School districts across the region are planning to ramp up staffing to offer math and reading interventions, expand before and after school programs and much more using a massive infusion of federal school aid over the next three years.
Districts are required to post plans for spending their federal allotments by the end of Thursday and, while many districts had yet to post plans as of Wednesday, drafts and the few posted final plans offer insight into how districts intend to invest the federal aid.
The flow of money directly to school districts, which can be spent through the 2023-2024 school year, is not insubstantial: nearly 60 school districts across seven Capital Region counties are set to receive a combined $393 million in the special federal support.
Districts, though, must be cautious to spend the money on so-called non-recurring expenses to avoid establishing new ongoing expenses funded through aid that will dry up after a couple of years. Plans and draft plans posted so far focus on funding educator positions that will be temporary and focus on providing intervention services to students identified as struggling in core subject areas as school returns to in-person instruction next school year.
The federal investment could start even sooner as districts dip into the funds to offer new or expanded summer programs over the coming months – another effort to help younger students catch up in areas they have fallen behind in or give older students a chance to make up course credits they need to graduate.
Districts are also planning to use the aid to purchase new classroom technology, expanding computer access for students or outfitting classrooms with new technology that could facilitate remote or hybrid instruction. Districts are also planning to ramp up mental health services for students, a key area of need after students worked through the difficulty of social isolation over the past two school years. Some districts will use the money to improve ventilation, continue COVID-19 testing and source personal protective equipment in preparation for the potential of some continued health precautions next year.
“The funds are intended to provide districts with short-term resources to assist in recovering from the effects of the pandemic on the education process,” Duanesburg Superintendent James Niedermeier wrote in a message soliciting public input on a draft plan earlier in June.
That Duanesburg draft plan, covering nearly $1.5 million in federal support, envisions door and window replacements, technology upgrades in classrooms, coaching for special education teachers, expanded intervention service, afterschool tutoring, transportation for pre-kindergarten students and more.
The full extent of the plans remains unclear as many districts in the region have yet to publish plans on their websites ahead of a July 1 deadline to do so.
A review of more than 30 school districts’ websites on Wednesday showed that few districts had clearly posted a final version of their spending plans. State law requires districts “on or before July 1… to post on its website a plan by school year of how such funds will be expended,” according to legislative language passed as part of the annual state budget approved in the spring. Districts were also required to “see public comments from parents, teachers and other stakeholders” as they developed the plans.
While many districts have posted draft plans, held public hearings during board meetings and offered online surveys to solicit public input, only three out of the 32 districts examined had posted a final version of the plan in an easy-to-find spot on their website as of early Wednesday afternoon.
Canajoharie, Stillwater and Fort Plain school districts, for example, had clear links to the final version of their spending plans posted on their homepages on Wednesday.
The Canajoharie plan, which accounts for over $4.7 million in federal aid, calls for using $668,000 next school year and $571,000 the following school year to cover the salary and benefits of teachers, support staff, cleaners and secretaries to “ensure our buildings are open and stay open.”
The federal aid would also support four teachers and two aides over the next couple of years to focus specifically on academic intervention students; three years of afterschool tutoring; three years of summer school programming; three years of funds for school clubs and activities; field trips and other student enrichment activities; teacher training; classroom supplies; computer replacements and more.
The plan would step down the spending each of the next three school years: spending nearly $1.5 million next school year, just over $1 million during the 2022-2023 school year and just under $1 million during the 2023-2024 school year. The money promises to support a lot of school initiatives over the next three years.
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