Hold school districts accountable for the use of COVID dollars



The mess over the $ 76 million in “risk pay” bonuses awarded by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to county employees for their work during the pandemic is remarkable. It is also a serious warning to all taxpayers. Who do we hold responsible for the huge sums of US bailout money available to school districts?

Federal dollars for schools have been rightly allocated to reduce the impact of the pandemic on students through the purchase of health screening tools, funds for learning loss and for addressing issues. increasing mental health of students who were dealing with the stress of virtual learning blocks while not in school. Appropriations from the US Congress to California to effect a safe and orderly return to in-person learning have been provided to states for allocation to local education agencies (LEAs), including all school districts and county offices.

The US bailout’s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief program was signed by President Biden in March 2021 with the provision that $ 122 billion allocated as emergency aid funds for schools Elementary and Secondary (ESSER) would be provided to schools across the country. Fifteen billion of the $ 122 billion in total federal ESSER funds has been allocated to California. An additional $ 5 billion was to be provided to California once an approved plan was submitted and approved by the US Department of Education.

California was informed on November 6 that the state’s plan for the additional $ 5 billion in ESSER III funding had been approved. ESSER III dollars are allocated to local education agencies (school district or county office). Most of the funding is flexible, according to County Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan, although LEAs must set aside 20% of their ESSER III dollars for “learning loss mitigation” measures. These expenses for dealing with learning loss during the pandemic may include expanded learning programs, before and after school, and expanded learning opportunities for summer school. In addition, $ 1.5 billion is earmarked for California to support the Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) grant program.

The San Jose Unified School District, the largest in Santa Clara County with nearly 30,000 students, will receive $ 22.6 million in ESSER III funds. Their ESSER II allocation was $ 12.6 million. As the Zone 4 administrator of the Santa Clara County School Board, one of my districts that I am elected to represent is San Jose Unified. When combined, the average per student for ESSER II and ESSER III is approximately $ 1,177 for each student in the district.

A major concern is how the county taxpayers are getting some parents of students, especially the most vulnerable students who lost 1 to 1.5 years of learning during the pandemic, to recoup their losses learning? How will districts make this information transparent to their stakeholders and the media? Will districts prioritize those students who need help the most to recover from their learning losses? Will mental health professionals be hired to support struggling students at school? Will the district focus on primary classes for spending these extra funds? Will districts use the “flex” funds for bonuses paid to staff and faculty? Have the unions placed these funds as a talking point on the negotiating table?

Distance learning and school closures have created a myriad of problems for many children. To help schools and students meet the challenges of the pandemic, I am sure many of you have a number of serious questions and concerns. The main one for me is the effectiveness of the spending districts will be making over the next few months on student programs and combating learning loss. Will taxpayers demand transparency? District council meetings broadcast live? Will parents have enough information to ask the right questions? I promise my constituency that I will do my best to keep you posted. I plan to have a virtual discussion at Town Hall in January to take stock.

Joseph Di Salvo represents Zone 4 on the Board of Directors of the Santa Clara County Education Office.


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