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New Blueprint to Help Urban School Districts Spend COVID-19 Relief Funds

  • With the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, the 77 member school districts that represent the Council of the Great City Schools are expected to receive more than $40 billion in supplemental funding, as part of the $122.8 billion funds provided under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. This historic infusion of federal funds is designed to help the nation’s schools reopen safely and address widespread unfinished learning among students resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

    To help urban school systems properly manage and allocate these federal funds in ways that most effectively address student needs, the Council created a new toolkit, the Investing American Rescue Plan Funds Strategically and Effectively, Guidance for School Districts.

    The framework offers guidance, resources, and recommendations to the nation’s largest city public school systems and sets out overarching goals for the use of funds; articulates broad investment strategies; defines principles for the effective use of funds; and asks a series of questions that leaders and stakeholders should ask themselves as they embark on planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts. The document also draws on lessons learned from previous infusions of federal dollars and summarizes the main provisions of the federal legislation and agency guidance. Finally, the blueprint articulates things that school districts should avoid doing as they plan for investing these new dollars.

    In a series of topical briefs, the toolkit proposes major investments or “best bets” in the areas of teaching and learning, technology, and facilities. In each area, a series of broad questions are asked, along with present considerations and recommendations for investments based on best practices and the Council’s extensive work with districts over the years.

    Moreover, the document articulates various systemic considerations that school districts need to address in the areas of finance and budgeting, research and evaluation, and communications and public engagement. In addition, it lays out the role of school boards in monitoring the work, identifies key performance indicators to assess progress, and provides a mock budget on how the funds could be allocated over time.

    The toolkit was the work of the Council’s Task Force on Federal Funds Optimization, created in late March and composed of superintendents, board members, chief academic officers, chief operating officers, English language learner (ELL) directors, special education directors and other senior-level administrators from the nation’s largest big-city school systems. The goal of the task force was to encourage districts to think more purposefully about how they can use their new ARP funds to not only safely reopen schools and address pre- and post-pandemic unfinished learning, but also build lasting, equitable systems of teaching and learning.