New Jersey principals get a first look this week at the details of more than $ 2.7 billion in federal pandemic assistance to their public schools.
It goes without saying that the amounts for many districts are sky-high, as are the processes and procedures on how it will all work.
The State Department of Education this week notified districts of their aid amounts and other details in the massive COVID-19 relief program approved by President Joe Biden and Congress – a total of $ 122 billion distributed to schools nationwide.
The money – the largest of Washington’s three major school relief programs since last year – is intended to bolster district resources for a wide range of support and services for students during and after the pandemic, programs Additional academics to advisers going through air-ventilation systems.
Already estimated by districts based on their student numbers, aid figures start at $ 19,000 in the district at a West Cape May elementary school and go up to $ 177 million in Newark – nearly a fifth of the district’s overall budget for one year.
Funds arrive in two installments
But with money come the rules. And districts were made aware of the extensive application and review process guiding the release of the two-installment funds, with details of how and when they can be used.
Districts can apply until November, when they will receive two-thirds of the money. The remaining third will be provided when requests are approved.
It has been a hot topic in Trenton and in state houses across the country on how best – and most responsibly – to use this windfall without overly handcuffing Districts to meet their unique needs. Federal guidelines list 16 permitted uses, some specific to extended day programs or other supplementary education programs and others as broad as general support for principals “to meet the needs of their school.” .
To be eligible, districts will also need to submit their formal health and safety plans for the opening of the new school year in September, with Gov. Phil Murphy already announcing that schools will need to open with all in-person instructions and no options to go. distance learning. .
“When you see the numbers it can be mind-blowing, but it comes with a lot of conditions related to how you can use that money,” said Elisabeth Ginsburg, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents more than 100 predominantly suburban neighborhoods.
“None of this is a big surprise,” she said, “but it left our [business administrators] scratching their heads over how they can use the money and when they can use it. “
Address the learning loss
An important note is that while these are one-off silver infusions, they can be used until October 2024, others have said. Districts will also need to apply at least 20% to programs to address what is known as “learning loss”.
“If people are smart about it, they’ll realize they have three years to use it,” said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
By law, the State Department of Education can withhold 10% of funds for specialized projects, and the state plan said he will direct at least half of that $ 200 million in additional grants to school districts to specifically address learning loss.
He also described extensive plans for technical support and data collection, and also enlisted the help of colleges and universities.
Still, questions have been raised this week about the adequacy of the state’s education department staff to oversee the process.
The Education Law Center, the advocacy group that led the Abbott v. Burke school equity litigation, released a Analysis this shows a 24% drop in staffing over the past decade, largely over the past three years under Murphy.
Not enough staff at the State Department of Education?
“The Department of Education has been understaffed in recent years, especially in high-level positions requiring experienced staff to lead the agency in data collection and analysis, racial equity, l ‘special education and other crucial areas,’ said David Sciarra, Executive Director of ELC.
“As we saw after the schools were closed last March, the NJDOE’s response to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on our students and schools has only been to send checklists to districts fill.
Others have called on the Murphy administration to create a commission or task force of stakeholders and experts to help guide districts and the state in the use of funds.
“This commission could help ensure that the best research and best practices guide the implementation of this state plan and other ongoing efforts to accelerate learning and get students back on track,” said Janellen Duffy of JerseyCAN, an advocacy group that lobbied for interventions.
The state plan is open for public comment until June 3, with comments to be sent to [email protected] Individual district plans should also be open to public scrutiny according to funding guidelines. Plans to reopen are due to the state by June 24.
– Colleen O’Dea contributed to this story.