September 28, 2021
It’s been a trying time for school districts, and consistent communication with your community is what’s going to get you through it. Your teachers, students, and families need to know that you’re present with them at every stage of the crisis—and that includes when it comes to budgeting for the upcoming school year.
There are opportunities to look at budgets in new ways this year. Many of the educators who took part in our Education Leadership Summit expressed excitement about what’s on offer through the most recent round of ESSER funding.
This stimulus funding totals $122.7 billion, with 20% available now and 80% by 2024. While there is flexibility in how the funds can be spent—including mental health support, extended learning programs, and Wifi hotspots and devices to help close the digital divide—the process for approval includes a requirement to get community input and buy-in
Based on the comments and questions shared by participants at our Education Leadership Summit, mental health and community engagement services are high on the budgeting agenda for many school leaders:
“How do I get my leadership team on board to think outside the box? ESSER funds give us opportunities to be innovative.”
“Loved the idea of using some funding for community engagement.”
“Mental health practitioners are a definite need as students return in the fall.”
Explore more results from the event’s Budgeting Exchange.
Three ways to enhance the post-pandemic budgeting process
The funding windfall brought on by COVID-19 presents schools with a chance to implement long-term, impactful improvements. However, it is a high-profile cash injection, which means the pressure is also on to prove an adequate return on investment. We recommend thorough planning, community engagement, and thinking outside the box when it comes to delivering on your school’s mission:
- Do your research on how and when funds can be spent.
With the new and additional challenges faced by school leaders this year, it can be overwhelming to decide where to allocate funds. Start with the facts on what is eligible and key dates to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities. Chiefs for Change offers a guide called ‘How Schools Should Use Funding from the American Rescue Plan to Support Students’, which outlines the allocation of funds and requirements to use them, along with a detailed look at the five key priority areas.
Education Week also has a useful overview based on interviews with school districts around the country. The top three areas highlighted here are delivering on unfinished learning, providing mental health support, and increasing access to technology.
To begin planning, multiple participants at our Education Leadership Summit recommended the workbook released by Chiefs for Change. As well as information on the funding types available, the workbook has guidance for how to organize and receive funds, how to select initiatives, and what to look for in potential partners. Additionally, it contains self-populating graphs, charts, and other tools to communicate how the aid will be used to address students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.
- Involve stakeholder groups to provide feedback and ideas on spending proposals
Armed with the knowledge of what funds can be spent on and how long your school has to reach a final decision, open the conversation to the wider community. At our Education Leadership Summit, Superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield discussed how her school district has strategically allocated relief funds, from short-term triaging to long-term impact.
She explained that she has earmarked a percentage of the available budget to community-generated ideas. Not only does this have the potential to highlight areas that leadership may otherwise miss, but it also gives stakeholders a chance to feel heard and influence the plan. ThoughtExchange can help to ensure the process is fair, with participants confidentially answering questions and objectively rating other responses and ideas—all without bias.
- Support the local community with mutually beneficial opportunities
While schools have a primary mission to support and educate children, they also play an important part in creating a thriving local community. But with many communities suffering right now, part of Dr. Enfield’s plan is to meet with local support organizations to develop partnerships that facilitate more authentic and impactful community engagement. The school outsources an important part of its mission to local experts, and in doing so, supports their livelihoods.
In Illinois, Dr. Devon Horton, Superintendent of Evanston/Skokie District 65, talked about the teacher training program that the district is developing. He spoke at the Education Leadership Summit and said that while his district is not short of teachers, it is short of diversity. The Urban Teaching Residency will support twenty local people to become teachers, with classes over the summer followed by an intensive one-year teaching mentorship program. The ESSER dollars mean these trainees can be paid a proper salary from the start, allowing them to focus all their energies on becoming highly effective teachers.
The Knowledge to Navigate The Next Normal
The challenges of the upcoming school year are unique but not insurmountable. With the right strategy and technologies in hand, you can connect with stakeholders, discover untapped opportunities, and navigate the post-pandemic school year with success. Watch the full Education Leadership Summit for more insights from your leadership peers, or contact us to discuss how ThoughtExchange could benefit your school district in the year ahead.