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May 7, 2020

School Divisions Can Make the Most of Federal Aid to Help Prevent and Respond to COVID Impacts

Every student in every zip code should have access to a high-quality education, yet the pandemic is creating more barriers for some students. Federal aid will be coming to Virginia school divisions through the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and local divisions will be deciding how these resources are allocated among their schools and for what services they help fund. Local divisions should prioritize these resources for students who are most likely to be adversely affected by this time away from the classroom and face major barriers to learning during and after this crisis. 

The federal aid to state, local, and tribal governments included in the CARES Act is far short of what is needed to address the upcoming budget challenges, especially with recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury limiting use of Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars (one of several major funds in the coronavirus relief package for states and localities). While insufficient, Virginia school divisions will be receiving federal aid through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund with fairly broad flexibility. Virginia will receive $238.6 million with the majority ($214.6 million) being allocated directly to local school divisions. 

(See amounts for each division at the end of this blog post.) 

School divisions can use these funds for a wide range of services. These resources can be used for services that include (not complete list):

  • activities to address unique needs of children from low-income families, students with disabilities, English learners, “racial and ethnic minorities”, students experiencing homelessness, and youth in foster care; 
  • mental health services and supports; 
  • planning and coordinating long-term closures; 
  • coordination with local health departments; 
  • purchasing computers or technology to assist with distance learning; 
  • purchasing supplies to sanitize facilities; 
  • any activity authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

Note: Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education directs local education agencies to make funds available to all students and teachers at both public and participating private non-profit schools under the “equitable services” provision of Title I Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This interpretation means federal aid could be directed to private schools, regardless of how many students from low-income families they actually serve. It could be particularly impactful in localities that receive a larger share of Title I funding and have higher private school enrollment. Some legal experts question the legitimacy of this interpretation by the Department of Education. 

Research tells us that students with disabilities, who are learning English, and/or who are Latinx can face significant barriers to learning from home, and that students in households with low incomes, Black students, and Latinx students experience more summer learning loss when away from the classroom for extended periods of time. We also know that recessions are linked to students of color and students in households with low incomes falling further behind on academic assessments and reducing college attendance among all students. This adds to further harms caused by guardians losing income or employment, which we know from past recessions hits communities of color hardest, and survey data and initial Virginia unemployment claims from this current crisis indicates this will likely be the case again.

Student with head on desk, looking sadly at the camera. Features text that reads: "Local divisions should prioritize resources for students who are most likely to be adversely affected by this time away from the classroom and face major barriers to learning during and after this crisis."

The direct funding that school divisions receive from the federal package is based on their share of Title I funding, which broadly reflects the concentration of poverty in divisions. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that this funding should be targeted to students with the most need. VDOE can assist local school divisions by providing clear guidance as to how they can use the $214.6 million to help students who face the most barriers to learning during this crisis. While the state must distribute within one year of receiving funds, school divisions do not have a hard timeline yet for spending the federal support once they receive it. Even so, the year period will allow for in-person remediation for the students with the greatest needs when they return to school. This is important since we know students who are behind academically tend to draw the least benefit from remote learning. VDOE can also use their share (about $24 million) of the federal aid to supplement these efforts further.

There are well documented consequences from school funding cuts that occurred in the aftermath of the Great Recession, both nationally and here in Virginia, showing our highest poverty communities most adversely impacted. While it is clear more aid is needed from the federal government to fully address the budget challenges coming our way, in the meantime, state and local leaders should acknowledge the vast inequities in access to education during this time period, and direct the federal assistance we do have to students who face the most barriers to learning.

Federal CARES Act Funding to School Divisions
Accomack County$1,713,822
Albemarle County$1,268,193
Alleghany County$507,039
Amelia County$288,827
Amherst County$821,581
Appomattox County$450,295
Arlington County$2,065,392
Augusta County$1,120,251
Bath County$73,904
Bedford County$1,288,951
Bland County$18,647
Botetourt County$331,218
Brunswick County$664,211
Buchanan County$1,210,036
Buckingham County$580,168
Buena Vista$210,782
Campbell County$1,320,251
Caroline County$751,173
Carroll County$889,205
Charles City County$148,234
Charlotte County$609,305
Chesterfield County$5,636,406
Clarke County$150,408
Colonial Beach$257,036
Colonial Heights$504,407
Craig County$150,675
Culpeper County$1,239,168
Cumberland County$390,636
Department of Juvenile Justice$142,983
Dickenson County$764,673
Dinwiddie County$668,369
Essex County$413,665
Fairfax County$21,088,893
Falls Church$38,149
Fauquier County$695,783
Floyd County$393,774
Fluvanna County$302,655
Franklin County$1,492,694
Frederick County$1,162,164
Giles County$389,205
Gloucester County$633,644
Goochland County$255,214
Grayson County$578,884
Greene County$362,894
Greensville County$821,079
Halifax County$1,324,867
Hanover County$927,657
Henrico County$9,293,831
Henry County$2,128,914
Highland County$43,541
Isle of Wight County$536,830
King and Queen County$171,617
King George County$336,541
King William County$202,411
Lancaster County$340,612
Lee County$1,403,765
Loudoun County$1,282,208
Louisa County$783,290
Lunenburg County$472,088
Madison County$319,528
Manassas Park$276,815
Mathews County$165,484
Mecklenburg County$1,187,389
Middlesex County$295,177
Montgomery County$1,546,920
Nelson County$429,945
New Kent County$217,575
Newport News$9,605,772
Northampton County$595,391
Northumberland County$412,868
Nottoway County$701,234
Orange County$623,388
Page County$736,593
Patrick County$567,671
Pittsylvania County$1,927,445
Powhatan County$236,490
Prince Edward County$801,046
Prince George County$534,073
Prince William County$9,260,966
Pulaski County$867,332
Rappahannock County$145,156
Richmond County$249,707
Roanoke County$1,095,848
Rockbridge County$452,254
Rockingham County$1,417,685
Russell County$1,051,083
Scott County$669,819
Shenandoah County$965,090
Smyth County$1,118,607
Southampton County$495,235
Spotsylvania County$2,420,334
Stafford County$1,547,758
Surry County$173,936
Sussex County$430,346
Tazewell County$1,471,288
Virginia Beach$10,110,337
Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind$75,390
Warren County$798,326
Washington County$1,515,256
West Point$42,322
Westmoreland County$574,982
Williamsburg-James City County$1,163,874
Wise County$1,837,421
Wythe County$852,633
York County$592,236
Source: VDOE release May 1, 2020


Chris Duncombe

Chad Stewart

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