WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today a new online portal that clearly shows if states, local educational agencies (LEAs), and institutions of higher education (IHEs) are using the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act‘s $31 billion Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) meant to keep learning going for students during the pandemic.
The portal captures awards and expenditures reported as of Sept. 30, six months after enactment of the CARES Act. The interactive data map and other informational tools can be found at covid-relief-data.ed.gov. Of the $13.2 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund – which was awarded to the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. – $1.6 billion, or 12% of the total had been spent. Eight recipients had spent less than one percent of their award. Of the $3 billion allocated to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, a total of $535 million, or 18%, had been spent. Thirty-four governors had yet to spend more than one percent of their allocated funding.
The Department also awarded a total of nearly $14 billion in grants through the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund to more than 5,000 institutions of higher education. By law, about half of those awards need to be distributed to students in the form of emergency financial aid grants. As of the end of September, institutions had spent $9 billion, 64% of the total.
“The CARES Act was passed to provide schools the resources they needed to protect students and teachers and ensure learning continues,” said Secretary DeVos. “We awarded the CARES Act money quickly. This portal now provides transparency into what happened next. States that neglected their obligations to provide full-time education, while complaining about a lack of resources, have left significant sums of money sitting in the bank. There may be valid reasons for states to be deliberate in how they spend CARES Act resources, but these data make clear there is little to support their claims of being cash-poor.”
Secretary DeVos continued, “I hope parents, teachers, and local leaders will use this information to advocate for an immediate safe return to learning for all students. Our children’s futures, and therefore our nation’s future, depend on it.”
In New York state, for example, less than 0.1% of ESSER funds have been drawn down. However, New York City again shuttered its schools yesterday, despite having only a 0.19% test positivity rate among students and teachers. Kentucky, which has more than $170 million dollars available, closed schools for several weeks. Meanwhile, Iowa has spent the majority of its funding while successfully re-opening most of its schools for in-person learning.
Secretary DeVos added, “Higher education institutions did a much better job, and I especially appreciate their clear efforts to make sure their students received the resources meant for them.”
States have broad discretion over how to best integrate CARES Act funding into their overall education funding streams, and they must ensure that funds are spent consistent with the requirements of law and regulation. However, the slow rates of expenditure suggest that states do not need the funds urgently. The slow expenditure rates may also suggest that states are banking CARES Act funds to offset potential revenue declines next year. While such action technically may be permitted under the CARES Act, the Department believes that is neither the intent of the emergency funding nor in the best interest of students, families, or teachers.
Portal users can access information on the purpose of each funding stream or program, view the grantees and subgrantees receiving awards within each state, and access expenditure data for grant recipients for the ESSER Fund, the HEER Fund, and the GEER Fund.
The portal features state profiles, which provide information on award recipients and expenditures within each state. Users can view the total amount of ESF funds awarded and spent, disaggregated for each of the three funds. Users can explore the more than 12,000 LEAs, 5,000 IHEs, and other entities that were awarded grants and subgrants through the ESSER, GEER, and HEER funds. Similar functionality is available to describe ESF awards for the Outlying Areas of the United States, including the Northern Mariana Islands and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The funding and expenditure data on the portal for all primary grantees, such as state education agencies for the ESSER Fund, is derived from USAspending.gov, managed by the Department of the Treasury. Many states have not yet completely fulfilled their obligation to accurately report their grant usage and sub-awards. The Department continues to remind grantees of their statutory reporting obligations and that an administrative action can be taken for failure to comply.
In addition to being a source of information for the public, the portal will serve as a direct reporting vehicle for grantees. Early next year, the Department will expand the portal’s capabilities and allow state and IHE grantees under ESF to submit annual reports. This approach enables the Department to implement a seamless reporting process to facilitate transparency and ensure data quality. This information will provide the public with insights into how the funds are used by states, IHEs, LEAs and other education-related entities to address challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.