The climate of school funding has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Even before COVID took over the world, administrators faced tough funding decisions. The pandemic exacerbated this as districts tried to make virtual learning possible for every child, which required the quick implementation of virtual learning programs, and devices for all. Now public districts are having to implement and maintain a healthy, safe environment for students and staff’s return, which is also costly. The Learning Policy Institute reports that the pandemic has cost public schools up to an estimated $246 billion. Add this on top of a worsening declining student enrollment trend with increasing teacher attrition, and it’s clear to see that this already critical situation for the nation’s districts can easily become disastrous if not addressed.
Public schools face a growing competitive environment as families have a myriad of choices in how and where their children receive an education. Chalkbeat and The Associated Press reported, “…data from 33 states obtained shows that public K-12 enrollment [in Fall 2020] dropped across those states by more than 500,000 students, or 2%, since the same time last year.” The math is simple here: lower student enrollment equals less district funding. Another unfortunate reality is that many economically disadvantaged students will endure greater impacts, creating an even more significant educational equity gap, which the President is beginning to address with hopes of doubling Title 1 dollars. This would be the largest increase since the program was created more than 55 years ago, according to The Washington Post. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reviewed several studies and reports that, “Research has shown that money matters in education. Adequate school funding helps raise high school completion rates, close achievement gaps, and make the future workforce more productive by boosting student outcomes.”
What should districts prioritize to maximize spending impacts?
It’s that time of year when it comes to budgets— use it or lose it. But as we all know, this year is much different from any we’ve seen before. The questions that district leaders face now are more complex and, at times, unprecedented. If only we could get a dollar every time we’ve heard that term in the last year, right?
In some areas, schools and districts are still uncertain about the future of their funding. Not only do they have to decide how to spend the rest of the Title Funds and grants, but there are also the newly awarded American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. Decisions are being made at many levels, federal, state, and local, on how to divvy up the dollars. Is the school being held “harmless” for student enrollment loss but hasn’t yet received additional ARP funds, or has the school or district been awarded the ARP funds but isn’t sure what the suitable investments are? The flexibility of the ARP leaves many open doors for administrators to make wise investments that will aid in sustainable futures for their districts. What should districts prioritize to maximize the impact of their spending, especially with dynamic shifts in priorities? According to the U.S. Department of Education, the ARP funds can be used in many ways, including but not limited to:
Avoiding devastating layoffs and hiring additional educators to address learning loss, providing support to students and existing staff, and providing sufficient staffing to facilitate social distancing.
Implementing strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students hit hardest by the pandemic, including through evidence-based interventions and critical services like community schools.
Investing in resources to implement CDC’s K-12 operational strategy for in-person learning to keep educators, staff, and students safe. Also providing equitable access to technology, programs, enrollment processes, and devices for all, including English Language Learners (ELL).