Area school districts will proceed cautiously before deciding how to best utilize federal money coming their way via the American Rescue Plan.
Sustainability — being able to continue to fund programs and offerings started with the new money — is one concern. How best to offset learning loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is another.
The money is designed to support efforts to reopen K-12 schools safely this month and equitably expand opportunities for students who need it most.
At Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Superintendent Cliff McClure said the district will prioritize bridging the COVID-19 learning gap and the digital divide as well as addressing any health and safety needs of students.
“The long-term goal is the sustainability,” McClure said.
“I don’t want to go out and begin a bunch of new things and not have the money to fund those things” in future years. “We will work with teachers, the board and stakeholders to discuss them like we always do.”
McClure said the $2.131 million PBL will get in the third round of funding is the most the district has ever received from the federal government at one time.
“You can spend it up through 2023, and potentially 2024,” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m not going to rush into anything. It’s strategic planning what we want to do with those dollars.”
McClure said public input will be considered, which he said the district continues to do.
“We’re continually collecting public input through surveys and things of that nature,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is addressing the COVID needs. We’re a rural school district, so how do we provide those technological tools necessary for all children, ... and then while all along being able to safely go to school and increase that back to an all-day model, not just to 1 o’clock each day.”
Rantoul City Schools Superintendent Michelle Ramage said the district is studying how to best use the federal money.
Ramage said the district is working collaboratively to determine where the money should be spent.
“We are working with our union, the administration. There’s also a process that involves the public. There’s a timeline on what we have to do to communicate to the community.”
Ramage said RCS is ahead of the game in terms of technology, having provided devices and hot spots to all K-8 students who needed them.
“Certainly we’re looking at some technology, but not probably what other districts need,” she said.
Ramage noted that one stipulation of the grant is that districts reserve at least 20 percent of the direct allocation to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and to ensure the interventions address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student groups.
The state is encouraging districts to use the money to “alter the educational trajectory of our most vulnerable students,” including increasing in-person instruction time for students, especially those at risk of not being prepared for the next grade level, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.