COVID-19 has certainly interrupted teaching and learning, particularly for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.1 Overall, the pandemic has exacerbated and illuminated longstanding inequities within our schools and institutions to a broader audience.2 Federal stimulus dollars are essential on the path to recovery.
In March 2020, the United States Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.3 “Across three federal relief packages passed by the United States Congress between March 2020 and March 2021, Tennessee has received over $4.5 billion in federal relief funding to use between spring 2020 and fall 2024.4 For context, Tennessee’s ESSER funding allocation is nine times larger than our historic $500 million Race to the Top (RTT) grant in 2010.5 Money matters, but it’s not just about how much, but also how well we allocate funds toward data and research-driven investments that sustain long term and to students and families who would most benefit from its support. At least 90% of ESSER funding must be distributed directly to school districts, but otherwise, the funds are highly flexible.6 This requirement supports local communities to tailor investments to their students’ needs and local context. Advocates can support districts to invest in evidence-based and comprehensive interventions, including the recommendations within this report, to maximize ESSER’s impact.
Tennessee has a critical opportunity to reassess and redesign systems and policies that work for all students. This report, TN25: Mapping our Future Together, aims to equip advocates with research, data, and bright spots to create their vision for education in 2025.