How Can Schools Meet the Criteria of the Newest Funding Influx?
The money allocated to K–12 schools in the American Rescue Plan Act is intended to help districts safely reopen their doors. As of March 1, four states ordered schools to open and six had ordered schools to partially reopen or open school for select grades, according to data compiled by Education Week. This leaves 41 states with no government mandates in effect.
To receive funding, schools must show they have a plan to bring students back, in some capacity, for in-person learning. While many schools may already have a return-to-school plan, those without one should consider talking to a business services provider with educational strategists who can help them formulate a plan. An experienced educator can share experiences working with other districts and leadership to develop a plan to share with constituents — an important step in helping school districts achieve funding eligibility.
Another requirement for K–12 schools to receive federal funding is that 20 percent of the money must be spent on programs that counter learning loss. Many schools can achieve this by putting the money toward tutoring or summer school programs, but there are also creative ways to address learning loss while also ensuring the best return on investment.
How Schools Can Maximize Their Federal Funds
The ESSER III funding is distributed first to the state governments, and schools can expect to begin receiving it in increments in May. The funding from this legislation must be spent by September 2023, so district leaders should develop a long-term plan for using it.
For the 20 percent of funding intended for addressing learning loss, educators should consider solutions that offer long-term results to get the most out of their spending. Data analytics programs, like BrightBytes, are great investments. These programs can show all student data — such as grades, test scores, GPA and attendance — on a dashboard. This allows educators to see where learning loss occurs and which students it affects most. The dashboard saves teachers and IT teams from having to manually add all of this data to spreadsheets and makes it actionable. To combat learning loss, educators have to know where it exists, and data analytics programs can help them do that.
Other creative options are tools such as interactive whiteboards. Teachers in hybrid classrooms see engagement drop when students lose interest in lectures and classwork. Interactive whiteboards increase engagement. As such, investing in technology like the Promethean ActivPanel can be considered a strategy to prevent learning loss.
Because the funding should be used to help bring students back into the classroom, district leaders could consider spending federal dollars on furniture. With upgrades to the classroom, schools can provide students with their own spaces, which meets federal requirements to aid reopening and helps students learn more effectively.
Other improvements can be made to the school building as well, such as wider hallways or improved airflow. Increasing security with updated cameras can allow schools to conduct more accurate contact tracing and to maintain safety after the pandemic.
As part of a long-term plan, schools can also spend ESSER funds on Wi-Fi 6 to update their network infrastructure. Over the next few years, districts can then be sure all of their new devices and technologies are compatible with Wi-Fi 6, instead of having to make the switch and replace everything simultaneously down the line.
This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.