State and federal funds will soon flow to local school districts to cover their additional reopening costs during the pandemic. These costs include not only safety precautions needed to welcome students back to campuses, but additional programming expenses that are resulting from the emotional and academic impact on children who've spent the better part of the last year confined to their homes.
The earmarked state funds are through Assembly Bill (AB 86), the nearly $6 billion COVID-19 relief package, aimed at accelerating a safe return to in-person instruction and provide schools with resources to expand academic, mental health and social-emotional support.
The federal American Rescue Plan provides more than $122 billion to help K-12 schools reopen amid the pandemic.
The expanded learning opportunities grant makes up $4.6 billion of the state funding. This money will go toward extended instructional learning time, learning support, health, counseling, mental health and social-emotional learning, community learning hubs, support for credit-deficient students and staff training.
The state's $2 billion in-person instruction grants are available to school districts that offered in-person instruction, including hybrid models, by April 1, and funding will be reduced by 1% for each instructional day that all required groups are not learning in-person. The funds can be used to help cover COVID-19 testing, cleaning and disinfection, personal protective equipment, ventilation, salaries and social and mental health support services.
Half the state funding will be allocated in May and the other half will be given in August, according to a press release. All districts must approve a spending plan by June 1 and to receive the extra funds, they must have reopened in some capacity by May 15.
In Santa Clara County, the K-12 Palo Alto Unified School District will be receiving $10.7 million through the legislation: $7.25 million for expanded learning opportunities and $3.4 million for the in-person instruction grant. Preliminary proposals from staff include using the state money for new instructional materials, an expanded summer school program, teacher training and classroom ventilation, among other items.
Palo Alto Unified is also set to receive $2.3 million in federal stimulus funds.
The Mountain View Los Altos High School Union District is set to receive $4.6 million from the state: $3.1 million for expanded learning offerings and $1.5 million for in-person instruction.
"While the district hasn't determined specifics for spending, much of the funds will be spent on additional safety equipment to support the return to in-person instruction (such as more CO2 monitors, classroom fans, plastic barriers, hand washing stations, and signage supplies. There will also be additional technology needs as we expand the number of students on campus — this will be to support the simultaneous instruction model (additional cameras, headphones for students) and staffing (substitutes)," spokesperson Ursula Kroemer Leimbach said.
For the expanded learning funds, Mountain View Los Altos is considering expanding an array of support programs for students, including summer school, mental health services and specific services for special education students who suffered learning loss during remote school, Kroemer Leimbach said.
The district is also anticipating just under $1 million will come in from the federal stimulus bill.
The K-8 Mountain View Whisman School District is expecting $3.2 million in expanded learning funds and $1.2 million for in-person instruction through the new state bill. From the federal stimulus package, the district is expecting $2.3 million. The district did not say how it plans to specifically spend the state grants.
Mountain View Whisman has already earmarked about $1 million in federal funding to offer learning support pods on campuses this year to provide higher-needs students with distance learning and technology support.
The Sequoia Union High School District, which has about 9,300 students and is home to Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools, along with TIDE Academy, will receive nearly $9.1 million. Sequoia classrooms are reopening Monday, April 5, to students.
The Menlo Park City School District, which reopened this past fall to those of its 2,932 students who wanted to come back to campuses, is set to receive $2.4 million. District officials are appealing a decision by the U.S. Department of Education to remove funds and services from the district because of erroneous census data, according to a March 25 school governing board presentation.
Some $455,004 will go to the Portola Valley School District, which has 495 students. Of that, $146,477 will go toward in-person instruction and $308,527 will go to expanded learning opportunities. It cost nearly $1 million to reopen Portola Valley School District classrooms this fall, according to the district. The district does not expect to receive funds from the federal relief package based on its low-income student population, said Superintendent Roberta Zarea in an email.
The Woodside Elementary School District, which has about 372 students, is set to receive $309,498. Superintendent Steve Frank said the Woodside district is evaluating how the funds should be used. This past October, it took on half a million dollars in costs for new COVID-19-related safety precautions, which include the administrative costs of testing staff members weekly, HEPA air filter installations, building outdoor classrooms and hiring additional substitute teachers to oversee more fragmented student groups.
"With much uncertainty surrounding the 2021-22 school year, we anticipate that the money will be spent to help support summer school and extended learning opportunities for specific students and increased transportation costs due to COVID, among other things," Frank said in an email. "We are fortunate to have been open full time for the majority of the school year and are operating with the mindset to strategically use the additional funding once we have more clarity as to how we need to operate in 2021-22 with COVID."
The district is expecting $271,136 from the federal government, according to a March 9 board presentation.
About $1.05 million will go to the Las Lomitas Elementary School District. The district, which has 1,111 students, received $519,612 in state and federal learning loss mitigation funds, said Superintendent Beth Polito in an email. The money was used to provide internet connectivity and devices for students during virtual learning, additional instructional materials for students to have at home, an additional three days of professional development for staff and personal protective equipment, Polito said.
An example of the increased costs: material and supplies costs rose from about $680,000 last school year to about $1.4 million this school year, according to the district's interim 2020-21 budget.
The district is beginning to determine the details of its learning recovery program, which will be the focus of the one-time monies from both the state and federal government, Polito said.
"It is likely we will be looking at bolstering our counseling and academic support structures for next year and will need to invest some of these funds in the training necessary to implement those programs effectively," she noted.
The K-8 Ravenswood City School District, which only recently approved a plan to reopen schools districtwide starting April 12, is set to receive $2.4 million from the state for expanding learning opportunities and is eligible for $750,000 for in-person learning. The district is looking at investing in summer school, extending the school day or year and additional interventions like tutoring and mental health counseling for students, said Chief Business Official William Eger, but is continuing to solicit feedback from the school community. Ravenswood is also expecting about $7.5 million to come in from the new federal stimulus package.
The district is looking at the injection of one-time funds with a longer-term view. Eger pointed to a new Education Resource Strategies study on COVID-19's financial impact on K-12 schools that estimates districts should plan on spending $12,000 per student over a five-year period post-pandemic. In Ravenswood, that would cost about $18 million, according to Eger.
"We're a relatively high-need district," he said. "The amount of stimulus money we've received plus money from REF (the Ravenswood Education Foundation) gets us into that ballpark but we're not thinking about this as spending that we need to do just to bring students back safely. We're thinking about this as a five-year learning acceleration initiative."
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.