Federal funding for education; Where does it go?

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Some federal funds can recoup the $6-8 million the school system has lost annually over the past two decades. Natchitoches Times graphic

By Juanice Gray and Carolyn Roy

During the school board meeting April 8, Director of Federal Programs Julee´ Wright reported on the federal funds the school board has received for COVID-19 relief as well as those they will receive. The school board received $13.4 million in federal funds last year and expects to receive about $20 million more by September 2024.

Under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), established as part of CARES Act, the funding is coming in three tiers. Supt. Grant Eloi said Tuesday there are safeguards in place by the state and federal agencies to prevent abuse of funds.

“For example, the funds cannot, and will not, be used for director, superintendent or administrative salaries,” he said.

This article published in the Weekend, April 17-18, 2021, print edition

•ESSER I (Tier 1)

This was an immediate response to the coronavirus doled out in the spring of 2020. NPSB received $2.9 million. Those funds were used to meet virtual learning needs. It was spent on technology and safety. The district purchased laptops, tablets and headphones and provided 100 wifi hot spots so each student would have the tools needed for virtual education.

Funds were also used to recover money spent on long-term substitutes during spring 2020. On the safety side, Eloi said they were required to purchase water dispensers, thermal walkthroughs for taking temperatures, foggers, gloves, wipes and other sanitizing supplies.

The school board also received $309,543 in Incentive Funds that were used for small group mentoring, graduate support coaching and parental engagement, a curriculum for virtual learning and supplies necessary to support Individualized Education Plan (IEP) services for at risk, special needs and/or gifted students.

The district received $219,968 in Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds dedicated for use on broadband and technology. Broadband lines are currently being laid to Goldonna. Eloi and finance manager Lee Waskom said the lines are in the area of the Creston Baptist Church now with hopes they will be to Goldonna by July 1. Waskom said he is going through the procedures of getting vendors for the installation process.

•ESSER II (Tier II)

This is the rebuilding phase. The district received 50 percent of the expected allocation for the three-year period of March 3, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2023. Eloi said the first chunk of the funds, $5.2 million, came in January with the other half slated for June. He said this funding is to rebuild, refill, deal with the repercussions of up to five months deficit in learning and prepare for the return to the classroom.

“All this money is also audited,” Eloi said. “ESSER II will be used for tutoring. It’s for rebuilding confidence in students whose lives were disrupted. Some were out only a few months, but some have missed the entire in-person school year.”

He said funds will be used to pre-empt a lesson by giving students “a front load experience” to have them better prepared. He cited an example of a child walking into a lesson having not read a book for class, to one who has read the book and can answer the questions posed by the teacher. “It builds their self-esteem, has them ready for what is to come and in the small groups they get the attention they need,” he said.

•ESSER III (Tier III)

How this will be structured is still vague. “We do know it will be the most restrictive funding with tight guidelines. It is to address learning loss only,” Eloi said. The district got 20%, or $4.69 million, with the remainder to come at an undetermined time over the next few years. He said this money will have a strict set of rules and regulations for spending. One way it can be used is for summer school, but it won’t be the traditional summer school atmosphere.

“It will be for anyone who wants it,” Eloi said. “Things like PE, art and robotics you don’t normally see in summer school will be offered. It will be more like a summer educational camp.” Summer school, after school programs and tutoring must be taught by certified teachers with additional support personnel and school food service.

“We are hoping to be able to use some of the funds for transportation as well,” he said. The programs will target math and ELA, could assist virtual students in reintegrating into the classroom setting, learning loss, attendance recovery, credit recovery and more.

•Student exodus

Eloi said the system has lost $6-8 million annually over the past two decades. The school system is partially funded, to the tune of approximately $5,700 per student, from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funding.

Over 1,400 students have left the system over 20 years due to moving away, private and home schooling and crossing parish lines. “We have to use what we have effectively to retain and educate these students,” Eloi said.

•What is the cost to educate a child?

Eloi said that can’t be quantified. “We have certified teachers who put their blood, sweat and tears into teaching and who stress over their students education and well-being. You can’t put a number on that. It is intangible. It takes so much more that dollar bills.”