States Can Ask to Use Existing Federal Education Funds for Remote Learning Tech

Wilbert Villalta, left, and Lindsey Lilley, right, employees of the Elk Grove Unified School District, register a Chromebook to be assigned to a student in the district, at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, Calif., Thursday, April 2, 2020.

Wilbert Villalta, left, and Lindsey Lilley, right, employees of the Elk Grove Unified School District, register a Chromebook to be assigned to a student in the district, at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, Calif., Thursday, April 2, 2020. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The U.S. Department of Education rolled out a waiver request process that states can use to repurpose existing federal funding to pay for new technology and teacher training associated with online learning.

The U.S. Department of Education announced a new waiver process this week that allows states to request permission to repurpose existing funds to pay for remote learning technology—a growing need as the coronavirus outbreak closes schools and forces teachers to provide online lessons to students in their homes. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed into law last month by President Trump allocates approximately $31 billion directly for schools and universities. But the law also provides schools with the flexibility to redirect existing funds they may have received through other programs in order to “move resources to areas of highest need during the national emergency,” according to the education agency. 

By requesting waivers of certain federal education laws, states could allow schools to repurpose existing federal dollars to pay for “technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning,” the department said.

Schools across the country have closed their doors, some for the remainder of the academic year, with many transitioning to online learning to keep students engaged. But in many communities a digital divide has emerged between students who have internet and computers at home to complete their schoolwork and those who do not have access and may fall behind.

"By extending additional funding flexibility to schools, we are helping to ensure student learning continues and supporting teachers as they transition to virtual classrooms,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement. “Local leaders have asked for the ability to steer more resources to local needs, and these new tools will help them do just that."    

The waiver process will allow states to deviate from some federal funding requirements. For instance, school districts could request to carry over more than 15% of their Title I grants to the next fiscal year. They could also request a waiver from prohibitions that would normally prevent districts from spending more than 15% of Title IV block grant money to purchase technology infrastructure.                                       

The Department of Education said states could expect to receive waiver approvals within one business day.

Some states have already reported preliminary approval of waivers.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced its waiver approval Tuesday. “This is a critical step in giving school leaders much-needed latitude as they face the economic uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

The Iowa Department of Education similarly announced it had received approval for a waiver this week.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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