School funding has always been a challenge, but a recession and pandemic have made it even more of a hurdle for many districts in recent years

Faced with fast-changing instructional models, varying infection rates, decreasing revenue sources, and a variety of natural disasters, how can education finance officials meet the short-term needs of their districts as well as longer-term school funding requirements?

During a recent edLeader Panel, four experts shared their recent experiences and current perspectives on the issues and challenges that school districts have been coping with during the past six months. They also discussed interim solutions and plans for the future, all of which are continuing to evolve.

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A number of the speakers actually had wildfires raging nearby as they spoke, while the combined impact of the pandemic and related recession were also presenting urgent challenges to the well-being of local students and educators, as well as to parents and other community members.

Creative re-purposing and partnering

For Dr. Lisa Gonzales, Chief Business Officer of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in California, one of the biggest changes and challenges was her district’s sudden switch during the summer from a return to schools to going entirely online at the start of the new school year. With more than 29,000 students and 50 school sites spread over 150 square miles, providing needed services to a diverse student population in a wide range of different settings was no easy task.

Faced with fast-changing instructional models, varying infection rates, decreasing revenue sources, and a variety of natural disasters, how can education finance officials meet the short-term needs of their districts as well as longer-term school funding requirements?

During a recent edLeader Panel, four experts shared their recent experiences and current perspectives on the issues and challenges that school districts have been coping with during the past six months. They also discussed interim solutions and plans for the future, all of which are continuing to evolve.

A number of the speakers actually had wildfires raging nearby as they spoke, while the combined impact of the pandemic and related recession were also presenting urgent challenges to the well-being of local students and educators, as well as to parents and other community members.

Creative re-purposing and partnering

For Dr. Lisa Gonzales, Chief Business Officer of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in California, one of the biggest changes and challenges was her district’s sudden switch during the summer from a return to schools to going entirely online at the start of the new school year. With more than 29,000 students and 50 school sites spread over 150 square miles, providing needed services to a diverse student population in a wide range of different settings was no easy task.

Rather than using their school buses to bring students to schools, the district turned its buses into mobile service providers that could deliver meals and other types of support to students, while also serving as internet connection hotspots. With bus drivers at the wheel, food service providers and other personnel such as child welfare officers have been riding the buses and going to where the students are, instead of having students come to them.

These types of arrangements require effective partnering with unions and community groups, in order to identify solutions and reach agreements while dealing with budget shortfalls. Dr. Gonzales’s district is reaching out to local non-profits for help with the shift to 100% online learning, which cannot be done quickly or cheaply, especially at a time when the district is receiving less state funding.

Dr. Gonzales recommends staying focused on attendance, which now means how many students are connecting online and for how long, as these will be important school funding matters going forward. She also recommends working with county and state officials to track what’s working in other districts, and she suggested keeping the district’s “external auditor on speed dial” to make sure that any new steps being taken are within the appropriate guidelines and deadlines, which also remain subject to change.

Understanding ESSER, ESF-REM, and GEER

Susan Gentz, a partner at K20Connect, provided a guide to the types of emergency federal funding that became available during the summer of 2020, as well as some of the issues that districts receiving funding will need to work through. She pointed out that the legislation was passed quickly and without a lot of accountability, leaving a lot of the details to be figured out later.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund follows the same formula as Title I, so it can be used to help bridge the digital divide for students from low-income families. At roughly $35 billion, it is a major source of funding but not nearly enough given the shortfall in state and local revenues, which traditionally provide a large percentage of school funding budgets.

There are also Education Stabilization Fund – Rethink Education Models (ESF-REM) grants, and they also can be used to provide broadband access as part of a new education model. In addition, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) allow each state’s governor to select projects that then receive federal funds.

Gentz reports that there has been confusion about deadlines, many of which are federal but some of which are state imposed. And in some cases, there may be requirements that the federal funds supplement state budgets rather than replace them. There are also numerous waivers that have been granted and should be taken into consideration.
source: Read More, eSchool News

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