COVID Relief Funds: An Opportunity for Learner-Centered Innovation
Devin Vodicka
An overview of COVID relief funds and their potential role in accelerating learner-centered innovation in schools and districts.
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COVID Relief Funds: An Opportunity for Learner-Centered Innovation
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While the pandemic has disrupted our teaching and learning system in countless ways, it has also reaffirmed key truths about learning in the 21st century and beyond:

  • Students can benefit from increased choice and flexibility, including opportunities for self-paced learning.
  • Connectedness and relationships are essential to supporting whole-child development.
  • Students thrive in learning environments that cultivate agency, collaboration, expertise, and problem-solving.
  • We live in a rapidly changing world and need to prepare students to find and address global challenges. 

A Window of Opportunity

In this period of unprecedented ambiguity and flexibility in K-12 education, school and district leaders have a window of opportunity to drive learner-centered transformation in their unique contexts. In recent months, some school leaders have understandably prioritized a return to the status quo due to a number of factors, including: 1) the operational challenges of distance and hybrid learning implementation, 2) the natural desire to return to in-person learning, and 3) limited access to resources to support educational programs other than essential health, safety, and technology initiatives. However, recent federal funds have the potential to carve new paths towards learner-centered innovation that could positively impact students this summer, next school year, and for years to come.

Relief Funding: Innovation Made Possible

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 allocates 122.8 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).* These dollars are allocated to states and districts on the basis of their relative Title I, Part A funding. 90% of the total funds will go directly to school districts (Local Education Agencies or LEAs) based on the following conditions with emphasis on returning students to in-person learning:

  • Reserve. LEAs must reserve no less than 20% of its grant for evidence-based interventions to address learning loss. 
  • In-Person Reopening Plan. LEAs must develop and publicly post a plan, with public input, for the LEA’s safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of service no later than 30 days after the LEA receives the funding. 

State Educational Agencies (SEAs)** have requirements for the remaining 10% of funds that include:

  • Learning Loss Interventions. States must reserve no less than 5% of their total ESSER funding for evidence-based interventions to address learning loss. 
  • Summer Enrichment Programs. States must reserve no less than 1% of their total ESSER funding for evidence-based summer enrichment programs. 
  • After-school Programs. States must reserve no less than 1% of their total ESSER funding for evidence-based comprehensive after-school programs.

In addition to ARPA funds, federal dollars in Title I and Title II programs may be used for professional development. 

Putting Learner-Centered Visions into Practice

As an organization, Altitude Learning is driven by our mission to accelerate the shift to learner-centered education. We do this by partnering with schools, districts, and state agencies to provide comprehensive services including strategic consulting, leadership development, professional learning, and technology to support the needs of all learners where they are.

  • Strategic Consulting: We can work with you to co-design learner-centered models that promote agency, whole-child outcomes, competency-based assessments, authentic learning, personalized learning, and inclusive communities for summer school, after-school programming, and reopening plans. We can assist with strategic alignment, developing outcome frameworks, and co-constructing learner profiles. In addition, we have expertise in new learning models and new school design. 
  • Leadership Academies: We can facilitate guiding coalitions to connect aspirations with implementation. These guiding coalitions also support effective change management which will be essential in shifting to new, post-pandemic learning experiences for all students. 
  • Professional Learning: We can provide Educator Institutes to promote learner agency, competency-based assessment, authentic learning experiences, and personalized learning. All of our Institutes also support the implementation of learner-centered pedagogical practices in virtual and in-person learning environments. We also do Institutes on effective distance learning and blended learning practices. 


* https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/blog/covid-analysis-american-rescue-plan-act-2021

** A state-by-state breakdown of ESSER funding can be found here.

Contact us at partners@altitudelearning.com to learn more or explore our professional learning catalog.