ESSER money for Jeffco Schools

Federal funds to fight COVID deficits and increase equity

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/13/21

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds were a hot topic during the April 8 Jeffco School Board meeting.  ESSER Funds are a $13.2 billion portion of the $30.75 billion …

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ESSER money for Jeffco Schools

Federal funds to fight COVID deficits and increase equity

Posted

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds were a hot topic during the April 8 Jeffco School Board meeting. 

ESSER Funds are a $13.2 billion portion of the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund that was, in turn, part of the federal Coronavirus

Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorized by congress in March 2020.

Colorado’s share of that $13.2 billion in ESSER Funds was around $120 million, of which a minimum of roughly $109 million is required to be allocated to Local Education Agencies (LEAs).

In the meeting, Nicole Stewart, the District’s Interim Chief Financial Officer, explained that in the ESSER I stage, funds have been used for preventing, preparing for and responding to Covid-19. That includes purchasingPersonal Protective Equipment (PPE) as well as funding increased instruction time, professional development, staff retention and technology needs.

“ESSER II is something that’s new — not included in our adopted budget this year — and it is something that we’re continuing to evaluate (how it can be spent),” she said. “The American Rescue Plan, also known as ESSER III, is new and significant for us. We continue to evaluate our options and listen down at the state for what we can use these funds for.”

Potential ESSER II uses in Stewart’s presentation included increased instructional time, Food Service and Child Care. She noted that this will be a big help to the District, as recently, they’ve been having to prop up Food Service and Child Care with money from the general fund. 

Possible uses for ESSER III Funds included summer school, extended days, comprehensive after school programs, an extended school year and improving building conditions.

Stewart’s presentation also included a breakdown of the numbers that showed Jeffco receiving $7 million in ESSER I, $30.4 million in ESSER II. She said $68.2 million has been approved from the ESSER III phase, although the District will have to apply for $22.7 million of that money and be approved by the Colorado Department of Education before receiving it.

Marcia Anker, Interim Deputy Superintendent, said a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework would be used to determine needs and how ESSER III Funds would be spent. She said the MTSS allows the District to use data to match interventions with each individual student’s needs.

Anker said the options for addressing current needs of the District fall into two categories — summer learning and ongoing into next school year and beyond. 

There will be systemwide help for all students, including support in academics as well as emotional support resources. There will also be more targeted supports aimed at students who need them. Those include Summer Learning and social/emotional interventions. Finally, the District will offer intensive supports for the smaller number of students who need them. These include Intensive Academic and / or Behavioral Interventions and special education services necessary to remediate loss / regression in skills due to COVID-related disruptions.

The Summer Learning program was one beneficiary of ESSER Funds staff highlighted during the meeting. Part of that program, JSEL, (Jeffco Summer of Early Learning), has been part of Jeffco culture for nine years. 

This year there will be eight JSEL location options across the District including Parr Elementary, Arvada K-8, Edgewater Elementary, Slater Elementary, Foothills Elementary, Mortensen Elementary, Welchester Elementary, Rose Stein Elementary and a remote option. 

As of April 7, 340 students had registered for the program. Registration will be open until mid-May, with the program starting June 7 and running through mid-July.

Renee Nicothodes, Chief of Schools, Elementary, said although the JSEL program is well established in the District, the concept of a Jumpstart Week is not. She said the idea of Jumpstart Week is that it’s a transition meant to reintroduce students to school. It’s also a chance for students to meet their teacher and start to build relationships with their peers, she said.

To describe one variation of a Jumpstart Week, Nicothodes used the example of a teacher with a class full of third-graders, 60% of which did full remote the previous year, being able to bring the class in a week early to reacquaint them with the procedures of in-person school in hopes of achieving a better outcome in the classroom experience.

Matt Palaoro, Executive Director, Special Education, spoke about the intensive supports that ESSER III will fund.

“Some of the services our (special education) kids need are just not as easily accessible or transferrable to a remote learning environment,” he said. “So, to do right by our kids, we will provide the special education and related services necessary to support our students with disabilities who need it, to recoup lost skills and to continue to make progress on our I.T. goals and objectives, and we can do that with the help of the ESSER Funding.”

During the public comment period of the meeting, equity in the way the funds will be spent was addressed by several people who spoke. 

Those speakers want to make sure that the funds are being used to help those in underrepresented groups who have been disproportionately affected by learning loss or other difficulties during the pandemic.

What is the Board’s role in ESSER allocation? Board member, Stephanie Schooley, wanted to know. Schooley said what she hadn’t heard to that point, was how the funds would be specifically targeted to those in underrepresented groups.

Stewart explained that the Board’s role doesn’t get into the specifics of directing how the money will be spent.

“In terms of the Board’s role, really, what your role in the finance side is that when you adopt the budget, you’re adopting the spending of the ESSER Funds,” she said. “In terms of the application process, that has to be signed by the Superintendent.”

However, she did say it was important that the Board be engaged in the process and that their direction as to what goes in the application for the funds was needed.

In response to Schooley’s equity concerns, Anker said that if the MTSS was done correctly, those equity concerns would be factored into the allocation plans.

Matthew Flores, Jeffco’s Chief Academic Officer, said another way the District is attempting to address equity concerns is in the way the JSEL programs are geographically located, noting that most of the locations are in areas where a higher percentage of underrepresented students live.

In response to a question from Board President, Susan Harmon, about helping students in grades K-4 reverse learning losses over the coming summer through investments in technology, Stewart said some of that has already been addressed.

“We have already moved forward with ESSER I in purchasing $1.7 million worth of devices to support K-4,” she said. “We have our IT Department working with school leadership in terms of reaching out to schools, who needs it, how to qualify — where we’re sure we’re getting the devices in the right hands.”

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