To address the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, Congress is providing unprecedented funding to schools across the country. SAISD will receive about $208 million of these funds over the next three years.
To access the funds, however, school districts are required by the US Department of Education to undertake a significant level of community engagement. We need to work with students, families, faculty, administrators, staff, civil rights organizations and stakeholders representing the interests of disadvantaged children.
We have a lot of work to do. I am the SAISD board member representing this neighborhood, and I want your thoughts and advice on how these funds should be spent.
Let me explain the background, and then I’ll tell you how you can give us your input.
WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING TO HELP?
To address the crisis, the US Congress is providing funds to schools across the country under The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Grant Programs (ESSER). These funds were authorized by Congress in three separate pieces of COVID relief legislation to assist schools in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools. The funds are distributed to the states, which then allocate them per a formula to local school districts. SAISD will receive approximately $208 million over the course of the next three years.
HOW CAN WE SPEND THE MONEY?
These are much needed funds that can be used for a wide range of activities. Here are some examples of how these funds might be used:
Providing additional academic support to students
Buying PPE and air filtration systems
Supporting online instruction for vulnerable students
Hiring more teachers to keep classroom sizes small
Investing in more social workers and counselors to address the social, emotional and mental health needs of our students
Giving a COVID bonus for workers who have kept our schools running throughout the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Education has given school districts wide latitude in determining how to best use the funds to ensure that students have access to a quality education, and to ensure that students and workers are safe in our schools.
While the schools were closed, SAISD delivered food to families with children. This school bus was parked on Labor Street, near the Refugio and HemisView apartments, delivering food to residents.
WHY ARE WE GETTING THIS MONEY?
Students refer to last year as “the spring break that never ended”. That break started under the ever growing threat of COVID-19, and most San Antonio students never set foot back in their schools until this fall.
As COVID-19 sent devastating waves through our community, the school district stepped up and adjusted. Instruction shifted rapidly to online classes. District administrators scrambled to get devices and internet access to all students. Teachers developed online curriculums on the fly, and struggled to stay connected with their most vulnerable students and families. Custodians worked - with limited supplies - to disinfect school spaces, and our food service workers began distributing meals curbside so that families had access to food while the school buildings were closed.
Despite our best efforts, however, our students’ lives and educational experiences were upended.
Many of the neighborhoods served by SAISD were some of the hardest hit in the city. Families experienced illnesses and deaths of loved ones. Many lost their jobs and faced hunger and eviction. We lost several SAISD teachers and staff members. Students spent months isolated from their friends and many report that their mental health suffered as a result.
At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, we were all hopeful that we would begin the 2021-2022 school year with some sense of normalcy. Our hopes were quickly dashed as the Delta variant reared its ugly head. We were presented with yet another challenge… beginning the school year during a new, more contagious wave of COVID, with children under 12 still ineligible to be vaccinated.
WHAT IS REQUIRED OF US TO ACCESS THE FUNDS?
We are eligible to receive a lot of money, and we’ll have terrific flexibility in how we can use it. But along with that, we will be required by the US Department of Education to undertake a significant level of community engagement.
Recognizing that the impact of COVID has not been borne equally across our communities, the Department of Education is requiring that school districts engage in “meaningful consultation” with a wide range of community members to determine how to best spend ESSER dollars.
Districts are required to work with students, families, teachers, principals, administrators, and workers to develop their plans. In addition, we are required to work with people representing members of our community who have been most negatively impacted by COVID, including “civil rights organizations and stakeholders representing the interests of children with disabilities, English language learners, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, migrant students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students.”
WHERE DO WE STAND, WHAT'S NEXT, AND HOW CAN YOU HELP?
ESSER funds provide an incredible opportunity for our district to begin to heal from the wounds inflicted by COVID on our school communities. By working with a broad and inclusive group of stakeholders, and seeking public engagement in developing our plan for using ESSER funds, we can also begin to address the historic inequities that have made many members of our community particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.
Late last spring, a community coalition of families, students, community members, community-based organizations and unions came together to advocate for SAISD to create an ESSER stakeholder committee. That committee would lead the community engagement work and advise the board in how to allocate ESSER funds to best meet the needs of our community. While the board has yet to vote to create this committee, several of my board colleagues and I are supportive of this proposal.
One piece of the work that the community coalition has already done is to go door-to-door to survey community members about how they would like to see ESSER funds spent in the district. This is vital information that will help the board determine our funding decisions.
We want input from more community members — we want YOUR input. Will you help us out? And help out our community? Please share your thoughts with us about how ESSER funds should be used. Access the coalition’s survey here and tell us what you think.
Sarah Sorensen is our district's representative on the SAISD Board of Trustees
SAISD will receive about $206 million of these funds over the next three years
We are eligible to receive a lot of money, and we’ll have terrific flexibility in how we can use it. But we will be required to undertake a significant level of community engagement.