Arkansas school leaders are moving out of a pandemic-scarred school year and into the summer with decisions to be made about how their districts will continue to use federal covid-19 relief money.
The total of the extraordinary federal aid approaches $2 billion to be spent within the next three years for elementary and secondary education -- including in Arkansas' nonprofit private schools.
The funds are known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money, or ESSER I, ESSER II and American Recuse Plan -- ESSER. Approved by Congress and Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the money was approved in three rounds, with each round larger than the one before.
The money has been and must continue to be used in the categories of food security; direct student support/continuous learning opportunities; technology; systemic procedures; and facility changes, such as improvements to school ventilation systems.
To date, Arkansas districts have drawn on the earlier rounds of funding for school meals to remote-learning students; for sanitizing supplies and cleaning; for personal protective equipment including masks, computers, internet and software for teachers and students; for sick leave for school employees with covid or who have been quarantined for covid exposure; for employee payments for extra work because of the pandemic; and for instructional initiatives to offset learning loss.
At least 20% of a district's allocation from the third round of funding -- American Rescue Plan money -- must be used to address loss of learning or loss of instructional time, the U.S. Department of Education directed.
The 21,000-student Little Rock School District, which has annual revenue of more than $300 million, is to receive the largest total of the covid-relief money -- about $99 million. The Little Rock district is the state's second-largest system after the Springdale School District.
Distribution of the special funding per district is based on the system for distributing federal Title I program money that is used to help educate low-income students.