Revisiting ARPA: Ohio’s public schools still have federal funds to use but time is running out
The pandemic took a toll on Americans from all walks of life, especially schoolchildren and educators. Throughout the pandemic, parents, children and teachers navigated school closures, hybrid learning and constantly evolving safety protocols. Coming out of the pandemic, Ohio’s schools are still recovering from learning loss, struggling to recruit and retain educators, scrambling to employ the proper number of qualified support staff and dealing with issues getting students to and from school due to the lack of buses and a reduction in the number of qualified, well-trained bus drivers to drive them. The good news is that the state still has available federal funds that can help, but only a year left to use the funds wisely so Ohio students and educators can get what they need to thrive in school.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) signed by President Biden in March 2021 dedicated $122 billion to support primary and secondary education, so schools could address learning loss, retool for new safety requirements and improve technology. Starting in 2021, districts across Ohio received disbursements of the state’s $4.4 billion in ARP funds for K-12 schools. The state currently has 8% of these funds remaining, which schools must spend by September 30th, 2024.
ESSER I ($489,205,200): Funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was enacted on March 20th, 2020. This funding was available March 13, 2020-September 30, 2022.
ESSER II ($1,991,251,095): Funded by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), which was enacted on December 27, 2020. This funding was available December 27, 2020-September 30, 2023.
ARP ESSER (ESSER III) ($4,475,243,513): Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was enacted on March 11, 2021. The funding is available until September 30, 2024.
Most districts have utilized all their ESSER I-II funds:
Dublin Public Schools: Used a portion of their $5.78 million ESSER I and ESSER II funds to hire more counselors and support services to provide social and emotional support to both students and educators.
Indian Hill Exempted School District: Used portions of the $1.05 million they received for summer school programming to address learning loss students experienced during the pandemic.
Groveport Madison Local School District: Used part of their $1.96 million ESSER I funds to provide protective equipment and supplies for students and teachers in schools.
Districts now have the remaining ARP ESSER (ESSER III) funds, which were distributed in July of 2021, to use before the deadline. Funding allocations are distributed to districts based on enrollment and number of students in low-income families to ensure that districts with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students receive the funding that they need and deserve. This will benefit larger urban districts such as Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), which received $295 million in ARP ESSER funds.CMSD has $77,521,935 remaining funds to spend before the deadline next year.
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 physical 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.
What should districts use the remaining ARP ESSER funds for?
The large influx of federal K-12 aid can help Ohio school districts expand opportunities 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 have received 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 around the state have already begun making plans for what they intended to use the remaining funds for ahead of the deadline:
Columbus City Schools: Columbus City Schools plans to use $1 million to provide mental health support for students and staff, including hiring more licensed mental health professionals that can address needs in their schools.
Middletown City School District: Middletown City school district plans to use $6 million for continued recovery to mitigate learning loss and provide extended education opportunities, such as hiring counselors and offering after school programs, to improve student academic outcomes.
Akron Public Schools: Akron public city school district plans to use $3 million to hire more educators as an effort to reduce class sizes and an additional $300,000 for substitute teachers to help mitigate teacher shortages in the district.
Additional Uses of ARP ESSER:
In addition to using federal relief aid for learning loss recovery and mental health supports, the Biden administration also plans to set aside $9 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to address the teacher shortage nationwide. School districts in Ohio can add that funding to the $4.4 billion the state is already receiving in ARP dollars to address the current issues the state is navigating with recruiting and retaining qualified educators and support staff. Additionally, to address some of the transportation issues that districts have been facing in recent years, funds can be used to purchase more buses and hire more transportation staff.
Today, many of the same lawmakers who passed state budgets that erode resources from our public schools are seizing the opportunity to pit parents against teachers and school administrators – aiming to further undercut public education by subsidizing tuition for students to attend private schools. ARP dollars show how public funding can help get kids back on track in the classroom and provide the necessary support and services that they need. We can help keep schools safe and functional by monitoring ARP dollars coming into our districts and by encouraging administrators to use the funds to address staff shortages.