On March 11th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion “emergency legislative package to fund vaccinations, provide immediate, direct relief to families bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and support struggling communities.” This hefty law allots $125 billion to K-12 school districts and state education departments. Most of the money is intended to address learning loss suffered by students during pandemic-induced school closures. (For NJ Ed Report’s Explainer, see here.)
Last week the New Jersey Department of Education released a spreadsheet of how much each district will receive. The amount varies based on district size and wealth; the money is intended to amplify resources for low-income children but every district will get a cash infusion. For example, Newark, NJ’s largest district, will get $177 million, a staggeringly large amount of money, especially when added to the $84 million from an earlier federal stimulus package; that’s an extra $7,300 extra per student. Hainesport Township School District, with a median household income of $108,000, will get $679 thousand. Camden City Schools will get $115 million but small, wealthy Mendham (Chris Christie’s place of residence) will get $111 thousand.
Districts have a lot of lattitude with how they spend the money (although it all has to be allocated by October 2024, so ongoing costs associated with the spending would have to be absorbed into district budgets). The only rules are that 20% of ARPA funds must go to directly addressing learning loss. The bill suggests interventions like “summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs.” This is a critical need in New Jersey: a recent report shows that, on average, New Jersey students lost 30% of expected learning in reading and 36% of expected learning in math; the loss was greater for Black students, who lost on average 43% in reading and 50% in math.
The rest of the money can be used to buy cleaning supplies to keep school facilities disinfected; equipment to help with social-distancing; laptops, chromebooks and other technology to bridge the digital divide; social-emotional support for students traumatized by the pandemic; updates to HVAC systems and air purifiers; and “activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth.”