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Iowa State Education Association advocates for teacher input as districts allocate federal dollars

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 10:20 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - From improving building ventilation to avoiding layoffs to adding summer school classes, Iowa school districts have a wide variety of ways to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money that will be divided among them.

Nearly $775 million is allocated to pre-K-through-12 schools in Iowa as part of the American Rescue Plan, the nearly $2 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law in March. Of that money, 90% will be distributed among school districts, while the remaining 10% will be allocated to statewide education efforts.

“It is also the single-biggest investment in public education ever, with $170 billion dedicated to education funding,” Mike Beranek, the president of the Iowa State Education Association, said, an organization that represents more than 50,000 school employees across the state.

This is the third round of emergency funding sent to schools over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the uses are vast, Beranek said teachers need to be included in conversations about how to spend this federal money.

“The U.S. Department of Education, in writing direction on how to use the funds, says that local stakeholders, including educators and all in-school employees, must be engaged in meaningful consultation on how the funds are used,” he said.

The ISEA invited two teachers, including one from Cedar Rapids, to a call with reporters Monday to share their ideas for what that investment could look like.

“This historic influx of money in our school communities can be a game-changer for so many students, families, and educators, if done right,” Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher at Hoover Community School, said. McMahon advocated for districts to establish more community-based schools like the Cedar Rapids Community School District has done at Hoover.

Part of the money is required by the federal government to go toward addressing learning disruptions because of the pandemic. The Cedar Rapids Community School District announced it will use funding to expand summer programming to try to help students catch up on learning they might have missed in a year when so much classroom time was virtual. That includes more credit recovery courses for high school students so they can graduate on time.

“We have a historic opportunity to do some great things, to fill some gaps, and to fix some of the equity gaps which have always been present but have become painfully clear during the pandemic,” Beranek said.

The state Department of Education has to submit its plan for using its share of the money by June, according to Beranek, who said school districts have until later this year to determine how they will use theirs and more than two years from now to spend it.

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