In May of 2020, the U.S. Department of Education released $770 million dollars to Florida schools to address the impacts of COVID-19. Now, the amount has grown to $15 billion after two additional relief packages were passed. This money has gone largely untapped even though it was earmarked to help mitigate the impacts caused by the pandemic last year and for a few years to come.
Most of the dollars have yet to be disbursed to school districts for the past school year and the 2021-22 academic year has already begun. Money for initiatives to help students recover from learning losses due to the pandemic has not flowed to help our most vulnerable children.
In June, the Florida Phoenix, using U.S. Department of Education data, outlined the different relief funds that make up the $15 billion:
- Higher Education Emergency Relief fund (HEER)– The U.S. Department of Education has allocated $4,338,095,119 to help Florida’s K-12 schools in this fund.
- Governor’s Education Emergency Relief fund (GEER)– The feds provided Florida $249,384,820 in this fund.
- Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds (ESSER)– The ESSER funds have come in three waves:
- The first wave of funding- (ESSER I)- totaling $770 million came from the CARES Act under the Trump administration at the beginning of the pandemic.
- The second phase of ESSER funds (ESSER II) became available under a Trump-administration COVID relief package in December 2020. This was used to encourage states and districts to reopen schools for in-person instruction. Florida schools were open for the 2020-21 school year and the state received $3.133 billion.
- ESSER III funds came from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act to help with COVID recovery. ESSER III funds for Florida total $7,038,246,438 to help mitigate student learning loss and to offer programs for the mental health of students. All states received two-thirds of their allocations — Florida got $4.69-billion —, while the remaining third would be released once the U.S. Department of Education approved of a state plan describing how these funds will be used to help schools recover from COVID. These state plans were due June 7, and Florida did not make the deadline. That means the $2.3-billion is still not available for Florida schools. Florida is one of only three states that has not sent in a plan.
In an article from September 8, the Florida Phoenix reports: More than $15 billion in federal relief funds have been earmarked to help Florida schools with additional sanitation practices, mental health needs of students and staff, and support for struggling students, among other recovery measures.
According to July 31 data from the U.S. Department of Education, Florida has used about $2.8 billion of the funds.
Children desperately need these resources to recover from the harsh impacts from the pandemic.