In its guidance for safely returning to in-person instruction, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that unvaccinated students wear masks and that three feet of social distancing is maintained. In the absence of social distancing, schools are advised to reopen in-person five days a week with additional safety precautions in place, including regular COVID-19 testing. In recent days, states and health organizations have also weighed in with new guidance for the new school year.

Regardless, in a recent survey, 79% of districts that said they plan to test are applying for the $10 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) meant to support in-school testing and reopening.

The U.S. Department of Education has urged schools to invest part of their federal aid from ARP toward implementing safety precautions, among other things, and to fully return to school buildings in the fall. The federal agency has also maintained that districts should have enough access to partial funds — with some being withheld until states submit and get approval for their ARP plans — to both reopen in some capacity and begin addressing social-emotional and academic deficits accrued over the COVID-19 pandemic.

District leaders and education finance experts have also voiced concerns that federal aid funding by itself is not enough to sustain districts’ spending on personal protective equipment, testing and additional recovery efforts through the next few years.

While top officials have routinely touted the billions of dollars dispersed from ARP funds, some districts have reportedly not received more than a few hundred dollars for personal protective equipment from the package despite thousands of enrolled students. Some areas have received no funding from the third pot of money.

A recent survey of 200 administrators and principals by Thermo Fisher Scientific found that under-resourced schools are about half as likely to implement regular COVID-19 testing this fall. While 63% of administrators with access to adequate resources report that they plan to screen, only 30% of under-resourced schools report the same.

Though 75% of administrators overall think testing is important to maintain safety in schools, only about 50% plan to do so at the start of the upcoming school year, while 21% remain undecided. Of those testing, 80% plan to continue doing so, even after a vaccine becomes available for students ages 2-11.