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A+ Education Partnership launches COVID funds tracker, advocate toolkit

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama’s public K-12 schools have received more than $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief since 2020 and a new website is tracking how each school system plans to spend their money.

The A+ Education Partnership on Tuesday launched the detailed money tracker and an “advocate toolkit” for effective spending of the federal money.

“This is $3.14 billion for public education in Alabama and it’s a huge opportunity for us to invest in our students, especially those of color and those from low-income families,” said Charity Gardner, A+ policy manager and project lead for the tracker. “We have to be able to say that this money had an impact on our students after these three years are up. And so we want to make sure that this money is invested well.”

The site breaks down per-system funding by the three tranches of money that have been allocated to schools during the pandemic: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief I; Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II; and American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief. Each allocation has different spending guidelines and the latter allocation was the largest at nearly $2 billion. 

A+ compiled the data from required spending plans systems file with the Alabama State Department of Education. Those plans will be updated as more spending decisions are made.

In deciding how to spend the ARPA funds, the state and systems are required to seek community input.

A+ wants to make sure people have the best data to participate in the planning process, said Corinn O’Brien, A+’s vice president of policy. That includes some examples of possible effective spending.

“We wanted parents and local advocates and teachers to have an understanding of what the research, what the evidence says works,” O’Brien said.

The nearly $2 billion in ARPA funds must be spent by the end of September 2024 and the funding is targeted toward schools with high percentages of low-income students.

For example, in Birmingham City Schools, where 64% of students are low income, the ARPA funds equal nearly $6,000 per student. In the Mountain Brook City System, where .4% of students are low income, it’s about $156 per student.

“We have had long-standing achievement gaps in many of these (low-income) districts,” A+ President Mark Dixon said. “And so this is really one-time money not only to help recover from the pandemic, but accelerate that recovery to try and help close some of those long-standing achievement gaps so that all students have an opportunity to be successful.”

According to the dashboard, schools have allocated about 90% of the nearly $217 million in ESSER I, approved by Congress in 2020. It has a September 2022 spending deadline. 

The dashboard breaks down the spending by categories, including academic support, summer and after school programming and technology.

The dashboard lists districts’ percentage of students by race and those that are low-income.

“Black, Hispanic and low-income students have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, both academically and otherwise,” the site says.

It also lists student achievement benchmarks, including proficiency rates and the percentage of students meeting state college and career ready standards.

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