States Pledge Investments in Broadband and Community Colleges in First Batch of GEER Award Reports

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

About half a dozen states have released detailed reports on how they plan to prioritize a subset of funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, aimed at giving governors increased flexibility in allocating aid for state-based education programs.  

The funding for those plans was provided by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which received $3 billion from the total $30 billion for education programs under the CARES Act. It specifically called for governors to submit plans for how they would aid K-12 schools and institutions of higher education that are “most significantly” impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In order to receive funding, each state was required to fill out an agreement form from the Department of Education (ED) that asked whether it intended to use portions of the award for remote learning techniques and technologies, with each state given considerable flexibility in implementing those plans.

“The application was just sort of one of those procedural things they had to go through, which is why you saw some states basically turn in blank applications and still get their money, whereas others went to great lengths to describe a detailed plan,” said Bradley Custer, a senior policy analyst for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress (CAP). “What plans can states put forward? It's kind of whatever they want to do, as long as it's related to keeping operations of schools and colleges going, as a result of the pandemic.”

States were given 45 days following their grant award date to submit initial reports on how they planned to distribute GEER funding.

The initial half dozen GEER reports — which are being posted on the department’s certifications and agreements page and are gradually becoming publicly available — were provided by Alaska, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, and Maryland. Each report touts different priorities unique to their state, with Maine investing more than half of its funding, $5.37 million, in internet connectivity for students.

“Some states are spending their money on things like financial aid for students, they're buying WiFi and devices for students,” Custer said. “Some states are investing in workforce training, and a couple states are spending a lot of money on their dual enrollment programs. They have a lot of discretion in spending this money, regardless of whatever it is that they initially put on the applications.”

While all states highlighted the necessity of investing in online connectivity, Maryland plans to allocate $10 million to the state’s community colleges.

“We have determined that our state’s community colleges are the most effective delivery method for our constituents to improve their employment opportunities and for the state to improve our workforce development,” Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, wrote in his initial report to ED. “Funds to community colleges will be utilized to immediately expand existing training and educational programs in locally relevant sectors and to develop new in-demand training programs for post COVID-19.”

ED could begin rolling out additional proposals — offering insight into how states are prioritizing their education systems for the upcoming year — in the coming weeks as Congress continues to debate additional aid for higher education to abate the disruption caused by the coronavirus — aid that Custer hopes could be better formulated following the implementation of the CARES Act.

“My hope is that if states get another big pot of money that they can administer in this kind of way, that they will have learned lessons from going through this process with the GEER fund,” Custer said. “And that they will be able to have a process for pushing that money out already in place.”

 

Publication Date: 8/4/2020


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