In March, 2021, the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan, which includes significant funding for K-12 schools. The majority of these dollars will flow directly to districts based on their numbers of eligible Title I students.
These funds can be used for many different expenses, but the administration has made clear these dollars should prioritize reopening school buildings for in-person learning and addressing learning losses resulting from the effects of the pandemic.
These funds are one-time funds that must be used September 30, 2023. https://www.ncsl.org/ncsl-in-dc/publications-and-resources/american-rescue-plan-act-of-2021.aspx
What does this mean for Nevada?
Nevada will receive an estimated $1 billion to serve its students. Though this is a relatively large amount of funding, the need is great, too.
How will it be applied? We have yet to hear specific details or plans from school districts or state leadership about the use of funding. One major concern is that Nevada has a history of using new K-12 revenue streams to supplant funding elsewhere in the state budget. As such, there is a danger that the state will reduce its already insufficient funding to schools in light of the $1 billion flowing to districts. This would mean student and school needs would be shortchanged. These needs include:
Resources for Safe and Successful School Reopening
The majority of schools in Nevada are not open for full-time, in-person learning, and there is no confirmation that school districts will begin the 2021-2022 school year fully reopened. Support to safely and successfully reopen schools was a key reason behind the infusion of federal dollars.
As President Biden stated: ”You have the vaccines, you have guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how to reopen safely, and now you have the money. Get moving and reopen schools for in-person learning.”
If the state expects federal dollars to simply fill budget holes or supplant unfunded parts of districts’ budgets, the health and safety of students, educators, staff, and families will be at risk. Federal dollars should support essential safety resources such as PPE, Covid testing, improved ventilation and sanitation. These dollars should also be available to avoid educator layoffs and pay for additional resources and/or programs to support safe schools, student learning and social and emotional health. Schools should have every resource necessary to support student needs and to implement mitigation efforts to keep everyone in the school building safe. These funds should not be used for ongoing operational costs or to fill budget holes which is the responsibility of the state.
Equity for Students Most in Need
Federal funds flow based on Title I eligibility and naturally should support students most in need.
Students of color have suffered the greatest learning loss during this pandemic, further widening the devastating achievement gap. A McKinsey report from late last year found that students of color had lost about three months’ worth of learning in math, twice as much as white students had lost. Students of color had lost a month and a half of reading. One Yale study estimated that the lack of in-person learning would deprive low-income ninth-graders of up to one-fourth of their lifetime earnings.
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, thousands of Nevada students were unaccounted for, and after several efforts to track them, hundreds were still unaccounted for. A large percentage of these students were minority or low-income students.
Nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners estimates that 3 million, mostly low-income family students, dropped out of school or failed to engage in remote learning at all. (info from New York Magazine, (https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/03/biden-veers-right-on-school-reopenings.html)
These outcomes come as no surprise given that students of color are more likely to find themselves in remote learning situations. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 68% of Asian, 58% of Black and 56% of Hispanic fourth graders were learning entirely remotely, while just 27% of White students were. Conversely, nearly half of white fourth-graders were learning full-time in person, compared with just 15% of Asian, 28% of Black and 33% of Hispanic fourth-graders.
School districts and state leadership should work with the community to discuss a plan for prioritizing funding and ensure we have transparency, benchmarks and support to open schools safely and successfully. There must be a plan to properly address learning gaps caused by the pandemic. Students and staff will need support, patience and resources to address learning and mental health needs. Meanwhile state leadership will have to develop a plan to identify revenue to replace the federal aid to ensure students do not lose the resources that are helping them succeed.