School districts determining plans for latest round of federal stimulus funding

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 10:57 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - More than $120 billion is heading to schools around the country as part of the stimulus package Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed in March.

The American Rescue Plan, the most recent and nearly $2 trillion stimulus plan, includes nearly $775 million for schools in Iowa through the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief (ESSER) Funding. This is the third round of ESSER funding that Pre-K-through-12 schools have received.

“We know it’s not just going to impact this school year, but there’s going to be a significant challenge next couple of years as we really try to help kids return to school and return to normal,” said Shannon Bisgard, superintendent of the Linn-Mar Community School District.

Linn-Mar was allocated about $4.6 million in this third round of funding.

Bisgard said the bulk of that money will go toward hiring more staff, including 12 or 13 new teachers.

“Then we’re also looking to hire two new counselors for next school year to really help support kids when they come back with mental health needs or anxiety or struggles they’re having,” he said.

While the new positions in the high school will help reduce class sizes, Bisgard said the teaching jobs in the elementary and middle schools will be geared toward helping those students make strides in math and reading, respectively, after a challenging year.

“Really the biggest concern is just the unknown,” he said. “We’ve never had a situation like this, so we don’t know exactly how that’s going to look next year.”

The federal government requires at least 20% of the third round of ESSER funding go toward learning loss recovery, which will be the main focus of the money allocated to the Cedar Rapids Community School District — $32.4 million in this most recent round, which comes in the form of reimbursement.

“We haven’t identified the exact breakdown, but we’ve made it a priority, and those funds will be spent over the course of the school year next year, the following summer, and then the next school year as well,” Cedar Rapids Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said.

Cedar Rapids will use some of the money it has left from the second round of ESSER funding for this summer. The district received $14.4 million from the stimulus package passed last December.

As part of that, more money will go toward Kids on Course University, a seven-week program that serves about 800 children, with the goal of growing reading and math skills. It will also replicate the Zach Johnson Foundation’s Scholar Camp Program for about 250 additional middle school students to have academic and enrichment support.

CRCSD will also expand credit recovery options for high school students, offering virtual and in-person options at Jefferson, Kennedy, and Washington High Schools.

“It’s definitely our number-one concern, and looking at student numbers, we have more students that did not pass courses and attain the credits they needed,” Kooiker said. “With that being said, I think we’re being very intentional about the supports we’re putting in place and giving students the opportunity and also being intentional about reaching out and saying, it’s really important that you participate.”

Schools have until September of 2023 to spend their third-round ESSER money.

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