Published July 8, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education (DOE), on Wednesday, announced the approval of Massachusetts’ American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plans, and distributed remaining $611 million in ARP ESSER funds.
The plan to benefit all Massachusetts’ schools details how the state is using, and plans to use, ARP ESSER funds to reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools, and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the DOE distributed two-thirds of the ARP ESSER funds, totaling $81 billion, to 50 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining third of the funding to the states was held back and will be made available to each state once their individual plans are approved by the DOE.
Massachusetts is receiving more than $1.8 billion total in ARP ESSER funds, and Wednesday’s approval of the commonwealth’s plan resulted in the release of the final $611 million. In addition to Massachusetts, the DOE approved plans for Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Arkansas and the District of Columbia on July 7.
“I am excited to announce approval for Massachusetts’ plan,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities, particularly as we move into the summer and look ahead to the upcoming academic year.”
Cardona continued, “The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The state plans that have been submitted to the (DOE) lay the groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children.”
State’s delegation weighs in
“As we continue to grapple with the educational challenges posed by the pandemic, I’m proud to announce this new American Rescue Plan federal funding to support our schools,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey.
“These resources were made possible by the tireless advocacy of countless students, parents, educators and administrators in Massachusetts. These critical funds will go a long way in addressing learning loss caused by the public health crisis and helping schools prepare for the 2021-22 school year,” added Markey.
“Our students, educators and communities have overcome unprecedented challenges to keep our kids learning during this crisis,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “This funding will ensure our schools can reopen in a way that puts the safety of students, teachers, custodians and other school staff first; supports the mental health and social-emotional well-being of our students; and addresses disparities in education disproportionately felt by students of color.”
“Public education is the bedrock of our democracy and the path to success for our nation’s children,” said Assistant Speaker of the House Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) of the 5th Congressional district. “But this pandemic has put an immeasurable toll on kids across the country and their families, leading to learning loss and threatening students’ social and emotional learning.”
“I am thrilled that Massachusetts received approval for American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief to ensure that our children can safely return to in-person learning, address disparities in access, and support the teachers and administrators who make it all possible,” added Clark.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley stated: “This funding is critical to supporting and re-engaging students and to accelerating learning.”
Riley added that the “careful use of this money” by all districts in the commonwealth “can address many student needs that the pandemic exacerbated, including inequities in access to technology and high quality instructional materials.”
The ARP ESSER plans approved for six states and the District of Columbia July 7 by the DOE illustrate how states are using federal pandemic resources to support safe in-person instruction and meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students—with a focus on the students most impacted by the pandemic.
• Returning to in-person learning in 2021: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) provided specific guidance on requirements related to the reopening and operation of school facilities. In the 2020-21 school year, elementary schools returned to full-time, in-person learning in the spring. For the 2021-22 school year, all districts and schools will be required to be in-person, full-time, five days a week. Summer programming in 2021 is also currently operating in-person.
• Safely reopening schools and sustaining safe operations: DESE has collaborated with the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health (MDPH) to expand opportunities for vaccinations for faculty and students. Their joint effort led to prioritizing educators for vaccines during March and April with specific days set aside solely for them at mass vaccination sites.
• On-campus vaccinations: Most recently, the DESE and DPH have launched an effort to provide on-campus vaccination clinics for students, faculty and family members. Such efforts will continue in the months ahead as vaccines become readily available for younger children, and the state will encourage the use of American Rescue Plan ESSER funds for these efforts.
• Accelerating learning for students impacted by the pandemic: DESE has developed an “acceleration road map” designed to provide a focused and phased approach to supporting students as they begin the 2021-22 school year. The state is also considering using ARP ESSER funds for programs such as “acceleration academies,” which will create small, hands-on learning environments for early literacy and math instruction.
A total of 40 states have submitted their ARP ESSER plans to the DOE. These plans are being reviewed expeditiously and the DOE is in contact with states to ensure their plans meet all necessary requirements to access the remaining funds, as outlined in the ARP. The DOE is also in contact with states that have not yet submitted plans, the vast majority of which are due to state Board of Education or legislative review requirements.
The distribution of ARP ESSER funds is part of the DOE’s broader effort to support students and districts as they work to re-engage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, and build the nation’s education system better than it was prior to the pandemic.
In addition to providing $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools and meet the needs of all students, President Joe Biden’s administration has also:
• Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook. (https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-releases-covid-19-handbook-volume-2-roadmap-reopening-safely-and-meeting-all-students-needs)
• Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFLuX74yPbY). It is just over three hours long.
• Prioritized the vaccination of educators, school staff and child care workers. As of the end of May an estimated 84% of teachers and school staff were fully vaccinated.
• Provided $10B in funding for COVID-19 testing for Pre-K-12 educators, staff and students.
• Launched a series of Equity Summits focused on addressing inequities that previously existed but which were made worse by the pandemic.
• Released a 61-page report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on under-served communities. (https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/20210608-impacts-of-covid19.pdf)
• Developed a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse, elevating hundreds of best practices to support schools’ efforts to reopen safely and address the impacts of COVID-19 on students, educators and communities. (Please note that in order to access this particular site — https://bestpracticesclearinghouse.ed.gov/ — you must agree to be “monitored, recorded, and/or subject to audit.” A notice will pop up on the screen prior to continuing on to the site. The DOE states this information is not to be used for “commercial purposes.”) The President, through his “Build Back Better” agenda, has proposed additional critical investments with the intention of enabling schools to rebuild stronger than they were prior to the pandemic, such as investing billions to build a diverse educator workforce, expand access to pre-K to all families, and invest in school infrastructure, among other provisions.