Today, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Puerto Rico’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Puerto Rico’s plan details how they are using and plan to use ARP ESSER funds to 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 students and states 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 state education agencies. The remaining third of the funding will be made available once state plans are approved. Puerto Rico is receiving nearly $3 billion total in ARP ESSER funds, and today’s approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $990 million. Today’s approval means a total of 47 ARP ESSER state plans have been approved since June.
“I am excited to announce approval of Puerto Rico’s plan,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It is heartening to see, reflected in these plans, the ways in which educators are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities. The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to help keep schools open 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 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.”
“For the past five years, Puerto Rico’s educational system has been affected by natural disasters and, like the entire nation, by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Designated Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Education Eliezer Ramos Pàres. “These issues have led us to rethink what we do every day and develop a new education model that innovates to truly support all of our students. The unique opportunity that these funds present promises to empower school directors, teachers, parents, and, most importantly, students. We are doing strategic investments that will have long-term benefits for our students and education communities.”
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department, including Puerto Rico’s, 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: In collaboration with the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDH), the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) has conducted three vaccination campaigns designed to increase vaccine awareness and trust. Vaccination is mandatory for educators and staff in public schools. As of September 2021, more than 96% of school personnel was vaccinated, more than 75% of students ages 12 through 15 years were vaccinated, and more than 85% of students 16 years or older were vaccinated. Furthermore, in September 2021, a collaboration agreement was formalized between PRDE, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, and VocesPR to promote the vaccination of students 12 years or older, through the initiative Vacu Tour Back to School. Additionally, the PRDH developed a vaccination plan to provide the vaccination through phases. Phase I included the pediatricians, hospitals, and pharmacies achieving the vaccination of more than 20,000 children. Phase II starts later this fall and is called the Vacu Tour Kids. Vaccination clinics will be coordinated between the PRDH authorized providers and school directors.
- Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: PRDE will use ARP ESSER funds to expand and extend tutoring services provided by the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), prioritizing students with disabilities among other groups of students most impacted by the pandemic. The Professional Development and University Relationship Institute, in collaboration with UPR, is offering tutoring services for students from the 3rd and 12th grades. PRDE plans to expand these services to all students and extend the tutoring program through 2024.
- Supporting the Educator Workforce: PRDE has identified multiple shortages in the educator workforce. PRDE plans to use ARP ESSER funds to further compensate staff as a retention strategy. These strategies include, but are not limited to, improving school environments; providing needed academic resources, materials, and equipment; providing stipends; recruiting necessary school and Regional Education Office staff who support teachers; providing internships; offering professional development with credit hours, including specialized professional development to support teachers; and targeting support related to accelerated learning.
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:
- Held the Return To School Road Trip, a bus tour that visited schools across five states in five days to celebrate the safe return to school.
- Announced new mental health resources to provide information and resources to enhance the promotion of mental health and the social and emotional well-being among children and students
- Launched the Return To School Roadmap to provide key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outline how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning.
- Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook.
- Hosted a National Safe School Reopening Summit.
- Announced a new grant program to provide additional funding to school districts that have been financially penalized for implementing strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as universal indoor masking.
- Prioritized the vaccination of educators, school staff, and childcare workers.
- 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. The Build Back Better agenda will offer universal and free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, make education beyond high school more affordable—including offering more trainings and apprenticeships, increasing the maximum Pell Grants, expanding access to DREAMers, and making historic investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and minority-serving institutions, among other provisions.