ARP helps Ohio schools recover, retool and restart
The pandemic took a toll on Americans of all walks of life, especially schoolchildren and educators. Throughout the pandemic, parents, teachers and children navigated school closures, hybrid learning and constantly evolving safety protocols. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) signed by President Biden in March dedicates $122 billion to support primary and secondary education, so schools can address learning loss, retool for new safety requirements and improve technology.
Districts across Ohio will receive disbursements of the state’s $4.4 billion in ARP funds for K-12 schools, which they must spend by September 2024.
The United States Department of Education makes clear that schools must use ARP funds to:
- Open safely and remain open.
- Dedicate 20% of funds to helping students recover academically and emotionally from losing a year in the classroom.
- Prevent layoffs and hire any additional personnel to help get students back on track.
- Provide enrichment learning, summer school, and early education programs to maintain equity and aid in instructional loss during the pandemic.
- Address health and mental health needs of students.
- Ensure a safe and healthy school environment with windows that open and good air circulation through renovations and improvements to schools’ HVAC systems.
The first letter notifying state education officials of the federal funds emphasized that they must target resources to students disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, including students whose families have low incomes, English language learners, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness and foster youth. DOE rules and regulations direct districts to partner with teachers, parents, students and the larger community in planning how to spend ARP funds, and how those plans are implemented. ARP funds are meant to be spent; communities across Ohio should dig in to this once-in-a-generation chance to transform their schools and ensure that every student has equal opportunities to succeed.
How are Ohio schools using ARP funds?
School districts across Ohio have provided detailed plans to use ARP funds. Here are some highlights:
Recovering from learning loss: Hillard City Schools
Hillard City Schools used a portion of their federal dollars to create comprehensive summer learning opportunities for their students to catch up after a year out of the classroom. Students in grades K-3 with literacy challenges were encouraged to participate in a summer support program. The district created an optional summer camp called BRIDGE so K-8 students could re-engage with their peers and teachers. During the camp, the district provided students with math and reading instruction and other optional enrichment opportunities.
Addressing students’ COVID trauma: Columbus Public Schools
To satisfy ARP’s requirement that districts use the funds to support students’ social, emotional and mental health needs, Columbus Public Schools plans to hire up to 33 new school counselors so that each building in the district will have a full-time counselor on staff for student and staff support.
A safe return to school: Pickerington City Schools
Pickerington City Schools devoted a portion of their $4.1 million in ARP funds to safely getting students back in the classroom. The district laid out a plan for safety precautions for in-person instruction. The district established frequent hand-washing protocols, thorough cleaning procedures, and best practices for social distancing. Masks are optional but are strongly encouraged.
Additional teaching capacity: Dayton Public Schools
Dayton Public Schools hired nearly 90 teachers over the summer to address instructional time loss and racial disparities in reading and math scores. The district is placing two teachers in each first-, second- and third-grade classroom. Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said additional teachers will give kids more individual attention after more than a year of being out of the classroom. She plans to continue this method for the next two years, with the hope of long-term commitment after 2024.
Building safety improvements: Batavia Local Schools
Batavia Local School District plans to use a chunk of their $3.56 million in federal aid to install a needle-point bi-polar ionization system in the air handlers in all three of the buildings in the district to reduce airborne pathogens and improve the indoor air quality. These new systems will filter air through the schools to help reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19.
Boosting broadband: Lorain City Schools
Lorain City Schools plan to use a significant portion of their federal aid to address racial and economic barriers to internet access for students in the city. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance ranks Lorain as one of the Top 20 big cities in America for poor and limited access to broadband internet, which particularly harmed students during the pandemic when learning was primarily remote. To mitigate the challenges faced by low-income, Black and brown, and other disadvantaged students who were most harmed, the district launched the broadband equity initiative. The initiative builds upon existing infrastructure to provide free internet access so students can participate in remote learning outside school; and their families and neighbors can use the internet to connect with community resources, pay bills, apply for jobs online, work remotely, visit the doctor or attend parent-teacher conferences.
The pandemic recession affected students of all races and income levels and in all types of communities: rural, suburban and urban. The large influx of federal K-12 aid can help Ohio school districts expand opportunity for all students, no matter where they live or how much money their families have. School districts serving higher percentages of students with low incomes will on average receive higher allocations of the funds. All Ohio school districts have a responsibility to use ARP funds to address the most urgent setbacks during the pandemic and give all students the support they need to flourish.
Districts should use funding to address:
- The complicated factors that contribute to the racial and economic achievement gaps that predate the pandemic but were exacerbated by the loss of instructional time during remote and hybrid-learning. Districts should allocate funds for the hiring / re-hiring and training of qualified teachers and staff for student support to catch up.
- Ohio’s literacy crisis. Data from the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment shows that overall reading scores are lower than in previous years, particularly for Black, brown and economically disadvantaged students.
- Chronic absenteeism, which also predates COVID but became a growing concern during the pandemic. Local data shows that student attendance dropped when schools shifted to fully remote and / or hybrid instruction. Chronic absenteeism is exacerbated by school disciplinary policies such as suspensions and expulsions, which often unfairly target students of color.
- Ohio’s digital divide. Barriers to internet access for Black, brown and low-income communities caused many students to fall further behind their peers during remote and hybrid learning models. Close to 1 million Ohioans lack high-speed internet at home. Districts should use funding to connect students to quality broadband and technology resources.
Parents have an important role to play in making sure districts use the federal funds for students’ most essential academic, social and emotional needs. Parents should pay attention to the federal aid coming into your school district and be vocal about how the district spends it. Cincinnati Public Schools heavily relied on parent input to develop their plan for their ARP dollars. The district received feedback from more than 4,000 parents before coming up with a plan to spend $202 million in funds received. ARP money, along with nearly $94 million from federal legislation approved in December 2020, will help set the district’s course over the next three years.
To provide more transparency and accountability, most school districts across the state post details of their plans on their websites. For comprehensive details on plans for your district, please visit their website to stay up to date.
Click here for highlights from Ohio’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief ARP Plans: https://oese.ed.gov/files/2021/07/Ohio-ARP-ESSER-State-Plan-Highlights-v2-071421.pdf
Please be on the lookout for a webinar with Policy Matters staff, educators, administrators, parents, community stakeholders and legislators for an open community conversation on ARP funding and how it is being used in Ohio’s schools.