On Wednesday, July 7, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Arkansas’ American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plans and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Arkansas’ plan details how the state is using and plan 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.
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. Arkansas is receiving more than $1.2 billion total in ARP ESSER funds, and today’s approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $418 million. Additionally, the Department approved plans for South Dakota, Massachusetts, Utah, Texas, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.
“I am excited to announce approval of Arkansas’ 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.”;
“We are pleased that Arkansas’ plan has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education and are excited to develop new programs and expand existing initiatives that will result in enhanced student learning,” Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key said. “The additional $1.2 billion in federal funding will be used to support multiple educational opportunities, including the expansion of mental and emotional health programs around the state and address the academic impact of lost instructional time. We stand committed to supporting school districts as they develop and implement these new programs. Our goal is to increase student learning, as we strive to lead the nation in student-focused education.”
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department today, including Arkansas, 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:
- Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: The state was able to successfully reopen all schools to in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year by working with the Arkansas Department of Health to establish and implement statewide guidance. Each LEA was required to create its own Ready for Learning plan that focused on the safe return to in-person instruction by outlining the LEA’s health and safety protocols and flexible options for student learning.
- Investing in Summer Learning and Expanded Afterschool Programs: DESE will partner with Arkansas State University to support its Arkansas out-of-school network using ARP ESSER funds. This network will work to approve programs/activities that can include academic programs, specialty programs, social-emotional support programs, future-ready work opportunities, and multi-purpose programs that provide an array of activities this summer and afterschool. Additionally, the DESE partnered with Arkansas PBS at the end of the 2019-2020 school year and into summer of 2020 to provide grade band content developed by previous Arkansas Teachers of the Year paired with learning guides, and quality programming. This partnership will continue into summer 2021 and is slated to provide educational programs for elementary aged students to help with lost instructional time. These programs include content standards in addition to social, emotional, and mental health material. Arkansas PBS will provide data regarding number of viewers and number of downloads of instructional materials for evaluation of the program.
- Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: Using American Rescue Plan funds, DESE created the Arkansas Tutoring Corps, which includes recruitment, preparation, and support for candidates to become qualified tutors to provide instruction or intervention to meet the academic needs of at-risk learners or students most impacted by lost instructional time. A system will connect prepared candidates with organizations seeking support students’ academic needs. The Arkansas Tutoring Corps project will enhance learning experiences of students due to loss of instructional time and address gaps in foundational skills in mathematics and literacy.
A total of 40 states 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 is also 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:
- 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.