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COVID-relief funds released to Mid-Missouri school districts

by Anna Campbell | March 6, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
In this July 10, 2021 photo, a sign warns motorists of a school crossing near Thorpe Gordon Elementary in Jefferson City.

In Mid-Missouri, much of the attention on passage of the state's supplemental budget bill was on a long-awaited state pay package.

However, area educators were more tuned into the budget's allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds for schools.

Missouri's supplemental budget bill, signed by the governor Feb. 24, granted a $15 per hour minimum wage for state workers plus a 5.5 percent cost of living adjustment, following the governor's recommendations. However, the bill also contained an urgent provision that Missouri school districts have been eagerly waiting for: the latest Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. The funds, which come from the federal government, are intended to help schools recover from troubles caused by the pandemic.

For local districts, this could mean money for tutoring services, mental health, salaries and testing.

If the Legislature had failed to appropriate the funds by the March 24 deadline, the funds would have essentially disappeared for Missouri schools.

"DESE appreciates the work of the legislature and Governor Parson to make these much-needed ARP ESSER dollars, commonly known as ESSER III funds, available to our schools as they continue to support pandemic recovery efforts in their communities," Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in a news release.

With the passage of the spending bill, funding at the local level is now secured, and schools can plan for where to direct their promised funds. The funds are available to be requested as a reimbursement from DESE over the next three years, and districts must put at least 20 percent of the funding toward items related to learning loss.

The News Tribune asked local schools about how much they expected to receive and where it might be spent.

Jefferson City School District

JC Schools Chief Financial Officer Shari LePage said the district had been allocated $14.7 million in the third installment of ESSER dollars.

LePage said the district was considering several items to spend it on, though they are subject to change:

• After-school tutoring for students who have shown learning loss due to COVID-19.

• Salaries and benefits for social emotional learning specialists, screeners and curriculum.

• Tools to track student progress.

• Pre-ACT materials for high school students.

• Books for secondary schools, the alternative school and preschool.

• Math intervention and curriculum.

• A two-week summer school program and associated transportation.

Blair Oaks School District

Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said the district was allocated $218,219, and the district was planning for the funds while keeping in mind they are one-time revenues that likely would not work for recurring expenditures.

A document on the district's website explains "the funds are not distributed on a per pupil basis so totals will vary by district." It said "states and schools receive this funding based on the number of students in poverty in the same manner as funding under Title I Part A better known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)."

"Ultimately, we are using the additional revenues to best meet the overall needs of our students and district. Although our revenues are minor in comparison to other districts, we have attempted to prioritize our needs to make best use of the funds," Jones said.

Jones said virtual education, which has directly increased because of COVID-19, is a growing expense the district might put the money toward.

"Virtual education expenditures over the last two school years have exceeded $120,000. The ESSER monies allowed the district to address this expenditure without reducing the number of on-campus teachers for in-person instruction," Jones said.

Jones said the district would also consider putting the money toward cybersecurity to protect digital systems and networks or toward technology upgrades.

Cole County R-5 (Eugene)

Superintendent Charley Burch said Eugene was allocated $907,438.

Burch said the funds would go toward teacher salaries, addressing learning loss and increasing mental health awareness.

Burch said the district has begun the process of adding before and after-school tutoring. The district has also put resources toward increasing awareness of resources for mental health and suicide prevention, including presentations, speakers and training for staff on spotting signs of deteriorating mental health and suicide risks. Burch said there is also a presentation on anxiety and depression scheduled for May for students.

Cole County R-1 (Russellville)

Superintendent Perry Gorrell said the district had been allocated $794,000. The money will go toward addressing learning loss in the K-8 building using i-Ready, a diagnostic testing tool, and assigning a teacher part-time to learning intervention. The money would also support learning intervention at the high school level along with capital projects.

"These projects will aid in the future expansion of our facility due to an increase in student enrollment over the past few years," Gorrell said. "We believe that our district will continue to grow, and we will need to address the need for added classroom space. Ten years from now, a district should be able to look back and see that the revenue was spent on needed projects for the district."

Print Headline: COVID-relief funds released to local school districts


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