Where is the PD in CARES?

American flag and mask with sign cares act. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security law concept.

By Melinda George

As school districts plan for an uncertain fall, many district leaders are planning how to support educators in preparing for and teaching in this new reality. Professional learning has never been more needed. Good news! Money from the CARES Act to support these efforts is landing in school districts across the United States right now.

When the CARES Act was signed into law in early March, it included an Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) that provided $13.5 billion in funding relief for K-12 schools. ESF can be used for anything covered by existing K-12 authorized programs, including professional learning.

Nearly all states have applied to the U.S. Department of Education for and have begun receiving their share of those dollars.  As I write, many states are beginning to allocate proportional shares of ESF, based on the Title I formula, to their school districts. It is urgent that all Learning Forward stakeholders reach out to districts to ensure that professional learning for educators is included in any CARES Act ESF district plan.

Some important questions:

Who should I contact to encourage that those funds be used to support professional learning?

This is an important time to remind your district leaders (school board members, district administrators and district professional learning directors) that professional learning is an allowable use of the CARES Act funding and that investing in educators is the lynchpin to making sure that all of their other COVID-related purchases have the maximum impact.

What types of professional learning are supported through ESF funds?

ESF allocations for professional learning can be used to address short-term needs around distance learning but also, importantly, to invest in long term professional learning that is collaborative, ongoing, and job-embedded. Educators’ needs for sustained and continuous improvement in using technology for both adult and student learning will not end any time soon.

Is there more money coming in subsequent federal legislation?

The jury is out on K-12 funding that might be included in a next relief package or even if there will be a relief package at all. As you know, Congress is very divided and this is slowing efforts to get more relief to states that would potentially include funding for K-12 schools. There have been estimates that top $200B for funds needed to shore up education but even recent efforts in the House didn’t come close to the amounts that are needed.

The CARES Act funding is certain and available now. We urge all members of the Learning Forward community to make that case that professional learning be included prominently among its uses.

Don’t wait until the funding is gone to plan for professional learning. Act now to engage your district in building a professional learning plan that will support new educational learning environments.

If you have additional questions about the CARES Act or its allowable uses, please contact me at

Melinda George is Learning Forward’s Chief Policy Officer. Melinda leads Learning Forward’s policy work on critical programs such as Title IIA, including working with Learning Forward members to be strong advocates on behalf of professional learning. She also co-leads the What Matters Now Network, a tri-state network focused on increasing the frequency and equity with which teachers access and engage in effective job-embedded professional learning grounded in the use of high-quality curriculum and instructional materials.

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Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.

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