The Indianapolis Public Schools district hosted the first of four public sessions Monday to discuss how it will spend some of its more than $200 million in federal funding to address the pandemic's impact on students and schools. IPS must decide how to use these one-time funds as it faces an $18 million shortfall.
Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund last year through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help school districts across the country.
IPS received about $17 million through the ESSER funding distributed in March 2020. Then the district was given $60.5 million through ESSER II in December and $136 million through ESSER III in March 2021. That’s a total of $213.5 million in federal pandemic aid for the IPS district.
Charter schools within the IPS Innovation Network will receive a total of $78.1 million.
But the money does come with some strings attached. It must be used to address learning loss and to prepare schools for reopening — such as repairing and updating facilities to improve air quality.
The biggest hitch: ESSER funding must be spent by September 2024 — potentially limiting how much of long-term impact the money can make.
Earlier this year, IPS reported spending around $26 million in federal funds on technology, health and safety needs.
During the 2020-2021 school year, IPS used ESSER funding for safety and academic support, as well as summer school expansion.
In preparation for next school year, IPS has expanded summer school and tried to retain more staff to prepare students for next school year. But IPS’ chief academics officer Warren Morgan said there’s still more work to be done to make up for lost instruction.
Standardized tests used by IPS to measure student academic growth showed a 5% to 10% drop in math scores compared to the fall 2019 results, Morgan said. He also expressed support for students’ social emotional learning and families who have experienced an economic impact.
The district also discussed allocating the funding toward initiatives that align with the district’s 2025 strategic priorities, such as increasing access to rigorous curriculum and promoting racial equity.
Morgan said the district plans to purchase a new curriculum for all core subject areas, which will have a specific focus on English language arts and literacy. IPS will also provide paid professional development for teachers to understand the new instruction guidelines.They will also hire national organizations to coach teachers on ways to improve student achievement.
During the meeting, attendees used Zoom breakout rooms to discuss ways they think ESSER funding should be used. The groups talked about using the money for a variety of options from supporting students and staff’s mental health, to adding more resources in classrooms.Some of the suggestions included:
- Increase translation services for non-English speaking families
- Increase teacher retention through mentorship
- Provide more social emotional learning supports and extra curricular activities
- Provide more one-on-one support by having additional classroom assistants
An ESSER “tracker” will be added to the front page of the district’s website in order to add transparency to district spending. It will be updated on a quarterly basis, Board of Schools Commissioners President Evan Hawkins said.
More events to discuss the funding are set for this week. Registration is required to attend:
- 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Arlington Middle School, 4825 N. Arlington Ave. Register here.
- 12 to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, hosted virtually. Register here.
- 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, George Washington High School, 2215 W. Washington St. Register here.
The IPS Board of Schools Commissioners will discuss ESSER funding at their June 24 meeting.