Students in New Mexico have paid dearly due to school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
By some estimates, students may have lost up to a year of learning.
But instead of spending large amounts of federal aid on mitigating the effects of the pandemic in the classroom, many school districts across the state plan to spend a large chunk of the stimulus funds they have. received so far for technology and building upgrades, according to a report presented this week to the Legislative Finance Committee.
“School districts and charters plan to spend about 38% of that $ 490 million just on HVAC technology and systems,” Micaela Fischer, the committee’s program evaluation manager, told lawmakers – referring to the combined funding of the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplementary Appropriations Act.
By comparison, she said, schools plan to spend just 9% on tackling learning loss and 8% on providing interventions for at-risk students.
Fischer said the results were “somewhat surprising to our staff” as they had published two reports showing “quite clearly that our children have probably missed a good deal of learning because of the switch to” distance education. during the pandemic.
Two of the state’s largest school districts, Las Cruces and Rio Rancho, budget an even smaller percentage of their response and relief funds to tackle learning loss: 4% and 6% respectively, according to the report.
Some schools, however, have turned the tide.
“Los Alamos Public Schools are the only district to allocate 100% of its CRRSA funds… to combat student learning loss and implement summer programs and after-school activities,” the report said.
“Some [schools] really doubled the use of those first two rounds of federal funding to tackle learning loss, but these districts tend to be the ones with the fewest at-risk students, ”Fischer said.
In an email, Santa Fe Public Schools spokesperson Cody Dynarski said the district plans to spend $ 2.6 million of nearly $ 10.8 million in response and relief funds. to address learning loss among students including low income students, children with disabilities, English language learners. , racial and ethnic minorities, homeless students, and foster children and youth. He said the numbers could be adjusted.
“An almost equal amount ($ 2.3 million) will be used to purchase supplies to clean up the facilities and $ 2.2 million will fund repairs and improvements to school facilities to reduce the risk of virus transmission and improve the air quality, ”he wrote. “The funding will also provide enhanced professional development for educators and transformational leadership to meet the unique needs of at-risk populations, including low-income children, students with disabilities, English learners and Native American students.
Dynarski said in a telephone interview that school officials are expected to meet next week to determine whether the numbers need to be adjusted.
Dynarski said the district received nearly $ 2.7 million in funding from the CARES Act. About $ 300,000 of this amount was intended to combat learning loss. According to the Federal Office of Primary and Secondary Education, the permitted uses of funds under the CARES Act “linked to the prevention, preparedness and response to COVID-19”.
“I think we had to spend most of it on making schools safer,” Dynarski said.
Fischer told lawmakers the “encouraging news” is that the US Department of Education is requiring schools to spend at least 20% of the third and final American Rescue Plan Act money on interventions. based on evidence to combat learning loss, she said.
“They’re going to get about a billion [dollars] collectively out of that, ”Fischer said, noting that this is the largest pool of federal education stabilization funds.
In a joint press release, Senses Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján said on Thursday that the Federal Ministry of Education had approved the emergency relief plan for elementary and secondary schools in the state, resulting in the unblocking of $ 327 million of the $ 979 million New Mexico receives. .
“The pandemic has forced many students in New Mexico to waste valuable school time and has caused social and emotional challenges for our students and teachers,” Heinrich said in a statement.
“The US bailout is providing unprecedented resources to help us overcome these challenges,” he added. “The New Mexico plan will not only ensure our students can safely return to school full-time in the fall, but will also provide our most vulnerable students with the academic and extracurricular supports they need to be successful.” , including evidence-based tutoring and after-school programs designed to help all of our students thrive.
According to Fischer’s report, members of the legislative finance committee have already prepared a list of the most effective evidence-based interventions to help districts and charter schools “plan the best use of this ARPA funding.”
“Our team went ahead and sent a note to superintendents and charter school leaders to potentially help guide them to different tutoring and extended learning time programs that schools could put in place.” , she said. “Both have evidence and research behind them showing that they have an effect in catching up with kids, but also that they are cost effective given that schools have other things they want to spend that money on.”