Most federal pandemic school relief money to go to school site plans

Boston Public Schools (BPS) held the first of what is to be several meetings on June 15 to hear input and share initial plans on where to direct more than $400 million in federal emergency school funding the district will have over the next two years.

Eva Mitchell of BPS hosted the meeting and explained the district received $123 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding as part of the second package of funding, which was approved by the federal government in December. A second package approved in March amounts to $276 million in ESSER funding, and the first round of funding in March 2020 was about $32 million. The first round of funding has already been expended on PPE and other COVID upgrades and technology needs, but altogether it adds up to more than $430 million in federal funds – over and above the operating budget – injected into the district.

At the moment, she said, they have to focus on the $123 million ESSER 2 funds, as they will be preparing a draft report on the spending play by July 1 for public comment, and then will have to submit their plan to the state for delivering those funds. The $276 million ESSER 3 funds will come next fall, but the current process will act as a guideline for those funds as well, she said.

“We need to realize for some students the pandemic hit them even harder than other students because of conditions they were in already and conditions they may have also experienced during the pandemic on learning and not addressed during the pandemic as well as they should have been,” she said.

First and foremost, the federal funds are not allowed to be used for teacher or administrator salaries, or for any union contracts or payments – so the money will not flow to the union or to teacher salaries, a worry for many parents right off the bat.

BPS did unveil a rough draft of proposed allotments, and a key piece of that is that 50 percent of the funding would be localized for school-based plans, with another 10 percent going to regional collaboration plans. That equaled out to 60 percent of the funding being targeted to specific needs within each school community, and less control over the money by the Central Office.

“We are putting 50 percent directly to schools for school-based plans to ensure their students in those schools have their needs met in what is unique to that particular school environment,” she said.

The regional piece would be groups of schools – for example the Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and Roslindale schools could be one region – that use 10 percent of the money to coordinate programming within a region.

That would mean that the important part of allocating the money would lie with students, parents, and school leaders so that programming would fit to a particular geography and age group and not be a cookie-cutter program citywide.

Some 30 percent of the money would be allocated to the Central Office, but Mitchell said that money would be used to even the playing field and make sure schools are equitable across the city.

The final 10 percent was seen as going to community partnership investments.

A major topic of concern from those in attendance online Tuesday was addressing mental health and socialization needs for students returning in the fall – with one parent/educator noting she wanted to make sure all students in every grade have an opportunity to talk with a licensed counselor for a meaningful amount of time upon return to school.

Additional meetings will be held on Tuesday, June 29, from 6:30-8 p.m. and Tuesday, July 6, from 6-7:30 p.m. 

To access the meeting please visit the BPS federal relief funding page at  bostonpublicschools.org/FederalReliefFunds21.

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