Oakland County schools making targeted investments with influx of government dollars - The Oakland Press
Oakland County school superintendents are grateful for the historic influx of state and one-time federal assistance, but admit that more needs to be allocated to meet the long-term need of students and teachers.
According to data compiled by The Associated Press, Oakland County school districts have been allocated and/or received $353.9 million dollars in federal assistance since the pandemic. These Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars were allocated by Congress through The CARES Act (March 2020), American Rescue Plan (March 2021), and the $900 billion relief bill (December 2020), and sent to states for distribution to local school districts.
The third round of one-time federal payments to Oakland County school districts total $89.8 million. At this point, the U.S. Department of Education has not approved Michigan’s ESSER III spending plan, which describes how the third round of ESSER dollars will be used by local school districts. The plan must be approved before dollars are distributed to districts.
Pontiac Schools Superintendent Kelley Williams said districts with higher poverty rates need additional resources, but is “pleased” that the amount of federal dollars allocated to the district during the pandemic were based, mostly, on poverty rate and students with special needs, not solely on student population as enrollments have declined during the pandemic.
The district has received over $65 million in federal funding since the pandemic began.
Williams said the district has spent about $14.1 million of that federal funding to support virtual learning, provide students and staff instructional technology, support student and staff safety and health, address learning loss, provide staff hazard pay, and retain staff.
“A large part of the funds will focus on student learning loss,” she said. “We have spent portions of recent financial surpluses to reduce the district’s financial deficit. Following the completion of our audit next month, we plan to use these additional federal dollars to provide more opportunities and resources for students, improve the competitiveness of our teacher and support staff wages, as well as pay down long-term district debt.”
The Michigan Department of Education has awarded 90 percent of the one-time federal relief funds to eligible local school districts based on the 2019-20 Title I, Part A funding formula, which is designed to provide additional dollars to school districts that serve more children living in poverty or with special needs.
Nationwide, the total federal school allocation from the three ESSER funding rounds is expected to hit around $200 billion. This includes over $5.7 billion for Michigan school districts.
This fall, Willams and her administration will be presenting to the Pontiac School Board a $39 million plan on how to spend the latest round of federal dollars.Novi High School students sitting in class on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The school, like all other educational settings located in Oakland County, is required under county health order to mandate indoor masks regardless of vaccination status. (Mark Cavitt/The Oakland Press)
Other Oakland County superintendents agree that increased federal funding has been helpful in making critical, targeted investments, but is still not enough.
Since the one-time federal relief funds will not be provided as ongoing funding for Michigan school districts, the dollars are not being included in the school districts’ long-term funding models to sustain operations
Scott Lindberg, Waterford Public Schools superintendent, told The Oakland Press that federal dollars have been used to support student and staff needs during the pandemic and preparing for the future. The district has received over $21 million in federal pandemic assistance.
“The funding has been used to purchase personal protective equipment, improve airflow in our buildings, provide laptops and hotspots to our students, and invest in curriculum materials to address any learning loss and prepare for the future,” he said. “All of the federal funding has not been allocated at this time. We will continue to make thoughtful, data-driven decisions about how the one-time money is spent.”
In the Novi Community School District, over $4.3 million in federal dollars have been received to combat learning loss by monitoring student academic progress and supporting students with interventions to ensure their learning and to upgrade heating and cooling systems to increase outside airflow to bring in more fresh air to help mitigate the potential spread of the virus.
The district has also made additional technology purchases like computers and hotspots to enhance the virtual learning experiences.
Rochester Community Schools, Oakland County’s largest school district, has been allocated over $9.1 million in federal dollars since the pandemic began.Novi High School students sitting in class on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The school, like all other educational settings located in Oakland County, is required under county health order to mandate indoor masks regardless of vaccination status. (Mark Cavitt/The Oakland Press)
The district has been using these additional one-time federal dollars to support a safe, equitable, and sustainable learning environment for all students. This includes personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing materials, remote and online learning support, technology, childcare and pre-kindergarten support, and social-emotional wellness support.
Shaner said some federal dollars have been used for required distributions/reimbursements to non-public schools. The CARES Act, Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan provided a combined $9.75 billion for governors to share with private schools. This is the primary mechanism for supporting schools beyond the public sector.
Even with the additional support, Robert Shaner, district superintendent, said federal and state-provided K-12 funding is not where it needs to be to adequately meet the needs of Michigan students.
“For example, special education is not fully funded; and additional support is needed for diversity, equity, belonging work and social-emotional learning,” he said. “As we come out of the pandemic, mental health support is going to be critical to us growing and moving forward as a community.”
In July, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the state’s $17 billion school budget for fiscal year 2022.
It includes $723 million to eliminate the gap between the minimum and maximum per pupil allocation by setting both at $8,700 per student, an increase of $589 per student from the current year minimum amount and an increase of $171 per student from the current year target amount.
In addition, intermediate school districts will receive a 4 percent operational funding increase. Although public school districts get most of their student funding from the state’s School Aid Fund, a portion comes from local taxes assessed on non-homestead properties such as businesses, second homes, rental property, and commercial agriculture.
According to a report from The School Finance Research Collaborative, K-12 funding has increased during the pandemic, but still falls short of where funding needs to be to educate a child. The report says funding should be at least $9,590 per student and more for students with disabilities, English Language learners, and transportation.
Oakland County school districts are estimated to see a $49.85 million per pupil increase over the 2020-2021 school year, according to data provided by the Senate Fiscal Agency. Statewide, that per-pupil increase is around $670 million.
Steve Matthews, Novi Community Schools superintendent, said increases in state funding allocated per student will be used to make targeted investments. He added that the district will be using the additional state funding to support teacher and staff salaries, cover increased costs in fuel and maintenance, and to support students through curriculum purchases including books and supplies.Novi High School students sitting in class on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The school, like all other educational settings located in Oakland County, is required under county health order to mandate indoor masks regardless of vaccination status. (Mark Cavitt/The Oakland Press)
The district estimates $171 in additional funding per student for the current school year -$9,010 total per student- with an overall increase of $882,533.
“Our per pupil increase will be used to support our teacher and staff salaries, our increased costs in fuel, increased costs in maintenance, and to support our students through curriculum purchases – books and supplies,” he said.
Matthews added that Novi’s per student funding is 1.9 percent higher than the previous year.
“This increase, while valued, does not even cover the increased costs of our district expenses,” he added.
Scott Lindberg, the superintendent in Waterford, added that the per pupil increase is “appreciated and necessary,” but added, “more work needs to be done…we are getting closer, but we are not there yet.”Novi High School students sitting in class on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The school, like all other educational settings located in Oakland County, is required under county health order to mandate indoor masks regardless of vaccination status. (Mark Cavitt/The Oakland Press)
Even with all of this additional funding, one of Oakland County’s largest school districts is grossly underfunded in the areas of special education and transportation, according to its superintendent.
Paul Salah, superintendent for the Huron Valley School District, said the amount of state funding that districts receive is dependent on student enrollment, which has been declining countywide for years with parents making choices outside of the public schools.
He believes that public school funding is not equitable in how it’s allocated and should be based on being able to support full operations. As an example, he said the district spends over $1,000 per student, annually, to transport students to and from school every day.
“Not all districts provide transportation for students,” he said. “The HVS bus fleet drives the equivalent mileage of a flight to Europe every day, but we as a district use foundation allowance to transport students while other districts drive fewer miles or do not provide transportation at all.”
Salah said the district’s $4.5 million increase in per student funding for the current school year, an increase of $589 per student to $8,700, will be used to attract and retain staff in all areas of the district.
“Many districts received far more stimulus funding than HVS which has created a competitive space that we have not seen for some time,” he said. “HVS will utilize the dollars to enhance teaching and learning, develop educational programs, provide social emotional support for students and focus on the ever-changing landscape by leaning into technology utilization for all.”