The American Rescue Plan (ARP) is giving schools across the country a much-needed injection of funds to address many of the problems caused by the pandemic. Unlike most federal funding, the stimulus comes with few restrictions for districts – other than requiring them to set aside 20 percent to address learning loss – so they have the flexibility to tackle issues specific to their schools and student population.
While ARP provides districts with full autonomy regarding allocations, it also forces them to think more strategically when investing in programs. Administrators not only have to spend every dollar wisely today in order to maximize student outcomes, they have to prepare for the fiscal cliff waiting for them when funding comes to a sudden stop in 2024.
Explained the chief financial officer of one school district to Bloomberg magazine, “The hardest thing to do is spend one-time money well.”
How districts are directing ARP funds
According to EdWeek, in general, districts are earmarking a majority of funds for reversing learning loss suffered during COVID-19. Elevating summer programs, assisting with academic achievement, and hiring more social workers and counselors to address students’ social-emotional needs follow closely behind.
To meet their goals for the next three years, 65 percent of districts are investing in new technology as well, including enhanced learning platforms, connectivity, and devices. In one study of 1,040 school districts, researchers found that administrators have already allotted $260 million for student mobile devices alone. For rural districts where the lack of broadband is still an obstacle to learning, the main focus is on improving student access to technology.
In addition, the availability of ARP funds is increasing the demand for assessment tools to test student skills across subjects and grade levels, especially in districts that serve children from low-income communities or English language learners. As Alex Harwin of EdWeek wrote, “Districts are juggling a variety of assessment needs, as they look for ways to gauge the impact of interrupted leaning.”
The highest portions of funding will be spent on benchmark and interim assessments, formative and classroom-based evaluations, and social-emotional learning measures. In particular, districts are looking for educational platforms that have formative and classroom assessments already woven in.
By collecting and analyzing student comprehension and performance data, schools can identify learning gaps, provide the appropriate scaffolding, and accelerate learning to ensure students stay on course.
What to look for in a digital solution
This historic financial boon provides the relief many schools needed even before the pandemic hit. Yet, with all the unknowns, district CFOs and superintendents still need to stay on the conservative side to best serve each student’s individual needs with the money available and prepare for the unexpected over the next three years.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to partner with proven digital learning vendors that meet evidence-based solution requirements for federal funding streams. Apex Learning efficacy studies, for instance, meet standards at the “moderate”, “promising” and “demonstrates a rationale” evidence level, providing data that our tools result in positive performance outcomes for students.