What Did Federal COVID Funding Do for Delaware Schools?
Back in 2021, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, the third federal stimulus package launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, provided $350 billion for states, local governments, territories and tribal governments, with around $125 billion nationally earmarked for K-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding stream.
Out of the $125 billion dollars in the ESSER I-III pots, Delaware received approximately $411 million. As written in the federal law, 10 percent of Delaware’s funding went to the state Department of Education (DDOE), and the remaining 90 percent went directly to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), otherwise known as districts and charter schools.
Two years later, it’s important to ask: Where did that money go?
Both the DDOE and LEAs were required to submit plans for spending the money (which in turn were required to be posted publicly). DDOE’s plan had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Here are a few key areas where the state of Delaware, districts and schools invested:
Broadband and digital learning. The pandemic underlined the importance of reliable internet connectivity for digital learning. In response, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supplied funding dedicated to Connect Delaware, an initiative that brought free broadband connections to low-income households. Just last month, Gov. John Carney announced the ambitious goal of making Delaware the first state in the country to connect every home and business to high-speed internet.
Delaware also saw statewide adoption among districts of an online learning management system called Schoology that allows students and families to stay plugged into classroom news and assignments—and a new online platform for quality teaching materials (Digital DE), plus access to an online reading platform, Sora, where kids can read from over 1 million books.
Updating aging school facilities. In 2020, DDOE reported an estimated $1.5 billion in deferred maintenance for public schools—from moldy buildings, to leaky roofs, and more. ESSER funding enabled the state to address many of those issues with over $13 million in renovations.
High-quality classroom materials. Since the pandemic, funding has enabled 76 percent of our schools to adopt high-quality instructional materials in English and math (up from 32 percent in 2019) and train staff to deliver them. To be considered “high-quality,” these materials must be vetted, and must be rigorous and knowledge-rich to guide instruction toward high standards.
Professional learning to support literacy. Literacy emerged as a critical focus area during and after the pandemic, especially in light of local and national data detailing COVID’s devastating toll on learning loss. Emergency funding will help provide all K-3 teachers with training in a certified body of literacy evidence known as the science of reading.
Renewed focus on summer programming. Keeping kids active and curious over summer helps accelerate learning, which has been especially important since the pandemic. DDOE works with districts, charter schools, Delaware agencies and community partners to develop initiatives and resources that keep students from falling further behind during this critical period. One example of how Delaware has come together to further empower students across the state is the Governor’s Summer Fellowship, which since 2022 has provided high school juniors and seniors with hands-on, paid work opportunities at summer camps in each county, on-site mentoring and also networking opportunities with state leaders. Students are gaining on-the-job experience, remaining active while school is on break and developing a deeper understanding of education, government and their communities.
Delaware’s other biggest spending categories include:
- Education technology, including devices for students and online learning platforms: $57.6 million
- Summer learning and learning loss, such as out of school time and tutoring with a focus on early literacy: $144.5 million
- Mental health, such as additional staff and programming supports for students and staff: $8.9 million
Many of these efforts incorporated a braided-funding approach as needed to allow for program sustainability, ensuring the work would continue once federal funding receded. Strong partnerships with community-based organizations across the state have allowed funding to be used in new and innovative ways.
We still have plenty of work to do to support our students, teachers, and families, but we should be proud of the inroads we’ve made before, during, and after trying times.