part of the American Rescue Plan of 2021, ARP ESSER — also called ESSER III — provides nearly $122 billion to K–12 schools. There are additional funds allocated in the American Rescue Plan as well, including “$3 billion for special education, $850 million for the Outlying Areas, $2.75 billion to support non-public schools, and additional funding for homeless children and youth, Tribal educational agencies, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives,” according to a fact sheet created by the U.S. Department of Education.

What You Need to Know: States must allocate ARP ESSER funds to local educational agencies based on their respective shares of funds received under Title I. Schools have until September 2023 to use the funds, and at least 20 percent of funds must be used to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions such as summer learning, extended-day or after-school programs.

Emergency Connectivity Funding Information

What Do K–12 Leaders Need to Know About ECF?

What Is ECF? Congress authorized the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) as part of the American Rescue Plan, but the $7.2 billion in funding is designated specifically for broadband internet service and equipment to support off-campus learning. Schools and libraries eligible for support under the FCC’s E-rate Program are eligible to apply for ECF.

What You Need to Know: Mark your calendars! A second, 15-day window for schools and libraries to apply opens on Sept. 28, 2021, and Harrington urges districts to submit an application, even if they feel unsure of the rules. Some of those rules: Funding for student devices is limited to $400 per device, although districts can combine ECF funding with ESSER funding to purchase more expensive devices. Funding for mobile hotspot devices is capped at $250 per device. There is no cap on service cost or other equipment types, including school bus Wi-Fi, but costs must be reasonable.

“The most important thing is to submit an application,” Harrington says. “You can’t go back later. The FCC has indicated that they are using a commonsense approach to this. They know that not all of the rules have been fully vetted and laid out. There will be time later to sharpen the focus, but if you don’t submit an application now, you won’t have that opportunity.”

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This is a nonexhaustive list of funding available to K–12 institutions as a result of the pandemic. Administrators and IT leaders can work with experts in funding and educational technology to learn more about the government funds available in their area. CDW•G’s educational strategists can also help district leaders discover ways to use funding efficiently in their schools.

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