Tennessee likely to receive $2.6B more in federal COVID-19 education relief: Education commissioner

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Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn told a panel of state senators she anticipates the state will receive an additional $2.3 billion to $2.6 billion in federal education funds in a third round of federal COVID-19 relief.

Any new funding would be in addition to $1.4 billion in education money already allocated to Tennessee through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and a second round of stimulus passed in December, bringing the state’s total federal education funding to an estimated $4.5 billion.

“We will have about $4.5 billion coming into this state, and a significant portion, congressional intent, is supposed to go through outside learning time. And that includes again, summer school, tutoring, extended school days, extended school years,” Schwinn told members of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

“There is no shortage of money,” she said.

Tennessee received $260 million last spring in funding for K-12 education from the CARES Act. In addition to the required direct relief payments to school districts, the Tennessee Department of Education allocated the funds toward a literacy initiative, online learning resources and support for teachers.

In a second round of relief passed by Congress in December, Tennessee received $1.1 billion in K-12 education funding, which the state received in January. Ninety percent of the nondiscretionary funds are required to go directly to school districts, or Local Education Agencies.

“There is no mechanism to direct funding at any level,” Schwinn said of the direct relief funds. “LEAs have complete discretion in terms of how they spend their funding, as long as it is aligned to the intent of the bill and it’s aligned to COVID-19 relief.”

School districts are required to report their plans for how the funds will be used by March 15.

“Congress was really clear that they had two areas of emphasis for this funding,” Schwinn said. “The first was on learning loss, and the second was to address facility improvements.”

Schwinn said the state will use 10% of the funds toward funding a state tutoring corps, training and career development for new teachers, IT systems improvements and a significant investment in literacy.

By federal law, the funds must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023.

“October 1, 2023, is going to be a hard-to-get education, because all the money’s gone if you haven’t spent it. It goes back to the federal government,” Schwinn said. “If your facilities projects are not done, it goes back to the federal government. … This is one time. It is not enough specification or continuation of funds.”

Part of the funds for K-12 education included in the first two rounds of federal relief have been discretionary dollars known as the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund. When asked about his plans for any new federal funds, Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday he has a number of priorities, including career and technical education and vocational education, strengthening civics education across the state and continued work on literacy.

“It’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for us to bridge the gap between the learning loss that occurred in the spring, and where we are today, and where we can be in the future,” Lee said.





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