Local schools set to receive more stimulus funds

Local public schools are set to receive more than $14.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) announced planning allocations for public schools under the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. For the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., the planning allocation is $13,845,308.94. Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.’s planning allocation is $737,448.46. These allocations are subject to change.

Allocations for public schools across the state total almost $1.8 billion. According to IDOE, final allocations will likely be released in May, and schools can reimburse approved expenses incurred through September of 2024.

“Over the past year, this is the third round of federal funding allowing many Indiana schools access to unprecedented resources to sustainably invest in their future,” said Indiana Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner. “While the needs may vary from one school to the next, it’s critical that schools are strategically planning to maximize their return on investment, in turn achieving the greatest outcomes for students.”

When asked what BCSC is considering spending its allocation on, Director of Title Services Gina Pleak said the school corporation is “gaining feedback from a variety of stakeholders to formulate a plan.”

Per federal requirements, schools must use at least 20% of ESSER III funds to support accelerated learning opportunities that address learning loss through evidence-based interventions.

Assuming the final allocations don’t vary much from the planning amounts, this would be almost $2.77 million for BCSC and a little over $147,000 for Flat Rock-Hawcreek.

According to IDOE’s website, this programming should address “social emotional wellbeing” in addition to academics, as well as “the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in student subgroups.”

BCSC is getting stakeholder feedback as it looks at this component, Pleak said.

“We are reviewing all options provided by IDOE and considering which opportunities will be best as we plan for the next few years,” she said.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek Superintendent Shawn Price said that the school corporation is identifying possible expenditures for the accelerated learning piece over the next few years and is likely to spend more than 20% on that category, as it’s a major focus.

“That really starts here with summer school,” he said. “We have expanded our offerings and the number of kids. We’re going to have busing for the first time, for summer school, to try to get more kids in, to help them get caught up and work with staff and teachers over the summertime. So that’s one of the first things that we already have in the works.”

Flat Rock-Hawcreek is also looking at what staffing it will need next year and is considering adding positions for interventionists at the elementary level and credit recovery coaches at the secondary level.

“We feel like we’re in a good position, a good place, with those funds,” he said. “It’s nice to have those, to think to the future. But we have to also be very cautious with them, as those are one-time funds. And especially when we’re looking at staffing, we have to make sure if the need is there and it’s something that we need to sustain long-term. We don’t want to be adding a bunch of obligations that will last a lot longer than the funds will. So we have to be cautious about that fiscal cliff that we could be creating.”

Another requirement of ESSER III is “Maintenance of Equity.” This means that local educational agencies “will not be able to disproportionately underfund nor understaff (in FTE) the highest-poverty schools.” FTE stands for full-time equivalent.

ESSER III also requires local educational agencies to develop a plan for returning to in-person learning and share that plan publicly on their website. The plan must allow for public comment.

“An existing plan that describes the return to in-person instruction that also allowed for public comment (such as a school board meeting) will suffice,” according to the directions.

As an existing plan is in place, BCSC will just need to provide minutes from one of its school board meetings, Pleak said.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek is still looking at the details of the allocation and where they fall under the requirement, Price said.

BCSC and Flat Rock-Hawcreek are currently offering in-person learning. They began the school year with in-person and later switched to eLearning in November amid a spike in COVID-19.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek returned to in-person in January, beginning the new semester slightly later than originally planned in hopes of avoiding a post-holiday spike.

BCSC began the new semester with in-person learning for elementary schools and a hybrid model for secondary schools. The school corporation later decided to have middle schools return to in-person on Feb. 22 and high schools on March 22.

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More information about ESSER III is available at www.doe.in.gov/grants/esser-ii-and-iii-information.