The ARP ESSER III grant has been released. This grant has a few more requirements than prior grants. One requirement being the planning process. The ARP grant requires engaging in meaningful consultation with stakeholders and soliciting public input and considering this input in the development of the plan. Yes, this has been required for the regular Title grants, however, ARP ESSER is more specific. Stakeholders include a wide variety of members including the normal school stakeholders such as students, families, and teachers and administrators, and it includes a broader more specific community stakeholder group such as tribes, civil rights organizations, and stakeholders representing children with disabilities, English learners, homeless, foster care, migratory, incarcerated children, and underserved students. Since Federal Program Directors have about 30-days to complete the grant, the solicitation and planning process must take place within this time frame. So how does one do this?
In my district, as well as several other districts with whom I have had contact, we put on our website and social media accounts a link to a simple four-question survey. This survey asked for input on how to spend funds to meet the 20% requirement for learning loss, how to spend funds to prevent and mitigate the spread of Covid-19, how to use funds for aiding in student achievement, classroom instruction, and virtual learning, and the role of the person answering the survey. This survey included the strategies the district had plus a request for “other” input. Through the public solicitation of school and community input, we feel we did what we could in the time frame allowed to meet the requirements of the grant. After this survey was administered, the results were then shared in a virtual planning meeting. The virtual meeting and zoom link information were publicized on the district website and social media allowing for any stakeholder to participate.
Another new requirement for this grant is the requirement of spending at least 20% of the allocated amount to address learning loss. The proposed activities should be in addition to the normal school day instruction. For many, this means adding interventionists, intervention programs, before and after-school programs, and summer school. The Mississippi Department of Education did clarify that during-the-day interventions would count towards the 20% requirement. Not only did we budget for the additional intervention personnel, we budgeted for them for the FY22, FY23, and FY24 school years. I’m sure a key piece to this requirement will be having evidence of the effectiveness of the implemented strategies. The grant application asks for the data points and frequency of the assessment of the effectiveness. I suggest that this data be kept throughout the year and from year to year. I also suggest that data be kept for the subgroups: poverty, ethnicity, English Learners, students with disabilities, homeless students, foster students, migrant students, etc.
There has been much discussion on using these funds to to pay for existing teachers and staff in all areas of the district, replace old buses, or spend funds on other standard district functions. I would approach this carefully and remember the intent of the law. The intent of the ARP legislation is to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools, address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s students, and address needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic. This would be additional funds to address new needs outside the normal operations of a school district. One thing to keep in mind is that even though a state department of education may approve the grant, if the federal government does a review or audit and finds the expenditure unallowable, the district may still have to pay back the funds.
Good luck as you plan and implement your grant. May you and your school district personnel stay safe and well.