Greene County Schools use funds resulting from COVID-19 to improve academic program, staff development, facilities upgrade

To support schools and districts in addressing the impact of COVID-19, Congress has provided financial support through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Funds are allocated to each state in the same proportion as their Title I, Part A grants. In March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included $13 billion in ESSER funds. In December 2020, an additional $54 billion for ESSER II was allocated through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) authorized another $122 billion for ESSER III (also called “ARP ESSER”) in March 2021.  With the CARES ACT of March 2020, Alabama was allocated $217 M for its K-12 schools, administered through ESSER 1. The Greene County School System received approximately $864,000. ESSER I provided resources for additional student services in curriculum and instruction; staff development and professional services; Special Education Services; PPE supplies and safety and sanitation of facilities in preparation for students to return to on site classes; technology including learning aids for students’ virtual classes; transportation; health services which included equipping nurses stations; other sundry services for the system. These funds must be spent by 2022. Following the CRRSA Act signed December, 2020, Alabama received $899 M for ESSER II. Greene County School System has been allocated approximately $3.3 M in ESSER II funds. According to Superintendent Dr. Corey Jones, the system is in the process of completing its ESSER II plan, which must be submitted to the State Board of Education by June, 2021. Dr. Jones noted that 50% of these funds can be allocated to upgrading facilities, with the remaining supporting curriculum and learning loss with enhanced summer school programs; technology expansion and upgrade across the system; staff development; continued safety measures in facilities; supplies, etc. These funds must be spent by 2023. In the recently passed American Rescue Plan of March 2021, Alabama is likely to receive $2 B to distribute through the ESSER 3 fund. Although the specific guidelines have not been released, more than 80% of these funds will be used to address unfinished learning and supporting the school system’s return to in-person learning. The ARP specifically states that the public school system must spend 20% of ESSER funds to directly address student learning loss. Districts have the flexibility to use the ESSER funds on any “activity authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” As a condition for receiving ESSER funds, state education agencies must continue to financially support K-12 public schools (maintenance of effort) at the same level or greater in fiscal 2022 and 2023 as they did on the average of fiscal 2017-2019. Similarly, state agencies and local districts may not reduce funding on a per-pupil basis (maintenance of equity). As the Legislature prepares to pass a state education budget, it cannot reduce funding to local school districts or the state risks losing ESSER funds. This is not expected to be an issue, with both Gov. Kay Ivey and the Legislature supporting increases in state funding.