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This Survey Data Indicates How Schools Plan to Use Federal COVID-19 Aid

Building internet capacity, distributing more online devices, and cleaning schools are some of the top priorities in school administrators' plans for using federal COVID-19 relief.

That's according to a survey of members of the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators done with the support of Whiteboard Advisors, a research and consulting firm.

The results might indicate that many schools are preparing for the possibility of using a hybrid approach to learning in the fall, with some students learning remotely while their peers attend in-person classes. Some respondents also said CARES money will be put use on things like school meals and social-emotional learning.

However, these early survey results also show that many districts are still uncertain how they'll use money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in late March&mdash. The CARES Act includes roughly $13 billion for local school districts; another $3 billion can be spent by governors on K-12 or higher education. The Whiteboard survey results we're highlighting deal with CARES aid for districts. 

A few important caveats: The survey of the program administrators has taken place over the last several weeks. Of the 195 administrators surveyed, 112 provided specific information about how their districts planned to spend CARES money that's specifically earmarked for districts. The survey wasn't a scientific one: It represents a sampling of middle-sized to large districts in terms of enrollment, but shouldn't be taken as nationally representative. 

See detailed results in the chart below. 

"What seems clear is that there's an emphasis on technology accessibility, health, and cleaning. Those come out on top," said David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors. He added that the primary purpose of the survey was to facilitate a dialogue among school administrators and to find out more broadly how administrators are thinking about federal support during the pandemic. 

DeSchryver also noted that many districts are just beginning the process of accessing money from the CARES Act more than two months after Trump signed it. DeSchryver said the U.S. Department of Education has done a "great job" of moving the aid quickly from the federal government to states, but that the next step is taking longer. Although school won't start for at least two months or so in most states, the process of planning how to allocate money for the 2020-21 academic year is already a priority for districts. 

Many schools will experience significant cuts in state and local aid, at the same time that many educators say the virus will impose major new costs to help schools open safely and provide a more robust online learning infrastructure. So the potential for federal aid to fill in gaps could be  crucial for many schools.

For many weeks, education advocates have said CARES Act funding is not enough to help them weather the economic slide brought about by the pandemic. Their demands for more federal K-12 aid have reached into the hundreds of billions of dollars; a recent one from House Democrats tops $300 billion. However, the most recent bill passed by the House last month (which Senate Republicans have already dismissed) includes less than $60 billion in new aid for districts; state and local governments would get separate aid of nearly $1 trillion. 

When asked for more details about plans for using CARES aid, one administrator told Whiteboard: "Buy a cup of coffee and split 10 ways. We received so little."

DeSchryver said many administrators know that getting additional resources to disadvantaged students in particular before the upcoming school year is especially important: "There's an awareness of the need to both have the software and the hardware, but to focus that on where the need is going to be the greatest."

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