On Friday, Aug. 27, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Alaska’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Alaska’s plan details how the state is using and plans to use ARP ESSER funds to safely 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.
As schools and states begin the new school year, the Department released the Return To School Roadmap, which provides key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning. ARP funds can be used to support the roadmap’s efforts.
Earlier this year, the Department 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 states will be made available once state plans are approved. Alaska is receiving more than $358 million total in ARP ESSER funds, and today’s approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $119 million. Additionally, the Department approved plans for Connecticut, Illinois, and Louisiana. Today’s approvals mean a total of 32 ARP ESSER state plans have been approved since June. The Department has approved plans supporting more than 50 percent of students nationwide.
“I am excited to announce approval of Alaska’s 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. 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 Department 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 and build back better.”
“Alaska’s ARP ESSER state plan supports face-to-face instruction; expands social, emotional and mental health supports; and implements strategies to reduce impacts of lost instructional time. On behalf of the team that developed our state plan and Alaska’s families, we appreciate the U.S. Department of Education allowing Alaska to utilize ARP resources for our students and their families,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department today, including Alaska, show 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. For example:
- Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) will provide districts guidance and support through a variety of methods, including providing current CDC guidance on masks, physical distancing, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette; cleaning; contact tracing; diagnostic and screening testing; vaccination efforts; and appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities. DEED will work closely with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to provide statewide guidance and additional resources and supports on mitigation plans required under the ARP Act.
- Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: DEED will focus on evidence-based strategies for reading and career and technical education. DEED will support districts, community-based organizations, tribal organizations, and other non-profit entities in implementing evidence-based reading instruction for grades K-5, provide educators with professional development in the science of reading, and make high quality instructional resources and activities available to all students statewide. DEED also will create statewide career and technical education programs of study that span elementary to postsecondary education. Lastly, DEED will partner with local communities to design and implement projects involving academic tutoring, work-based learning, and general school-improvement efforts.
- Investing in Summer Learning and Expanded Afterschool Programs: DEED will establish a grant program for summer and afterschool out-of-school time that prioritizes students most impacted by the pandemic (students from low-income families, students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, English learners, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, migratory students, and students in foster care) and focus on literacy, career readiness, or work-based learning. The program design must include academic and social-emotional skills, consistent and frequent participation by students, and small staff-to-student ratios. Both school districts and community-based organizations are able to receive grant funding.
- Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Needs: DEED is using ARP ESSER funds to support in-house school social workers who will assist district staff with social work tasks in rural and remote districts. The social workers will provide professional development on trauma-engaged practices, virtual self‐care, training on reducing student stress and depression, support for escalating anxiety of staff and students, social-emotional learning, and school mental health related resources.
A total of 46 states, and the District of Columbia, have submitted their ARP ESSER state plans to the Department. The Department is reviewing the plans expeditiously and is in contact with states to ensure their plans meet all necessary requirements in order to access the remaining funds, as outlined in the ARP. The Department also is 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 Department’s broader effort to support students and districts as they work to reengage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, and build our education system back better than before. 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, the Biden-Harris Administration also has:
- Launched the Return To School Roadmap to provide key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outline how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning
- Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook
- Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit
- 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 $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing for PreK-12 educators, staff, and students.
- Launched a series of Equity Summits focused on addressing inequities that existed before, but were made worse by the pandemic
- Released a report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on underserved communities
- 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
In addition to the actions the Biden Administration has taken to reopen schools, the President has proposed critical investments through his Build Back Better agenda that will enable schools to rebuild stronger than they were before 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.