By Charity Gardner
Policy Manager, A+ Education Partnership
Over $3 billion is coming to Alabama schools from the three rounds of federal funding in order to address the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and districts have an unprecedented amount of money at their disposal to improve student outcomes, and we are keeping families, communities, and decision-makers up-to-date on best practices and tracking district spending priorities. This is part 2 of our COVID School Spending series.
The Alabama State Department of Education’s ARP ESSER Plan for how they will spend their share of federal relief dollars was approved on August 12th by the US Department of Education. Out of the $2.02 billion coming to Alabama schools as part of the American Rescue Plan, or ARP, up to 10% is allowed to remain with the state department, with the rest going directly to districts. The state’s ARP plan outlines how it will spend the $202 million and how it will support districts as they allocate their funds. You can read the U.S. Department of Education’s Fact Sheet on ARP ESSER here.
States, along with districts, were required to solicit input from parents, families, students, and stakeholders concerning the use of ARP ESSER funds. In June, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) published a survey allowing individuals, educators, and community groups to share their thoughts on what students need most as they navigate the ongoing pandemic and how the department and communities could support schools, districts, and students. The state also held a virtual meeting with stakeholders following the input period. You can read the questions asked by the department here.
The state’s approval letter from the US Department of Education states that they expect the ALSDE to continue to consult and engage the public in the ARP ESSER process. As Education Secretary Cardona says in his approval letter, “ongoing engagement with all stakeholders is vital to ensuring that implementation of [Alabama’s] plan is transparent, effective, equitable, inclusive, and best meets the needs of [Alabama.” The state’s ARP plan is not currently open for comments on the ALSDE’s public comment page. We will update this page with any future input opportunities the ALSDE provides.
State Department Funding
There are 4 requirements placed on state funding:
- At least 5% must be spent on making up for lost instructional time
- At least 1% must be spent on afterschool programs
- At least 1% must be spent on summer learning
- No more than 0.5% on administrative costs
The ALSDE is giving the money required to be used for afterschool and summer programs to districts through grants, which will be awarded based on the applications districts submit to the department. These applications are still in the process of being approved by ALSDE officials, so check back on our page for analysis on those plans later. In the meantime, you can read our report on how summer and afterschool programs help mitigate learning loss here.
As for the 5% on lost instructional time, the state is putting that money toward Summer Reading Camps required to be provided to K-3 students with reading deficiencies in the Alabama Literacy Act. It is important to note that ESSER II funding paid for these Summer Reading Camps during 2021, and ARP funding will pay for them through the summer of 2024. After ARP funds run out in 2024, these camps will have to be paid for out of the state education budget.
The rest of the funds can be used at the discretion of ALSDE officials. Here is the full list of programs to paid for with state ESSER funds in Fiscal Year 2023, based on the Education Trust Fund Budget Request Spreadsheet provided at the September State Board of Education meeting, which you can read about here:
- Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) Teachers in Residence program, using $3,000,000 of federal funds
- Science of Reading/Multisensory Strategies Professional Development, using $8,164,265 of federal funds
- Summer Programs, using $18,564,000 of federal funds
- Before/After School Tutoring, using $7,850,000 of federal funds
This leaves approximately $164 million of the state department’s allocated federal ARP funds to be spent over the next 3 years.
To learn more about how other states are using their ARP ESSER funding, check out this interactive resource from The 74 Million.
ARP Homeless Children and Youth Plan
As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, $800 million was set aside for state education agencies and school districts to provide wraparound services for homeless students who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. This fund is known as ARP-HCY. Alabama will receive a total of $13.2 million from the ARP-HCY fund. This includes 25%, or $3.3 million, from the first round and the remaining 75%, or $9.9 million from the second, which will be released October 1. The state’s ARP-HCY plan was due to the U.S. Department of Education on September 7. Of these funds, 75% or $9.9 million, is the minimum amount that is required to be allocated to local districts.
The state’s ARP-HCY plan included the following action items:
- Providing training, technical assistance, capacity-building, and engagement for districts
- Hiring 4 part-time Regional Homeless Liaisons to support district homeless liaisons
- Providing annual training sessions to district liaisons
- Partnering with 2-1-1 Connect Alabama/United Way Alabama to screen people for homelessness and provide them resources
- Purchasing McKinney-Vento Liaison Credentialing Course for districts to train staff on identifying homeless students, resources to help them, and how to be in compliance with federal law
Alabama’s ARP-HCY plan is still pending approval, but you can read the plan submitted by the state here. Like ARP ESSER money, ARP-HCY funds will be available for use until September 30, 2024.
District Support for ARP Plans and Spending
In Alabama’s ARP ESSER Plan, the state department also had to describe how they will support local school districts, or local education agencies (LEAs), with their ARP plans.
ARP Use of Funds Plan: ALSDE released two guidance documents for districts for ESSER II, which districts were also required to submit applications for. The Road to Recovery: Consolidated Plan and Application Guide, along with the Road to Recovery: Additional Resources Guide were released to districts early 2021. ALSDE has not put out separate guidance specifically for ARP ESSER funds.
ARP-HCY Applications: The first round of ARP-HCY funds were distributed to districts as the state received the money in spring 2021. For the second round of funding, districts were allowed to opt in or out of the funding, and any district that did not respond by the deadline was automatically opted in. Districts were not required to complete a formal application to receive funds from the 2nd round, but were asked to complete a survey when they opted in.
So What? Takeaways for Families and Communities
For students, parents, and families, information is helpful, but resources that provide ways for families to improve their child’s education are needed. One thing that we will do throughout the COVID School Spending series is provide potential questions that students, families, and educators can ask local leaders about their district ARP plans.
Today’s question is:
“I found out that the state department of education is providing grants for afterschool and summer programs to districts across the state. Has our district applied for one of these afterschool and summer grants? Are they partnering with any community organizations to provide them? If so, how can my child(ren) participate?”
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