Industry Trends

The CARES Act, Cybersecurity, and Educational Institutions

By Jeff Jennings | May 08, 2020

The CARES Act—Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security was signed into law on March 27, 2020 in the USA. It includes a major help for K-12 and Higher Education organizations that are delineated within Section(s) 18003 and 18004. 

Section 18003 includes an Education Stabilization Fund that provides $13.5 billion in K-12 formula grants to states, distributed based on their share of ESEA Title I funds. State education agencies will then be able to distribute at least 90% of received funds to school districts and public charter schools based on their share of Title I-A funds. 

These funds allow for wide latitude and flexibility for Local Education Agencies (LEAs) within the specific areas outlined below. This funding is specifically earmarked for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, including the immediate pivot to online learning in K-12 schools across the U.S. 

Funding Parameters

Funding provided by the CARES Act allows schools to address the following needs:

  1. Any activity for any authorized ESEA program, IDEA program, CTE or Adult Education program, or Homeless Youth Education program
  2. Coordination of coronavirus response efforts between an LEA and other government organizations
  3. Providing principals and other school leaders with the resources necessary to address individual school needs 
  4. Activities to address the unique needs of special student populations (e.g., low-income families, disabled students, ELLs, minority students, homeless students, students in foster care, etc.)
  5. Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of LEAs 
  6. Training or PD for staff on such issues as sanitation and the minimizing of the spread of infectious diseases 
  7. Purchasing sanitation supplies 
  8. Planning for long term closures 
  9. It also includes providing meals to eligible students, online learning, meeting the requirements of IDEA during distance learning, etc.
  10. It further includes funds for purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students served by the LEA – which can also include assistive technology for disabled students
  11. Providing mental health services and support 
  12. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs 
  13. “Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in LEAs” as well as continuing to employ existing staff of the LEA

Funding Distribution

Section 18004 Higher Education Emergency Relief funds are distributed through the Pell Enrollment Formula (Formula Funds). The CARES Act stipulates a funding formula to divide these funds among institutions. The formula has two distinct parts based on the number of fulltime Pell Grant recipients.

The CARES Act then divides the Formula Funds into two categories, based on the stipulations for their use:

  • Emergency Student Financial Aid  
    • At least 50% of funds must go to emergency financial aid for students
    • This is also referred to as Advanced Funds, Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students, Section 18004 Student Funds, and CARES Act Student Aid Funds
  • Institutional Funds
    • The remaining balance can be used at the institution’s discretion to cover qualified expenses, including the technology and services required for online learning and the development of a hybrid network.

To receive Emergency Student Financial Aid, institutions need to submit a signed Funding Certification and Agreement. To receive these Institutional Funds, the institution must submit the student aid agreement mentioned above, and then they must complete and submit a second Funding Certification and Agreement.

In addition, each state will receive a share of the $3 billion Governor’s Education Relief Fund, which governors can use at their discretion to provide emergency support grants to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and child care/early education providers. 

Funding the Pivot to Online Learning

A key need identified by districts throughout the nation for both K-12 and Higher Education has been the immediate pivot to 100% online learning, teaching, and working. The rapid progress of the Pandemic has required drastic actions in all aspects of our lives and activities. Education is no different. Students and parents have had to adapt – virtually overnight – to stay at home orders, which has required educators to embrace a whole new pedagogy without access to training or professional development.

Transitioning to a 100% online educational format has also required IT/EdTech departments to add devices for every student and staff to their networks. 1:1 and remote learning are requiring IT Departments to expand their networks along as well as their ability to support and secure remote learning and working for all students and staff. These networks are being stretched to the limit. And to make matters worse, in the midst of this pandemic threat actors are increasing their targeting of education. Last year, cyberattacks against K-12 were already on the rise—with incidents nearly tripling in 2019. That pace has accelerated even further during this worldwide crisis.

Under the district-wide approach, Title I funds can be combined with state and local dollars to upgrade a school’s entire educational program. The CARES Act also authorizes waivers that allow local districts increased flexibility on the use of Title IV-A funds, including lifting the limit that no more than 15% of Title IV-A funds can be used to purchase technology. 

Be First in Line

It is essential, therefore, that IT/EdTech be at the front of the line to have essential projects and equipment funded using portions of these funds. This is going to require CTOs and IT Directors to, in effect, become advocates for their projects and operational needs. This will require the inclusion and support of the district administration. But receiving this funding will first require the development of the plan and budget you will require, and then persuading leadership to “buy in” to the importance of your request. 

But because time is of the essence, it is also recommended that organizations engage with district leadership right away. Being “first in line” in the funding allocation discussion is critically important to provide the sort of 21st century education that today’s students require. 

Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more about the CARES Act.

Learn more about how to maintain education continuity through broad, integrated, and automated Fortinet Security Solutions for Remote Learning.