$300M Federal Grants to States for Distance Learning

An Asian man studying on his laptop wearing a medical mask

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has announced more than $300 million in discretionary grant funds will be made available for states to use to create adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K-12 and postsecondary learners in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. The grants will be funded through the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF), authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“If our ability to educate is limited to what takes place in any given physical building, we are never going to meet the unique needs of every student,” said DeVos. “The current disruption to the normal model is reaffirming something I have said for years: we must rethink education to better match the realities of the 21st century. This is the time for local education leaders to unleash their creativity and ingenuity, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do to provide education freedom and economic opportunity for America’s students.” 

The CARES Act provides $307.5 million for these discretionary grants, which the Department will divide between two competitions: $180 million for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant and $127.5 million for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.  

The Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant is aimed at opening new, innovative ways for students to access K-12 education with an emphasis on meeting students’ needs during the coronavirus national emergency. The competition is open to state educational agencies which can apply for funds in one of the three categories:

  1. Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning
  2. Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting
  3. New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and lives

Critics are suggesting that DeVos is using the crisis to “dismantle public education,” of which she has been scathing in the past. A few days prior to the grant announcement, she released the following statement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2018 Civics, Geography, and U.S. History Assessments for 8th Graders: “America’s antiquated approach to education is creating a generation of future leaders who will not have a foundational understanding of what makes this country exceptional. We cannot continue to excuse this problem away. Instead, we need to fundamentally rethink education in America. It is the only way our nation’s students will be in a position to lead our nation and the world.”

PD Vouchers

A week earlier, DeVos proposed a voucher system for teachers to access professional development courses as they choose, “I’ve spoken with hundreds of teachers across the country who love teaching yet share the same frustration: their professional development courses don’t meet their needs, and they don’t help them serve students,” said DeVos. “That’s why I believe we must treat teachers like the valued professionals they are and empower them to seek out the professional learning opportunities that support their goals and aspirations. If we can trust teachers with our children each day, we should trust them to select the right continuing education courses.”

The proposed priorities for EIR funding will help the Department explore whether personalized professional development has a positive effect on instructional practice, and in turn, a positive effect on student achievement.

The Department seeks feedback from the public about this Notice of Proposed Priorities, which is posted to the Federal Register. The comment period is open until May 13, 2020.

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