The COVID-19 pandemic has left death, depression, and desperation throughout the community, state, nation, and the world. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives. Millions more had their lives ravaged by economic, social, and emotional hardships that may take years or even decades to repair and overcome. And with the adverse impact that the pandemic has had on our system of education, the hidden collateral damage may not be recognized for years, decades, or even generations.
But help for our most fragile and vulnerable students is coming through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden. This law promises to speed up the U.S. recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides $130 billion to elementary, middle, and high schools to assist with the safe reopening of schools. This unprecedented infusion of financial resources to school districts will require school boards to lean even more strongly into their fiduciary role and responsibility in protecting this investment for the nation’s most fragile students.
School boards, in their continued commitment to addressing the vexing, seemingly intractable issues related to student learning, now shoulder an even greater burden. They must ensure that earmarked funds are used as intended and address students whose learning and lives have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies and data continue to show that the learning losses caused by the pandemic will be greater among low-income, Black, and Hispanic students. This demographic is highly concentrated in urban school districts around the nation, and its anticipated academic, social, and emotional needs generated the unprecedented amount of federal funds.
Has your school board reviewed its allocation? Has it provided direction to the administration on how these funds are to be used in your district? Have your community stakeholders been included in this process? Has your school board reviewed federal assurances and guidelines and developed an expenditure plan for the use and audit of these funds?
With the infusion of these unprecedented funds, school districts will be able to enhance their capacity to mitigate and address the unprecedented adverse impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on its students and their learning for over a year. As the ultimate authority of the nation’s school districts, school boards must take bold, unapologetic, and deliberate steps to promote and maintain accountability, integrity, and transparency in developing a cohesive yet comprehensive plan of action for the use of funds allocated to the district through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Doing so will provide leadership, direction, and engagement to ensure that all resources and federal funds are targeted and used as intended. You should include measures that ensure proper planning, budgeting, accountability, transparency, and impact on behalf of your local taxpayers, district, community, and most importantly, your students.