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NEA News

Three Years In, Biden’s American Rescue Plan Buoys Millions of Students and Educators

Joe Biden has made historic investments in public education since taking office. His latest budget would extend the federal support public schools need to serve all students.
Biden at NEA
President Biden at the National Education Association in Washington, DC in September 2022.
Published: March 11, 2024

President Biden faced deeply complicated problems from the day he took office in January 2021. Many Americans were struggling and suffering at the height of the pandemic.

But even as the administration worked to jump start life-saving medical research, keep businesses afloat, and help vulnerable families and individuals, the needs of students and educators were front and center.

The administration’s American Rescue Plan set aside nearly $170 billion for public schools—the School Rescue Funds. It is the single largest-ever investment in education.

How Funds are Used

From summer and afterschool programs to increases in educator pay, here are examples of how school districts used rescue funds throughout the country.

And the American Rescue Plan offered more than the much-needed infusion of funding. It reaffirmed Biden's belief that educators and parents are the experts on what students need to succeed.

States are required to include educator unions as stakeholders who should have a voice in how School Rescue Funds can be used most effectively. The law requires state and local governments to report how they use community input in making spending decisions.

On the third anniversary of the American Rescue plan, we are reminded of President Biden’s leadership in providing students with the one-on-one help they need, enabling school districts to boost educator pay to address educator shortages, permitting schools to improve ventilation in classrooms by upgrading HVAC systems, and so much more,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.

The president’s budget, released today, calls for further investments in IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Title I (a primary source of support for schools serving lower-income families), community schools, early childhood education, community colleges and HBCUs, and school-based mental health services.

Here are handful of examples of how ARP funds, plus input from educators and parents, have brought meaningful supports for students.

Upgrading school buildings for safer air and temperatures

NEA state affiliates and NEA American Rescue Fund coordinators have collaborated with school administrators to address poor indoor air quality by updating HVAC systems to improve ventilation. 

In Albuquerque, N.M., for example, public schools are replacing all HVAC units in 35 schools with new refrigerated air systems at a cost of over $16 million in relief funds. 

Massachusetts has allocated $100 million in ARP funds at the state level to improve and install HVAC systems in its schools. 

In 2022, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) helped secure $150 million dedicated to HVAC improvements in schools. Half of those funds are coming from ARP and half will be from state bond funding.  

 “What we’re really focusing on is getting those funds into underserved communities, where the need for upgrades is more urgent,” says Connecticut teacher Kristen Record. 

Read more:

Is Your School Building Making You Sick?

Without Air Conditioning, Students and Staff Suffer

Addressing shortages among education support professionals  

Shortages of food service workers, bus drivers, paraeducators and other education support professionals existed before the pandemic, but the crisis exacerbated the situation.  

Some states and districts have used ARP funds to ease transportation woes. For example, a Montana district is offering $4,000 bonuses for bus drivers. New York used funds to expedite commercial driver’s license (CDL) processes while Maryland is using money to allow middle and high school students to access public bus services free of charge. 

In other states, families are provided resources directly for getting their children to school, such as stipends in Oregon and a government-run hotline for carpools in South Carolina. 

Read more:

How Federal Funds Can Ease ESP Shortages

Increasing access to high-impact tutoring 

Over the past few years, finding consensus around the most effective strategies and interventions to address post-COVID learning recovery has largely been elusive. But there is widespread agreement that high-impact, or high-dosage, tutoring holds tremendous promise.  

Ideally, programs include small groups of no more than three to four students. They meet at least three times a week with a professionally trained tutor, during school hours. In addition to the high-quality materials used in the sessions, students benefit from meeting with the same tutor every week. 

Connie Michael, a teacher in Montana says that while high impact tutoring can be costly, the implementation would be well worth it for students.  

“If you can build that solid base of skills, especially in the earlier grades, in the beginning and focus on building relationships with students, the payoff could be huge,” she says. 

NEA and the National Student Support Accelerator have teamed up to help educators advocate for high-impact tutoring programs in their district. 

Read more:

The Push to Scale Up High-Impact Tutoring

Meeting student mental health needs 

New Mexico is just one state that has dedicated ARP funds to providing mental health support to more students than had been possible in the past. The state accomplished this in large part by funneling money into community school programs.  

The Community School model has been adopted at many New Mexico schools and has proven successful in bolstering both emotional and physical health services and providing students and their families with a wide range of other support. 

Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of NEA-New Mexico, says “the Community School program has been key in helping us identify and reach out to students who are struggling but also tap into the resources in the community that can support them,” says Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of NEA-New Mexico. 

Read more:

How a Santa Fe Community School Addresses Student Mental Health

Boosting diversity in the teaching profession 

“For many years, I was the first Black Latina teacher many students had. We are working on how we diversify our teaching staff, so some students do not have to go 10 grades without seeing representation,” said Carmen Gwenigale, a 22-year veteran educator in Iowa.  

Gwenigale is one of 13 fellows in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) Leadership Fellows Program, which was established thanks to ARP funding and the advocacy of the Iowa City Education Association. The program creates opportunities for students to pursue a career in education.  

Working with the University of Iowa, the Leadership Fellows program established a pipeline for teachers into public education and seeks out students of color. They are also working to facilitate restorative justice initiatives and summer school programming, and implement the district’s comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. 

Read more

One Year Later, Educators Applaud Biden’s Landmark Education Funding

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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.