Kansas Public Schools Calculate How To Spend $ 830 Million In Federal Pandemic Aid

The federal government has allocated $ 830 million in the latest round of COVID-19 aid to Kansas public education to help students bounce back from the pandemic through 2024. Here, the Shawnee Heights school board near Topeka voted in December for a hybrid in-person and online education. (Tim Carpenter / Reflector Kansas)

TOPEKA – Kansas Department of Education plans to use $ 830 million in new federal funding for public education to address learning gaps related to COVID-19 by training K-3 teachers to help students absorb more of their reading.

Half of the 10% set aside for the state agency is to be spent on rebounding students from the pandemic, while 1% is to be allocated to the summer term and 1% to after-school programs. These dollars are to be invested in 286 public school districts across Kansas to counter the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain student populations and to address the overall social, emotional and academic needs of nearly 500,000 children.

The bulk of this latest shipment of federal emergency aid – 90% of the $ 830 million – will be provided by individual school boards for the benefit of students attending classes in the state’s 1,300 school buildings. Flexibility has been included in federal law to allow districts and states to change course if education priorities need to be adjusted.

This allocation brought to about $ 1.4 billion what the state received from the federal government from the start of the pandemic emergency in March 2020 until the relief deadline in September 2024.

Left-facing Governor Laura Kelly, who attended a recent COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Topeka High School students, said through a spokesperson that Kansas students would benefit from the full state funding for K-12 education through 2023 and $ 830 million in federal assistance. in public schools until 2024. (Tim Carpenter / Kansas Reflector)

Brad Neuenswander, deputy commissioner in the state Department of Education, said the bottom line was that Kansas public education could not be allowed to return to a pre-pandemic position. The shortcomings exacerbated by COVID-19 can be corrected over the next three years with this type of federal investment, he said.

“It’s an incredible opportunity not to come back like before,” said Neuenswander. “We had loopholes in the system before this happened. “

Look no further, he said, than home environments insufficiently conducive to student education. Problems highlighted by the pandemic included insufficient availability of before and after school options, as well as spotty high-speed internet and computer technology.

The federal package called Emergency Aid for Elementary and Secondary Schools, or ESSER, was approved by Congress and President Joe Biden in March. It is part of the American bailout plan and pledged nearly $ 122 billion to states to support safe school operations. Most states were eligible for more than Kansas in this round of COVID-19 aid. For example, Oklahoma scored $ 1.4 billion in this bracket.

Of the 90% or about $ 750 million that will be spent directly by local school boards, a fifth is to be spent on learning deficits related to the coronavirus. The remainder could be used to purchase educational technology for students, provide mental health services, and run summer programs. Other options include professional development on infectious diseases or purchasing supplies to disinfect and clean buildings.

Federal guidelines authorized part of the repair of school facilities to support student health as well as retrofitting of heating and cooling systems, windows and doors to improve air quality. Some of the money can be allocated to maintain staffing levels and maintain existing school activities.

Neuenswander said it would be crucial for Kansas not to invest in personnel and other areas in order to commit resources beyond 2024. He said the distinction could be as simple as a district. school partnering with a county health department or YWCA on a mental health initiative rather than inventing an independent program that could not be sustained after September 30, 2024.

“They have to be careful not to create a cliff,” he said. “It’s one-time money.”

None of that money started going to local Kansas school districts. In anticipation of this moment, the State Board of Education began to consider and adopt the spending proposals of the various school districts. A working group of superintendents, lawmakers and teachers who share the goal of helping students regain educational momentum has met weekly to consider strategies to achieve this.

Kansas school districts using federal ESSER funds will be taken monthly from their designated allocations from the US Department of Education rather than sitting on a huge nest egg. At the same time, federal law prohibited states from making disproportionate cuts in state funding for needy and poor students.

Two-thirds of the ESSER Prize was officially awarded in March. States must submit a written spending plan to the Federal Ministry of Education to access the rest.

Randy Watson, commissioner with the Kansas Department of Education, said the state's goal should be to help high school students earn about 15 credit hours before they graduate.  (Sherman Smith / Reflector Kansas)
Randy Watson, commissioner with the Kansas Department of Education, submitted a report to the federal government describing a shortage of more than 1,000 special education teachers and social workers in Kansas public schools. (Sherman Smith / Reflector Kansas)

Reeves Oyster, spokesperson for Gov. Laura Kelly, said the Democratic governor’s and Republican-led legislature’s commitment to fully fund K-12 public education through 2023 and the availability of ‘additional federal aid until 2024 would allow students to recover from the pandemic.

“The additional $ 830 million in federal relief will secure the resources the Department of Education, State Board of Education and local districts need to create innovative opportunities for Kansas children and strengthen our schools and our workforce as we come out of COVID-19, ”she said. .

Kansas officials have reported that the pandemic has taken its toll on educators as well as students. During the 2019-2020 school year, the pandemic disrupted programs to improve retention of special education, science and math educators and to strengthen support for newly certified teachers. Kansas public school teacher vacancies in the 2020-2021 school year have grown faster than the state’s ability to add teachers.

There is an imbalance between the supply and demand for licensed school counselors, social workers, and psychologists in Kansas. The situation has been worse in underserved rural areas and has worsened as educators have left the profession due to the pandemic.

If Kansas were to follow recommended staffing levels, state education officials said in a federal report, Kansas districts would have to hire 1,390 social workers, 1,075 special education teachers, 795 school counselors and 480. school psychologists. The science, technology, engineering, and math teacher shortage in Kansas K-12 schools stands at 240, while the elementary and early childhood teacher shortage has hovered at 360.

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