RICHMOND, Va. -- The American Relief Plan (ARP) signed into law by President Joe Biden last week doesn’t just provide stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and Covid Vaccine aid.
It also provides more $130 billion for schools across the country, including $2.1 billion for Virginia Schools.
In an interview Wednesday, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said that money will help schools move from virtual education back into the classroom.
These flexible funds will support school districts in reopening safely for in-person instruction and addressing the many needs that students are facing due to the pandemic.
A portion of the funds are targeted towards addressing learning loss, providing resources through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and implementing summer enrichment and afterschool programs.
“The funding, really is intended to make sure that schools have the resources and the supplies that they need not only to close the digital divide, to provide a safe learning environment, but also to make sure that they're investing in those resources in those strategies that are needed to help students from a social, emotional perspective, when they come back,” said Cardona. “We know that this pandemic took a toll on our students and our families and we need to make sure that our schools are prepared to meet them when they return.”
Cardona pointed out that schools districts that are finding it difficult to shift back into school buildings – Richmond Public Schools has said it will not offer in-person learning until the next school year- will get resources from the ARP as well. “We're working with districts to try to find best practices and share them with districts that are struggling to reopen in person,” Cardona said. “It's not just about the math and reading, it's really about that sense of community that our schools provide. For the students that are in school, they would prefer to be there and they have no problem with the mitigation strategies, as long as it means that they could be in school.”
The ARP relief package also aims to target inequities, the vast discrepancy in resources some school systems suffer from, which are usually in low-income communities, or communities of color. “Gaps were in existence before the pandemic,” he said. “This just made them worse. And not only education gaps, or attainment gaps, but health disparities, and other issues that we know affect certain communities more than others. So the best way to keep these inequities from growing is to make sure we're giving students an opportunity to learn in the schoolhouse as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”
“You know, even in the best case scenario, if your technology is working and if you have a good WiFi signal, [schooling] is not the same, to be on a computer for six hours,” said Cardona. “So the best way to address inequities, is to get the students back in school safely, and to ensure that you're providing additional support, to make sure that not only their academic needs but their social, emotional needs are being met. It's hard to learn if you're really worried about something or it's really hard to learn if you've experienced trauma, and it hasn't been addressed. It’s important to provide after school programming, good summer experiences, where the kids can be enriched, and really just continue to learn.”
While many have wondered about the long-term effects on school children as far as their social and emotional development – to say nothing of interrupted SOL tests, for example- Cardona says he expects those deficits will diminish quickly.
“I'm confident we can help our students recover academically, socially and emotionally, it's going to take a lot of work, but that's what we were called to do as educators and it's our job to do it.”