On March 27, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act into law. It provides $30.75 billion in emergency relief funds for the U.S. Department of Education.

If you’re a K-12 teacher, you’re probably wondering how this affects you. Importantly, how will your students benefit? More pointedly, how much will they benefit?

How the Money Breaks Down

CARES is a $2 trillion act. That’s two thousand billion. To put the act’s education funding in perspective, the act provides $500 billion in relief for big business.

The gross amount — I’m tempted to see that as a pun — devoted to education is $30.75 billion. Of that amount, $14.23 billion is devoted to emergency relief for higher education, leaving about $16.52 billion for relief for public schools.

$3.5 billion of that amount is reserved for use and distribution by state governors. How much of that ends up benefiting K-12 education probably depends upon your state’s governor. In any case, it’s significant that the $16.5 billion gross amount devoted to public education, amounts to 3.3% of the act’s funding for big business. Priorities, people!

How Much Is Enough?

Various education organizations had advocated for much more. In our previous economic crisis that began in 2008, the Obama administration passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It provided $77 billion for schools. But it’s widely agreed that the present crisis will be significantly worse.

In the earlier crisis, for instance, students were still in schools. In the current crisis, it looks as if most schools have closed or intend to close and may remain closed until fall. Many teachers and school districts are struggling to set up procedures that will allow for remote schooling, but this isn’t easy and it will not be cost-free or even inexpensive. And yet, the proposed amount for K-12 education in the CARES Act is only about 17% of the funds made available in ARRA.

What Are the Most Important Financial Needs While Schools are Closed?

There’s general agreement that school districts’ highest priority needs are going to be

  • setting up 1:1 electronic devices that allow students internet access to digital course material, electronic text books and interactive teaching protocols, and
  • a new meal distribution system that allows low-income students continued access something like the current school lunch program while schools are closed.

The CARES Act doesn’t adequately address the first of these important issues. The earlier version of the bill proposed in the House included $2 billion in funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s e-rate program. This would have allowed states to spend funds on 1:1 devices.

The bill that passed doesn’t include a specific funding amount for digital education during this crisis, nor does it move the money through the e-rate program, which would have included protections ensuring the money was efficiently spent. Instead, some school officials fear, “Vendors are going to see (the money available through CARES) as a slush fund.” Commerce, not education, may be the principal benefactor of whatever digital education programs evolve from funds provided in CARES.

So far as school lunches go, CARES does a little better. The problem may be at the state level. Callifornia and a few other states have already set up and are implementing programs that will provide school lunches for students while schools are closed. Other states continue to rely on private charities to supply meals for needy students, which in this crisis will be painfully inadequate.

Saving the Worst for the Last…

Although the funds provided to the states in CARES to maintain support for schools are inadequate to begin with, one provision in the bill makes the funding situation much worse. It actually allows states to reduce funding for schools “for the purpose of relieving fiscal burdens on states that have experienced a precipitous decline in financial resources.” That would, of course, include every state in the union. For some school districts, the probable effect of the bill will be less financial support, not more.