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Navigating CARES Funding for Educational Technology

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Keeping students learning and safe in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t come cheap. Alabama has allocated $100 million for a public-private partnership to increase internet access for K-12 students who may need internet service for distance learning. Tennessee has provided $50 million to support technology grants for Wi-Fi devices, laptops, or any other devices required to support reopening. To protect the health and safety of students, Dearborn Schools spent almost $40,000 deep cleaning a single elementary school where a staffer tested positive for COVID-19, reports the Detroit Free Press.

To cover the costs to overcome barriers created by the pandemic, schools across the U.S. have started to tap into the funding set aside by the federal government in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, in several states, CARES funds are being used to make up for state cuts in education due to tax revenue loss. Schools are now facing a funding crisis with significant budget shortfalls exacerbated by increased pandemic-related costs. Because 15% - 25% budget shortfalls are expected for districts in 2020-21, it’s more critical than ever to make strategic funding decisions and find innovative ways to get more out of stretched budgets. 

What is ESSER?

The CARES Act created the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization fund for State educational agencies (SEAs) to spend on education and education technology. Of which $13.5 billion went to The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds to provide local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, with emergency relief to address the impact that COVID-19 has had and continues to have on schools across the nation. According to FutureEd, “Another $3 billion goes to the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), which governors can use for ‘significantly impacted’ school districts or higher education institutions.”

The deadline for LEAs to apply for funds is dependent on your state. Note that SEAs can use ESSER funds for allowable expenditures incurred on or after March 13, 2020. Reach out to the federal programs officer in your district to discuss your school’s specific funding allotment. Communication is key to the strategic procurement of edTech solutions.

Leveraging ESSER Allocations to Support Students

District administrators across the country, like Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, are preparing for options to bridge the digital divide. “Recognizing the significant learning loss that has resulted from the pandemic, it will be important that districts leverage their ESSER allocations to support students in regaining lost academic ground,” Hofmeister said.

The law allows districts to spend CARES Act ESSER funds on a broad range of activities, as long as they fall within the dozen allowable uses related to COVID-19. As school districts continue to determine the best way to spend their money, many are focusing on these two allowable uses:

  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agency.
  • Purchasing CARES Act specific educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the local educational agency that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors.

How Innovative LocknCharge Solutions Can Help

LocknCharge solutions help in two areas of activity that are eligible for ESSER funds and emergency education grants, distance learning technology and sanitizing equipment.

Distance Learning: Funds can be used to cover technology costs related to distance/remote learning.

Automate device management for break/fix programs: From cracked screens to malfunctioning cameras, device damage is common. Retrieving those broken devices and providing replacements quickly and safely is a challenge all school IT teams face whether learning is remote or in-person. The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) faced this break/fix obstacle head-on earlier this year. Previously, each time device support was needed, a team member had to be physically onsite. Triaging the issue would gobble up a minimum of 15 minutes from the Help Desk’s schedule–not to mention the growing wait time for a tech person to become available.

SFUSD strategically placed four LocknCharge FUYL Tower Smart Lockers at a central location where they could be accessed beyond regular office hours and even on weekends. Each bay is equipped with one ready-to-go device, simplifying the process of distributing and maintaining devices without the need for any face-to-face interaction or Help Desk interruption. Device deployment was shortened from as many as five days to as little as one day for an 80% reduction in device downtime.

Zero human interaction device management: Managing the distribution of mobile devices without human interaction is a new requirement as part of social distancing. LocknCharge can help facilitate a zero-touch model for deploying and maintaining mobile devices for your students and faculty, ensuring continual access to a ready-to-go device. One way to eliminate in-person contact is to set up pickup/drop-off IT exchange hubs with secure smart lockers. With our robust online management portal for FUYL Tower, IT Admins can manage smart lockers remotely. Teachers, students and parents place devices in a compartment at a scheduled time; staff then tracks the activity to see when the compartment was accessed, reset PINs, open doors or quarantine doors.

Whether the students in your district are learning online, in-person or a combination of both, learn how to best navigate educational technology for each option.

Save Time and Money with Future-Proof Technology Solutions

Despite the ESSER allocations, limited resources will likely challenge every school for many years to come. So it may seem logical to evaluate technology based on price alone. However, by thinking bigger upfront and investing for years to come, you can save significant time and money in the long run.

Your chosen products must combine universal charging, open-concept designs and durability, to implement a future-proof charging program successfully. If the product claims to flex with your tech plans but isn’t durable enough to last, you will fall short of your goals. On the flip side, if a charging solution is so durable that it lasts a lifetime but no longer suits your needs, that product cannot be part of your long-term strategy.

Ready to Learn More?

As your partner, we’re standing by to help you navigate ESSER funding for educational technology and sanitization and ensure your investment will be a good one for many years to come. Schedule a live video demo with a LocknCharge Customer Success Manager to see our products in action and find the right solution for managing your mobile devices.

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