Education Provisions

Federal COVID-19 Response Legislation and Charter Schools

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The CARES Act affects K-12 schools in two primary ways: First, it allows the Secretary of Education to grant waivers to a variety of provisions of federal education laws, particularly relating to testing, accountability, and reporting results of state tests. Second, it provides additional funding to states and local education agencies to prepare for, prevent, or respond to impacts of COVID-19.

Emergency Education Waivers

CARES provides for two types of waivers: First, states may receive expedited waivers of requirements related to assessments, accountability, and reporting requirements related to assessments and accountability, and the timing on which states must spend federal funds. The Secretary of Education has already approved testing waivers for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Second, state education agencies, tribal governments, and local educational agencies (including charter schools that are LEAs) may request waivers from the Secretary of Education of additional requirements, including requirements related to:

  • Poverty threshold for schoolwide Title I programs
  • ESEA Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements
  • Carryover of Title I funding
  • Requirements for Title IV-A needs assessment
  • Uses of Title IV-A funds, including the cap on technology purchases
  • The ESEA definition of professional development

SEAs, LEAs, or tribes must submit a request for these waivers. The Secretary of Education has 30 days to approve or deny a waiver request, and may only deny requests under certain limited conditions.

Waivers apply only for the 2019-20 school year (except to carry out MOE waivers granted in 2019-20). Schools that were identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement status for the 2019-20 school year will remain in that status during 2020-21.

The legislation also required the Secretary of Education to submit a report to Congress recommending other waivers of federal law that may be necessary to enable states and LEAs to serve students during this emergency. On April 27, 2020, Secretary DeVos submitted this report, which identified additional flexibilities that may be necessary related to the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the assessment timelines in IDEA Part B and to allow Part C services to continue to be delivered during a delayed Part B evaluation timeline, and to allow the Secretary to grant a deferral of the work or repayment requirements related to IDEA personnel preparation grants. The Secretary did not request any additional flexibilities to IDEA, or any additional flexibilities to ESEA beyond those already provided by the CARES Act. It is unclear whether Congress will act on the Secretary’s recommendations in future legislation.

Implications for Charter Schools

CARES specifies that waivers issued to a state or local education agency apply to all public schools in the state or LEA, respectively, including charter schools, subject to state charter school law. Charter schools and their authorizers will need to identify any implications of these waivers for charter accountability purposes, including whether any changes in state statute or regulations are needed to accommodate them.

Charter schools that are themselves LEAs may also request waivers from the Secretary of Education of the provisions listed above. For example, a charter LEA that does not currently meet the poverty threshold to operate a schoolwide Title I program could request a waiver to allow it to do so for the duration of the 2019-20 fiscal year. Or a charter LEA might request a waiver to allow it to spend remaining Title IV funds in ways that would exceed the cap on technology purchases.

Higher education waivers with implications for charter schools

In addition to these waivers for K-12 schools, the CARES Act also allows the Secretary of Education to waive a variety of higher education regulations and programmatic requirements. Most of these waivers do not impact most charter schools. However, provisions allowing the Secretary of Education to modify required and allowable uses of GEAR UP and TRIO funds may have implications for charter schools that are partners in GEAR UP or TRIO Grants, or whose students participate in GEAR UP or TRIO programs.

Additional Information and Resources:

Emergency Education Funding

The CARES Act also provides additional funding to support schools and higher education institutions in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the novel coronavirus. Four education funding streams have potential implications for schools and higher education programs:

  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund: $3 billion
  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund: $13.5 billion
  • Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund: $14.2 billion
  • Project SERV: $100 million

The first three of these funding streams are parts of a new, temporary funding stream created by the CARES Act, the Education Stabilization fund. Of these three programs, two, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, provide funding that charters can access. In addition to the amounts listed above, the funding stream also provides funds designated for U.S. outlying territories and the Bureau of Indian Education, as well as $307 million that the Secretary of Education may distribute to states with the highest coronavirus burden.

Project SERV is an existing program, created to support schools and higher education institutions affected by disasters or traumatic events, that received a significant infusion of new funding through CARES.

Education Stabilization Fund Programs

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund

Governors may distribute these funds at their discretion to local education agencies, institutions of higher education, or other education-related organizations that the governor determines are essential for carrying out emergency education services. Funds are distributed to governors according to a formula based 60% on the state’s population ages 5-24, and 40% based on the state’s Title I allocation. Any funds that a governor does not award to LEAs, IHEs, or other education organizations within one year return to the Secretary of Education to be redistributed to other states. The legislation does not specify how recipients of these funds may use them, but potential uses include:

  • Continuing to provide education to students
  • Providing child care and early education
  • Providing social and emotional support
  • Protecting education-related jobs
  • Activities for which LEAs or higher education agencies may use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (see below).
  • Activities authorized by the Higher Education Act

Implications for Charter Schools

Because governors have broad discretion in how they choose to distribute the funds they receive through this program, charter schools and state charter support organizations may wish to engage with their governors and staff to inform decisions about distribution of these funds.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

These funds are distributed to state education agencies according to the Title I funding formula. SEAs must use 90% of the funds to make subgrants to LEAs (including charter schools that are LEAs) based on their share of the state’s Title I funds. States may use 0.5% of funds to support state administrative costs, and the remaining 9.5% for other emergency needs identified by the SEA. LEAs that receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds may use them for a variety of activities:

  • Any activity for which the LEA can use funds received under ESEA, IDEA, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Perkins Act, or the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
  • Coordinating preparedness and response efforts with other state, local, and tribal agencies
  • Developing and implementing procedures to improve emergency preparedness and response
  • Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures, including for how to provide meals to students, provide technology for online learning to all students, and carry out requirements under IDEA
  • Purchasing educational technology to support distance learning, including assistive technology or adaptive equipment
  • Planning and implementing supplemental summer and afterschool programs
  • Providing mental health services and supports
  • Providing school leaders with resources to address needs of their individual schools
  • Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children and children with disabilities, English language learners, rural and ethnic minority students, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth
  • Training LEA staff in sanitation and minimizing spread of infectious diseases
  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean facilities
  • Other activities necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in LEAs and continue to employ existing staff

Implications for Charter Schools

Charter schools that are LEAs and receive Title I funds should expect to receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds. The CARES Act does not provide any direction regarding how LEAs should distribute funds to schools within the LEA — including charter schools that are part of a district LEA. This means that individual charter schools and advocates may need to advocate with state officials and school districts to ensure that charters that are part of school district LEAs receive an equitable share of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds and/or services provided with them, particularly if Department of Education guidance accompanying the funding (not yet released) does not address the issue of LEA allocations to charter schools. Charter LEAs that did not have a count for 2018-19 but received an allocation for 2019-20 as a new charter should receive an allocation under this allocation method.

Conditions on Funding

Charter schools that receive funding from either the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund or the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund should be aware of additional requirements associated with these funds:

  • Continued payment to employees: Organizations that receive funds from these programs — including charter schools — must continue to pay their employees and contractors during any disruption of service or closure caused by coronavirus.

Additional Information and Resources:

Project SERV

Project SERV is a U.S. Department of Education program that funds grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) and institutions of higher education (IHEs) to help them recover from a violent or traumatic event that disrupts the teaching and learning environment. The program received about $17.5 million from 2002 through 2019, and typically makes fewer than 20 grants each year, many for less than $100,000.

The CARES Act provides an additional $100 million for Project SERV through Sept. 30 2021 to help elementary and secondary schools or higher education institutions prevent, prepare for, or respond to coronavirus. These funds can be used to clean and disinfect schools or higher education institutions, or help cover costs of counseling or distance learning services to students.

Charter schools that are LEAs and have been affected by the coronavirus will likely be able to apply for this new Project SERV funding. The Department of Education has not yet released any information on how LEAs and IHEs may apply for expanded Project SERV funds. Typically, LEAs seeking Project SERV funds need only submit a brief four- to five-page narrative describing the LEA, the incident that occurred and its effect on the learning environment, and how the LEA proposes to use requested funds to carry out activities to restore the learning environment. This process, however, may not be viable for the larger number of requests the Department of Education is likely to receive for increased funding.

Additional Information and Resources:

  • Project SERV website (Note: Information on this website applies to the Project SERV program as it existed prior to passage of the CARES Act. Charter schools interested in seeking Project SERV funding should not follow directions for submitting an application for Project SERV program on this site until it is updated.)