Using Federal Stimulus Funds for Collaborative Learning Spaces

How schools and districts can tap federal stimulus funding as a resource for building out new, collaborative learning spaces

By Dr. Christina Counts

By encouraging students to gather and work in groups of all sizes, collaborative learning spaces directly reflect the experiences that tomorrow’s leaders will find when they enter the workplace, where rows of desks and chairs in front of whiteboards don’t exist. Instead, individuals gather to solve problems, collaborate on new projects, and innovate together in large or small groups.

With the global pandemic greatly impacting the K–12 learning environment, more schools and districts are pivoting to collaborative learning spaces filled with comfortable, tech-equipped furniture that supports the future-ready learner. For funding help with these projects, districts are turning to one or more of the recently-passed federal stimulus bills.

3 Opportunities to Explore
One of the outcomes of the pandemic has been the rapid adoption of school-based technology in a compressed period of time. Most students now have mobile devices, and schools have been teaching in a rotation of remote, in-person, and hybrid learning models. The infusion of technology and the experience of more flexible learning models has district administrators planning to permanently blend the best of online and face-to-face instruction.

Increasing levels of technology have made the traditional arrangement of desks and front-of-the-classroom focus unnecessary. In its place, schools are developing dynamic, flexible, and mobile learning spaces that support student-centered teaching, collaboration, and engagement. For most districts, the future of K–12 will also include a virtual learning academy to accommodate the students who thrived in a virtual setting.

However, creating these new spaces requires funding. The federal government, in three stimulus funding bills, has made a once-in-a-generation investment in public education. Focused on creating healthy environments for returning students and addressing any achievement gaps, the CARES Act, CRRSA, and American Rescue Plan are all resources your district can use to create more engaging learning environments. (Note that the current deadlines for applying for this funding are:  CARES ACT - 12/30/21; CRRSA - 09/30/22; and American Rescue Plan - 09/30/23).

Putting the Funds to Use
So far, much of the federal funding has been distributed to states based on federal funding formulas, such as Title I. However there is specific language, particularly in the American Rescue Plan, that allows districts to use these funds on school campus buildings and grounds for:

  • Assessment of facilities: Equipment, systems, furniture, fixtures, health and safety, and environmentally sustainable buildings and grounds.
  • Maintenance planning: Routine and deferred maintenance to ensure all facilities components, including furniture and fixtures, are working as designed.
  • Repair, upgrade, and replacement: Equipment, fixtures, and furniture in support of healthy, safe, and equitable facilities.
  • Modifications to support physical distancing: Create outdoor spaces for learning and gathering.

School districts can work with companies to find the right match between their collaborative learning space goals and the available funding. By taking the steps now—ahead of the upcoming deadlines—schools can get their deserved piece of the stimulus pie and use it to develop modern learning spaces that their students and teachers will thrive in.

Dr. Christina Counts serves as Vice President of Education for MiEN Company.