Rhode Island will receive at least $115 million in funding from the Education Stabilization Fund created by the CARES Act.  This funding will help students, parents, teachers, and schools across the state adapt, and can be used for activities such as purchasing educational technology, supporting online learning, and planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures.

Visit the Rhode Island Department of Education’s COVID-19 page for the most up-to-date guidance and resources.

 

PRE-K THROUGH 12 EDUCATION

 

How will funds under the Education Stabilization Fund flow to school districts?

Rhode Island’s estimated $46.4 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding will be allocated on the same basis as the Title I-A formula under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Additionally, Rhode Island will receive $8.7 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, also enacted under the CARES Act, for use at the Governor’s discretion.  Rhode Island may use this funding to support Pre-K-12 schools, colleges, and universities based on need and without any requirement to award a set percentage to either K-12 or postsecondary education. 

 

Can funding for schools be used to support online or distance learning for students?

Yes.  Funds that school districts receive under the Education Stabilization Fund may be used to purchase broadband connectivity and educational technology for students, including computers, tablets, software, and hotspots.  Funds may also be used to purchase assistive technology or adaptive equipment for students with disabilities, and to support professional development for educators and other school staff to support online learning.

 

How can funds be used to support students and families experiencing homelessness?

School districts may use funds under the Education Stabilization Fund for any activity authorized under subtitle B of Title VII of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  Additionally, school districts have broad flexibility to use funds to meet the unique needs of students experiencing homelessness and purchase educational technology or broadband connectivity for such students.

 

Do students who attend private schools get any relief?

Yes.  Under the Education Stabilization Fund, school districts that receive funding have to provide equitable services to low-income children who attend private schools in the same manner as they provide those services under the existing rules of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

 

Can the Secretary of Education waive any provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

No.  As directed by the CARES Act, U.S. Education Secretary DeVos provided a report to Congress with recommendations for waivers under IDEA.  Secretary DeVos did not recommend waiving the main tenants of IDEA, including the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements.  It would take Congressional action to grant any additional waiver authorities.

 

My child used to receive nutritional support at school.  Is that assistance still available?

Yes.  To ensure children continue to receive meals while school is not in session, the CARES Act included $8.8 billion in additional nutritional support.  Please visit RIDOH’s website to find your nearest “grab and go” school meal location.

 

HIGHER EDUCATION

 

What forms of relief are higher education students impacted by COVID-19 eligible for?

Students will be eligible for emergency financial aid grants from their institutions to meet unexpected and urgent needs related to the coronavirus, such as expenses related to food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.  Students who are currently participating in the Federal Work Study program can continue to receive work-study payments from their institution if they are unable to work due to workplace closures.

Relief also exists for students who must drop out of school due to COVID-19.  Students will have the portion of their student loan taken out for the semester (or equivalent) canceled.  Further, students who received a Pell Grant or subsidized student loan will not have those types of financial aid counted toward their lifetime limits.

 

What relief is provided to federal student loan borrowers?

Thanks to recent Congressional action, borrowers do not need to make payments on student loans held by the federal government (i.e. Direct Loans and FFEL Loans held by the U.S. Department of Education) through September 30, 2020.  No interest will accrue on federally-held loans for the same time period.  This provides more than 37 million borrowers with relief from the financial pressure of making monthly payments for approximately six months.  You can check studentaid.gov or visit the Student Aid Coronavirus FAQ page to see if your loan qualifies.

Also during this period, these borrowers will not be subject to involuntary collections (i.e. garnishment of wages, tax refunds, and Social Security benefits) and will not have any negative credit reporting for late payments.  Student borrowers will continue to receive credit toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment forgiveness, and loan rehabilitation, even though they will not be making payments.  If borrowers wish to continue making payments during this time to pay down principal and previously accrued interest (since no interest is accruing as of March 13), they are free to do so.

Starting in August, student loan borrowers will receive notices to inform them that their regular loan payments and interest accrual will resume after September 30, 2020.  These notices will help protect borrowers by providing them with a transition period to stay on track as regular loan payments resume and to offer them the option to enroll in other relief options (such as income-driven repayment, which can lower a borrower’s monthly payment).

 

What if I have commercially-held loans?

Borrowers with commercially-held FFEL loans and Perkins Loans, and private student loan borrowers, are not eligible for this relief.  I understand this will likely frustrate many student loan borrowers, who were already struggling to pay off their debt before this pandemic began.  I support extending relief to borrowers of loans held outside the Department of Education, and this will be a priority of mine if Congress considers another stabilization package.

Should you have private loans and wish to evaluate your repayment options in light of the crisis, I encourage you to visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Private Student Loan Ombudsman website.  Further, you may also contact your lender or loan servicer to see what type of relief might be available.

 

Are universities eligible for any aid?

Yes.  Under the Education Stabilization Fund, Rhode Island will get an estimated $60 million from a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.  The U.S. Department of Education disburses 90 percent of funds directly to institutions and the vast majority will go to public colleges and universities, based on their proportion of Pell and non-Pell full-time-equivalent students.  Of this funding, at least half must be used exclusively to provide direct emergency aid to students, such as “grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.”  Students who are currently participating in the Federal Work Study program can continue to receive work-study payments from their institution if they are unable to work due to workplace closures.  Colleges and universities may use their portion of the funds on a broadly defined basis.

Institutions of higher education in Rhode Island may also receive funding from Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, which is described above.