It’s a “Big F**king Deal,” Says President Biden. How Will New Jersey Spend $2.8 Billion to Rescue Our Schools?

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How high an investment is the Biden Administration making in K-12 schools through the American Rescue Plan? Choose your descriptor: From President Biden’s “big f-cking deal” to  Andy Rotherham’s “massive spending package,” we’re looking at a huge pot of money: $123 billion. 

This infusion could be transformational for a system under duress pre-COVID and now struggling to quantify the learning loss suffered from a year of school closures.

Or it could be a total waste of your tax dollars if spent ineffectively and without ambition.

Do we want to prop up the old system or take targeted, data-based action to really address educational inequities that doom our neediest students? So much depends on individual states’ leadership and vision. A national non-profit called ExcelinEd just issued a brief that explains what’s at stake for this “unprecedented amount of money” and provides Guiding Principles and Essential Strategies to help states maximize the impact of this “rescue.” The pressure is on for state education leaders and governors who “can use their positional authority to encourage districts in the right direction.”

Let’s look at New Jersey’s share of the pot and the rules for spending that money. According to ExcelinEd, our share for K-12 schools is $2,764,587,703, or almost $3 billion. (On the other hand, that’s about one third of what the state spends each year on school aid, allocated according to our school funding formula. For an Explainer on how this works, see here.) 

Once the American Rescue Plan cash rolls in, here are the rules for spending it: 

  • All the money must be used for state educational agencies (SEA’s) and local educational agencies (also known as school districts and public charter schools). SEA’s get 10%. Districts get 90%.
  • The money can be used only for “COVID-19-related needs and issues that have been highlighted or exacerbated by the pandemic.”  This could take the form of districts applying for COVID-specific grants from the State Department of Education to ameliorate learning loss as a result of school closures. It can also be used for summer school, afterschool programming, and enrichment activities.
  • At least 20% of district money must specifically address instruction loss. Each school district in NJ will have to “develop and submit for public comment a plan for the ‘safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services.’” No district is permitted to make “severe” budget cuts in order to ensure maintenance of effort, especially for historically-marginalized students. 

Here’s a quick overview of some “Guiding Principles and Essential Strategies,” courtesy of ExcelinEd,for our State Department of Education:


  • Use funds to start bold initiatives that might not be possible without the extra stimulus
  • Provide Incentives for school districts to “spend money in a way that aligns with state priorities.” 
  • “Parents know what their children need, and those needs have only become clearer over the past year. If states prioritize communicating with and empowering parents, they will see a greater return on their ARP investments.”
  • The DOE “should consider modeling strategies and actions they hope [districts] will employ. If states focus on urgent priorities and make non-recurring investments, LEAs will be inclined to do the same.” 


Strategy 1: “Address the Most Urgent Issues Now.” Some examples:

  • “Provide one-time incentive bonuses to districts that administer the state’s assessment to at least 80% of students in Spring 2021.”
  • “Sponsor a statewide tutoring program focused on learning recovery that attracts and rewards qualified tutors by providing debt relief and/or one-time stipends. Match district investments in tutoring, especially initiatives that embed tutoring into the school day.”
  • “Establish an innovation fund to assist LEAs in creating inventive summer school and school vacation acceleration academies and/or intensive academic bootcamps for students on the cusp of graduation. Provide additional incentives to LEAs that create community partnerships with out-of-school providers.”

Strategy 2:Make Non-Recurring Investments with Long-Term Impact.” Some examples:

  •  “Procure or build secure remote testing systems and create an innovation fund for districts that pilot them.”
  • “Invest in data, analytics and communication tools to help parents understand test results, such as personalized videos explaining student performance. Provide matching grants to LEAs that build their own tools for communicating test results to parents.”
  • “Train teachers in the science of reading, develop assessment tools based in the science of reading and upgrade teacher certification examinations to reflect the science of reading.”

There’s much more detail in the brief and it’s very readable. Take a look yourself as we wait for ambitious guidance from Gov. Murphy and Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan. 

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