In March 2021, the Department of Education announced the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funding as part of President Biden’s education plans focused on recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The plan has created a $122-billion fund to provide schools with the resources that they need to recover from the health crisis that shut schools down and pivoted students and staff into remote learning. While the fund’s focus is to assist those schools that were hit hardest by the pandemic, all districts will receive funding under the plan. The Biden education fund includes provisions for staffing, behavioral supports, learning loss, and related infrastructure improvements.
These funds are a welcome form of relief. However, you may be wondering how to make the most of your district’s allocation. With careful planning, schools can use the money to help them recover, while also setting themselves up to be safe and productive even after 2020 becomes a history lesson.
What’s Included in Biden’s Education Recovery Fund
President Biden’s education recovery plan is broad in its scope of what is allowable for helping schools recover from the pandemic and prepare for any future outbreaks.
The funding allows and in some cases, requires that the money be used for things like staffing, learning loss, and evidence-based programs. These include:
- Prioritization of funding for in-person learning, which includes hiring new educators to ensure the safe distancing of students when needed and to keep students well supported
- Maintenance of existing educators and support staff
- Campus improvements, such as ventilation improvements and acquisition of additional space
- Implementation of strategies to support social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs for those hit hardest by the pandemic
- Learning loss and supplemental programs, such as summer and after-school programs, enrichment programs, and extended learning
- Additional hiring of nurses, counselors, and custodial staff, as well as the acquisition of safety equipment like PPEs
- Funding for Wi-Fi hotspots and devices for students without connectivity for remote learning
- Supporting staff and training with effective use of technology
How Are Funds Allocated?
In late March 2021, the Biden education plan released an initial $81 billion to get the ball rolling for the program. The rest becomes available after states submit their plan for safe school reopening and needs. In total, the plan includes $122 billion in relief funding.
These funds will be distributed initially to state educational agencies (SEAs). Districts and local educational agencies (LEAs) must apply to their SEA to receive the funds. Allocations are part of a formula grant for each state based on the state’s level of Title I, Part A funding. The US Department of Education has published the allocations that each state should expect in March and in total.
Of the funds that a state receives, they may only keep at most 10%. The remaining 90% must be distributed to districts based on each district’s share of the Title I, Part A funds. However, of the funds received, LEAs must use at least 20% on programs and strategies to address learning loss.
Planning to Use the Funds in Your School
As noted, the act includes significant funds for learning loss management, summer enrichment programs, and even emotional and behavioral support. The money is also intended for the implementation of systems and preparation for future virus outbreaks.
Students must be in the classroom for educational programs to be effective. Research has shown, time and again, that chronic absenteeism is a key indicator of students who are struggling and a predictor of performance.
It can be challenging for administrators to keep tabs on attendance when they are embroiled in other tasks intended to get students safely back in the classroom. Having comprehensive and measurable attendance data available through a clear dashboard like ScholarChip’s Automated Attendance platform enables educators to quickly see red flags. This platform also doubles as a tool for contact tracing, supporting preparation for new potential outbreaks.
Challenges with learning loss and the pressures of returning to school can manifest in ways other than absenteeism. Returning students can feel overwhelmed or lost within lessons or even have a hard time adapting back to a classroom environment. Frustration and anxiety can appear as acting out, aggression, and outbursts in the classroom.
It’s crucial to have accurate data and recordings of these types of encounters, just like tracking absences. Assistance for these students should be available quickly to do the most good. But with students moving from class to class or having staggered schedules, it can be challenging to identify a growing problem early. The ability to log behavioral issues centrally means that support staff and counselors can get involved at the right time, getting students the help that they need.
While maintaining a healthy environment is a major concern during these times, the daily safety of students remains the responsibility of the school. However, extended and summer programs can present problems because staff numbers reduce outside of the regular school day. Students and staff may have irregular schedules with additional programs in place, making access control an integral part of planning and implementing extended educational programs and after-school learning. SmartID cards can simplify access, permitting only those authorized for building access to have entry without needing to significantly increase staff.
Even with access management handled, infrastructure improvements, like ventilation updates, classroom reconfigurations and build-outs, and enhanced technology and Wi-Fi solutions, can result in contractors and visitors going in and out of the building frequently. This, too, can create safety concerns. A visitor management system can be part of these programs under the Biden education act, validating non-staff as they enter the building with historical and real-time information.
The ESSER will help schools return to a semblance of normality, turn the tide on learning loss, protect educator jobs and educational resources, and help districts prepare for future outbreaks and similar challenges in the future.
Effective use of the funds, however, will require careful consideration. Schools need tools to ensure that students are in class, that their needs are met, and that the overall environment is safe. The Biden education funds can help schools do these things, while also improving the overall environment and educational potential of the district’s students. This is an opportunity for districts and schools to do good today while supporting the learning environment and safety of students and staff for years to come.
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!