The CARES Act creates a $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund (the “ESF”) to be administered in part by the United States Department of Education and in part by states. The ESF is composed primarily of three funds: the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (approximately $2.95 billion); the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (approximately $13.23 billion); and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (approximately $13.95 billion).
Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund
The Congressional Research Service (“CRS”), estimates that Connecticut will receive $27.9 million in grant funds under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. The CARES Act grants considerable discretion to governors in determining how to distribute these funds within the state. Grant funds awarded under this section may be used to: (1) provide emergency support through grants to local educational agencies that the state educational agency deems have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus; (2) provide emergency support through grants to institutions of higher education serving students within the state that the Governor determines have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus; and (3) provide support to any other education or education-related entity within the state that the Governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services, child care and early childhood education, social and emotional support, and the protection of education-related jobs.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
The CRS estimates that Connecticut will receive $111.1 million pursuant to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. States must allocate at least 90 percent of the monies received pursuant to this fund as subgrants to local educational agencies (including charter schools that are local educational agencies) in the state in proportion to the amount of funds they received under part A of title I of the ESEA of 1965 in the most recent fiscal year. A local educational agency that receives funds pursuant to a subgrant may use the monies for a wide variety of purposes, including coordinating coronavirus-related preparedness and response efforts; providing principals and school leaders with resources to address individual school needs; funding activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth; planning for and coordinating during long-term closures; purchasing educational technology; providing mental health services and supports; and other activities necessary to maintain the operation and continuity of services and employment of existing staff.
Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund
The CARES Act directs the Secretary of Education to allocate funding specifically to institutions of higher education. Ninety percent of funding awarded under this section shall be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus emergency. Funds used for such purposes will be apportioned as follows: seventy-five percent according to the relative share of full-time equivalent enrollment of Federal Pell Grant recipients who were not exclusively enrolled in distance learning education courses prior to the coronavirus emergency and twenty-five percent according to the relative share of full-time equivalent enrollment of students who were not Federal Pell Grant recipients who were not exclusively enrolled in distance education courses prior to the coronavirus emergency. The remaining ten percent of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund will be available for awards to qualifying institutions of higher education pursuant to various provisions pf the Higher Education Act and the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Continued Payment of Employees
The CARES Act provides: “A local educational agency, State, institution of higher education, or other entity that receives funds under ‘Education Stabilization Fund,’ shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.” To date, neither the federal government nor the state has provided binding guidance regarding the meaning and implication of the term “to the greatest extent practicable.”
National Emergency Educational Waivers
The CARES Act requires that the Secretary of Education (“Secretary”) create a streamlined waiver process for states and Indian tribes to apply for waivers from certain statutory or regulatory requirements related to assessments and accountability (in addition to the reporting requirements related to assessments and accountability) under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (“ESEA”) if the Secretary determines that such a waiver is necessary and appropriate.
Additionally, state and local educational agencies that receive funds under a program authorized by the ESEA may request a waiver from certain statutory and regulatory requirements of the ESEA. For example:
- State or local educational agencies can seek waivers from ESEA’s maintenance of efforts requirements.
- With respect to Title I funds, districts can now seek to carry over more than 15% of its funding from this academic year to the next. They may also seek a waiver to make it easier to run school-wide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students.
- With respect to Title IV funds, districts can now seek a waiver that would allow them to spend more than 15% of their Title IV funds on purchasing technology infrastructure.
The process for state and local requests for waivers is set forth in Section 3511 (c) of the CARES Act. Generally, the Secretary must approve or disapprove a waiver request within 30 days of the date of which the request is submitted.
No later than 30 days after the date of enactment of the CARES Act, the Secretary is also required to prepare and submit a report to Congress with recommendations on any additional waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 that the Secretary believes are necessary to be enacted into law to provide limited flexibility to states and local educational agencies to meet the needs of students during the emergency.