As the school year comes to a close, school districts across the country are beginning to plan for the next, hopefully less hectic, school year. They’re also hard at work planning how to spend their share of the billions of dollars in K-12 education funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Passed by Congress in March, the act is supposed to provide funds for school districts to upgrade their school facilities to the CDC’s COVID-19 safety standards, provide funds to avoid staff layoffs and hire staff to meet students’ mental health and technology needs and fund programs to address student learning loss, including summer schools.
“Most schools are pretty anxious to get back to normal,” Duncan Unified School District Superintendent D. Eldon Merrell said.
Merrell said his school district is using their share of the funds from the ARPA, and funds from previous federal education aid bills, like the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to update their schools’ ventilation systems. Duncan schools will also be using the funds to purchase a school bus for 80 children, and a set of around 80 Chromebook laptops for students to get “closer and closer to where our children don’t have to share computers,” Merrell said.
Merrell estimated his district’s share of ARPA funds will be around $875,000.
Duncan schools will not offer online, distance learning, for students next year.
“We’re close to normal,” Merrell said, “There’s always a possibility that the COVID thing blows up again, but we know what to do now. We’ve been through it. We’ll keep on plugging along.”
Duncan schools is looking to hire a speech therapist for a position that will become vacant this year. They’re also looking to hire a teacher aide, a principal for Duncan High School and a bus driver.
“We always need bus drivers,” Merrell said.
Morenci Unified School District is looking to hire five teachers for the upcoming school year, according to Superintendent David Woodall. Those positions are: a high school Spanish teacher and middle school art, special education, science and social studies teachers.
“It’s a pretty tight market. There are a whole lot of jobs right now. Both in teaching and the economy as a whole,” Woodall said.
Woodall added that because student demographics in the district trend towards the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the district will be getting a lower amount of money from the ARPA than other school districts. Woodall estimates the district will receive around $600,000.
Woodall said some of the ARPA money would go towards helping to fund summer school programs, but a majority of it will go towards funding increases in staff health insurance premiums for the upcoming school year.
By funding the health insurance increases, the district hopes to retain and attract teaching staff who will not have to pay for the increase in premiums out of their salary.
“That’s something a lot of districts are juggling right now, health insurance premiums,” Woodall said, “but our big thing is just preparing for our end of the year culmination activities.”
Morenci schools will not offer online, distance learning, to students next school year, either, he said.