Indianapolis schools help students with federal stimulus funding

INDIANAPOLIS — School districts across the state are using federal funds to help support learning in the COVID-19 era.

Nationally, public and private K-12 schools have been receiving money from the various COVID-19 relief packages. The Associated Press reports that since March 2020, the federal government has provided $190 billion in pandemic aid to schools. This is more than four times what the U.S. Education Department spends on K-12 schools in a typical year.

The Associated Press tallied how much money was granted to nearly every school district in the country. In Indiana, the Associated Press found that Marion County schools got a total of $685 million in federal funding split between public school districts and charter schools.

The data shows that Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) got more total funding than all of the charter schools put together. The district received $232,024,737 compared to the total of $166,333,282 given to public charter schools in Marion County.

IPS reports that it has used $14.8 million of the funding as of August 2021. The spending has gone towards promoting learning acceleration, enhancing technology, and investing in safety and facilities.

The district has plans to spend more of the funding on a number of projects ranging from PPE to cybersecurity investments.

Among the projects is investing in Navigate360, a service that provides safety assessments and software to help school districts prepare for and manage emergency situations.

This project was approved following community feedback stating the need for mental health support at all schools.

M.S.D. Wayne Township received the second-largest amount of federal funding at $57,254,423. School officials say they came together as a district to prioritize their spending.

“We had approximately 7 committees of different areas within the district, from operations to learning to, really curricular aspects of the district and those committees consisted of principals, assistant principals, district leaders to really come together with the ideas that we brought forward of how we were going to spend these those committees ultimately are what drove the ideas behind this,” said Barry Gardner, Chief Financial Officer for MSD Wayne Township.

The district used the funding to help support students with several initiatives including bringing in specialists to give students individualized attention to get them back on track.

One such program funded by the district’s ESSER funding is Level Up. This is a two-year pilot program that uses communication and data-driven information to meet struggling students where they are at and take them where they need to go.

“So many of our seniors, especially, had become credit deficient and they needed that extra support to be successful to be able to graduate,” said Renee Pack, Supervisor of the Level Up program.

The district brought on a team to work with the students, supporting them and setting goals. They follow up with the students and hold them accountable.

“These are kids that are capable. They’re so capable, but they got hit with a really, really detrimental period during their schooling, and it’s set them back but they are working hard and they’re digging themselves out and I have no doubt that with the help of our coaches and this program, they’re going to be a success.”

Renee Pack, Supervisor of the Level Up program

The money did not only go to school districts. Victory College Prep Academy is a public K-12 charter school that serves approximately 900 students. They received the most federal funds out of the charter schools at $11,029,600.

Ryan Gall, executive director for Victory College Prep said they focused on growing their academic team with the funding.

“If this federal funding is about helping our students recover from pandemic impacts, why wouldn’t we grow our team to create more individualized attention and more capacity to meet student needs on a day-to-day basis?”

Ryan Gall, Victory College Prep Executive Director

The school also used the funding to update existing, and invest in new technology along with refreshing the look of the school with new flooring, paint, and equipment.

While 20% of the funding must be used to address learning setbacks, the Associated Press reports the rest can be used on nearly any cost school officials deem “reasonable and necessary.”

Barry Gardner says M.S.D Wayne Township is using some of the funds to help address infrastructure challenges.

The district is spending money on getting devices to students to let them learn online easier along with the devices to make sure they have a stable internet connection.

The district is also spending money on making sure the HVAC system within the district is maintained to support comfortable in-person learning.

“We’ve been able to expedite some progress on our 25-year maintenance plan that’s going to allow us to upgrade some of those infrastructure systems for our students, which creates better air quality control, which creates a better environment for student learning,” Gardner said.

Even with the extra funding, Wayne Township is aware that it will not address long-term financial sustainability challenges.

The federal funding must be spent by September 2024. Barry Gardner says this creates a challenge for them to make sure the funding is spent responsibly.

“You had such a short time period to not only plan out the uses of those dollars in a strategic way to maximize them, but you also had such a short time to use those dollars,” Gardner said. “I think what you’re going to see from districts will also be that they are having to amend some of their original plans because what was budgeted close to a year ago may not be playing out the way we thought it might here a year later.  

You can find a full list of how much money school districts received below: