Iowa school districts discuss plans for ESSER III funding

(The Center Square) – Iowa public school district superintendents have until Aug. 20 to tell the state how they will use their share of the nearly $775 million Iowa received through the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund III.

Before making their plan publicly available, school districts “must seek public comment” on their plans, Iowa Department of Education guidance said. They can use ESSER III funds for expenses from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2023, by submitting claims for reimbursement of eligible expenses.

Ninety percent ($697 million) of the funds the state received in the third round of emergency coronavirus relief funding will be available for school districts. Iowa Department of Education spokesperson Jim Flansburg told The Center Square in an emailed statement on July 22 that the department has not yet allocated any state funds from ESSER III. The state outlined its funding plans in its application to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Districts can use the funds … addressing disruptions to teaching and learning meeting students’ social, emotional, behavioral health needs, providing summer school and other extended learning and enrichment programs, hiring additional personnel to keep schools safe and healthy, supporting educators in the effective use of technology and meeting the connectivity of remote learners,” Flansburg said.

At least 20% of the funds must address learning loss through evidence-based interventions and “ensure that such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the student subgroups described in section 1111(b)(2)(B)(xi) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C),” the guidance document said.

Flansburg said the district “advised against” using the funds for bonuses and he isn’t aware of any school districts in Iowa that are using funding for teacher bonuses.

“However, using some funds for extra duties/responsibilities that fell outside the regular contract would be permissible since it’s not bonuses. … The pandemic created myriad brand-new needs, from distribution of PPE to creating task forces aimed at COVID mitigation to setting up rooms to ensure student and teacher safety,” Flansburg said in emailed statements. “Educators had to suddenly — and in many cases without prior experience – deliver their classes online. This all created additional work that had never been done before.”

Sioux City Community School District was allocated $38.9 million while Davenport Community School District was allocated $48.3 million. Cedar Rapids has been allocated $32.4 million.

Sioux City Community School District Director of Communications Leslie Heying told The Center Square in an emailed statement that the district has been allocated about $38 million in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

“We are in the process of prioritizing utilization of those funds to address learning loss and enhance educational opportunities for our students through ongoing conversations with our Board of Directors, staff, and District families,” Heying said.

Davenport Community School District spokesperson Mike Vondran told The Center Square in a voicemail that the district is currently determining “where the best investment opportunities lie.”

Cedar Rapids Community School District Director of Communications Colleen Scholer told The Center Square that the district is holding community impact sessions July 27 to announce, review and receive input on its proposed plan for the funding it has been allocated.

Iowa City Community School District (allocation of $27.6 million) and Des Moines Independent Community School District (allocation of $92.3 million) did not respond to The Center Square’s request for information.

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