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100 Days of the Biden Administration: How the Department of Education Has Helped More Schools Safely Reopen and Meet Students Needs

During the first 100 days of the Biden Administration, the Department of Education’s (ED) top priority has been to ensure students can return to schools safely, and has taken significant actions to help schools safely reopen for in-person instruction, address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, and support the needs of all students, teachers, and staff. In less than three months, the Biden Administration has provided unprecedented resources to states and districts to achieve President Biden’s goal of safely reopening the majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning and support students, families, teachers, and staff, and institutions of higher education during this challenging time. The Biden Administration has also proposed historic investments to education through the American Jobs Plan, the discretionary budget, and the American Families Plan, all to lead the country not just through recovery, but to transform our education system so students of all ages and backgrounds can access opportunities to receive a high-quality education and achieve their highest potential. The Biden Administration remains committed to accelerating this critical progress in the nation’s reopening efforts.

In the first 100 days, the Biden Administration has made significant strides in reopening schools for in-person learning. The Administration has: 

Reopened majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning:

  • About half of elementary and middle schools were open full-time in person, according to the Institute of Education Sciences (49 percent as of February 2021). About 80 percent of public elementary and middle schools were offering some form of in-person instruction (full time and/or hybrid). Dozens of large school districts, serving over two million students have expanded in-person learning options since March 1, including: San DiegoOaklandIndianapolisAlbuquerqueMinneapolis, and Boston
  • There is widespread alignment among data sources, including IES, Burbio, MCH, and the American Enterprise Institute, showing an upward trend in schools offering in-person learning nationally over time.
  • While a significant majority of K-8 schools are offering at least some in-person learning (full time and/or hybrid) to students across the country, access to and enrollment in in-person instruction is not yet equal, with communities of color learning completely remotely at higher rates compared to their white counterparts. Over the coming days and weeks, the Department will continue its focus on understanding the root causes of these gaps, including hesitancy among parents and students in returning to in-person learning, and addressing those gaps. ED will also continue helping states and districts utilize federal funds to accelerate access to in-person learning, particularly in underserved communities, and address gaps in educational opportunities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.  

Provided unprecedented resources and support to PreK-12 schools to help in their reopening efforts: 

  • Distributed $81 billion of $122 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to states for immediate use this spring and planning ahead for summer and beyond. Through ARP’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, states now have access to unprecedented resources to help them safely reopen schools for in-person learning and address the needs of students. The funding can be used to implement the CDC’s recommended prevention and mitigation strategies for K-12 schools, meet student and educators’ social, emotional, and mental health needs, invest in strategies to address lost instructional time, and boldly address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.  
  • Released two volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook. In February, the Department released Volume 1 of the COVID-19 handbook, which focused on strategies to implement CDC’s recommended prevention strategies to safely reopen schools for in-person learning. Volume 2 of the Handbook, released in April, focused on strategies to address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs and advance equity in reopening efforts. These handbooks were created through thoughtful engagement with stakeholders, advocates, and leaders from across the country who are doing the work in opening or supporting the safe reopening of schools.
  • Released a State Plan application for states to access the additional $41 billion in relief funds, to be released this summer, and available to support the 2021-22 school year and beyond. States and districts must engage stakeholders and school communities in developing plans to use ARP ESSER funds to reopen schools, maintain safe and continuous in-person school operation, and address the needs and experiences of students, educators, and families.
  • Prioritized K-12 educator, staff and child care vaccinations. At the beginning of March, President Biden issued a directive to prioritize K-12 educators, school staff, and childcare workers for vaccination, and set a goal of getting all of these essential workers at least one shot in the month of March. By the end of March, over 80 percent of educators and staff had received at least one dose.
  • Awarded $10 billion in ARP funding to support COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded $10 billion to states and jurisdictions to support COVID-19 screening testing for teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools. By ramping up testing for educators and school staff, the Administration is helping more schools to be able to safely and quickly reopen and more students.
  • Conducted a multi-state school reopening tour to aid in school reopening efforts. Over the past month, Secretary Cardona has traveled across six states to visit K-12 schools to support and highlight their efforts to bring students back for in-person learning. During the tour, Secretary Cardona saw and shared best practices, helped districts identify challenges they are facing, and heard about unique needs facing students, educators, and staff as communities recover from the pandemic.
  • Began distributing $800 million in ARP funds to support students experiencing homelessness. ED distributed $200 million of the $800 million in funding to help states identify students experiencing homelessness, provide wraparound services in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide assistance to enable students experiencing homelessness to attend school and participate fully in school activities. ED announced the distribution of these funds at an event featuring voices of students experiencing homelessness from around the nation. The remaining $600 million in funding will go out this summer.
  • Released nearly $1 billion in pandemic relief and other grant funds to Puerto Rico. In March, ED provided the Commonwealth immediate access to $912 million in federal education funds which had not been available to Puerto Rico as a result of previously imposed grant conditions. The release of funds marked a commitment from ED and the Biden Administration in supporting Puerto Rico as the Commonwealth recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters that have impacted students, families, and educators across the island.
  • Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit and announced the launching of the Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse to share best practices on school reopening efforts. During the summit, states, districts, students, educators, staff, and parents heard from President Biden, Vice President Harris, First Lady Biden, Secretary Cardona, CDC Director Walensky, and engaged with each other about how to safely reopen more schools and support students as they return to in-person learning. Best practices at the summit and in the forthcoming Clearinghouse also focus on utilizing ARP and other federal funds to invest in under-resourced and underserved communities to make sure schools can reopen safely and stay open, and to ensure reopening efforts are advancing equity and rebuilding our education system better than it was before the pandemic.  
  • Launched the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative, a partnership between the Department of Education, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and other national partners to design and launch evidence-based summer enrichment and learning programs for students this summer. The Collaborative brings together state and local leaders and key stakeholders to identify ways to utilize ARP and other federal funding to develop summer programs that address the lost instructional, social, and extracurricular time students have experienced as a result of the pandemic, especially underserved students and those disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Over 46 states and territories have joined the Collaborative to act urgently to prepare programming for this summer.

Provided support and relief to students, borrowers, and postsecondary institutions impacted by the pandemic: 

  • Included $40 billion in emergency relief for institutions of higher education in the American Rescue Plan to provide emergency aid for students and to support institutions in their efforts to keep students enrolled and completing their programs. The funding allows institutions to provide emergency financial assistance to students to help them cover the cost of tuition as well as basic needs like housing, health care, and technology. ARP includes additional funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and institutions such as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), which face additional challenges in serving students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • Extended the pause on federal student loan payments, saving borrowers $5 billion dollars a month so they can focus on covering necessities during the pandemic. ED also expanded the student loan pause to cover defaulted federal loans held by banks and other private companies. The pause affects over 40 million borrowers across the country.
  • Took action to help more than 230,000 borrowers who have received student loan discharges due to total and permanent disability. ED reinstated discharges for 41,000 borrowers and took steps to help another 190,000 keep their discharges. These actions will ensure these borrowers are not at risk of having their loans reinstated for failure to provide earnings information during the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Provided full relief for approved borrower defense claims. The Department announced it will streamline debt relief determinations for tens of thousands of borrowers whose institutions engaged in certain misconduct. This action is anticipated to affect up to 72,000 borrowers who could receive $1 billion in loan relief combined.
  • Provided guidance on unemployment insurance and federal student aid available to students. In January, ED released a letter reminding student financial aid administrators of their ability to make it easier for those who are unemployed or have received unemployment assistance to get federal aid for postsecondary education. 
  • Reached out to millions of students informing them of expanded eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ED released guidance to institutions about the temporarily expanded SNAP eligibility for students in need. ED has since emailed millions of students directly to let them know that they meet certain eligibility for these benefits.
  • Provided support and guidance to institutions of higher education on how to use emergency relief funds to support students during the pandemic. Since the Department’s guidance released in March, nearly two-thirds of institutions increased their spending of emergency relief funds to support students and their communities as they work to recover from the pandemic.
  • Discharged over $1.6 billion in HBCUs’ capital finance debt, providing relief to 45 institutions across the country that participate in the HBCU Capital Finance Program. The action enabled these institutions to focus their resources on supporting students, faculty, and staff for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency. 
  • Helped small business owners with student loans access the Paycheck Protection Program. ED requested a waiver from the Small Business Administration so that individuals will still be eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan and related loan forgiveness even if they currently or previously defaulted on federal student loans or were previously being delinquent on payments. The waiver immediately helped nearly 30,000 small business owners.

Proposed historic new investments in America’s educational system to lead the country through an economic recovery and build the education system back better than it was before: 

  • Make historic investments in high-poverty schools. President Biden’s discretionary budget request provides $36.5 billion for Title I grants, a $20 billion increase compared to the 2021 enacted level, and the largest year-over-year increase since the creation of the Title I program. This investment will ensure every student – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – can learn and thrive and advance the President’s commitment to ensuring teachers are paid competitively, increasing access to PreK, equitable access to rigorous curriculum, and meaningful incentives for states to examine and address the inequalities in their school funding systems.

  • Modernize and rebuild our nation’s schools and early learning facilities. Even before the pandemic, too many students have attended schools and child care centers that are run-down, unsafe, and pose health risks. Through the American Jobs Plan, President Biden is calling on Congress to make investments that will support $100 billion to upgrade and build new public schools, $12 billion to invest in community college infrastructure, and $25 billion to upgrade child care facilities and increase the supply of child care in areas that need it most.

  • Expand reach and access of broadband to ensure all students can compete in a global economy.The American Jobs Plan prioritizes building “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage. The President is also committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money.

  • Invest $9 billion in teachers. The investments in the American Families Plan will address critical teacher shortages, increase pipelines for teachers of color, and provide training and support to help teachers grow and keep great teachers in the classroom.

  • Provide universal access to Pre-K for all American families. The President’s American Families Plan includes an $200 billion investment to provide access to Pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds.

  • Invest in community colleges and minority-serving institutions. The American Families Plan includes a $109 billion investment to provide two years of free community college to all Americans. The plan also includes tuition subsidies for students from low and middle-income households attending HBCUs and MSIs, which, when paired with free community college, would provide students with four years of free college.

  • Increase investments in Pell Grants to support students most in need. Through the discretionary budget request and the American Families Plan, President Biden is proposing to invest $88 billion in order to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by approximately $1,800.

In the coming days and weeks, the Department of Education will continue supporting states, districts, institutions, schools, students, teachers, faculty, and staff in their reopening and recovery efforts. In addition to helping more schools implement strategies to reopen for in-person learning, ED will work closely with communities to ensure students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs and educator and staff well-being are met, and that federal funding is utilized to rebuild our education system back better than it was before March 2020.

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