Last week, the Biden administration announced that billions would be going to the 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico to help reopen schools. The funds are part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
In that announcement, Florida would receive more than $7 billion for efforts to reopen schools safely and help recover from the impact at schools in the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Wednesday, the state will have access to almost $4.7 billion of that funding to distribute to school districts to “get more schools opened safely this spring and work to close the gaps in education equity that the pandemic has exacerbated,” according to a press release about the funding.
While some families did send their children to brick-and-mortar schools in Florida, not all of them did. And Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran hopes schools will be able to function normally by the fall.
The state can benefit from the federal funds to help schools recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as helping students who have fallen behind, hiring more staff, and addressing student mental health.
But exactly how that money will be used is not yet clear, according to the Florida Department of Education.
Cheryl Etters, a spokesperson with the Florida Department of Education, told the Phoenix that the agency hasn’t received guidance from the federal government on how to use these funds yet.
However, Gov. Ron DeSantis has already proposed millions for certain education initiatives such as $106 million for civics instruction that has been a controversial topic. He also proposed $125 million education and employment training. Those initiatives would have to be approved by the Legislature, which builds the annual state budget. Lawmakers are working this session on the 2021-22 budget.
Meanwhile, the education department has offered district superintendents an outline of how these federal funds could be used.
In a memo from March 16, Commissioner Corcoran gave some suggestions to school superintendents, stressing that districts need to take “fiscally responsible stewardship” of the available federal funds.
Corcoran told school superintendents that this money should be used for nonrecurring needs, specifically “needs that will not exist after Florida’s recovery from the pandemic.”
Corcoran also suggests that districts “should plan on these funds supporting pandemic-related needs and operations thorough at least the 2021-22 school year” – the academic year that starts next fall.
The federally-funded initiatives could involve helping disadvantaged children and students with disabilities; purchasing sanitation supplies and training how to use them; purchasing educational technology; providing mental services and tracking student attendance.