How to Use Your Education Stimulus Funding

How to use education stimulus funding

| Mar 18, 2021

The incoming COVID-19 relief funds for education offer unprecedented aid to community colleges and K-12 schools across the country. In a rare move, Congress has also included assistance for private schools. As schools face mounting pressure to reopen for in-person learning, this relief bill comes just in time.

As your school waits for the money to come through, now is the time to develop a plan for using it. With some strategic planning, you can put the funds to smart use and promote wellness and safety for your students, staff and faculty. 

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About the New Stimulus Funding Available for Schools

Passed in December 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act grants COVID-19 relief funds to schools throughout the U.S. It comes as a welcome follow-up to the March 2020 coronavirus relief bill, since the latest round of aid earmarks four times more funding for education. The new education stimulus for schools covers public and private K-12 schools. It also authorizes the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF II) for community colleges and other higher education institutions. 

The funding may go toward a wide range of investments at all education levels to support wellness and safety for staff, faculty and students. The bill leaves room for many allowable uses so schools can address their specific needs. It includes funding for outdoor learning environments and other upgrades for reducing COVID-19 transmission, such as ventilation improvements. 

In total, the federal government has reserved $81.9 billion for education. That amount breaks down like so.

  • $22.7 billion will go to higher education institutions through the HEERF II.
  • $54.3 billion will go to public K-12 schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
  • $4.1 billion will go to state governors through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to divvy up at their discretion. Of that amount, $2.75 billion must go to private K-12 schools.
  • $819 million will go to the Bureau of Indian Education and  U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and American Samoa.

About the Additional Funds and Guidelines for California Schools

Besides federal funding, community colleges and K-12 schools in California have access to some state stimulus funds. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has just released the Safe Schools for All plan, which offers $2 billion in incentive grants to provide schools with the resources to reopen safely. Schools in districts with viral transmission rates lower than 28 per 100,000 residents may submit a reopening plan and gain permission from their employee unions. Those that qualify will receive $450 per student and up to $250 per low-income or homeless student, English learner and foster youth. 

What Is DSA-Approved Furniture?

In California, community colleges and elementary schools must ensure any building improvements fall in line with the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) approvals. Since many schools will use their relief funds to build outdoor classrooms and upgrade their facilities, understanding DSA regulations is crucial. In California, community colleges and elementary schools must ensure any building improvements fall in line with the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) approvals. Most DSA regulations exist to preserve the safety and structural integrity of institutions essential to the community, including schools. Any school construction project in California will require DSA approval. So, choosing pre-approved options will speed up your project.

While the DSA doesn’t release specific outdoor or indoor furniture guidelines, it does require that schools submit an accessibility plan with any construction project. To ensure your learning facility will gain DSA approval, you must have ADA-accessible seating and furniture options. These could include DSA-approved outdoor furniture like accessible picnic tables. The DSA also favors the installation of tables with removable chairs.

Wabash Valley offers ADA-accessible benches, picnic tables and other accessible seating options you can use in your outdoor classrooms.

Ways to Use Your Funding to Create Outdoor Learning Environments

Since the first round of COVID-19 aid money arrived, many schools have chosen to put their portion toward outdoor learning centers. The Portland public school system in Maine has set an excellent example for putting their allotted funding to practical use. They used their relief money to build 156 flexible open-air classrooms to support hybrid learning for their 5,000 students. Specifically, the schools invested in shade sails, seating, easels, carts and learning kits for students. Since the area experiences winter in full force, the school district also purchased warm winter gear for students.

Portland’s public schools are only one example of the many schools across all levels using their aid money to create open-air learning environments. Facilities with outdated ventilation systems can provide far more fresh air to students outside than they can indoors. Even with the best ventilation, being outside is a safer alternative. Learning outdoors in a group environment can help students begin to make up for lost progress. 

What’s more, current safety guidelines are causing some schools to run out of space. To position desks six feet apart in an indoor classroom, the average class of 20 to 25 would need to drop to 15 to 18 students. Large lecture halls in community colleges can now only seat half as many students. Most schools can expect the need for overflow space for 25 to 35% of their student body. It’s a more cost-effective investment to construct outdoor learning centers than it would be to build more indoor classrooms. 

Outside, students can spread out more and won’t have to travel through crowded corridors between classes. Plus, outdoor learning has proven benefits beyond lowering viral transmission. Fresh air, sunlight and access to nature can energize minds and bodies, enhancing education. In community college settings, the outdoor classrooms you build today can serve as recreation spots in the future. With thoughtful design, outdoor classrooms can continue benefiting schools for years to come. 

To create an outdoor learning environment, you’ll need the following.

  • Benches: Students, professors and teachers will need places to sit. Outdoor chairs and benches are a practical option for classrooms that don’t need desk space for every student. Longer, 15-foot benches could seat several students. Smaller four- and six-foot options can sit one student each, giving them enough room to keep their learning supplies handy.
  • Picnic tables: For socially distanced group work or any task that requires a writing surface, outdoor picnic tables are another great option. They come in all shapes and sizes, including accessible tables and ones with built-in umbrellas.
  • Trash receptacles: Classrooms will need areas to throw out their trash and sharpen their pencils. Installing a trash receptacle and receptacle lid in each outdoor classroom adds convenience and improves sanitation.
  • Other accessories: Add functionality and beauty to your learning centers with outdoor furniture accessories like shade structures and umbrellas, bike racks and planters. One accessory we highly recommend is a hand sanitizing station, which can help your students and staff practice good hand hygiene.

How Wabash Valley Can Be Part of Your Team

Wabash Valley Site Furnishings has been helping universities and schools build attractive and multifunctional outdoor spaces for years. We bring a knack for designing useful recreational amenities and a wide selection of durable furniture to every project. We’re excited to help your community college or K-12 school build an outdoor learning environment that students, professors and teachers alike can use. Since our furniture requires minimal upkeep, we can help you design a learning environment that will last for years.

We offer customizations to match your school’s colors and can also place logos on benches and tables. Many of our furniture options come in unique patterns, colors and finishes. You can also choose chairs with or without armrests and furniture with in-ground and surface mounting options. This vast array of choices can let you build outdoor learning environments that fit right in with your school’s architecture. 

We can offer our design and layout expertise and guarantee no-hassle installations. If funding for your project will come from more than government aid, we can even help you honor your donors with memorial benches. To learn more, check out our guide to designing an outdoor classroom for planning, construction and maintenance advice.

Contact Wabash Valley for Help Starting Your Project!

To get started on your project, reach out to us today. We have a team of outdoor furniture experts ready to assist universities and other schools that want to build effective outdoor learning environments.