NAESPA Writes to Congress RE: Pace of CARES Act Spending


July 29, 2020


The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
United States Senate
S-230, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20510


The Honorable Charles Schumer
Minority Leader
United States Senate
S-221, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
United States House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515


The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
H-204, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515



Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:

We understand that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, published last month, may have led to some questions about the pace of CARES Act spending and the need for additional school funding support in a future COVID relief bill. Because the report found that by the end of May states had disbursed less than 1% of their Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to districts, we wish to note the number of challenges that must be addressed and steps that must be taken to move funds to districts, and the reason why the GAO data does not demonstrate an absence of need at the State and local levels. It is worth underscoring from the outset that funds are very often encumbered (accounted for) before they are drawn down (liquidated).


First, the CARES Act did not pass Congress until the end of March, leaving schools to fill in the gaps on their own during the early stages of the crisis – primarily with State and local dollars – when it came to providing devices, professional development, training, and other expenses related to the transition to distance learning. Information from ED permitting the use of funds for reimbursement dating back to March 13th was not published until mid-May,1 when the school year was almost over in most districts.


Districts have also been hesitant to plan for how they will use funds because while allocations to the district are determined according to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) under CARES, the distribution of funds between public and private schools is still being debated.


Districts operated under their own reading of the CARES Act before ED published guidance in late April that suggested private schools should get a much larger share than under Title I of ESEA. Some districts changed course to follow the guidance, while others continued using a more Title I-like distribution. Then, in late May, the Department of Education said that it would issue a binding regulation on the topic, forcing many districts to halt their planning.2 That interim final regulation was not published in the Federal Register until July 1st, and an additional notice published on July 9th suggested that districts would have to collect additional enrollment and poverty information in advance of consultation with private schools regarding the methodology to be used3 (though ED has not yet issued guidance or clarification on when this data must be collected or how it should be used). Further complicating matters, this regulation is now subject to multiple lawsuits which could change the requirements for districts and require additional consultation with private schools – all before they know how much of the total will be available to public schools.


States and districts also have more technical fiscal requirements and limitations which slow the process. States must develop and test grant application processes and systems, or build out existing systems. They must draft appropriate and accurate guidance and assurances based on federal requirements and provide technical assistance to applicants. And, as cited in the opening paragraph of this letter, at the district level, funds are often encumbered (accounted for) before they are drawn down or liquidated. A district may have already contracted for devices, personal protective equipment, and other costs, but will not be billed until those items have shipped or services have been rendered. Delays in shipping, lack of availability, and changing needs would all impact a district’s ability to draw down funds.


We are proud of the way our States and districts have responded to this crisis.  But while this spring’s transition to virtual instruction was sudden and unexpected, we are preparing to deliver an educational experience in the upcoming school year that lives up to parent and student expectations. This will require careful and thoughtful planning so that we can meet all our students’ existing and emergent needs while also being careful custodians of federal dollars. Please do not mistake the initial lack of drawdown for an absence of need – in fact, we are certain that our schools will need significant financial assistance as we begin the new school year amid unprecedented changes for education and for our students as individuals. We urge you to pass additional relief funding to help ensure we can meet those needs, and look forward to answering any questions you may have.


Please contact Bob Harmon, NAESPA CEO, at (email) bob.harmon@ESEAnetwork.org or (phone) 800-256-6452 ext. 2084, if we can provide additional information or support.



Jonas Zuckerman, President
National Association of ESEA
State Program Administrators (NAESPA)


1 See “Frequently Asked Questions about the Elementary and Secondary School emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund),” https://oese.ed.gov/files/2020/05/ESSER-Fund-Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf


2 See https://ccsso.org/sites/default/files/2020- 06/Secretary%20DeVos%20Response%20to%20Carrisa%20Moffat%20Miller%205%2022%2020.pdf


3 See 85 FR 39479, available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/07/01/2020-14224/cares-act- programs-equitable-services-to-students-and-teachers-in-non-public-schools; and 85 FR 41230, available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/07/09/2020-14817/agency-information-collection-activities- comment-request-cares-act-programs-equitable-services-to.


About the Author

The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators is dedicated to improving and implementing federal education programs of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that more children reach their academic potential. Through the ESEA Network website, as well as its national conferences, the Association provides educational leaders at the state and local levels with the opportunity to work together across program boundaries to share ideas on effective and innovative programs, and identify both problems and solutions.