Tracking the Use of ARP/ESSER Funds in Urban School Districts

  • Next month it will be two years since the American Rescue Plan (ARP) was passed, as part of the $122.8 billion provided under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The historic infusion of federal funds was designed to help the nation’s schools reopen safely and address widespread unfinished learning among students resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

    How are urban school systems using federal funding to meet the needs of their districts? This column is the first in a new feature that highlights the use of federal stimulus funds in the nation’s big-city school districts.

    Saint Paul Public Schools Sees Impacts of American Rescue Plan Funds

    Minnesota’s Saint Paul Public Schools received approximately $207 million in federal funds to be used over the next three years. The funds were invested in several strategies and initiatives, and after the first full year of spending the district is starting to see results.

    • Students in the WINN (What I Need Now) Reading program saw positive growth in their reading scores on average, with students in second and third grade achieving higher growth scores than their peers. The small group reading program launched during the 2021-2022 school year to provide support and intensive literacy instruction for struggling readers.
    •  The district’s Human Resources and the Office of Teaching and Learning used ARP funds to recruit and retain more educators of color through improving hiring processes, recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and expanding and offering supports for educators of color. And the efforts have paid off, with 30 percent of new educators hired in 2022 being people of color, compared to 23 percent in 2021.
    • High school students in the Saint Paul school district completed over 70 internships and earned $50,000, and completed 250 industry-recognized certifications in the 2021-22 school year. The district also expanded Flipside, a middle school after-school program, to all 15 middle schools, with 94 percent of students reporting having a positive experience.

    “Our first year of ARP spending shows what our students and educators can accomplish when schools have the resources they need to succeed,” said Saint Paul Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard. “This progress would not have been possible without the American Rescue Plan. SPPS remains committed to ensuring these once-in-a-generation funds are used wisely, which should serve as a proof point that our students need and deserve sustainable, robust funding into the future.”

    Recently, Gothard and other district officials appeared on a virtual panel hosted by the U.S. Department of Education to discuss the district's efforts to enhance academic recovery since the pandemic using ESSER funding. The 40-minute session was the fifth and final session of the Department's "Raise the Bar" series focusing on strategies and programs to bolster literacy and math outcomes.

    Also, in an effort to be transparent, the district has created an ARP budget dashboard, which shows how funds are being invested and provides quarterly spending updates.