As school districts across the country make plans for their stimulus funding, it’s critical that they prioritize the purchases that will spur equitable student growth.
To ensure short-term relief funds have a long-term impact, here are three key strategies district and school leaders can utilize.
Strategy #1: Understand how the funding works and consider its intention.
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 relief legislation is complex.
The CARES, CRRSA, and ARP Acts directed billions of dollars to the Education Stabilization Fund, which then splits into three primary funds:
- The Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) Fund: Allocated to State Education Agencies (SEAs), who then award at least 90 percent to Local Education Agencies (LEAs)/districts (87.5 percent in the ARP Act).
- The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund: Awarded at the Governor’s discretion to address the highest priority needs across K-12 and public higher education institutions.
- The Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund: Emergency funding for postsecondary institutions.
The government outlined “allowable uses” for the funds, which are, in general, centered around safely reopening and operating schools, advancing equity for underserved students, and accelerating student achievement.
While the CRRSA and ARP Acts include the same allowable uses as the CARES Act, they additionally emphasize assessing and addressing student learning loss. Investments made with relief funding must align to an acceptable use, and leaders must be prepared to provide relevant justification and appropriate documentation.
For more answers to your K-12 stimulus funding questions, check out this free resource.
Strategy #2: Focus on building whole child data systems.
Sadly, we know now that the pandemic and resultant remote learning exacerbated inequities for many students. While some of these impacts are already apparent, educators should expect other areas of need to come to light in the upcoming school years. For this reason, districts and schools should focus on equity-based multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) or response to intervention (RTI) frameworks for early identification and intervention.
Additionally, leaders must take a step back and review existing assessment systems to ensure balance. This means having both academic and social-emotional behavior (SEB) screening and progress monitoring, with standards-based interim assessments and real-time formative processes.
With a comprehensive assessment system in place, educators can better understand students’ strengths and needs, as well as monitor their growth over time.
Strategy #3: Foster deep assessment and data literacy among educators.
Research has confirmed that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement.
Considering the unique challenges that educators have faced – and the many surely ahead as the full effects of the pandemic on students’ academic and social emotional wellbeing come to light – it’s imperative that districts invest in professional learning and related resources to support teachers and administrators.
Specifically, leaders should focus on extending access to professional development opportunities that are both actionable and aligned to larger, strategic and sustainable initiatives, like MTSS.
And, because data are only as good as how they’re used, teachers must develop expertise in reliable data collection and accurate interpretation to drive decisions. Investing in relevant, job-embedded professional learning now can help to develop data and assessment literacy among educators and build a positive school-wide culture of data that long outlasts the funding itself.
A lasting effect on student success
To realize the real intention of the relief funding and maximize its impact, districts must invest in the right evidence-based instructional strategies, interventions, training, and technology tools. By making the most of stimulus monies, schools and districts have an opportunity to make one-time funding yield a long-term effect on student success.
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