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#AskExcelinEd: How can states use microgrants to rethink K-12 education?

• Cara Candal

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the U.S. Department of Education made available almost $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER). As governors across the country decide how to spend GEER funding, some are also applying to the Department’s Rethink K-12 Education Discretionary Grant Program.

Any state can apply to the program, but those with the highest coronavirus burden receive preference. The Department outlines three priority areas for applications.

Three Priorities of the Rethink Program

Priority 1: Remote Learning Through Microgrants

States can propose microgrants that parents could use to access “high-quality remote learning options from a list of education and related services, expenses, and providers.” The idea is for states to provide parents with multiple options from multiple providers, both private and public, allowing them to tailor the educational experience to each child’s needs.

Priority 2: Statewide Virtual Learning or Course Access Program

States may also propose to establish or expand a statewide virtual learning or course access program. Under this priority, the Department is looking for states to make a broad range of online courses “available and free” to all students. Virtual schools, whether implemented for the first time or expanded, can offer both a full time or supplemental education program available to all students in the state.

Priority 3: Other Remote Learning Strategies

While the first two application priorities outline specific program features, the third and final type of application the Department will accept allows states more flexibility to propose their own program relevant to helping students access high-quality remote learning. Under this priority, the Department will consider proposals designed to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale field-initiated projects for remote learning.”

Considerations for States

Develop or expand high-quality virtual schools and learning management systems.

States could establish, expand or improve virtual schools. In doing so, states can look to providers with proven track records of quality.

  • The Florida Virtual School (FLVS), for example, has refined its programming over more than twenty years. States could propose to work directly with FLVS or a similar provider, or they could look to these models for examples of what works.
  • States can also consider the process for procuring a statewide learning management system and how to provide high quality professional development for teachers.

Curate a library of high-quality courses and instructional materials.

Whether in the form of a microgrant that allows students to access courses with their own designated funds or a statewide virtual school, the Rethink grant encourages states to make a broad range of high-quality courses available to all students.

  • States can develop a protocol for vetting courses—understanding whether and how course content aligns to standards—and consider which courses or combinations of courses lead to specific credentials.
  • States like Louisiana provide examples of how curating high-quality curricular resources impacts student learning.

Design microgrants that help families access a range of services.

Remote learning microgrants will go directly to families, who can use them to access a range of academic and other services from public and private providers. Grants should be flexible, so that families can customize them to diverse students needs. Innovative ideas that leverage microgrants include:

  • A statewide telehealth / teletherapy system (particularly to serve students with special educational needs), Texas provides a model;
  • Technology for counselors to support the socioemotional health of all students, especially in the event of another crisis or long-term school closure;
  • College and career counseling and/or fees related to credentialing for older students.

Rethink grants have the potential to impact millions of students and present an opportunity for states to think about redesigning education systems. State leaders should seize this opportunity to pilot fresh ideas, grow innovative pilot programs, and complement initiatives that governors will incubate or accelerate with GEER funds.

Learn More

For more information, read the brief Education Stabilization Funds: Rethink K-12 Education Discretionary Grant Program.

About the author

Cara Candal

Cara Candal serves as Director of Educational Opportunity, focusing on private school choice, for ExcelinEd. Cara has spent the last 10 years working in education policy as a Senior Fellow with both Pioneer Institute and the Center for Education Reform. She was also a founding team member of the National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education (NAATE) and a research assistant professor at Boston University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Development. Cara has authored/edited more than 25 papers and three books on education policy. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Indiana University, a Masters of Arts in Social Science from the University of Chicago and a Doctorate of Education from Boston University.