Understanding how federal funding can be spent and gaining the confidence to apply for it can help teachers secure funding to improve physical education programs for their students.
In the last 18 months, the federal government has distributed nearly $200 billion to local education agencies (LEA) through each state’s department of education to help schools and students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now is a great opportunity to get more equipment for your classroom, new technology for your classroom,” Arizona Department of Education Title IV-A Safe, Healthy, and Active Students Specialist Keri Schoeff said during a September webinar hosted by Interactive Health Technologies. “This is the most flexible (federal) funding we’ve seen in a long time. You can do things with this money that you couldn’t do before.”
Understanding the Available Federal Funding
The latest distributions, made through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and American Rescue Plan (ARP) include:
- Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief I (ESSER I), March 27, 2020: $13.5 billion
- ESSER II (Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act), Dec. 27, 2020: $54.3 billion
- ESSER III (ARP), March 11, 2021: $126 billion
This extra funding is in addition to annual funding provided through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The most recent ESSA Title IV, Part A distribution, which addresses student support and academic enrichment, totals $1.2 billion for the 2021-22 school year.
Advocating for Students’ Civil Rights
Since 2016, ESSA has served as a primary source of funding for teachers looking to add technology to their curriculum. While the various ESSER fundings have taken priority, Schoeff reminds teachers – and PE teachers in particular – that ESSA remains a viable funding source. ESSA Title IV, Part A – the Student Support and Enrichment Grant -- includes language that speaks directly to physical education.
“It’s the game-changing grant for us,” Schoeff said. “It has three elements: a well-rounded education, safe and healthy students, and effective use of technology. Physical education falls into all three of those areas.”
The list of 17 subjects that comprise a student’s well-rounded education includes health and physical education.
“Because a well-rounded education is a student’s civil right, if our schools are not providing health and physical education, we are actually violating our students’ civil rights,” Schoef said. “One of our talking points when seeking Title IV-A funding is to support health and physical education programs because they are guaranteed civil rights for our students.”
Schoeff said understanding how ESSA Title I and Title II work can help teachers navigate their funding requests. Title I provides funding for schools with a majority of students on free/reduced lunch programs. Title II provides funding for teacher recruitment, retention and training.
“Let’s say you bought something like a heart rate monitor and you wanted to teach your counselors how to use it to monitor the emotions of students,” Schoeff explained. “You could actually pay for professional development in the effective use of technology category because you are teaching people how to effectively use technology.“
Confidently Requesting A Portion of Your District’s Funding
Teachers have been aware of the various funding options and continue to work with local administrators to request it for their purchases. While some have had success – San Jose Charter Academy PE Teacher Matthew Bassett successfully sought CARES Act funding to purchase IHT ZONE heart rate monitors for his program – others are finding hurdles to overcome.
With the third (and largest) ESSER distribution available to spend through Sept. 30, 2024, Schoeff recommends that teachers stay politely persistent with their requests if they are told that the ESSER/CARES money has already been spent or allocated.
“When you are having these conversations with principals, administrators, or anyone else in your district that you’re going to be working with, it’s important to know (the spend-by dates),” Schoeff said.
- ESSER I’s $13.5 billion must be spent by Sept 30, 2022
- ESSER II’s $54.3 billion must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023
- ESSER III’s $126 billion must be spent by Sept. 30, 2024
“When they tell you that the funds are already spent or already allocated, they might not be talking about all three rounds of ESSER,” Schoeff said. “ESSER III was a really big chunk of money so there may be some out there even if you are originally told it’s not.”
In addition to understanding the amounts available (the US Department of Education website shows how much each LEA in each state received), Schoeff stressed the importance of tying your proposal to your school’s integrated action plan.
“There does need to be a comprehensive needs assessment and an integrated action plan done before you can get those funds,” Schoeff said. “The LEA has to have a plan on how it will use the funds. State agencies make sure that what they want to buy aligns to the plan. Be sure what you’re looking for fits your district’s action plan.”
Understanding what it takes to craft a proposal goes a long toward the LEA granting a request for funding. IHT President Jen Ohlson, moderating the webinar with Schoeff and Bassett, said a key element to requesting federal funding is confidence.
“The biggest thing is for you to have the confidence to go for it,” Ohlson said. “Share your vision and go for some of this money that’s available.”
For Bassett, the motivation is simple. Everyone must do their part to navigate the pandemic. Teachers and schools can do that by standing up for themselves and exhausting every option to improve their program.
“Be an advocate for yourself and your program and your students,” Bassett said. “Try to get what you can to help them move forward.”