School leaders have been dealing with tight budgets for more than a decade. The Great Recession forced states to slash funding, and local taxpayers, struggling financially through the slow recovery, couldn’t make up the difference. On the federal level, the previous administration sought to decrease its role in education. While most of the proposed cuts weren’t adopted, state and local education agencies could not expect much additional help from Washington for school programs.
The pandemic added new burdens. The sudden shift to remote learning and the need for increased sanitation measures and PPE created unplanned expenses. For the upcoming school year, the costs of reopening, addressing learning losses, and providing support services for staff and students are forcing schools to dip deep into reserves. Federal lawmakers, recognizing the problem, included a third round of Elementary and Secondary Emergency School Relief (ESSER) funds to the March 2021 American Rescue Plan. Additional relief may be coming, as the proposed Biden education budget significantly increases federal funding to schools.
The health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic came suddenly, and most organizations were caught off guard. School leaders may want to take advantage of these new funds to upgrade security systems so they may be better prepared for the next emergency.
The Changing Nature of Threats to Schools
School safety and security once meant calling snow days for bad weather, taking measures to prevent vandalism to school buildings, and monitoring cases of the stomach flu. This changed at the turn of the century, when high-profile incidents of school violence had parents demanding that districts harden buildings against hostile intruders. The dual national initiatives, “Every Student Every Day” and the “Stop Bullying” campaign, cast truancy and bullying as not only academically harmful but also damaging to school culture, creating security threats. The global pandemic, while it may be a once-in-a-century event, has again changed the way that schools must think about student and staff safety.
ESSER Funds to Address School Safety
The legislation authorizing ESSER III funds emphasizes the need to safely reopen schools. Although the widespread availability of vaccines has reduced the COVID-19 threat, children younger than age twelve and those with compromised immune systems remain vulnerable. Pfizer plans to seek approval for the use of its vaccine in school-aged children in September or October 2021, which is not in time to inoculate students before the start of the 2021-22 school year.
The CDC currently recommends that schools continue with sanitation protocols, facial covering requirements, social distancing, testing, and contact tracing. Vaccination rates vary widely across the country, so school leaders must be aware of local positivity rates and outbreaks when determining which restrictions are necessary. Schools will need to coordinate with public health services to monitor community spread. ESSER funds may be used for all these activities.
A theme of the current Washington Administration is, “Build Back Better,” and this includes schools. Districts may apply federal emergency funds to not only rebuilding programs but also improving them. To this end, adding academic services, assessments, and diagnostics and upgrading educational technology are allowable uses of federal grants.
The Proposed Biden Education Budget
The President’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget is only a proposal, and there is no doubt that it will be whittled down by Congress. However, the increased Title I and IDEA funding that the President seeks demonstrates the administration’s priorities. More money allocated to these programs will relieve some of the stress on school budgets. Congress is also negotiating infrastructure legislation that includes funds for modernizing school buildings and bus fleets. Now may be the best time to invest in upgrades to school security systems.
Upgrade Technology for a Safer School Environment
With the multi-hazard nature of the school environment, school security plans need to include more than building hardening measures, such as security officers and metal detectors. Investment in new technology can provide an umbrella of protection by facilitating communications, controlling access to buildings, automating behavior management, and compiling the data necessary to make informed safety decisions.
Automated Visitor Management
Systems to track school visitors—parents, substitutes, vendors, and others—are often no more than a sign-in sheet at the school’s entrance, inadequate to meet today’s needs. A computerized visitor management system that requires guests to scan a driver’s license or another form of ID can screen out unwelcome visitors. Such a system may be integrated with the school’s student information system and law enforcement agencies to flag issues with custody, orders of protection, and sex offender status. With these systems, school administrators will know, in real time, who is in a building, which is critical information in an emergency. The data gathered is also available for contact-tracing purposes.
The Benefits of Secure Door Access with Smart ID Cards
RFID-enabled identification cards give staff and students access to buildings and specific areas of a building, while keeping out those who are unauthorized. With these systems, cardholders can swipe or tap their card to open doors and record their presence. Students and staff members each have a unique set of permissions, so they may only go where they are authorized to be. Doors may be controlled from a remote administration dashboard, and an entire building can be locked down with one command.
Smart ID cards automatically record student attendance, relieving the need for teachers to take attendance and enter data manually at the start of the school day. Automated attendance systems make it easier to identify absenteeism issues and address them before they become chronic and put a student at risk.
In an emergency lockdown or evacuation situation, administrators will know immediately who is in the building. Mobile smart card readers enable this function to be used on buses and during field trips and extra-curricular activities.
Automated Behavior Management
Socialization is an integral part of any school program, and the isolation of remote learning has left its mark on many students. Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and underserved communities seem to have suffered the most. Learning and the cohesiveness of the school community are in jeopardy. ESSER funds and a new Title I Equity Fund in the Biden education budget seek to mitigate these problems. Adopting an automated behavior management system is one solution to address the deficits that students have in social emotional learning.
Interactive computer lessons enable students to progress at their own pace as they learn about social expectations and norms. These systems feature reporting functions that enable teachers, counselors, and administrators to track student growth and identify when additional intervention may be necessary. Faculty members may quickly add notes as they observe a student’s behavior, and these notes will become part of a file that follows a student through their academic career. When integrated with SIS and attendance systems, automated behavior management offers schools a complete and consistent way to address discipline problems.
The pandemic has stretched school resources and reopening safety protocols adds more burdens. Most states are dealing with their own pandemic-related fiscal crises and are unable to boost school funding. The federal government recognizes this and is making unprecedented funding increases to schools. School leaders may take advantage of this to invest in upgrades that will secure the health and safety of students and staff into the future.
The ScholarChip team is dedicated to helping school leaders maximize the safety and well-being of students and the entire school community.
Want to talk more about creating an actionable plan for these funds to help close the learning loss and make reopening effective and safe? Feel free to chat with one of our specialists today!