The Advocate September 2021: District ARP Spending: A Snapshot

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The Advocate September 2021: District ARP Spending: A Snapshot

On September 1, AASA released the results of a survey of superintendents about how they plan to use ARP funding this school year and during the next three years. The rationale for conducting this survey is that federal policymakers have expressed concern that district leaders are either taking too long to spend or are unsure of how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funding to address specific pandemic-related educational issues.

Our hope is that this survey of AASA members reassures them that the planning is well underway and sheds light on the trends in allocating federal resources quickly to address both short-term and long-term issues for students and districts. While the survey data is a snapshot of the earliest days of ESSER spending, AASA intends to monitor the continued investment and impact of these dollars on students, particularly vulnerable students, in future surveys of our membership.

What does the data tell us?

One big takeaway is that ARP money is being used to add support staff, particularly mental health support staff, to schools, which is exactly what Congress intended.

  • Two-thirds (66%) of respondents plan to use ARP funding this year to add specialized instructional support staff and other specialists (e.g., counselor/social worker/reading specialists) to support specific student needs.
  • More than three-quarters (83%) of respondents expressed their desire to use this investment during  the next three years to meet the needs of their students’ physical, social-emotional and behavioral development.
  • Slightly more than half (52%) of respondents said they would use ARP funding to implement or advance social-emotional learning practices and systems in their districts and/or on trauma-informed training for their educators.

Professional development, curriculum upgrades and purchasing of devices was another major expenditure for this school year.

  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) are using ARP funds to purchase technology/devices and/or provide students with internet connectivity during the school year.
  • More than half (61%) said they were going to invest in professional development for their educators.
  • More than half (60%) of respondents will be using ARP to procure high-quality instructional materials and curriculum for students.

When asked about major expenditures for the next three years, there was a concerted effort by district leaders to invest in re-engaging students, enhancing special education offerings and providing more dual-enrollment and CTE offerings.

  • More than half (58%) of respondents indicated their district would be able to improve educational outcomes by investing in re-engaging high school students who have fallen off-track to graduate and who need additional support to navigate the transition to college and career.
  • Nearly half (46%) said they planned to enhance special education services and programming for students with disabilities.
  • More than one third (35%) said they planned to expand dual enrollment programming, apprenticeships and high-quality CTE offerings for students.

It is increasingly likely that the Democrats’ reconciliation bill that will be released later this month will contain paltry funding for new school construction. This means that the only opportunity most districts will have to invest in upgrading school facilities is through ARP spending. School facilities experts suggest that at least 15% of ARP funding should be dedicated to school construction. 

Our survey found:

  • More than half (57%) of superintendents said they would be able to renovate and build school facilities.
  • Nearly half (45%) of districts indicated they would spend between 1-10% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements.
  • Few (13%) districts indicated they would spend between 11-15% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements.
  • Few (17%) districts indicated they would spend between 16-25% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements.

One quarter of respondents indicated that the 2024 deadline to spend funding was an obstacle in using ARP funding for infrastructure updates and construction. Nearly half of urban districts and two-thirds of suburban districts indicated they would spend less than 10% of ARP funding on construction or other infrastructure improvements. Rural districts were much more likely than suburban and urban districts to spend more than 25% of their ARP funding on facility enhancements.

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