On Friday, Aug. 27, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Illinois’ American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Illinois’ 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. Illinois is receiving $5 billion total in ARP ESSER funds, and today’s approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $1.6 billion. Additionally, the Department approved plans for Alaska, Connecticut, 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 Illinois’ 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.”
“Our students are safe and supported as they fully return to in-person learning this year, thanks to these incredible federal resources,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “We continue to do everything possible to ensure each and every student can attend school in-person safely this fall. The approval of our state plan will allow us to make even greater equity-driven investments in teacher retention and students’ mental health and academic growth. I want to highlight that, as part of our state plan, school districts will receive an additional $300 million distributed through the Evidence-Based Funding tiers, so communities can address the local impact of the pandemic on students’ learning and wellbeing.”
“The pandemic created unprecedented disruptions and burdens for students, teachers, and families in Illinois. That’s why I worked alongside the Biden-Harris Administration to include this federal funding in the American Rescue Plan to get kids back to school safely,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. “I’m happy to see the Department of Education approve Illinois’ plan, which will help schools implement protocols to maintain a safe and supportive environment for students and educators as we enter a new school year.”
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department today, including Illinois, 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:
- Returning to In Person Learning in 2021: Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, all schools must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days, provided that remote instruction be made available for students who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine and are in quarantine consistent with state or local public health guidance.
- Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: Illinois is undertaking efforts to vaccinate entire school communities, including teachers, staff, and eligible students. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has provided schools with information on how to talk about the vaccine, how to build vaccine confidence, and how to partner with their local community vaccine providers to host vaccine clinics for their staff, students, and families. Communications on vaccinations, accessibility, and efficacy have been released and will continue to be updated and provided to schools into the new school year.
- Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time and Investing in Summer Learning and Expanded Afterschool Program: ISBE will provide $345 million in formula-based funding to all school districts and other entities including special education cooperatives, to support evidence-based interventions that address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain groups of students, including students who have missed the most in-person instruction and students who did not consistently participate in remote instruction. ISBE will also dedicate $12 million to implement a high-impact tutoring program.
- Closing the Digital Divide: ISBE will dedicate $52 million to closing the digital divide, building on its efforts through earlier federal pandemic recovery funds to ensure all school districts have the capacity to equip each student with their own computer. This will empower students to engage more fully in 21st century learning.
- Supporting Students’ and Educators’ Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Needs: ISBE will dedicate $50 million in ARP ESSER funds for competitive grants to schools and community-based organizations to create community partnerships to support the social emotional and mental health needs of students and staff. Priority will be given to those applicants proposing to serve districts in counties most greatly impacted by COVID-19 (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). ISBE will also provide statewide training on the Trauma Responsive School Assessment so that trainers can work with districts to identify needs and develop action plans.
- Staffing to Support Students’ Needs: One of ISBE’s top priorities is to support LEAs in filling the nearly 1,000 position shortage of educators and the expansion and diversification of the educator pipeline. Nearly $10 million of ARP ESSER funds will be used for projects to help build a diverse workforce that reflects the states’ student population, including partnerships with educator preparation programs and teacher residency programs.
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.