During a webcast with superintendents this week, the Kentucky Department of Education provided more information about the next round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief federal funding, of which Daviess County Public Schools is supposed to receive $8.16 million and the city schools district is slated to receive $6 million.
Kentucky will receive about $928 million in this second round of ESSER funding, which KDE officials have called the largest and most flexible allocation of discretionary K-12 funding in history. This amount is at least four or five times the amount districts received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, and it can be used for eligible expenses dating back to March 13, 2020.
Jason Glass, state commissioner of education, asked superintendents to discuss within their districts where the funds will be best spent and where the most need exists.
According to KDE, the money can be used for addressing learning loss due to the pandemic, including payment for methods of assessment and tracking; repairs and improvements to school buildings related to health needs and cutting disease transmission; to pay for nurses, mental health professionals and emergency leave days for employees; and as teacher salaries to support intervention and remediation services, along with substitute teachers when regular personnel are absent on COVID-19 isolation or quarantine.
Both Owensboro Public Schools and Daviess County Public Schools superintendents have applauded the loose parameters for the funding, and have said they are pleased there won’t be a lot of “red tape” in rolling out these much-need dollars.
Matthew Constant, OPS superintendent, said the district is focusing on spending some of the funds toward summer programming for students, which is currently being organized. He said each district school is planning specialized programming and targeting specific kids to come in.
The district also plans to invest in more technology, which has been “very essential” throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Constant said.
“We are going to get more Chromebooks for students, and we are going to continue to assist families with internet access as needed,” he said. “We don’t know yet when the end of COVID will be, in terms of everyone back in school. We will continue to support families up until that time when some of the funds.”
The money can be spent over a two-year period, so the district is also looking to hire more staff to help with small group intervention services. Constant said he and other officials are trying to figure out how many of those interventionists they can afford and how to fairly distribute those across the district.
The positions will be posted and advertised for two years. They would then be dissolved as the funds would run out in that time, Constant said.
The district is also looking at “beefing up” its technology staff and using the money to help mitigate some budgetary losses that have occurred in the last year due to staffing issues, Constant said.
Matt Robbins, DCPS superintendent, said one of the biggest budget losses the district has incurred has been the creation of its virtual academy. That was developed on the fly and additional personnel had to be hired along with technology purchases.
There also has been some budgetary loss within the food service department, Robbins said.
However, one of the biggest expenses planned for these ESSER funds will be summer programming. Like OPS, county schools educators are looking toward a learning plan that will best suit students’ individual needs, Robbins said.
“We know the academic need is clearly there, we also know the social/emotional need is clearly there,” he said. “We are going to have to meet the whole child where they are. They are all at different places of need.”
Some students have thrived under the virtual learning model but others have not, he said.
The district is looking ahead to what offerings can be provided in the summer, and how to make it meaningful but fun. The district is also looking at a program for early education students to participate in just before the start of the new school year to help prepare them for their next level of learning.
Both superintendents say more information about summer programming, and other offerings, will be provided over the course of the next month to give families plenty of time to prepare, as well as give educators a chance to weigh in on where the most need lies.