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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

U.S. Ed Dept. Releases State Plan Template for the American Rescue Plan Emergency Relief Fund + USDA Issues Pandemic Flexibilities for Schools and Day Care Facilities | U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Education Department Releases State Plan Template for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund | U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Department Releases State Plan Template for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

U.S. Education Department Releases State Plan Template for the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

APRIL 21, 2021

Today, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) released the State plan application that will support states in describing how they will use resources under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) fund to continue to safely reopen schools, sustain their safe operations, and support students—especially those most impacted by the pandemic. 

Last month, states received access to two-thirds of their ARP ESSER allocation—a total of $81 billion. The remaining $41 billion will become available after states' plans are approved by the Department. After the final one-third of funds are made available, states would have received access to nearly $122 billion to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation's students.

"Throughout my recent school visits, I have witnessed how federal relief dollars are being used to help schools reopen safely and communities recover from the impacts of the pandemic," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. "These American Rescue Plan funds are essential to providing more in-person learning options for students quickly, sustaining schools' safe operations, supporting our students' social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs, and boldly addressing inequities that were exacerbated by the pandemic. In developing plans to utilize these funds, it's critical that states and districts bring to the table the voices of those who can best speak to how we can meet these goals, including students, parents, educators, and stakeholders."

Today's action demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration's continued commitment to support states in their ongoing efforts to sustain the safe reopening of schools and to maximize in-person instruction safely and quickly.

The State plan application presents an opportunity for states and local education agencies to engage the public to ensure that the needs of students and communities are best reflected in state and local spending plans. Many states and school districts are already actively developing their plans for the use of ARP ESSER funds. At the state level, stakeholder engagement must include students; families; Tribal Nations; civil rights organizations, including disability rights organizations; teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, school staff and their unions, school and district administrators; superintendents; charter school leaders; and other stakeholders representing the interests of children with disabilities, English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children and youth in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students.

In addition to the State plans, school districts will also be required to seek broad public input and develop their own plans for the use of ARP ESSER funds. This is in addition to the statutory requirement in the American Rescue Plan that school districts develop a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services.

In the State plan, states will describe how they will ensure states and school districts are demonstrating transparency in their planning, identify and meet the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic, choose effective evidence-based interventions, and prioritize educational equity, inclusive stakeholder engagement, and strong fiscal safeguards. These plans will provide critical information to the public and the Department about the use of these unprecedented resources. The plans will also inform the Department's technical assistance to states and school districts, as well as the Department's approach to monitoring implementation of ARP ESSER funds.

States must submit their ARP ESSER State plans by June 7, 2021. The Department will begin approving applications and disbursing the remaining ARP ESSER funds expeditiously once plans are received and reviewed.

To support states in completing their ARP ESSER State Plans and meeting ARP ESSER requirements, the Department has also issued an accompanying notice of interim final requirements with additional details. The notice is available here:

States must also commit to several actions as part of their receipt of ARP ESSER funds. One addresses civil rights protections, reflecting the state's responsibility to ensure that it will conduct all its operations so that no person shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination based on race, color, national origin, which includes a person's limited English proficiency or English learner status and a person's actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics; sex; age; or disability. Other important commitments address transparency and compliance with ARP ESSER requirements such as uses of funds, maintenance of effort, and maintenance of equity.

Today's actions are part of the Biden Administration's broader efforts to help schools quickly and safely reopen for in-person instruction. In addition to providing $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools, the Biden Administration has:

  • Released two volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook, which provide roadmaps and strategies to support the safe reopening of all America's schools and to promote educational equity by addressing opportunity gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit, where districts, educators, school leaders, and students shared best practices on how to reopen schools quickly and safely.
  • Called on states to prioritize vaccinations for educators. According to a recent CDC survey, 80 percent of educators received at least one vaccination by the end of March.
  • Provided $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing for PreK-12 educators, staff, and students.

Nutrition standards return with options and resources to support safety and social distancing
APRIL 20, 2021

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today issued a broad range of flexibilities to allow school meal programs and childcare institutions across the country to return to serving healthy meals in fall 2021 as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to reopen schools safely. Several meal service flexibilities that enable social distancing are now extended through June 30, 2022. The waivers continue the Administration’s commitment to provide safe, healthy meals free of charge to children as the pandemic continues to threaten the food and nutrition security of our most vulnerable.

“USDA will remain relentless in ensuring our nation’s children get the critical nutrition they need,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall. USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines. This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”

A recent study from Tufts University found that in 2018, schools were the single healthiest source of U.S. food consumed across a sample of children and adults. The 2018 study found that diet quality for foods from schools improved significantly from a similar study conducted in 2003-2004. Schools nationwide will be allowed to serve meals through USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO), which is typically only available during the summer months. This option maintains the nutrition standards of the standard school meal programs – including a strong emphasis on providing fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, whole grains, and sensible calorie levels, while allowing schools to serve free meals to all children. In addition, schools that choose this option will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will support them in serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges. This option also affords schools the financial flexibility to further customize their meal service design to fit their local needs.

“Students’ success in the classroom goes hand in hand with their ability to access basic needs like healthy and nutritious meals,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students, particularly those whose communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic. This program will ensure more students, regardless of their educational setting, can access free, healthy meals as more schools reopen their doors for in-person learning.”

USDA will continue to offer targeted meal pattern flexibility and technical assistance as needed. In addition, schools and both child and adult care institutions can continue providing breakfasts, lunches, and after school snacks in non-group settings at flexible meal times. Parents or guardians can also pick up meals for their children when programs are not operating normally, all while maintaining social distancing consistent with federal recommendations.

Up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not always have enough to eat during the pandemic. During the past year, America’s schools and childcare centers have provided a nutrition lifeline for children across the country, many of whom depend on USDA’s child nutrition programs for the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. Some kids rely on these programs for as many as three meals a day, underscoring how essential it is for USDA to empower schools and childcare centers to continue their dedicated efforts to serve healthy meals, safely.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education released Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook , “Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs,” which includes initial recommendations and resources for schools and communities to support our nation’s most vulnerable students during the pandemic, including those facing food insecurity. The Handbook includes strategies to increase student and family access to meal programs during the school year and over the summer, including specific strategies for underserved students such as students experiencing homelessness and English learners, and how federal funding can support these efforts.

The announcement today comes in addition to a variety of actions taken recently by USDA to strengthen food security, drive down hunger, and put a greater emphasis on the importance of nutrition. Just recently, USDA maximized economic relief for struggling families by taking administrative action on SNAP emergency allotments by targeting an additional $1 billion per month to roughly 25 million people. The Biden-Harris Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act provides over $12 billion in new nutrition assistance to address hardship caused by the pandemic, including:

  • Extending a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits— providing over $1.1 billion per month in additional benefits for about 41 million participants—through September 2021;
  • Adding $1.1 billion in new funding for territories that operate nutrition assistance block grants—home to nearly 3 million Americans—to support those hard-hit by the pandemic;
  • Extending and expanding P-EBT—a program that served over 8.4 million families with children at its peak last year—through the duration of the public health emergency;
  • Funding meals for young adults experiencing homelessness through Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) emergency shelters;
  • Providing nearly $900 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), including a temporary increase in fruit and vegetable vouchers to $35 per month and an historic investment in innovation and outreach to better serve more than 6.2 million people that use WIC to support a healthy start for infants and young children.

For a complete list of the waiver actions announced today, visit FNS’s COVID Response page at

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit