Across the country, school districts have faced obstacles with the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most challenging problems has been the pandemic’s impact on school budgets. As all more schools attempt to bring students back to in-person learning, they face additional costs in order to achieve in-person learning in a safe and precautionary manner.
In recognition of the challenges faced by schools, the United States government established the Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER), a relief fund for all schools across the country. This funding has been released in three rounds As of last Wednesday the ESSER III has been announced.
“The District plans to address learning loss with both the grant funds and other funding sources. The first initiative in this area will be expanded summer learning opportunities. The District will be outlining these opportunities soon, starting with the April 12 Board of Education Meeting,” District 204’s Comptroller Matt Shipley said.
In total, Illinois K-12 schools are receiving nearly $7 billion from the government over the course of the next three years to assist in safe in-person learning and learning renewal. The funding was distributed based on school district Title I funding formulas, which give funding to districts based on the amount of low-income student populations. Funding was based on the Title I formula due in part to the purpose of these funds in “helping children, parents, caregivers and educators process this experience and restore their learning,” according to Governor Pritzker and State Superintendent Carmen Ayala. The United States Department of Education wants districts to use their funds to interrupt social and economic inequities further caused by the pandemic.
“SEL needs continue to be a priority for the district and the district will be using both ESSER grant and other funding sources to address these needs,” Shipley said.
The most recent relief funding was announced to all Illinois schools in a joint letter from Governor Pritzker and State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala. 204 is listed as receiving approximately $8.5 million to be spent between July and September 2024.
The state is launching new state-led initiatives to provide support in critical areas of high-impact tutoring, community partnerships, and bridge/transition support for enrollment in both early childhood programs and higher education.
The latest relief funding will be used by school districts to use components of the Learning Renewal Resource Guide. The Learning Renewal Resource Guide, which can be found on the Illinois State Board of Education website. The website groups 12 strategies for schools to use in spending that is organized into two buckets; social-emotional or academic growth.
“The pandemic has widened the gap between the students for whom the system was working and the students for whom the system was leaving behind,” Ayala said.
The US Department of Education, the Illinois State Board of Education, and Governor Pritzker’s Office each have posted statements of expectation for spending of these funds that include a framework for equity. In a webinar held last Thursday, Dr. Ayala stated that the framework specifics would be released to all Illinois schools in the near future.