AURORA | Aurora Public Schools is slated to receive $77 million in pandemic relief funding, the bulk of which will go toward addressing student learning loss. The district will also use it to invest in infrastructure, technology upgrades and teacher support.
The money comes from the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER III), one-time funding from the CARES Act designed to help schools recover from the effects of the pandemic. School districts are required to use all the money within three years.
The district presented its plan for using the funds to the district accountability committee last month, and delivered it to the school board at its October meeting. It is now being considered by the Colorado Department of Education. Once approved, funds will be available beginning in November or December.
Neighboring Cherry Creek school district received $33.4 million in ESSER III funding but has not yet finalized its spending plan, district spokesperson Abbe Smith told the Sentinel.
APS’s three main goals for the money are to maximize in-person instructional time for students, address instructional time that was lost during the pandemic and serve the students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, according to the presentation delivered to the board.
By law, districts are required to spend at least 20% of their ESSER money directly on academic support for students. APS is using more than half of its allotment, $51 million, for that purpose. That money is split into universal support that will go to supporting all district students and targeted interventions for those who are the most behind, Superintendent Rico Munn told the Sentinel.
$35 million will go to providing all district students with access to tutoring, social-emotional learning programs, mental health resources and summer school. $16 million will be given to schools to specifically help students who are one or more years behind grade level.
After over a year of online and hybrid learning, Munn said that students are working this school year to reestablish their routines and get used to being in school all day. The district is encountering more behavioral and mental health issues than in the past, he said, which is why teaching social-emotional skills is an important part of its plan.
“All in all, I think our students, families and staff are happy to be back in school,” he said.
Slightly more than $300,000 will go to infrastructure, including purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE), transportation for summer school and salary and benefits for bus drivers. $3.4 million will go to technology upgrades.
$4 million will go to the district’s online K-8 program, which includes salary and benefits for 39 employees. $4.7 million will go to “system support investments,” which includes $1.6 million towards the districts’ ongoing work to recruit and retain more teachers of color. The money will also go towards the creation of family advisory groups to provide feedback to the district and passes to Aurora’s recreation centers for all APS staff.
The most difficult part of deciding how to use the money is keeping in mind that it is non-renewable and expires in three years, Munn said. The district could hire more staff or create a bunch of new programs, but would then run afoul of “creating a financial cliff,” he said.