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Council Creates National Task Force to Help Urban School Districts Spend COVID-19 Funds

  • The American Rescue Plan (ARP) recently enacted by the Biden Administration is the single largest investment in federal elementary and secondary education in the nation’s history.

    Careful planning will be critical over the next few years in coordinating the various streams of new and traditional federal funding school districts will receive to safely reopen schools, address student learning needs and mental health services, as well as maintain and upgrade school facilities.

    To help with this effort, the Council of the Great City Schools has formed a Federal Funds Optimization Task Force composed of 20 diverse superintendents, school board members, chief academic officers, chief operating officers, chief financial officers, chief information officers, English language learner (ELL) directors, special education directors and other experts from the nation’s largest big-city school systems. This high-level national task force will develop guidance for and aid to urban school systems across the country in the planning and use of federal funds to effectively build the long-term capacity they need to continue their improvement.

    In addition, the Council will form a series of 10 working groups around specific areas such as instruction, infrastructure, technology, communications, data and research, and other areas along with weekly job-alike calls with senior-level administrators to share draft proposals and best practices.

    The 77-member school districts that comprise the Council are expected to receive some $40 billion in supplemental funding from ARP as part of the $122.8 billion provided under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

    In addition, school systems will receive additional funds from new appropriations for virus testing, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund to cover the costs of student devices and off-campus internet connectivity, and other provisions—on top of the federal aid that was approved by Congress in December.

    “The financial support from the ARP provides an historic opportunity for the Great City School districts to address the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on urban students, as well as to fund essential investments that advance educational excellence and equity in the long term,” said Council Executive Director Michael Casserly. “It is critical that districts spend the money smartly, strategically, effectively and in a transparent way. It is the aim of this special task force to provide our member districts with the practical and timely support they need as they work diligently to safely reopen schools and expand equitable opportunity for the students they serve.”

    The effort by the Council of the Great City Schools is supported through a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

    The members of the Federal Funds Optimization Task Force are:

    Michael O’Neill, Vice President, Boston School Committee

    Kelly Gonez, President, Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education

    Barbara Jenkins, Superintendent, Orange County (Orlando) Public Schools

    Bill Hite, Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia

    Janice Jackson, Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools

    Sonja Santelises, Chief Executive Officer, Baltimore City Public Schools

    Jill Baker, Superintendent, Long Beach (CA) Unified School District

    Sharon Contreras, Superintendent, Guilford County (NC) Public Schools

    Marie Izquierdo, Chief Strategy Officer, Miami-Dade County Public Schools

    Susana Cordova, Deputy Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District

    Theresa Jones, Chief Achievement and Accountability Officer, Baltimore City Public Schools

    Skye Duckett, Chief Human Resources Officer, Atlanta Public Schools

    Michael Burke, Chief Financial Officer, Palm Beach County Public Schools

    Drew Rowlands, Chief Operating Officer, San Diego Unified School District   

    Kathryn Block, Chief of Communications and External Relations, School District of Philadelphia

    Nicole Mancini, Director of Elementary Learning, Broward County Public Schools

    Nicole Knight, Executive Director of English Language Learner and Multilingual Achievement, Oakland Unified School District

    Nadia Madan, Executive Director, Multilingual Education Department, Denver Public Schools

    Marco Tolj, Administrator of Special Education Data and Planning, Los Angeles Unified School District

    Shahryar Khazei, Chief Information Officer (Retired), Los Angeles Unified School District