On Wednesday, July 7, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) announced the approval of Utah's American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plans and distributed remaining ARP ESSER funds to them. Utah'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. Utah is receiving more than $615 million total in ARP ESSER funds, and today's approval of their plan will result in the release of the final $205 million. Additionally, the Department approved plans for South Dakota, Texas, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.
"I am excited to announce approval for Utah'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."
"The Utah State Board of Education and the state's school districts and charter schools intend to put this much-welcome funding to work mitigating the pandemic's impacts on students, teachers and families and create educational success for the long term. Utah's plan builds upon the existing state actions to keep students in school as we seek to address their personalized needs for the future" said Utah State Superintendent Dr. Sydnee Dickson.
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department today, including Utah, 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: The Utah State Board of Education (USBE) worked collaboratively with the Utah Department of Health, the Governor's office, and others to establish health and safety protocols that supported most Utah students continuing with in-person learning throughout the 2020-2021 school year.
- Assessing the Impact of Lost Instructional Time: USBE developed a comprehensive plan for determining the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning, including the identification of relevant data sources and the addition of opportunity to learn questions on statewide summative assessments in grades 3-10. USBE also administered a school climate survey to all LEAs in spring 2021 to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on each student subgroup. USBE is also actively collecting school level data on lost instructional time. USBE will use data from these sources to identify additional highest priority needs and identify any subgroups of students which have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Investing in Summer Learning and Afterschool Programs: USBE indicates that it will award ARP ESSER funds for evidence-based summer learning and evidence-based afterschool programming through a competitive grant process to both LEAs and community-based organizations (CBOs). In the application, the LEA must include a description of the evidence-based interventions that it will implement. Applicants will not only be required to support student's academic needs, but also students' social, emotional, and mental health needs to be awarded the ARP funds. Applicants will also be required to submit targeted plans to serve students most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and applications will be reviewed by subject matter experts.
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.