Books, buses, bleachers and bogs: Nebraska colleges have lengthy procuring checklist with federal ‘rescue’ help | Nationwide Information

OMAHA — Nebraska college districts are cashing in on the huge federal rescue package deal Congress handed final yr to offer pandemic aid.

They’re shopping for every little thing from buses to toilet fixtures, stadium bleachers and robots, however the preferred buy is curriculum — the books, on-line assets and different supplies for instructing.

The $492 million allotted to Nebraska districts by means of the American Rescue Plan Act is proving to be much less of a rescue and extra of a reward for getting youngsters again into in-person studying forward of different states.

A number of the spending is clearly associated to COVID-19 restoration and prevention, addressing psychological well being and studying loss, based on a World-Herald assessment of district spending plans.

Not all of it, nevertheless.

Congress wrote the spending guidelines so broadly that, with few exceptions, just about any education-related expense will be justified. Congress stated solely 20% have to be used to handle studying loss. They put few restrictions on spending the remaining.

Plattsmouth Group Faculties’ plan consists of putting in bleachers on the guests’ aspect of the district’s soccer stadium.

“It’s a bit troublesome to get satisfactory social distancing when you could have one set of bleachers on one aspect of the sector,” Superintendent Richard Hasty stated. “The objective with the bleachers is to enhance distancing between everybody.”

Hasty stated the thought for bleachers got here up whereas well being officers have been nonetheless recommending separating pupil teams to cut back illness unfold.

“Clearly it happened throughout COVID, however that’s most likely useful no matter what the well being concern could be, to have folks separated and distanced,” Hasty stated.

Greater than two-thirds of districts — together with Bellevue and several other metro Omaha districts — indicated they’re shopping for curriculum, primarily in core educational areas of math, science, English language arts and social research.

A smaller variety of districts plan to purchase social-emotional curriculum. These are classroom classes meant to socialize kids by rising their consciousness of self and society, together with bettering relationship and decision-making abilities.

After curriculum, the preferred purchases are heating-and-air-conditioning models, adopted by classroom expertise — every little thing from whiteboards to iPads and robots that enable sick or quarantining college students to take part remotely within the classroom.

Some districts are shopping for buses, SUVs and vans.

Others are renovating college kitchens and bogs, changing college home windows, increasing school rooms and weight rooms, including playgrounds.

They’re hiring academics, counselors, social employees, therapists and curriculum consultants.

Some are changing consuming fountains with bottle-filling stations or placing moveable air filters in school rooms.

The cash is from the Elementary and Secondary Faculty Emergency Reduction Fund — known as ESSER III and allotted by means of the 2021 American Rescue Plan. Districts have till Sept. 30, 2024, to spend their share of the funds.

Earlier rounds of ESSER funding have been allotted by means of earlier federal COVID aid measures, together with the 2020 CARES Act.

Nebraska colleges didn’t want rescuing as badly as colleges in different states.

The state’s colleges have been among the many first within the nation to return to offering in-person learning. That meant college students didn’t fall as far behind academically as their friends elsewhere.

Chad Aldeman, coverage director for Georgetown College’s Edunomics Lab, stated the funding has been helpful however information present it won’t have been as wanted in Nebraska.

Solely about 3% of Nebraska school districts have used money within the final spherical of COVID-19 aid funding, based on the U.S. Division of Schooling. Districts have spent 21% of ESSER II and 91% of ESSER I funds.

“There’s nonetheless alternative for them to spend that cash, nevertheless it means that reopening wasn’t actually based mostly on the necessity for cash,” he stated.

Nebraska districts are spending a lot of it on regular college bills or wish-list tasks that in any other case would have required a bond problem or simply remained on the again burner.

The allocations have been based mostly on Title I poverty funding, so high-poverty districts obtained essentially the most cash.

The Omaha Public Faculties, as an illustration, bought $194.4 million. About 78% of its college students certified without cost or reduced-price college meals final yr, based on the Nebraska Division of Schooling. The Elkhorn Public Faculties, with 10% low-income youngsters and about one-fifth as many college students, obtained $899,000.

That’s nearly $3,800 a child versus lower than $85 a child.

Lincoln Public Faculties obtained $61.4 million within the third spherical of federal funding. The district focused addressing college students’ psychological well being wants and including employees time to work with college students who might use further assist to catch up in a number of topic areas.

LPS additionally plans to develop a pilot program referred to as Development by way of Particular person Dedication, or AVID, at extra colleges. It goals to arrange soon-to-be first-generation faculty college students for all times after highschool.

Of the state’s 244 districts, two Nebraska districts declined the cash: Cross County and Hayes Heart. 5 of them didn’t obtain any ESSER III cash in any respect: Elgin, Arthur County, Exeter-Milligan, McPherson County and Sioux County.

Faculty officers in Cross County and Hayes Heart didn’t return calls or emails to clarify why they declined the funding.

David Jespersen, spokesman for the Nebraska Division of Schooling, stated the 5 districts that didn’t obtain any ESSER cash had beforehand declined to obtain Title I poverty funding from the federal government, in flip taking away their likelihood to obtain any COVID-19 aid {dollars}.

These districts nonetheless obtained some funding from the portion of cash the state obtained for itself, Jespersen stated. On prime of the $492 million being allotted to districts, Nebraska has almost $55 million for statewide investments.

States weren’t allowed to chop again on state college funding and substitute it with the help. Consequently, the federal cash represents a major increase above native college budgets.

Robert Moore, assistant superintendent of the Bellevue Public Faculties, stated the problem in his district was to “discover good methods to place that cash to work for us.”

“Once they say unexpectedly that you’ve got $6.3 million, that’s a blessing and a curse,” Moore stated of his district’s allotment. “It’s laborious to spend that amount of cash.”

Ninjay H Briotyon

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