- As school systems plan for the end of federal COVID-19 emergency funding, the immediate priority areas for remaining monies include increasing instructional time and investing in high-quality curriculum materials, according to a survey by AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
- Adding specialist staff and boosting teacher planning and development were other top priorities for investment in the near future. Spending on curriculum, such as hardware, software and professional development, likely ranked higher than adding personnel on the priority list due to worries over paying for increased staffing when these one-time funds dissipate, AASA said in a report on the survey findings.
- As districts prepare for the September 2024 obligation deadline for American Rescue Plan funds, the survey reveals 53% of district leaders anticipate they will need to decrease specialist staffing, such as behavioral health personnel and reading specialists. Other top areas of projected cuts or reductions are to summer learning programs and staff compensation.
This is AASA's fourth survey focusing on K-12 spending for ARP, also known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III. Approved by Congress in 2021, ARP infused $121.9 billion into the K-12 system to help schools' pandemic recovery efforts.
The latest survey is based on responses from 650 superintendents representing 47 states. Nearly 70% of the respondents were from districts enrolling fewer than 1,000 students.
Prior surveys also showed preference for immediate spending on increased instructional time and high-quality materials, as well as adding specialist staff and focusing on professional development.
Superintendents from rural districts were more likely to prioritize high-quality curriculum materials compared to urban and suburban districts, which tended to prefer expanded summer and school-day learning.
As far as long-term investments, increased attention is going to renovating and rebuilding school facilities as supply chain challenges and labor shortages previously hampered spending there, the report said. Additionally, schools' long-term spending plans are targeting whole-child supports and engaging high school students.
Superintendents from suburban districts said their districts were interested in long-term investments for special education services, while urban districts were more likely to prioritize bilingual education, the report said.
AASA also asked superintendents about adjustments to spending plans. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents indicated they plan to shift their ARP plans over the next 15 months. District leaders most commonly attributed changing plans to increased costs and inflation.
Nearly 40% of respondents said parent feedback led to changes in spending priorities, while 29% said student performance on assessments as well as delays in acquiring materials and supplies brought spending shifts.
Urban and rural district leaders were more likely to say they would reduce staffing, while suburban district leaders said expanded learning opportunities would most likely see cuts.
The report called for the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance to districts on how they can extend the use of ARP funds beyond the December 2024 liquidation deadline. AASA also urged Congress not to reduce annual appropriations for K-12.
"There will be serious consequences for students and our nation if Congress takes steps to reduce funding when our students are still so fragile and continue to need so much additional support," the report said.
As districts plan for the spend-down of pandemic funds, The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in education, advised in a brief released Tuesday that districts consider the needs of students from low-income backgrounds and other students disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
The organization estimates that without additional state investments post-ARP, district budgets could drop by an average of $1,200 per student.
“The potential of district budget cuts poses consequences to students’ academic and social-emotional well-being; $1,200 per student could mean one less teacher of color, larger class sizes, cuts to mental health supports and resources, or disbanding of intensive tutoring programs — all which are aimed to help unfinished learning amid a mental health crisis,” said Allison Socol, Ed Trust’s vice president for P-12 policy, practice, and research, in a statement.