On Wednesday, July 7, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Rhode Island’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plans and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Rhode Island’s 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. Rhode Island is receiving more than $415 million total in ARP ESSER funds, and today’s approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $138 million. Additionally, the Department approved plans for South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.
“I am excited to announce approval of Rhode Island’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.”
“In Rhode Island, we convened the Learning, Equity & Accelerated Pathways (LEAP) Task Force to build a framework to help students not just recover from the learning disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, but to leap ahead to academic success,” said Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “Our goal is not remediation but rather acceleration in education with a focus on ensuring equity across the board. With input from the communities we serve, leading education experts, and many other stakeholders, we built a roadmap for strategic, sustainable and impactful state-wide ESSER investments that will help us get students back to in-person learning, improve attendance, promote academic achievement and address existing inequities laid bare by the pandemic. With approval of Rhode Island’s American Rescue Plan Act ESSER plan, we are on track to make once-in-a-generation investments that will help us ensure every student has access to high-quality learning experiences.”
“Our teachers and administrators did inspiring work to keep students on track during the pandemic,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “This award will help schools continue to tackle the complicated challenges of making sure students, teachers, and staff are safe and productive. The delegation fought hard to secure this federal funding in the American Rescue Plan, and I’m pleased to see it go to Rhode Island schools.”
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department today, including Rhode Island, 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:
- Returning to In-Person Learning in 2021: Rhode Island was able to reopen schools at full capacity based on CDC guidance the past year, achieved through continued collaboration, robust testing, layered mitigation, and flexibility from school leaders, teachers, students, and families. All Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be expected to provide full in-person learning for all students during summer 2021 and for the 2021-2022 school year.
- Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) worked directly with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and local municipalities to establish vaccine clinics for all educational staff and eligible students. Student vaccine clinics were held in schools during the 2020-2021 school year and Rhode Island expects these to continue this summer and fall.
- Supporting Students Most Impacted by the Pandemic: RIDE expects all LEAs to ensure equity is the guiding lens for assessing local data and identifying the most pressing student needs. RIDE has allocated a portion of its state set-aside dollars from the American Rescue Plan to support the lowest performing schools and LEAs.
- Staffing to Support Students’ Mental Health Needs: RIDE has encouraged allocation of ARP funds towards human capital and staffing, particularly focused on expanding capacity to support students’ social-emotional wellness, including additional social workers or guidance counselors, or partnerships with community mental health providers.
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.