Schools, Libraries To Receive Billions in Funding Thanks to American Rescue Plan Act

Educators and library advocates celebrated the signing of a bill that will bring record funding to support their needs.

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The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday, includes billions in funding for public education, libraries, early childhood programs, and internet connectivity resources.

There is nearly $130 billion for K-12 schools, much of it earmarked for helping to safely open school buildings, with money to go towards better ventilation systems, personal protective equipment, hiring of more staff including custodians, nurses, and counselors, and efforts to reduce class sizes and create adequate social distancing.

“This historic legislation not only provides the resources to help every school building put in place the effective measures needed to keep students and educators safe; it also makes extraordinary investments that will lift countless children and families out of poverty and works to address the immense inequities that have systematically affected the most vulnerable students and communities of color,” National Education Association president Becky Pringle said in a statement.

The bill also allocates more than $1 billion for summer enrichment and after school programs, as well as $3 billion for education technology. Child Care and Development Block Grants and Stabilization Fund will receive $39 billion and Head Start programs $1 billion, both of which present  partnership opportunities for libraries.

While there is a great deal of latitude as to how individual districts use their funding, at least 20 percent must go toward addressing pandemic learning loss.

“School librarians should look at ways to leverage new allocations for 21st Century Learning Centers and funding for Title I priorities,” EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka told SLJ via email. “State education agencies have been given tremendous new resources to fill in gaps and focus on equity. Administrators and principals need to see how your library programs can help halt or reverse the COVID slide—and then put you, your programs, and your collections budgets in the funding formula.”

The American Library Association (ALA) is also celebrating the COVID relief package.

"This is a historic win for libraries," ALA President Julius C. Jefferson Jr. told Library Journal. "Every single library in every state will benefit. Plus—and this is huge—we have $7 billion–plus available for libraries and schools to purchase and distribute technology necessary for remote learning, working from home, virtual health care visits, and more.”

More than $7 billion Jefferson referenced is for an Emergency Education Connectivity Fund through the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program. Participating libraries will receive 100 percent reimbursement for the cost of hotspots and other Wi-Fi capable devices, modems, routers, laptops, tablets, and similar devices to loan to patrons. Educators hope this can help narrow the homework gap between students with devices and high-speed internet access and those without.

In the bill, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received $200 million, which is the largest single increase in the agency’s 25-year history. Of that, $178 million is slated for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and goes to state library administrative agencies. The amount given is based on population with a $2 million minimum.

Jefferson also said the influx of money will keep libraries from having to choose between funding programs and paying the library professionals who run them.

According to ALA, the state libraries will distribute the money to local libraries to fund services, including:

  • Offering greater access to technology, including through expanding digital networks and connectivity, purchasing hotspots, computers and digital content
  • Establishing mobile digital labs
  • Enhancing workforce development and jobseeker programing
  • Ensuring training and technical support for libraries, including to assist with the safe handling of materials

“We are thrilled to see the $200 million in funding through IMLS for state libraries and the expansion for territory and tribal libraries, too,” Chrastka said. “I have a lot of trust that state librarians will look at their LSTA priorities and the COVID-mitigation mandate in the ARPA to ensure that smart projects are supported for maximum impact.

“Showing Congress how effective libraries can be in putting this funding to work will be essential to growing the annual appropriations in less troubled times.”

Lisa Peet contributed to this report.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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