Today, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Montana’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Montana’s plan details how the state is using and plans 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.
As schools and states gear up for the return to school, the Department released the Return To School Roadmap, which provides key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning. ARP funds can be used to support the roadmap’s efforts.
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. Montana is receiving $382 million total in ARP ESSER funds, and today’s approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $127 million. Additionally, the Department approved plans for Hawaii, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania. Today’s approvals mean a total of 22 ARP ESSER state plans have been approved since June.
“I am excited to announce approval of Montana’s 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.”
“When our school doors open here in Montana this month, we’re looking forward to as normal a school year as possible,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen. “Our plan allows school administrators and teachers to use these funds wisely to promote innovation in the classroom and enhance learning opportunities for our students, without sacrificing an ounce of accountability. I thank Secretary Cardona and his team for granting approval to Montana’s state plan and placing trust in our local control model.”
“As I’ve talked with families and educators over the past year, one thing has been crystal clear: this pandemic hit Montana students hard, and we must do everything we can to help get them caught up,” said Sen. Jon Tester. “That’s why I was proud to support the American Rescue Plan, and why I fought to secure this urgently-needed support that will help Montana schools reopen safely and get students back on track when school starts this fall—all without breaking the bank for local taxpayers.”
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department today, including Montana, 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:
- Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time, Investing in Summer Learning and Expanding Afterschool Programs: The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) has allocated funds to school districts to invest in evidence-based programs and is providing tools to help school districts decide how to select interventions. OPI will provide a variety of sustained, multi-tiered systems of supports, professional learning, data support, and technical assistance opportunities to school districts to support their academic impact plans and implementation. OPI will use the Opportunity to Learn Survey collected in May 2021 and the Professional Needs Survey collected in February 2021, along with data collected at the local level, to identify student groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Districts will submit specific action plans to target those students, such as afterschool or summer school programs. OPI also is partnering with community-based organizations like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and local libraries to support summer and afterschool programs.
- Expanding Summer Enrichment Opportunities: OPI is developing summer enrichment opportunities for Montana students based on student-driven interests and purpose. The first student film festival will be held the summer of 2022 and will be enhanced with afterschool workshops developing student interests and skills in digital media and communication. The Montana Arts Council, the Department of Labor, the Chamber of Commerce, and Reach Higher are all partners in this effort. OPI will release a summer enrichment planning guide for public and nonpublic schools and communities this fall.
- Supporting Students’ and Educators Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Needs: Social, emotional, and behavioral supports and guidance are embedded throughout resources published by OPI. OPI also held virtual meetings for the Montana School Counselors Association that continued throughout spring 2020 focusing on school counseling, screening, and social emotional learning in partnership with the Montana School Counselors Association. Additionally, OPI is encouraging schools to utilize the additional funding received from COVID-19 relief to add personnel to their schools as deemed necessary through local needs assessments, including counselors.
A total of 44 states and the District of Columbia 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 also is 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.