In late March, the massive COVID-19 federal relief package known as the CARES Act was signed into law. In addition to authorizing those well-known $1,200 checks sent to most Americans, the CARES Act created new funding streams targeted at the education sector.
Because so many Americans now find themselves schooling at home, these relief opportunities have been made available to families in many different educational situations, not just those with children enrolled in the public schools.
While Home School Legal Defense Association does not support any federal funding of homeschooling, we do want to keep the homeschooling community aware of what Congress is doing that may affect homeschoolers.
Some of the new opportunities created by the CARES Act are services—not direct funds—provided to make schooling at home easier. Other grants and programs have not yet been described in enough detail for us to offer guidance about them, but we will update you when we receive clarity on those.
For now, here is what we know.
Equitable Services under ESSER and GEER
To provide relief to students and schools impacted by the coronavirus, the CARES Act appropriated $30.75 billion for two new funding streams: the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).
Under Section 18003 of the CARES Act, the ESSER will provide funds for local education agencies (LEAs) and school districts to provide equitable services to nonpublic schools. Any nonpublic school in existence on or prior to March 13, 2020, is eligible to receive these services from this fund under the CARES Act—this includes homeschools that operate as private schools in their state.
Receiving any of these equitable services is not the same as receiving funding from the federal government. The law does not allow funds to go directly to nonpublic schools. It requires local agencies to maintain control of the funds, oversight and administration of services, and the material, equipment, and property purchased with funds. So under these new CARES Act funds, students and teachers receive services, not money.
It is the responsibility of each LEA to reach out to the nonpublic schools in their district and notify them of the availability of services. If you have not heard from any local education agencies and are interested in receiving equitable services, you can reach out directly to your LEA or state ombudsmen.
The GEER fund (Section 18002) provides grants to governors to distribute to schools and educational institutions in their states that have been impacted by the coronavirus. These funds may also be used to provide equitable services, and some LEAs have already sent letters to homeschools notifying them of such.
However, it is up to each individual governor to decide how to direct those funds; each state will apply them differently.
Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant
This new discretionary grant created by the CARES Act is much less straightforward.
Through the CARES Act, the Department of Education has allocated $180 million for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant program. According to DOE, this program 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.”
State educational agencies will compete for these grants by proposing projects that fit into one of three categories:
- Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure their families have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their students’ learning;
- 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;
- New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for a successful career and productive life.
How these grants will be awarded, what they will be used for specifically, whether or not they will come with federal mandates, and who exactly they will help are all questions yet to be answered.
HSLDA will continue to advocate against any kind of strings-attached homeschool funding, and instead support programs that only increase educational choice and freedom.