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How can a city use ARP funds to address school safety?

The U.S. Department of Education announced that the American Rescue Plan (ARP) includes $122 billion for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for each state to support efforts to reopen K-12 schools safely.[1] 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the following are some uses of ESSER funds that are consistent with the permissible uses of ESSER funds under the CARES Act:[2]

  • Investing in resources to implement CDC’s K-12 operations strategy for in-person learning to keep educators, staff, and students safe; improving ventilation; purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE); and obtaining additional space to ensure social distancing in classrooms;
  • Hiring additional school personnel, such as nurses and custodial staff, to keep schools safe and healthy;
  • Providing for social distancing and safety protocols on school buses; and
  • Additional uses as allowed in the statute.

With regards to the last bullet above, ARP, Section 2001, d, (e), (2) (Q) authorizes the use of the funds for “developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff.”[3]

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide $10 billion to states to support COVID-19 screening testing for K-12 teachers, staff, and students in schools.[4]  According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the “CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, released in February 2021,[5] makes clear that screening testing is a tool schools can utilize to help reopen safely as part of a comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation approach. Using existing funding mechanisms, this funding will be able to be deployed quickly as part of a strategy to help get schools open in the remaining months of this school year. In addition to ensuring diagnostic testing of symptomatic and exposed individuals, serial screening testing will help schools identify infected individuals without symptoms who may be contagious so that prompt action can be taken to prevent further transmission. With this ARP funding, states can support the critical testing and testing supports schools need to implement screening testing programs.  Recognizing that establishing a testing program is new for many schools, CDC and state and local health departments will support technical assistance to assist states and schools in standing up and implementing these programs.”

The CDC’s Operational Strategy includes a section titled Prevention Strategies to Reduce Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Schools that references the following five key prevention strategies that are essential to safe delivery of in-person instruction and help to prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools:[6]

  1. Universal and correct use of masks
  2. Physical distancing
  3. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
  4. Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
  5. Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine

The CDC’s Operational Strategy also notes that schools providing in-person instruction should prioritize two prevention strategies:

  1. Universal and correct use of masks should be required
  2. Physical distancing should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.

There is also the CDC’s K-12 Schools COVID-19 Prevention Toolkit that includes resources, tools, and checklists to help school administrators and school officials prepare schools to open for in-person instruction and to manage ongoing operations. These tools and resources include considerations for addressing health equity, such as class sizes, internet connectivity, access to public transportation, etc.[7]

It is suggested that cities consult with their local school district representatives, as sub-recipients of these funds, to ensure that the ESSER funding received is adequate to support ongoing response and recovery efforts that ensure the safety of students, teachers, and other staff inside of schools.

Last Revised: April 14, 2021