3 ways Biden relief funds can speed COVID recovery

'You don’t want to put the academic pedal to the metal on day one when school starts back'
By: | March 4, 2021

The Biden-Harris administration’s latest COVID relief package would provide up to 10 times as much money to school than did previous stimulus bills.

The biggest immediate impact of the new administration’s education policy will be deciding how to spend the funds, says Thomas Toch, director of the FutureEd think tank at Georgetown University.

“There’s going to be a fair amount of money coming their way, so school officials should be thinking creatively and ambitiously,” Toch says.

1. Combatting learning loss

To combat learning loss, policymakers and education leaders should consider creating large-scale tutoring and summer school programs that could remain in place long beyond COVID.

2 key K-12 issues for 2021: Testing and gender identity

Administrators can also use the funds to leverage technology to innovate in the classroom by, for instance, redeploying teachers. “School officials have wanted to get their best teachers in front of as many students as possible,” Toch says. “Now, with technology you can do that in a way that could increase the amount of high-quality instruction kids get.”

In some school systems, for instance, the top third grade math teacher provides virtual lessons for the entire district. Other teachers then work one-on-one with students to provide additional support.

2. Changing the schedule

Funding may also have to go into rearranging the school day. Students who have fallen behind will be ill-served if they are only offered remedial classes, Toch says.

“You don’t want to teach 2nd grade math to 5th graders for several months,” he says. “What you need is to add more instructional time so you’re catching them up.”

That could require providing multiple periods of math or reading in a single day. In some districts, administrators have reassigned art, music and gym teachers, and other specialists, to accelerate instruction in core subjects.

More from DAHow will school leaders spend Biden’s relief funds wisely?

“There will be those who say exercise, music and art are important—and they surely are, and at every grade level,” Toch says. “But we’re in triage mode here, and we have to do what’s most important and build from there.”

3. Social-emotional priorities

Superintendents and their teams should also consider devoting funds to social-emotional learning and other mental health interventions.

Many students will need to recover a sense of belonging after months of isolation, he says.

“You don’t want to put the academic pedal to the metal on day one when school starts back,” Toch says. “You want to ensure you’ve rebuilt the sense of community that’s so important in successful schools.”