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The COVID-19 public health crisis continues to impact schools across the country. As closures extend further into the year, states and districts are leveraging online learning models, and strategic funding is critical to ensure that effective instruction is sustained during this time.
Fortunately, federal legislators provided some relief to address the pandemic’s impact on education when Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This national relief bill reserves $30 billion for education stabilization funds, $3 billion of which will be dedicated to “provide emergency support … to local educational agencies that the State educational agency deems have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus.” Another $13.5 billion of the education stabilization funds will be specifically dedicated for K-12.
Section 18003 of the CARES Act outlines several allowable edtech-related uses of those K-12 dollars, which may include the following:
- 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 consider a multi-pronged approach — involving prioritized investments into infrastructure, content and professional learning — when planning how to best leverage funds levied under the CARES Act.
1. Support the technical infrastructure necessary for online learning.
States and districts must ensure that students and families first 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 programs that provide students and families with access to devices and the internet, compiled by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) eLearning Coalition.
2. Support the curation and delivery of content that promotes active learning.
In parallel to providing devices and at-home connectivity, 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.
3. Support educator capacity building necessary for effective online learning.
Starting immediately and continuing over the long-term, states and districts must provide educators with ongoing training that develops their skills to design and deliver effective online 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 informed by 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.
There are many 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. 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.
It is imperative that education leaders provide equitable online learning opportunities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic through strategic investments, so that when schools are permitted to reopen, students from vulnerable populations have not fallen significantly behind their peers.
Ji Soo Song is a senior policy advisor at ISTE. He analyzes policy issues related to open educational resources, evidence-based teaching and learning, and federal education funding.