Ed Dept allows repurposing of federal funds for ed tech, PD in favor of distance learning

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday states can apply for flexibility in using parts of Title I, II, III, IV and V of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. States that apply can expect to receive an initial response within one business day.
  • The repurposed funds can be used to support technology infrastructure and teacher professional development as districts shift to distance learning models.
  • Flexibilities would:
    • Waive restrictions that allowed states to carry over only 15% of Title I funding from the previous fiscal year.
    • Waive the needs assessment justifying fund use, content-specific spending requirements, and restrictions on tech infrastructure spending under Title IV.
    • Waive ESEA’s definition of “professional development” to expand support for teachers and school leaders receiving PD on distance learning.
    • Extend the availability of last fiscal year’s funds for Title I (for states serving low-income families), Title II (to prepare, train, and recruit teachers and principals), Title III Part A (for states to support English learners), Title IV Parts A-B (for drug and violence prevention/intervention programs and community schools), Title V (for charter schools) and for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Youth program.

Dive Insight:

The flexibility comes shortly after the passage of the CARES Act, which allowed for such flexibilities, and in response to what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says was a need expressed by education leaders for more resources.

Initial findings from a survey released Monday by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, show over half of superintendents responding identified expanded online learning as a top cost their districts will incur in their response to COVID-19. A third of those respondents said they would repurpose existing state funding to pay for or scale up ed tech during distance learning, and more than three-quarters intended to provide PD related to online learning. 

Nearly all said they would benefit from assessment and accountability flexibilities.

The department has already allowed for those flexibilities in response to nationwide school closures that have impacted areas including absenteeism rates and assessment participation rates. Just a week after the assessment waivers were announced, DeVos said in a White House press briefing that nearly all states had already applied and been approved for assessment waivers. All states have since received assessment waivers.

The department is also currently reviewing Congress’ request, also through CARES, for waivers needed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Education and disability organizations have requested DeVos not issue “blanket waivers” that could compromise the civil rights of special ed students. On the other hand, districts are calling for targeted and temporary flexibilities that would allow for states to move around IDEA timelines and avoid litigation.

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