American Rescue Plan (ESSER III) funds will be used to address learning loss
“The goal is to wisely use the funds to both close gaps caused by COVID-19, while
making purchases that should put us in a good place for years to come.”
McCreary County School
By Eugenia Jones
With approximately $13.8 million of funding expected from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), the McCreary County School District’s Advisory Committee met last week (July 15) to review the current results of a survey distributed throughout the community and begin prioritizing needs that can be financially addressed with funding from the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
“We are very excited about the ARP ESSER Funding,” McCreary County School District Superintendent Corey Keith commented. “The influx of federal funds will enable us to continue addressing the issues that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While doing that, we will also be able to tackle some others more quickly than we would have been able to otherwise. Various areas of education funding have been cut or remained static over time. The goal is to wisely use the funds to both close gaps caused by COVID-19, while making purchases that should put us in a good place for years to come.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCreary County schools have received a massive influx of federal funding. In March 2020, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund was authorized through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide aid to states fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in school districts. As a result, McCreary County schools received approximately $1.9 in the first round (ESSER 1) of funding. On December 27, 2020, approval of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplement Appropriations (CRRSA) resulted in the school district receiving a second round of ESSER funding (ESSER II) of approximately $6.4 million. The McCreary County School District now expects to receive the third round of funding (ESSER III) totaling approximately $13.8 through the American Rescue Plan (ARP.)
“McCreary County Schools are certainly excited and blessed to receive additional federal funding specifically earmarked to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” McCreary County School District’s Director of Federal Programs Jennifer Akins noted. “This unprecedented funding will enable the district to purchase additional classroom furniture, instructional materials, school supplies, and playground equipment that our state funds simply could not cover. Additionally, we are able to employ additional staff to increase student achievement, and our facilities will receive some due attention. We are excited for our staff, students and community to see the impact of this funding for many years to come.”
Upon reviewing results of the county-wide survey, the District’s Advisory Committee found the following five categories were deemed to have the highest priority of need in the McCreary County Schools: Instructional resources (texts, etc.)-75.3%, buildings (interior classrooms)-64.3%, additional classroom staff-62.9%, playground and recreational-(51.2%), and classroom furniture-45.2%. The provision of parent and family opportunities came in a close 6th with 41% of respondents indicating a need.
The need to provide coping skills for anxiety was chosen as the number one priority for the schools (77%) when addressing the social-emotional needs of students, family, and staff. Survey respondents chose provision of de-escalation strategies as the second greatest area of concern when addressing social-emotional needs.
Feedback varied when survey respondents were asked to comment on measures the district should take to ease the transition from a non-traditional school year (as was last year due to COVID-19) to a more “normal” year. Comments varied widely from “just jump in and do it” to stressing the need for patience and understanding. More than one respondent wanted the four day school week to remain as part of the regular schedule.
After reviewing survey results, the Advisory Committee examined the parameters for spending ESSER III (ARP) funds.
In accordance with the U.S. Department of Education, districts are required to complete three application components before receiving ARP ESSER III funds. The three components are:
1. Safe return to school-The plan must address and outline how the district will seek to promote the health and safety of students and continue to provide high-quality services to students should there be a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. The district must develop an ARP ESSER Local Education Agency (LEA) plan which addresses how funds will be used to implement prevention and mitigation strategies consistent with the Centers for Disease Control, how evidence-based interventions will be implemented to address the loss of instructional time due to the pandemic, how the LEA will spend the remainder of its funds, and how the district will address “learning loss” by detailing how the LEA will ensure that interventions address the academic impact of lost instructional time due to COVID-19 and respond to the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of all students.
3. The district must complete a GMAP spending plan and assurances detailing how funding will be properly accessed and tracked.
Thus far, the McCreary County School District has used ESSER I and II funds for various COVID-19 response and recovery efforts including the following: personal protective equipment (including masks, protective gowns, gloves, face shields), protective plexi-glass, signage, thermometers, sanitation supplies, water filling stations (replacing water fountains), addition of digital curriculum learning coaches and a community liaison, instructional resources to prevent the sharing of resources (textbooks, headphones, earbuds, keyboard mice, supplies, individual play items for recess and physical education, etc.), disposable items for feeding, professional development for staff, assistance to the athletic department, internet connectivity support (community hotspots for internet access), furniture, technology (including Chromebooks, laptops, webcams, etc.), personnel (additional staff for temperature checks, bus monitors, etc.), employee stipends (for additional time, work, and responsibilities due to COVID-19), learning loss interventions (tutoring, summer school, and future plans to include additional staff, flex scheduling of students, etc. to address loss of learning by students), and air quality improvement (air purifiers/bi-polar ionization, UV lights in air ducts/units.)
School districts are required to spend ESSER funding within certain timelines. ESSER I funds expire in 2022 while ESSER II and III funds expire in 2023 and 2024, respectively.