What the New Federal COVID-19 Funding Means for K-12 Schools
The new COVID relief stimulus package includes $54.3 billion for K-12 schools nationwide to invest in their present and future success.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been anything but easy on K-12 schools. Across the country, institutions and districts have had to face a slew of new challenges and costs as they navigate socially distant and remote learning.
Thanks to a new $900 billion stimulus package that Congress passed in the final weeks of 2020, however, schools are finally getting some financial relief from the federal government. While the total package is roughly half the amount included in the previous bill passed last spring, it includes $54.3 billion for K-12 education — more than four times the $13.5 billion included in the previous CARES Act. This new funding comes at a perfect time for schools to make investments in both their present and their future success.
Understanding the New Stimulus Package
The $54 billion promised in the latest bill will flow in the same way as the $13.5 billion from the last package — funding will be distributed according to the proportion of funding that states and districts receive through Title I of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. From there, each state’s Department of Education will need to create a sub-grant application process to determine where and how money is spent.
As with the CARES Act passed last spring, school districts have a lot of flexibility in what they can use these funds for — which means they will need to think critically about what will best serve the safety and education of their students and staff. In some cases, that may be investing in ventilation systems, in other cases, it may mean supporting teacher training and summer school to address pandemic-related learning loss. For many, it will be an opportunity to invest in technologies that can elevate the safety and security of their institutions and improve the quality of education they can provide.
How Schools Can Take Advantage of the Funds
There is no universal right answer for the best way to take advantage of these new funds. Each school will need to think critically about its own needs and the investments that will have the biggest impact. For schools looking to put the funds toward solutions that will add value in both the short- and long-term, there are three areas that stand out:
1. Upgrade school facilities to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19:
Whether or not schools are staying remote in the short-term, they will eventually need to start bringing students and staff back into the building. To do so safely, they will need to take steps to ensure that the risk of COVID transmission is as low as possible. One great way to do that is by installing smart cameras that can help implement everything from contact tracing to social distancing measures.
Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI) partners with smart camera manufacturers like Avigilon and Verkada, who continue to develop capabilities specifically designed to help organizations return to in-person operations. Verkada features like Face Search and People Heatmaps can help you contact trace and monitor staff and students, and occupancy tracking features can send out automatic Crowd Notifications if specific areas are seeing too much traffic and need a social distancing reminder.
2. Invest in technology and infrastructure that supports stronger internet connections, remote learning, and more:
One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic has been ensuring that students have access to the devices and high-speed internet connections they need to participate in remote or hybrid learning environments. This new funding offers a great opportunity to invest in upgraded devices and strengthen internet connectivity within your school.
Whether those investments involve improving your cabling, increasing the number of wireless access points, or upgrading your switches, TTI can perform a network audit and help you understand how best to improve your infrastructure and put your federal funds to good use.
3. Increase network security to enable safer connections for students and staff:
On December 10 of last year, the FBI and other federal agencies released a Joint Cybersecurity Advisory highlighting a huge increase in cyber attacks on schools. These targeted attacks are expected to continue through the 2020/2021 school year and beyond, with cybercriminals constantly looking for ways to exploit the vulnerabilities of remote learning. To keep staff and students safe during this period of heightened attacks, strengthening network security should be a top priority for any school.
TTI can help you find the best ways to strengthen your cybersecurity through a secure network assessment that identifies weak spots within your current cybersecurity architecture. From there, our experts can help implement products like Aruba ClearPass to secure your wired and wireless networks — while still making it easy for your authorized staff and students to access the network.
Making Strategic Investments With TTI
While the COVID-19 stimulus funds represent a critical way for schools to meet new needs in the wake of the pandemic, schools that use the funds strategically will also be making an investment in their future. But making strategic investments that also fulfill urgent requirements can be a challenge.
By working with a trusted partner like TTI, schools can rest assured that their funds will serve them well both today and tomorrow. To learn more about how to apply federal funds to improve the long-term quality and safety of learning, contact TTI for a consultation today.
By Tony Ridzyowski