How Will the American Rescue Plan Help Virginia Schools?

By Megan Schiffres

March 10, 2021

Lawmakers set aside more than $128 billion for education in the bill.

RICHMOND – The American Rescue Plan, which the US Senate passed on Saturday, includes over $128 billion in emergency funds for education. What does that mean for Virginia schools?  

This funding is more than the total amount school districts received from both previous rounds of federal COVID-19 relief packages. 

Elementary and secondary school districts across the country received $30.7 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act provided these districts with a total of $54.3 billion in funding. That’s according to the US Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

That money can go towards paying for a wide range of school and student expenses.

How Can Virginia Schools Spend the Money? 

School districts who receive this funding must reserve at least 20% to address losses in learning caused by the pandemic. Strategies to address this issue include summer learning, extended day, comprehensive after school programs, and extended school year programs. 

These interventions must also respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. And, these programs must also address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on vulnerable student subgroups. These groups include economically disadvantaged students, students of color, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care. 

States can use the remainder of these funds in a variety of broadly worded areas. That includes coordinating efforts to prevent, prepare for, or respond to the coronavirus. They can also use them to fund resources necessary to address the needs of individual schools. School districts can also use these funds to purchase educational technology, provide mental health services, and on school facility repairs and improvements. 

According to educators in Virginia, this money is meeting an urgent need for financial support in schools. 

“School divisions across this country and in the Commonwealth of Virginia have a lot of needs,” said Petersburg City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin. “The needs that have been presented from a federal guidance perspective are things we could use here and I know many other school divisions could use as well.” 

How Much Do States Get? 

Under the Act, the government will distribute these funds to be divided between all 50 states. The proportion of this funding that each state gets depends on what proportion of federal Title I funding the state receives. 

Title I funding provides assistance to schools with high numbers or percentages of children from low-income families. Therefore, schools with the most economic scarcity will receive the greatest portion of funding through the Act. 

This program differs from how Virginia usually determines how much funding school districts receive. Usually, the Commonwealth assigns funding to districts using a composite index. This index is calculated using three factors including the locality’s property value, average local income, and taxable retail sales. Under this system, the most affluent districts in the Commonwealth also receive the most state funding. 

Falls Church has the highest composite index in the Commonwealth, at 0.8. Petersburg, with a composite index score of 0.2442, usually receives far less funding. 

“It’s based on the number of students that you have that are in poverty. So, the amount of money that the city of Falls Church, because our number of students in poverty is fairly low, it’s going to be rather limited,” said Falls Church City School District Superintendent Peter Noonan. 

Funding from the CARES and CRRSA Acts were also allocated based on the proportion of Title I funding each state uses. 

No Money for Teachers 

The Act allows school districts to use this funding for ‘activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of a continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff.”

However, it mentions nothing about providing raises for school staff or teachers. 

Superintendent Noonan points out that for the past year, teachers have been working overtime to adapt to the pandemic.

“The fact that they’ve had to modify and adapt and change the way that they provide instruction. The challenges for single parents that are also teaching. Trying to figure out how to make it all work with their families,” Noonan said. 

Schools can only access funds through the Act until Sept. 30, 2022. Because of this, salary increases for teachers and school staff aren’t reasonable, according to Noonan. 

“The tricky part of that is if you use one-time funding for a salary increment that is not recurring the following year, you’ve put yourself in a position where you have to maintain that level of funding. So it would put a lot of pressure on localities then to maintain that increment,” said Noonan. 

However, educators say the Legislature could still consider bonuses for teachers and school staff.

“It would have been very nice for the federal government to recognize the challenges that our teachers have faced during this pandemic,” Noonan said. “It would have been nice if we could have done a bonus or something else, some amount of money.” 

RELATED: ‘We Need Help’ : Teachers From Rural Virginia Share Their Challenges

What’s Next for Virginia Schools

The American Rescue Plan Act still needs final approval from the House in order to reach President Biden’s desk. The plan, which Biden announced in January, is expected to become law later this week. 

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) declined to comment on how it will distribute funds it obtains through the Act.

“The bill is not final yet and we have not gotten details yet on K-12 funding for states and LEA’s [local educational agencies],” said VDEO Director of Media Relations Charles Pyle.

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