Recent media coverage has mainly focused on presumed learning loss and the large amounts of education money dedicated to support returning to in-person education and tackling the pandemic academic and mental health toll experienced by students, families, and teachers. Details are being hammered out concerning money distribution, how funds can be spent, and the various deadlines to spend these mainly one-time money streams, as state legislators determine who controls this influx of money and how it can be used to support students most effectively.
Additional education money is coming into school districts from three main Federal COVID-19 relief bills and California will supplement the State’s $80 billion education budget with almost $6.6 billion. Most of the supplement is categorized as one-time money with 2–3-year time limits to spend it before it returns to the point of origin. Most of the Federal and State money will be distributed through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and Title 1 monetary distribution systems. The California Department of Education (CDE) will retain 10% of the Federal supplemental funding to spend on statewide programs addressing learning loss and pandemic issues. Fullerton School District expects an additional $2884 per pupil ($36,079,898 total) and the Fullerton Joint Union High School District should receive $2872 per pupil ($38,017,166 total). The amounts are average for North Orange County where Anaheim Union High School District will receive an additional $4,371 per pupil and Placentia/ Yorba Linda Unified will receive $1,856 per pupil.
School districts can spend these supplemental funds in many ways, including teacher and staff bonuses and stipends. It will not be used to lower classroom size since public school districts will not use one-time money to hire teachers. This is due to State budgetary restrictions and teacher union negotiated contracts concerning class sizes. Parents, students, and other stakeholders can request services, programs, and facility upgrades through school site councils, Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) advisory committees, and by writing directly to the Superintendent.
The LCFF allows school districts flexibility to use a majority of the supplemental money to address local issues. The money can be used for summer school, tutoring, mental, physical, and emotional health programs and services, on-going purchases of safety equipment, ventilation system updates, and other facilities upgrades, to accommodate greater personal space requirements. Districts can also purchase new technological equipment and support services. There are additional separate nutritional funding blocks to provide increased amounts of student meals.
It may be tempting to want to invest a significant amount of this money immediately to address perceived student needs as some students return to in-person learning. Most education specialists are urging caution, giving teachers and students a few months to get used to in-person classroom teaching before formal testing and making sweeping changes. Both Fullerton school districts are planning a robust summer school program along with tutorial services. Expanding mental health support and social and emotional learning services may calm anxiety that many students seem to be experiencing even when returning to a hybrid schedule. Student Board Member Jenna Beining voiced her own concerns about possible feelings of anxiety for herself and fellow classmates at the last FJUHSD Special Board meeting on March 30 when the Board approved a return (on April 19) to four days a week, in-person learning for all students in cohorts A and B. Her statement concerning the unanticipated anxiety she and fellow students have felt, even during a hybrid schedule, recognized that additional mental health support may tax the District’s current emotional support service ability, a warning to administrators of more issues to come when the entire student population will most likely return to in-person education in August.
After over a year of uncertain distance and hybrid learning schedules, many students, teachers, and parents may wish to quickly return to a normal schedule. It is clear that creating this post-pandemic academic environment is going to take constant dialogue among students, teachers, and their families, with additional long-term support from administrators, in order for students to successfully assess their areas of need after this difficult year. Along with providing funding, district administrators need to continuously communicate with teachers and students to implement multiple long-term solutions necessary for the students to gain skills for future academic and career success. Students and families are urged to keep up the safety protocols, reach out to teachers, counselors, and community liaisons to share their concerns, and get supplemental academic, mental, and physical health support when necessary. Taking the time to talk to students and assess student needs while remaining flexible and open to new solutions will allow schools to spend money wisely and lead to better outcomes.