What the Second COVID Relief Bill Means for Education

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 26 Jan 2021

Congress has approved a second COVID relief package providing an additional $82 billion for education – $54 billion for K-12 – that can help school districts upgrade their digital capabilities

As the world continues to manage the spread of COVID-19, there is also growing pressure for “things” to return to normal.  One of the biggest concerns is education.  The abrupt transition to remote online learning has many parents feeling that the quality of education has suffered. 

One of the key reasons is that school districts were under-prepared for the sudden total shift from traditional classroom-based teaching to remote technology-driven learning.  While school systems have steadily implemented in-class educational technologies, the vast majority weren’t able to rapidly and smoothly transition to remote learning. This meant that even districts that responded with hybrid models stood to suffer – let alone those who opted for full-remote learning.

Part of the challenge is simply learning the digital tools for remote learning and teaching, an area where many schools and educators have made progress this school year – though it’s far from perfect.  While the number has dropped significantly since March 2020, 9% of households with K-12 students still don’t always have access to digital learning devices or internet connectivity, making it impossible for those students to participate.  In addition, 12% of students don’t have live access to their teachers in some form – in-person, phone, or video – meaning they cannot have the interactions on which quality education depends.

Where does this leave students?  Districts cannot simply wait to fully re-open for in-person learning; depending on when that happens, students stand to lose anywhere from 3-12 months worth of education.  Digital learning is steadily improving, and in some cases, it can even improve learning.

By and large, the difference in district success rates boils down to two factors – access to technology and an understanding of how to best use it.  The traditional classroom setting has long become outdated, especially for a student population growing up with tablets and smartphones in their hands.  They are used to doing everything digitally and they are perpetually connected.  The question is not whether in-person or remote learning is better, but how well are school systems able to cross the digital divide and bring their programs and educators into a digital world.

In order to make it work, the right tech solutions must be in place. That includes not only devices and applications for teachers and students, but the network infrastructure to support any learning environment.  The biggest success factor in fostering a positive digital learning environment is reliable connectivity. Without it, students and teachers cannot access the content and applications they need. 

Reliable connectivity includes Wi-Fi access points, network switches, and network management tools, all of which are critical to delivering education digitally.  The COVID relief bill can help school districts that did not have the full infrastructure in place to support the combination of local, remote, and hybrid digital learning.  The pandemic has forced school districts to accelerate their digital transformation projects, for which funding has been an issue. 

Congress approved a second COVID relief package to provide an additional $82 billion for education – $54 billion for K-12 – that can help school districts upgrade their digital capabilities.  The CARES Act broadly defines acceptable use of federal funding, which means schools are able to leverage funding to support a variety of needs, including professional learning, content, and infrastructure. Local education agencies are granted flexibility on how to use the funds as long as it is tied to COVID-related expenditures.

Here are some examples

  • Purchasing educational technology that aids in regular and substantive interaction between students and educators.
  • Planning and coordinating during long-term closures, including providing technology for online learning.
  • Planning and implementing online learning during the summer months.
  • Supporting provisions found in major education laws, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Title IV-A of ESSA and Part D of IDEA permits federal funds toward professional learning in effective edtech use

Newly inaugurated President Biden has already proposed an additional stimulus package that would direct an $170 billion for educations, including $130 billion for K-12.

At Extreme, we stand ready to help you sort through the daunting task of matching your educational needs to an infrastructure solution and available funding. Our partners and sales representative are available to hear your challenges and work with you on the solution as we have done with 17,000 schools and 4,500 campuses to improve your learning outcomes. We’re happy to share the experiences of our 7,000 school and 4,500 campus customers.

Like in other industries, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technologies, which will have lasting benefits. We live in a digital world, and educational institutions have to keep pace.  Digital learning is here to stay – regardless of when students fully return to classrooms, and the investments in network infrastructure that schools make today to manage learning during the pandemic will become the foundation for the educational experience forever.

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