By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming will receive more than $100 million in federal funding for its K-12 schools, totaling more than $300 million in funds received this year from the federal government.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education approved the state’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief plan, meaning it would release the final $101 million in funding for the state from this program.
WDE chief academic officer Shelley Hamel told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that 90% of the funds from the ARP ESSER plan go to the school districts, and it is up to their discretion on how to spend the money. In total, the WDE will allocate more than $273 million to the state school districts.
“The uses for the money are really all about keeping education moving for students and addressing any gaps that might have been created because of the [COVID] interruption,” Hamel said. “For example, one plan was about shifting to online learning, because that’s where we all were as a country.”
The final 10% of the funds from the federal government will go into a reserve, Hamel said.
Hamel explained that despite the funds being allocated for the school districts, all of the districts will have to submit information about how they plan to spend the money to ensure they are following federal guidelines.
Wyoming’s plan detailed how the state is using and plans to use ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the USDE distributed two-thirds of ARP ESSER funds, a total of $81 billion, to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining third of the funds was made available Friday once state plans were approved.
“Wyoming is anxious to fund and implement transformational educational initiatives that narrow learning gaps and extend learning opportunities,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “My office and I look forward to supporting communities in their endeavors.”
The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the the USDE on Friday, including Wyoming, showed how states are using federal pandemic resources to support safe, in-person instruction and meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students, with a focus on the students most impacted by the pandemic. For example:
- Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: The WDE developed a Smart Start Guidance document for the reopening of schools. The Smart Start Taskforce facilitated a series of meetings during May and June 2020 to consider research and utilize CDC Guidance and state and local health requirements to develop a practical guidance tool to assist school districts in reopening in the fall of 2020 and 2021. Schools are continuing to operate using the structures developed in the Smart Start Guidance, including CDC guidance, and state and local health requirements.
- Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: The WDE will award some ARP ESSER funds through competitive district grants titled “Addressing Gaps and Accelerated Learning.” Districts will select evidence-based interventions consistent with student needs and specific focus areas, including kindergarten readiness, computer science, postsecondary partnerships, postsecondary transition programming, and content specific professional development. Additionally, interventions will include tribal or Wind River Reservation district partnerships. Grant applications will open immediately with anticipated award notification no later than Dec. 15.
- Staffing to Support Students’ Needs: With ARP ESSER funds, the WDE has funded a state school nurse position to provide assistance to districts on implementation of state and local health orders. Additionally, the WDE will use ARP ESSER funds to add necessary staff in districts including highly-qualified interventionists and tutors, counselors, school psychologists and paraprofessionals.
“I am excited to announce approval of Wyoming’s plan,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities, particularly as we enter the upcoming academic year.
The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The state plans that have been submitted to the Department lay the groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better.”
The distribution of ARP ESSER funds is part of the USDE’s effort to support students and districts as they work to re-engage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and build the nation’s education system back better than before.