One challenge school administrators face is how to keep funding in their districts, especially as enrollment in public schools continues to decline. As public school funding is often directly tied to student enrollment, administrators around the country are having to make difficult decisions to ensure there is no delay in student learning like combining classrooms, laying off staff, and in some instances, closing schools entirely.
As someone who has worked in a variety of administrator roles from a principal in Miami-Dade County Public Schools to the President and Chief Executive Officer of Florida Virtual School (FLVS), I know what that pressure feels like, especially when our ultimate goal is to do what is best for our students and staff.
While there were certainly enrollment declines pre-pandemic, COVID-19 has continued to exacerbate the issue, as more than half of all parents considered or are considering choosing a new school for their children, with 17 percent of parents indicating they chose a new school for their children within the past year, 11 percent considered new schools, and 26 percent are currently considering new schools. Additionally, 48 percent of parents said their community does not offer enough education options for them.
My recommendation for school leaders is to develop online or blended learning programs. By doing so, they can keep students enrolled in their school or district by providing them with alternative forms of education that best fit their needs. And, right now, school administrators have access to a time-sensitive resource to help create these programs – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.
ESSER Funds to Support Digital Programs
ESSER funds were established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the CARES Act to address the impact that COVID-19 had on elementary and secondary schools across the nation. And while some of these funds have helped with initial impacts brought on by the pandemic – like sanitization efforts, the purchase of PPE, like masks, hand sanitizer, and more, there are even more ways schools and districts can use the funds to innovative, invest, and improve their technological infrastructure and digital tools.
In November 2022, McKinsey & Company conducted a survey that revealed more than 90 percent of district administrators have faced challenges deploying stimulus funds effectively and by the end of the 2021-22 school year, districts spent an estimated $45 billion of the total $175 billion of available funds, leaving approximately $130 billion dollars to allocate. As the deadline to spend the remaining ESSER II funds quickly approaches on September 30, 2023 and ARP ESSER funds on September 30, 2024, now is the time educators must decide what to use their remaining funds on to help their students, families, and staff.
Right now, school and district leaders can use their remaining ESSER funds to create innovative alternative education options like online, blended, or hybrid learning programs. And I don’t mean programs like emergency remote learning that the majority of students experienced during COVID, I mean true online learning, which supports students and empowers educators with evidence-based approaches, offers professional development for instructors, develops courses specifically designed for the online environment, and provides flexibility for students to communicate one-on-one with teachers.
True online, blended, and hybrid learning programs have evolved over the years due to new technology advancements. For example, at Florida Virtual School, engaging digital curriculum and tools allow teachers to have more one-on-one interaction with students. Plus, learning management systems provide teachers with real-time student performance data to understand who needs additional assistance. Digital courses also offer interactive modules that feature activities, games, videos, and more to enhance student comprehension and give them the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.
With these new advancements, our education system is on the brink of a revolution that will empower parents and students to take control of their educational journey and allow teachers to work with each student in a more individualized way.
Let’s create innovative programs directly through the schools to give families the flexibility they need while keeping funding within the district. That way, they can stay with the best educational option for them to meet all their educational goals.