On Jan. 20, 2021,less than half of K-12 students were learning in person. Today, one year since the start of the Biden-Harris Administration, nearly all students are back in school and learning in person with caring teachers and alongside their peers. Across the country, schools are putting in place new programs and supports to address the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning and mental health. To achieve this goal, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) distributed unprecedented resources to states, districts, and K-12 schools, including funding, guidance, and technical assistance to help educators meet the needs of all students, especially those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The Department also distributed unprecedented resources to colleges and universities to help ensure students could access a high-quality education as well as the social, emotional, and mental health supports needed to earn their degrees and thrive. The Department also canceled $15 billion in loan debt for hundreds of thousands of students and borrowers, took action to advance equity in education, and made critical progress in creating educational environments free from discrimination or harm.
The Department’s key 2021 accomplishments include:
Helped reopen over 95% of America’s public schools for in-person learning full-time – up from 46% at the beginning of the Biden Administration.
- Due to historic investments in K-12 schools through the American Rescue Plan and using the full force of the Administration to get educators, staff, and students vaccinated throughout the year, 95% of public school elementary and middle schools were open, in-person full-time in early January 2022, compared to just 46% in January 2021.
- On top of these unprecedented investments, the Biden-Harris Administration made available $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funds specifically for states and districts to implement testing programs starting in March 2021. Earlier this month, the Administration also announced it is increasing the number of COVID-19 tests available for schools by 10 million per month to help schools safely remain open and implement screening testing and test-to-stay programs.
Invested $122 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to help K-12 schools safely reopen, stay open, and address lost instructional time and students’ needs.
- The Department distributed unprecedented funding from the American Rescue Plan to help schools reopen safely and support students. As part of this work, the Department also developed guidance to help schools use these funds for their most pressing needs, including addressing students’ mental health, learning needs, and addressing staffing shortages that are impacting schools. Schools across the country, from Vermont to Hawaii, are hosting vaccination clinics. Many districts, like DeKalb County, Georgia, have improved ventilation. Washington Local Schools, in Ohio, hosted its first summer camp, for students in grades K-3, which included a focus on academics. Arkansas created the Arkansas Teaching Corps. New York City is hiring hundreds of school social workers. And Gaston County Schools, in North Carolina, used ARP ESSER funds to double nursing staff and secure a nurse for each of their 54 school locations, so that nurses no longer have to split their time between two buildings.
Invested $40 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to over 5,000 institutions of higher education.
- The Department distributed emergency grants to over 5,000 colleges and universities to provide emergency financial aid to millions of students and ensure learning continued during the pandemic. Half of the funding awarded went directly to students in the form of financial aid to help them remain enrolled during the pandemic. As part of the American Rescue Plan, the Department also released over $3 billion in funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions to support students at historic and under-resourced institutions. A recent survey of college presidents conducted by the American Council of Education found that a majority strongly agreed that Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds enabled their institution to keep students enrolled who were at risk of dropping out due to pandemic-related factors.
Invested more than $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to support children with disabilities.
- The pandemic and its disruptions to in-person learning had a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities. This funding within the American Rescue Plan is specifically aimed at helping more than 7.9 million infants, toddlers, and students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act recover from the pandemic and succeed in the classroom.
- Use of the funds include hiring additional special education personnel, upgrading technology in schools, procuring professional development for special educators and new educational materials for classrooms, supporting transportation for students with disabilities, and funding before and after-school programs.
Released the Return to School Roadmap to help our schools return to in-person learning safely and successfully.
- The Department launched a nationwide campaign around returning to school in-person this fall and developed resources as part of the “Return to School Roadmap” that parents, educators, schools, and communities could use to build confidence and excitement around returning to school in-person. The Department launched a five-state bus tour – the Return to School Road Trip – to celebrate the return to school in fall 2021. And, the Department made available first-of-its-kind funding to keep school districts whole if they were penalized by their state for implementing proven mitigation strategies, like masking, to keep students and staff safe.
Discharged $15 billion in federal student loans to over 675,000 borrowers.
- The Department has provided targeted relief to over 675,000 borrowers through executive action, including providing $1.5 billion to borrowers who have been taken advantage of by their institutions, $7 billion for over 400,000 borrowers who have a total and permanent disability, $1.26 billion to over 100,000 borrowers who attended the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute, and close to $5 billion to 70,000 borrowers through the revamped Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Revamped the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to restore its promise to our nation’s public service workers.
- In October, the Department announced changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to allow borrowers to receive credit for past periods of repayment on loans that may not otherwise qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Prior to making changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, only 16,000 borrowers had ever received forgiveness through the program, in total. Today, this change has already helped more than 70,000 borrowers qualify for federal student loan forgiveness, totaling close to $5 billion in relief. The Department also communicated with hundreds of thousands of public service workers to let them know the minimum number of payments they would gain credit for towards loan forgiveness under these temporary changes.
Issued guidance for supporting students’ mental health.
- As part of the Department’s effort to help schools reopen safely and address the impacts of the COVID pandemic, the Department released comprehensive guidance on how schools and higher education institutions can address students’ mental health needs, including through using American Rescue Plan funds. The Department encouraged districts and states to use American Rescue Plan funds to hire more mental health professionals, guidance counselors, and incorporate more social, emotional, and mental health resources into K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.
Started a comprehensive review of Title IX and held the first-ever national public hearing on the topic. Issued a notification to the public that the Department interprets Title IX to cover sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.
- The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued a Notice of Interpretation explaining that it will fully enforce Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department also started a comprehensive review of Title IX to implement President Biden’s Executive Orders guaranteeing educational environments free from discrimination and on preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Awarded or released $6.7 billion in additional pandemic relief and other grant funds to Puerto Rico.
- In June, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced that the Puerto Rico Department of Education now has full access to all federal education pandemic relief funds earmarked for the Commonwealth and other education program grant dollars that were previously withheld.
In partnership with schools, districts, and state leaders, the Department has made great strides in supporting the reopening of our nation’s schools and colleges, and helping students and teachers return safely to in-person learning. As 2022 begins, the Department remains committed to delivering necessary supports to our schools, students, and teachers, while continuing to advance President Biden’s vision of building our education system back better than before the COVID-19 pandemic.