By Barry Dragon, Vice President of EH&A/MGT
Over the past 18 months, much has changed in the world; and even more specifically in K-12 education. Where a mere year ago many school districts were looking at the financial impacts of declining enrollment combined with an anticipated $54 Billion deficit at the state level, a year later the Governor has projected a current-year surplus of almost $76 Billion!
This “V-shaped” recovery is the result of significant increases in state revenues as well as the significant resources provided to states by the federal government in the form of both the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 – commonly referred to as ESSER II and the American Rescue Plan – more commonly referred to as ESSER III funding.
As you well know a significant portion of these funds have only recently been provided to school districts and come as a welcome relief from the strain many districts have been facing in recent years from declining enrollment as well as the extraordinary costs incurred in trying to provide students with different modalities for learning (in-school, distance learning, hybrids, etc.)
Having said that, there remains a complex set of circumstances that must be acknowledged and understood within which this funding exists including:
- Acknowledgement that ESSER funding comes with some “strings attached” including various timelines to which Districts must adhere;
- Districts needing to address the significant “Learning Loss” that has occurred over the course of the pandemic;
- Focusing on “Equity” as learning losses appear to be disproportionately and negatively affecting students of color as well as those students in higher-poverty districts;
- The inherent challenge and tension that arises in finding a balance between addressing both short-term and long-term goals with ESSER funds
- Identifying and implementing new learning models given the emergence of various learning approaches during the pandemic (e.g., hybrid learning; personalized learning; the science of learning)
All of these challenges exist in an environment in which many school districts and their leadership continue to be confronted with the reality of aging educational facilities without the sufficient resources to remedy the situation. While there appears to be some latitude in the use of ESSER I, II, and III funds, there are some conditions associated with their use.
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