Understanding the Current Funding for our Exceptional Students

When speaking with a fellow administrator the other day, she shared with me an all-to-common frustration she was encountering. She has been trying to sift through the funding being distributed by the Federal Government and funneled through her state. She found it a challenge to try to interpret how she could actually use the various funds as well as how much was being allocated to her district and earmarked for special education. Knowing my background in administration and overseeing the use of Federal Funds, she also expressed her dismay at the number of groups contacting her simply trying to “sell stuff” as she put it by claiming that they could help her use her funds. She added, “They see a press release that says there is $82 billion being designated for schools and assume everyone is rich! They have no clue about the issues just trying to access the money in approved ways for my students.”

Her frustration is real, and I am sure that many of you are feeling the same way! As she prepares for the 2021-22 academic year, she has so many things to be focused upon to make its opening as smooth as possible.  She had heard about me reviewing the government documents and asked me for some quick insights to help her navigate the funding pockets and the areas that are being covered. Her biggest concerns revolved around the wording within the documents and how it might be interpreted as the monies flowed down from the government.

The most important bit of information relates to what the funding packages are and how they are being distributed. There are three funding packages: the CARES Act, the CRRSA, and the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Each one is currently, or will be, distributed from the government to the individual states first. Then, the states will be the ones allocating specific amounts of funding to school districts based upon student enrollment and other demographics. Once a district has those funds, they then determine how the funds are to be spread across the various areas within the schools. As administrators, we have come to recognize this “trickle-down” movement of funding. The outside world does not see this and is, therefore, misinformed about the actual amounts of money each school district might be receiving along with how it will be distributed throughout the schools.

The first avenue of funding is the CARES Act. The CARES act has been in place for some time now and will be coming to an end on December 31, 2021. It has been used to this point primarily for the purchase of PPE and products which focused on safe and healthy environments, like partitions and sanitizing products. Because of the focus of this funding and the way that districts have already allocated the funds they received, one should check to see if there are funds available for products you might have in mind. Work within your district’s parameters to purchase additional PPE, partitions, or other cleaning and sanitizing products with these funds and use other funds for other products.

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, or CRRSA, was passed by Congress in December of 2020. This act is providing around $82 billion dollars for education. We need to recognize that the money is being initially divided into the following categories: $54.3 billion going towards the K-12 environment in public schools; $22.7 billion going towards higher education; $2.7 billion going towards private and parochial schools; and around $10 billion being applied to childcare assistance. Some of this funding has been allocated through Title I funding and can be evidenced through larger Title I grants for this year. One should be aware that the funding which is coming through Title I does need to be used in those Title I buildings or classrooms. Within those buildings, products that help enhance the ability of exceptional students to access learning can be purchased. These funds will be available through September of 2023. However, one must contact the district to be aware of any restrictions on how the funds can be used due to how they have been processed from the state to the district level. 

The most recent funding source to be released is the American Rescue Plan. The funds from this Act have started to be released to the states and that trickle down has begun with a larger portion of the funds expected to be released over the next 60 days. This funding source differentiates itself from the others as it directly refers to products which would be covered under IDEA funding along with funding for specific areas including assessments. As it is written, there is a greater amount of flexibility within these funds for us to actually use with our exceptional students. However, like the other funding sources, one should always check with their district to see what expectations have been placed upon the funds. These funds are part of a $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package with $126 Billion being designated for the K-12 public school environment. Please note that there is a significant emphasis on this funding for districts in socio-economically disadvantaged areas. Thus, the allocations for any specific district may even vary from previous funding programs. This funding will be available until 2024.

After finding out how much funding a district may be allocating for exceptional students, one should look at how that funding can best support the students and the program for the long term. This is where a realistic wish list can come into play. Do not be afraid to look at items like a TAPit or other higher cost items which might never have been able to fit into a budget before. At the same time, think about how some of the other items you might be purchasing on a semi-regular basis; things like Jelly Bean Switches, C-Pens, and Orcam Read devices; may be able to be purchased in a larger quantity to use as trial devices, extra devices, or stock so that future purchases can be placed further down the road.  Look at equipping a sensory room or space to meet the differing needs of your student population. Take a look too at those items you may purchase annually and look to supplement those numbers. This increase can help you to create a least restrictive environment in any building.

Together, we recognize that this funding may not be as much as the outside world thinks it might be. However, through careful consideration of the funding which is available to us, we can create a more enhanced learning environment than we may have had in the past. Be sure to verify how much funding you actually have and make a plan. Should you have any questions or would like ideas about how to better design a sensory room or design an AT kit that helps to prepare for assessing students as well as preparing for the future, feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.  We can work to make this the start of a new time in education for our exceptional students.


Posted in Special Education and SH Special Education Today Newsletter