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Athens High School in The Plains, Ohio.

Local school districts use ESSER funding to mitigate COVID-19 learning loss

School districts in Athens County are using federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, fund money to address learning loss due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Each local school district – including Alexander Local School District, Trimble Local School District and Athens City School District (ACSD) – used their funding in slightly different ways. The districts emphasized supporting online learning and creating safer, cleaner learning environments. The Ohio Department of Education received over $440 million in ESSER funds to allocate towards local educational agencies.

ESSER funding was received by school districts in three different rounds. Local districts currently have budgets and funding approved for the second round, or ESSER II, by the Ohio Department of Education. 

The amount of funding that a particular school district received was based on the Title I formula, which comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. 

ASCD received close to $3 million during that round of funding, while both Alexander Local School District and Trimble Local School District only received around $1.5 million during the same round of funding, according to the ESSER II funding budgets for school districts in Athens provided on the Ohio Department of Education's website. 

Both Alexander and Trimble implemented a summer school program to combat learning loss.

“We’re doing a much more robust summer school program for our students,” Jared Bunting, treasurer and Chief Finance Officer of Trimble, said. “After the first year … we’ve had a pretty good success story with that. We had eight seniors that were able to graduate over the summer, that otherwise would not have.”

ACSD also plans to create credit recovery programs on the weekends and summers with its second round of ESSER funding.

Additionally, both Alexander and Trimble were able to find areas of deficiency within their school programs. Both districts are planning to address issues like the need for more intervention support, such as reading intervention and academic coaching time, and nutritional deficiencies, respectively. 

ACSD is focused on using its funding to create better online programs and ensuring students have devices and internet access, according to the budget details section of their ESSER II application. 

New HVAC units and systems, as well as other cleaning supplies, are also a part of what local districts are planning on spending their ESSER II funds on. 

“CDC recommends improving indoor air quality in buildings to reduce the risk of virus transmission indoors,” ACSD wrote in the budget details section of their ESSER II application. “These improvements, therefore, are reasonable and necessary expenses in preventing, preparing for, and responding to coronavirus.”

Alexander is also planning on using the funding to increase its mental health services for students. Lindy Douglas, superintendent of Alexander Local Schools, said they are facilitating partnerships with Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Hopewell Recovery Services and Athens County Children’s Services to support children’s mental wellness.

Douglas believes the funding has helped the school district by allowing them to have additional staffing levels and more intervention programs. However, she doesn’t believe all of the learning loss is going to be mitigated in one year.

“I think we all came to an agreement that this will be a process. You can’t fix the learning loss in one year,” Douglas said. “We need to look at the next three years to regain the learning loss that we have. I think a really big focus is your high schools and meeting the criteria for graduation.”

Even though each local school district was able to use the funding they received at their discretion, the different uses were required to fall under certain guidelines set by the United States Department of Education. 

“ESSER II is intended to help states and school districts safely reopen schools, measure and effectively address significant learning loss, and take other actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the students and families who depend on our K-12 schools,” according to the Ohio Department of Education message provided to schools during the time of ESSER II announcements. 

Each of the districts had to submit a funding application to the Ohio Department of Education, which then had to be approved in order for the school to receive funding and start the implementation of their ideas. 

@colvin_lydia 

lc844519@ohio.edu

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