On March 11, 2021 President Biden signed into law H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The ARP builds on previous COVID-19 response bills—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA)—and provides significant additional funding under the Education Stabilization Fund for both public and independent schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the ARP is unlike previous COVID-19 response bills in that the funding available is to provide relief to those schools (including independent schools) that serve communities that have particularly felt the economic impact of COVID-19 or the effects of learning loss.
Available to Eligible Independent Schools: Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools
The ARP also provides a separate $2.75 billion for the Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) program, which is part of the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. These funds are intended to provide services or assistance to non-public schools that enroll a significant percentage of low-income students and are most impacted by COVID-19. The EANS program funding is based on the number of children aged 5 to 17 at 185% or less of the federal poverty level who are enrolled in non-public schools in the state, as compared to the number of all such children in all states.
Independent schools that are eligible for these funds cannot use the funds for previous expenditures. Allowable uses of EANS funds include new expenditures for personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, ventilation improvements, physical barriers to facilitate social distancing, and expanded capacity for administering coronavirus testing and performing contact tracing; educational technology to assist students, educators, and staff with remote or hybrid learning; and education and support services for remote or hybrid learning or addressing learning loss.
To qualify for the EANS program, independent schools must provide their current student enrollment count, the number of low-income students enrolled, and a report of the financial impact the pandemic has had on the school. Independent schools may also be required to show the total amount of other public funding it has received during the COVID-19 pandemic (including any loan under the Paycheck Protection Program) and the amount of lost revenue, if any.
Not Available to Independent Schools: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
While independent schools were previously eligible to receive funds under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) established under the CARES Act, the ARP does not authorize "non-public schools" (i.e., independent schools) to receive ESSER funds.
By way of background, and under the CARES Act, the Department of Education would award grants to the states, to be further distributed to local education agencies. A nonprofit independent school was eligible to receive ESSER benefits if it was located within a local education agency receiving ESSER funding. The local education agency was responsible for consulting with independent schools within its area to notify them of the opportunity to receive equitable services funded with ESSER dollars.
As ESSER funds are no longer available for independent schools, the ARP instead reserves the full $122.8 billion for public schools, which are expected to use the funds to develop a plan to return to in-person learning and address learning loss by responding to the academic, social, and emotional needs of students.
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