As part of the federal COVID-19 Economic Relief Act (CARES), states were provided funding that was to be allocated to school districts in order to reduce the impact of COVID-19. The funds provided to schools, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ERSSERF), are distributed by the Department of Education using the unit count system just as other state funding is distributed.
“We have currently received two allocations so far, ESSERF I and ESSERF II, and there is a third allocation we are anticipating in the spring that is in the planning stages right now,” Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, said. “The district received just over $1.4 million in ESSERF I. We had to provide a plan to DOE outlining what our focus for those funds would be. At that time, our main focus was making sure we had the technology to support remote learning in our buildings as well as in homes for our students. We also wanted to provide support during a long-term closure to provide community meal service, support our child nutrition program, implement activities that support summer learning and manage academic learning loss.”
Croce explained that the district wrote into the grant methods to provide resources related to each school and the unique ways they were getting information back and forth to students. The grant also included data on the resources it took to complete those tasks. There was also information on preparedness and response, including sanitation supplies necessary to keep the classrooms clean as well as PPP for teachers and students. Croce stated that the funds received from ESSERF I were mostly depleted as of the end of May.
“In ESSERF II, we received just over $5.8 million,” Croce said. “The focus area for ESSERF II shifted a little as the federal government allowed for the funding to be used for things related to student health as well as to improve indoor air quality for our staff inside the buildings. We have some major projects coming up for these funds, including HVAC repairs and upgrades to be sure air quality is improved throughout all of our schools, mainly at the high school and Banneker.”
In addition, the grant provides funding for educational technology, support during the long-term closures including community meal service, addressing learning loss with summer learning and supplemental academic programming, as well as sanitation supplies and PPE.
“We are also using it to address learning through our summer and extra learning,” Croce said. “We’ve done after school tutoring and have a fairly robust summer program this year, including transportation for students.”
The remaining allocation that will be issued in the spring is still in the planning stages, according to Croce. The state received over $410 million from the American Rescue Plan, also known as ASRP III.
“Our preliminary allocation is just over $13 million, and 20 percent of the grant must cover learning loss,” Croce said. “So, we will have to come up with a plan that specifically addresses loss of academic opportunity for our students. The proposal also requires districts to post, online, their safe return to in-person instruction. There have been several changes in the protocols, and we are working on getting all that posted. We will need to get that posted soon after we receive the funding.”
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