Coronavirus: Clark, Champaign schools using federal relief funds to help student learning

All 12 public school districts have at least $1M in COVID relief money available

School districts in Clark and Champaign counties are deciding how they are going to use federal money available from the second and third stimulus relief funds.

The American Recovery Plan funds, when combined with the December stimulus funding for local schools, result in millions for many local districts. The $400 million in federal COVID relief funds are in part to help students recover from learning loss.

The second and third federal COVID relief bills that passed in December and March included significant funding for local schools, called ESSER funds (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). The funding is based largely on student poverty rates in a district.

All 12 public school districts in Clark and Champaign County have at least $1 million in COVID relief money available, and the totals are much higher for the Springfield City School District at $44.263,160; Tecumseh at $7,758,395; and Urbana at $5,768,762.

Federal guidance said the money was meant to help “safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s students,” including efforts to reverse significant “learning loss.” The list of “authorized activities” for the money has limits, but it’s still broad. Fifteen items range from health and disease training to HVAC repairs to numerous types of academic support.

Tecumseh’s Superintendent Paula Crew said a portion of the district’s funding supports their learning recovery plan.

“Students in K-12 were invited to participate in a six-week summer learning program this summer. We have a six-week summer learning program planned for the next two upcoming summers as well,” Crew said. “Additional, to support the learning recovery plan, we’ve set aside part of this funding to purchase Chromebooks for the next couple of years, which will allow us to replace outdated Chromebooks and maintain our one-to-one student-to-device ratio.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Crew said the district has also set aside funding to provide after-school tutoring, they’ve purchased assessments to identify the specific academic deficit areas and interventions and curriculum to address the identified deficit areas, and to ensure the schools’ filters in the air filtration systems in the buildings meet the required guidelines for maximizing air quality during the pandemic and in the future.

Urbana officials are still planning on how best to use the funds, but that one of the required expenditures of the ESSER funds is to address recovery of student learning loss due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Superintendent Charles Thiel.

“We do not want to purchase something or employ someone who will be an on-going drain of school funds. We have added intervention specialist staffing to assist with out students who have identified learning changes. We will be adding security cameras, upgrading doors, and building access for our older facilities,” he said.

“Some of the ESSER funds will be used, when possible, to cover general fund expenses. Since these are ‘one-time’ funds, we are also looking at ensuring that we limit adding programming which would require adding future expenditures,” Thiel added.

Clark-Shawnee is the only district to get $3 million, while Greenon, Northwestern and Graham get $2 million, and Southeastern, Mechanicsburg, Triad and West Liberty-Salem get $1 million.

Greenon is also still working to allocate their funding. Superintendent Darrin Knapke said they are focusing on the areas of safety and security, educational needs, learning and recovery, tutors, teachers and aides, and mental health therapist.

Most schools are using funds to help fill the learning gap due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Clark-Shawnee, which has $3,633,075 available, will use the money to support students and operations in the district. Northeastern’s $3,198,060 will be used on staffing and personnel to continue to help fill the learning gaps from the pandemic. Northwestern will use their $2,672,369 to hire people to provide interventions for students who are behind and for training and any materials need to help close the learning gap, according to district superintendents.

“We plan on using some funding to support diagnostic assessments and curriculum mapping in order to better serve students instructionally,” Kuhn said.

Graham Assistant Superintendent Emily Smith said their $2,755,292 will be used for curriculum, professional development, HVAC, infrastructure repairs and improvement throughout the district to support the learning environment.

“All of these things directly impact student achievement, which is why we have prioritized the need to update our instructional supports, continue to train and grow our staff, and ensure that our students have access to the safest and most reliable equipment,” Smith said.

Triad will use their funds to increase staffing to focus on early literacy programming year-round, expand summer school programming, increase focus on data to inform instruction and intervention, and intention academic professional development for staff, according to Superintendent Vickie Hoffman.

Hoffman said they have added four additional Title Reading teachers at the elementary to help close gaps and support all students with their specific needs and they have professional development and instructional coaching for all three buildings to help support staff.

Southeastern and Mechanicsburg will use their funds for retaining teaching staff and offsetting the learning loss.

Southeastern will use their $1,350,149 for PPE, online education, extra staff for cleaning, cafeteria losses, staff for temperature checks and an extra teacher to reduce class sizes, according to Superintendent David Shea.

Mechanicsburg will use their $1,078,031 for salaries for summer school teaching opportunities, additional teaching staff, classroom supplies, safety measures, a new van to allow extra small group transportation services, a new larger school bus, to upgrade communication capabilities to improve reception with an emergency partners across the county, and professional development opportunities and supplies for teaching staff, according to Superintendent Danielle Prohaska.

Some schools have also already used some of their available funding, including Tecumseh, Urbana, Northeastern, Northwestern, Triad and Mechanicsburg.

“We have also used this funding to support the social, emotional and mental health of our students. Specifically, we’ve used and will use the funding to support the Hope Squad Program at the middle and the high school. Hope Squad is a suicide prevention program,” Crew said. “We’ve also used the funding to continue to maintain two guidance counselors at the elementary level, two additional school nurses, and three mental health therapists, providing in school services.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Crew added that these were new positions made possible two years ago using Student Wellness and Success Funding, but that the ESSER funding will support the salaries of those positions for several more years. She said the funding will also be continued to offset a portion of annual salary costs, which reduces the salary cost coming out of the general fund.

At Urbana, Thiel said they have used some funds on upgrades tot he HVAC and security systems in the older facilities.

“There will be facility improvements with the HVAC systems in some of our older facilities, increased and improved security cameras to allow for easier contact tracing in buildings and on the school bus, additional technology devices for students, new additional computer programs for the reinforcement of key learnings taught in class, and it will also cover some operations activities to reduce the pressure on our general fund,” Thiel said.

Northwestern has used some of their funding on materials last year to help keep students safe during the pandemic; Triad has used some funding on the summer school programming; and Mechanicsburg has used some to purchase student classroom technology devices and safety supplies to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

School districtFederal ESSER II, III funds
Clark County 
Champaign County 
West Liberty-Salem$1,225,596

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