As school building closures extend into 2021, states and districts continue to leverage online and blended learning models to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to do so effectively, strategic funding is critical to ensure that quality instruction is sustained during this time and beyond the current crisis.
Fortunately, federal legislators in December passed a second education stimulus, which provides an additional $82 billion in education stabilization funds, approximately $54 billion of which is specifically dedicated for K-12. This new bill follows the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) from March 2020 that reserved $30 billion for education stabilization funds, $13.5 billion of which were specifically dedicated for K-12.
The CARES Act outlined several allowable edtech-related uses of those K-12 dollars, which included the following. The new education stimulus also allows stabilization funds to be flexibly spent on essentially the same allowable uses.
Purchasing educational technology that aids in regular and substantive interaction between students and educators.
Planning and coordinating long-term closures, including providing technology for online learning.
Planning and implementing online learning during the summer months.
Supporting provisions found in major education laws, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Title IV-A of ESSA and Part D of IDEA permits federal funds toward professional learning in effective edtech use.
With such a wide range of allowable uses, ISTE encourages states and districts to continue taking a multi-pronged approach — involving prioritized investments into professional learning, infrastructure and content — when leveraging federal funds. Here are three ways to do that:
1. Continue to support educator professional development necessary for effective online and blended learning.
States and districts must continue to provide educators with ongoing training that develops their skills to design and deliver effective online and blended learning opportunities to all students — including vulnerable populations, such as students with disabilities and English learners. Specifically, state and local leaders can support effective pedagogical uses of technology, such as those grounded in the ISTE Standards, which can be sustained not only in fully online settings, but also in blended and face-to-face environments after the public health crisis subsides. Thousands of educators nationwide have already begun developing this critical expertise through ISTE’s Online Teaching Academy, learning about how to apply research-based principles for effective online and blended learning practices.
2. Continue to support the technical infrastructure necessary for online learning.
With millions of students still facing the impact of the digital divide, states and districts must continue to ensure that students and families have equitable access to devices (including assistive and adaptive technologies) and connectivity conducive to online learning for an extended period of time. For example, see resources developed by the COVID-19 Education Coalition, a community of nonprofit organizations convened by ISTE and EdSurge to support the education field as learning moves online, to help narrow the digital divide.
3. Continue to support the curation and delivery of content that promotes active learning.
In parallel to above efforts, states and districts must continuously curate and deliver content that promotes active student engagement with the material. Content should not simply be prerecorded videos and readings that students will passively click through. State and local leaders should also ensure that the content is accessible by different student populations. Educators and leaders can use a number of criteria to search the LearningKeepsGoing coalition’s hub of free edtech offerings to find resources that match their needs and requirements. This hub contains many resources aligned to the ISTE Standards and with accessibility features.
There are many additional resources that states and districts can consider in order to determine areas of support. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology issued a Dear Colleague Letter in 2017, clarifying what various Title funds in ESSA and IDEA may be used for — including professional development, student resources, educator communication and collaboration and devices. All of these uses are allowable under the CARES Act, as well as the second education stimulus. ISTE also published a 2020 update to the “Using ESSA to Fund Edtech” guide, which suggests how technology can support many of the allowable uses of ESSA Title IV-A funds.
Early data is already pointing towards learning losses in 2020 that could widen further, especially among students from historically-disadvantaged communities. Therefore, it is imperative that education leaders provide equitable learning opportunities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic by making strategic investments with their federal stimulus dollars.
Ji Soo Song is a senior policy advisor at ISTE. He leads research, analysis, and communication of federal, state and local policy issues related to digital learning standards, educator credentialing systems, and professional development funding streams.