Many of the items included in President Biden’s budget proposals are both groundbreaking and unprecedented. While there has been a great deal of press focused on the expansion of free education, including preschool and early college, those aren’t the only elements causing school administrators and the general public to sit up and take notice.
For instance, take the historical levels of support being offered from the federal government for schools at every economic level. In particular, the plan includes significant funding to help schools in need. Federal funding for these schools is intended to level the playing field between previously underserved and under-supported schools and their better-funded counterparts.
What’s included in the new education plan to help these schools? What are the best ways for schools in need to use these incoming federal funds to return to regular learning, while also increasing student safety?
Helping Schools in Need
There are many proposals within the new education plan intended to help traditionally underserved schools from multiple angles. These include access to quality educators, expanded family support through wrap-around services, and grants given directly to the schools themselves. These proposals double the funding for high-poverty school districts through the Title I program.
One example is the community school program. It offers wrap-around services for low-income and poverty-level families, supporting more than just the educational life of the student. The funding under the new education plan would increase from $30 million to more than $400 million.
In addition, $100 billion of the proposal is allocated specifically to infrastructure improvements for aging schools. This addresses the fact that many of the school buildings in underrepresented communities and neighborhoods are more than fifty years old and badly need updates and repairs.
Regarding school staffing, the new education plan also introduces the Grow Your Own teacher program. It will make it easier for educators of color to complete their education and training, expanding the available pool of diverse qualified teachers.
Lastly, with a nod to the importance of nutrition for a student’s ability to learn, the plan lowers the threshold for meal programs, including various nutritional programs and the Summer EBT meal program.
Making Smart Investments in Your School
For administrators who have been holding together an underfunded school, the new funding may seem like a windfall. But at the individual school level, that money will need to be spent wisely to make the greatest impact.
Behavior and Absence Management in the Face of Learning Loss
First, it’s crucial that some funding be allotted to ensure that students in need can return to schools safely. Research shows that all students suffered learning loss during the pandemic shutdowns. However, students of color were disproportionately impacted by this learning loss.
This learning gap can leave students feeling lost as they return to school. It becomes easy to get frustrated due to falling behind, and that frustration can play out in several ways, including acting out in the classroom and absences or truancies.
Schools in need must be especially vigilant as they return to the classroom to ensure that behavioral issues don’t impact individual students or the school as a whole. Administrators should consider investing in tools that can help teachers record behavioral issues so patterns can be seen and identified and additional support can be brought in.
Second, absenteeism must be addressed as early as possible. Clear and accurate attendance tracking takes the guesswork out of absences, enabling teachers and administrative staff to easily identify struggling students.
Nutritional Program Administration
Nutritional programs will be a boon for many students and families. However, as these programs are rolled out, schools need to have systems in place to identify eligible students and track participation and protect those using the programs.
School lunch shaming occurs more often to students of color. Schools in underserved and underfunded districts must consider what can be done to shift emphasis away from how lunches are purchased.
Tools like smart ID cards can serve multiple purposes. They can contribute to accurate attendance taking, support school security, and serve as a means for students to purchase meals without needing to disclose how their lunches are funded.
Visitor Management for Infrastructure Work and General Safety
Crumbling buildings, broken HVAC systems, and unsecured doors and entryways are key areas that can be addressed with infrastructure funding under the new education plan. However, as this work is being done, schools will see considerably more foot traffic from contractors and other visitors.
For the safety of students and staff, visitors should be vetted and tagged and their movements within school buildings monitored and restricted. The validation process can be cumbersome, though, without the assistance of technology.
A visitor management system can add security to a school that lasts well beyond the point when infrastructure improvements are done. It can also be a cornerstone of safety during the upgrades and repairs. Visitors, contractors, and delivery drivers can be quickly vetted, with automated sex offender checks being performed, location tracing provided, and incoming packages tracked.
The Biden education plan offers historical levels of federal funding for public schools. It offers schools in low-income communities the opportunity to better help those students with the greatest need to see a brighter future. But that bright future isn’t a given, and it’s not something that money will fix if the funds aren’t used in productive ways.
School administrators need to carefully consider the investments that will help get students safely back into classrooms and support them through the challenges that they face due to COVID-19. They also need to consider how to close the gap for those students from traditionally disadvantaged schools and backgrounds. The key will be investing in the tools and resources that enable administrators and staff to identify students in need, track and report on program participation, and keep schools safe today and in 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!