A Closer Look: What the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund Means for Schools


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What is the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 25, 2020, and is the largest emergency stimulus package ever passed in the United States.

The package’s $2.2 trillion provides emergency assistance to individuals, businesses, state and local governments, and public services. Funding for K-12 schools and higher education falls under the local government portion of the act.

These funds will be distributed through the Department of Education to students, K-12 schools, and higher education institutions. This portion of the CARES Act is called the Education Stabilization Fund.

For a high-level view of the entire CARES Act, read the article How the CARES Act Affects Businesses and Education

How much money is in the Education Stimulus Fund?

$30.75 billion of the CARES Act’s $2.2 trillion has been set aside for supporting education. The $30.75 billion breaks down into the following three relief funds.

  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) = $13.2 billion
  • Higher Education Relief Fund (HEERF) = $12.6 billion
  • Governor’s Education Relief Fund (GERF) = $3 billion for governors to distribute at their discretion

The Education Stimulus Fund is expected to start disbursing money to states beginning in late May through June. At this time, the funds must be spent by Sept. 2021.

The funding states will receive will vary significantly because it’s based largely on the number of Title I (K-12) and Pell Grant (higher education) students in each state. So, the more Title I and Pell Grant students a state has, the more funding they’ll receive.

Education Stabilization Funds By State (in millions of dollars)

CARES Act Funding by State

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

In addition to the Education Stabilization Fund, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act has the following funding programs that will help support children during this time.

  • $15.8 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session
  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems
  • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs
  • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning
  • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education
  • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.

How the CARES Act Education Stimulus Fund will support K-12 schools

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) includes $13.2 billion of the Education Stabilization Fund’s total $30.75 billion. Each state will receive a share of the $13.2 billion.

How will the ESSERF be distributed to K-12 schools?

Funding will be distributed from the Department of Education to State Educational Agencies (SEAS). Then, those state agencies will distribute funds to Local Education Agencies (LEAS). In short, funds will trickle down from a federal level to a state level and finally to a local level.

State agencies must allocate a minimum of 90% of awarded funds to local agencies and reserve a maximum of 0.5% of funds for administrative costs. Any remaining funds can be reserved for emergency needs that arise due to COVID-19 closures.

What can K-12 schools use their ESSERF for?

What schools can purchase using ESSER funding is very flexible. Essentially, K-12 schools can use their funding to purchase anything that helps support students and staff during this time. Funds must be spent by Sept. 2021.

Here’s the full list of purchases that qualify for the ESSERF.

  • Activities authorized by ESEA, IDEA, Adult Education and Family Literacy, Perkins CTE, and McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance
  • Coordination efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus
  • Resources for principals and school leaders to respond to the needs of their individual schools
  • Activities and service delivery to address the unique needs of students that are low-income, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, the homeless, and youth in foster care
  • Training and professional development on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious disease
  • Purchasing supplies to clean and sanitize LEAS
  • Planning and coordination on providing meals and technology for online learning, including guidance on meeting IDEA requirements
  • Purchasing education technology including hardware, software, and connectivity
  • Providing mental health services
  • Planning summer learning, afterschool, or online learning during the summer months
  • Protecting educator jobs

How does the stimulus address remote learning needs at K-12 schools?

Districts can use their ESSERF funding to purchase online learning platforms to help make distance learning easier for both teachers and students. And as schools begin to reintroduce classroom instruction on either a part-time or full-time basis, online learning platforms can help during that transition, too.

The K-12 stabilization money can be used to provide students with wifi and devices like computers and tablets to help improve access to distance learning. However, the package doesn’t provide additional funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program. Many schools already use the e-rate program for internet and technology efforts all year round, but additional funding for this program was left out of the stimulus package.

How the CARES Act Education Stimulus Fund will support higher education

The Higher Education Relief Fund (HEERF) includes $12.6 billion of the Education Stabilization Fund’s total $30.75 billion. Each state will receive a share of the $12.6 billion.

How will the HEERF be distributed to colleges and universities?

Higher education institutions need to apply for HEERF through the Department of Education’s grants.gov website. In order to apply, institutions will need to complete the following:

  1. Download and complete the Recipient’s Funding Certification and Agreement provided in the Grants.gov application package.
  2. Complete the Application for Federal Assistance (SF-424).
  3. Complete the Department of Education Supplemental Information Form for the SF-424.

For contact information and full instructions on how to apply for HEER Funds, visit this web page.

To find how much funding is available for your postsecondary institution, search for funding HEERF allocations by school.

What can be purchased with HEERF?

The CARES Act requires higher education recipients to use at least 50% of the funds they receive on emergency financial aid grants for students.

These emergency financial grants can be used on expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus including:

  • Course materials
  • Computers and technology
  • Broader life expenses such as food, housing, health care, and child care expenses

Up to 50% of funds can be used at the discretion of the higher education institution. It’s unclear at this time what these funds can be used for but it’s expected the allowable purchases will be flexible. The Department of Education plans to provide a list of FAQs to address the allowable uses of funds once the funds have been made available to institutions.

How does the stimulus address distance learning needs in higher education?

At this time, the stimulus package doesn’t directly address remote learning needs at the higher education level. However, students are allowed to use their grant funding on any course materials, computers, and technology needs they may have as a result of distance learning.

Until the Department of Education releases more information about what institutions can purchase using HEERF funding, it’s unclear what will be allowable at a college and university level.

Why K-12 and postsecondary schools are choosing SolidProfessor to help support their engineering, architectural, and manufacturing design programs

At SolidProfessor, online learning is what we do best.

We’re here to help schools at all levels keep their engineering, architectural, and manufacturing design programs going strong, especially during a time when schools across the nation have been required to transition to distance learning. And, yes, you can use CARES Act Education Stimulus Funds to purchase SolidProfessor for your school.

As many schools plan to continue distance learning in the fall, SolidProfessor can help make teaching online easier. Here are a few of the things you can do with a SolidProfessor membership:

  • Create multiple classes with our easy-to-use curriculum builder
  • Select lessons from our Library of 5,000+CAD, CAM, and BIM video tutorials
  • Get students industry certified with our cert prep courses
  • Use our self-grading quizzes as assignments
  • Track students’ progress with our reporting tool
  • Get your questions answered with dedicated onboarding and support

When you’re finally able to transition back to normal, our platform can seamlessly be used in conjunction with classroom instruction, too.

Explore SolidProfessor for K-12 Schools and SolidProfessor for Postsecondary Schools to learn more about our platform and how you can get started.

Madie Norris Forcier
About the Author

SolidProfessor content writer and self-appointed World’s Greatest Dog Mom