What is the CARES Act?

President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020.  This law provides funds to help K-12 schools cope with the COVID-19 emergency.  Specifically, it established the Education Stabilization Fund.  $13.5 billion in funds were approved to be distributed to schools according to each state’s share of ESEA Title I-A funds.  Of these funds, the states are required to distribute 90% of their allotted funds to the state’s school districts.  They may use the remaining funds to pay for  administrative needs.

Flexibility for States and School Districts

  1. Respond to the COVID-19 emergency.
  2. Secretary of Education can waive assessments and accountability provisions of the ESEA.
  3. Districts can request waivers to carry over more than 15% of their Title I allotment.
  4. Purchase educational technology to support online learning for all students.
  5. Administrative planning during long-term school closures.
  6. Continue to pay employees and contractors during extended closures.

Education Stabilization Funds

First, they can be used for addressing the needs of low‐income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth. 

Next they can be used for providing mental health services and supports or coordinating the distribution of meals to eligible students.  CARES Act funds can also be used for planning and implementing summer learning programs and supplemental after-school activities. 

Finally, these funds can be used for training for staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases. Purchasing supplies to sanitize district facilities is an acceptable expenditure.  Ultimately, they are necessary for providing principals and other school leaders with the resources to meet the needs of their individual schools. Working with state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments to improve coordinated responses to corona-virus. 

CARES Act funds would help these districts continue to provide educational services and operate administrative functions. These funds could also be used to support childcare and early childhood education. 

Children With Special Needs

On one hand, as a building principal the CARES Act funds can be spent on a myriad of educational tools.  Chromebooks, iPads, and tablets are some items that are very common and can address the needs of the average student.  But, receiving these funds is an opportunity to address the needs of the those children with special needs.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

One large group of students that receives limited attention are students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  They represent 1 in 54 students.  Students with ASD are characterized by their social/emotional needs, communication deficits, and other physical impairments.  Using CARES Act funds is a principal’s opportunity to make the classroom more inclusive to this ever growing population.  Assistive Technology in an average classroom for a student with ASD may include:

  • Seating with non-skid surfaces or flexible seating such as beanbags.
  • Adapted eating utensils, drinking devices, or toilet seats.
  • Wheelchairs, walkers, or rails
  • Adaptive toys or games

The need for Assistive Technology to address social/emotional needs and communication needs is much more prevalent in the average classroom.  These are the types of Assistive Technology that CARES Act funds can make possible.

Communication Technology

Therefore, there are several communication aids on the market today.  Non-verbal communication boards are a great way to teach students with ASD to communicate their wants and needs and can be purchased with CARES Act funds.  This form of communication opens up the opportunity for students with ASD to communicate with their teachers and their classmates with greater ease and understanding.  These boards are inexpensive and come in great varieties depending on setting and age.

Another opportunity to spend CARES Act funds to support these special needs children is to purchase Augmentative Communication Trainers.  They are another opportunity to address the needs of students with ASD.  For instance, these devices provide the child with a device that speaks for them and ultimately trains the students to speak for themselves.  Augmentative Communication Trainers include buttons that represent the different needs of the child.  For example the Tiny Talker pictured here includes the sounds: I’m sorry, Television, More Please, I want to play, I’m Thirsty, I’m Hungry, No, Yes, Help Please, Hurt, All Done, and Bathroom.  Simple Augmentative Communication Trainers are affordable enough for the child to have in each of their classrooms and at home.

Additionally, there are Augmentative Communication Trainers that are more advanced and include devices and software.  These devices can be adjusted to meet the more specific or advanced needs of the child.  These are either inclusive devices or software that can be downloaded to an existing device such as an iPad or tablet.  The Go Talk pictured here is one of such devices.  It can record and store specific messages that can be selected in sequences that include up to 8 messages.  The advancement in the child’s communication can be supported by the use of this device.

Social/Emotional Support

Finally, for a student with ASD, their communication deficits impact their academics and their social/emotional needs.    Students with ASD are characterized by a lack of eye contact, little understanding of facial expressions, and tone of voice. CARES Act funds can be used to purchase software that supports such deficits. These skills may seem intrinsic to the average person. But, they are a great challenge for a student with ASD when trying to maintain friendships.  One software that focuses on social skills is FaceSay™.  This program teaches the child to read the faces of their peers, teachers, and parents.  Through games, the student learns to recognize the faces and emotions of others.

Moreover, software isn’t the only thing that can be purchased with CARES Act funds to bolster a child’s social/emotional needs.  The Cozmo Artificial Intelligence Robot by Anki is an example of hardware that can be used in the classroom.  This little robot learns a child’s expressions and can react accordingly.  Although the focus of the robot is coding, it uses artificial intelligence to better interact with the students who are using it.  You can learn more about Cozmo by visiting our products page or by clicking the link above.