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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

IPS gets feedback on how to spend emergency relief funds

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Indianapolis Public Schools hosted a series of town halls recently, where parents and other education advocates shared what they think the district should do with emergency COVID-19 relief funds.

Answers at one of the virtual town halls June 16 focused on social and emotional learning resources for staff and students, as well as support for teachers as they help students make up for learning loss.

IPS has received $213.5 million from the federal government for schools managed by the district. Innovation schools, which are part of the district but managed by charter or other outside operators, have received $78.1 million.

The money for K-12 schools — called Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER — has come over the course of three funding rounds, starting with the first coronavirus relief package passed in March 2020, and has spending deadlines. The last of the money must be used by September 2024.

“Right now we have ESSER, but ESSER will only be around for a certain amount of time,” the district’s chief academic officer, Warren Morgan, said during the town hall. “We wanted to make sure that whatever we choose, we can think about the sustainability.”

Many of the suggestions for how to use the funding centered on social and emotional learning, or SEL, which helps students understand their emotions, as well as set goals and develop positive relationships. The idea is SEL would benefit students and staff after a year of unpredictable circumstances.

Other potential funding uses mentioned during the town hall:
• Each school could get a block of funds that staff (not just teachers) could apply for as a grant for projects.
• Improve audio in classrooms so students who sit near the back or don’t hear well can still follow along with instruction.
• Create a program for teachers and families to get to know each other better.
• Use tutors and other partners to help with catch-up work, especially in math.
Schools and districts can use ESSER funding to help with reopening and learning acceleration. Weston Young, chief financial officer for IPS, said the district has used the funding to expand summer school, but emergency funds don’t address problems related to long-term financial health.

IPS has had to find cuts, including in transportation, to make up for an $18 million shortfall that’s in part due to lower enrollment.

A little more than 100 people registered for the four town halls, two of which were virtual and two of which were in-person, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said.

Those who couldn’t attend but would like to provide feedback can complete a form at myips.org through June 30. The district will also have an ESSER tracker online soon.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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