Op-Ed: Support is here for accelerating education past the pandemic

Janellen Duffy | May 28, 2021 | Opinion, Education
The pressure is on state and district leaders to devise plans for unprecedented federal and state grants
Janellen Duffy

$4.3 billion dollars. That is New Jersey’s total share of COVID-19 recovery funding for education, coming from the federal government to our state in three rounds. Applications and plans for these funds are due soon, upping the pressure on the state, local districts and schools to make strategic plans to spend them wisely and effectively.

While the total pots of money for each district have been set, leaders must complete an application for each round of funding outlining evidence-based approaches. The first application was completed last year and the state recently extended the deadline for the second round to June 1. In the meantime, on May 24, applications for the third — and largest — round of funding opened. This round requires engaging the local education community to inform safe school reopening plans for fall. In addition, the state must submit its plan for ESSER III (also known as ARP — American Rescue Plan — ESSER) for state set-aside funding to the federal government by June 7, and is required to solicit stakeholder feedback on this plan for funding as well.

And so, as our state and district leaders prepare to end the most challenging school year in recent history, they must also devise plans for unprecedented federal and state grants that can accelerate students past the pandemic.

At JerseyCAN, we’ve done extensive homework to inform this planning.

In April, we released a framework to accelerate student learning in New Jersey, full of evidence-based strategies and policy recommendations to drive an equitable educational recovery for students statewide. The framework highlights proven models and programs addressing student and family engagement, social-emotional and mental health supports, as well as academic supports and several pilot program ideas that state leaders should consider as they devise plans for ESSER III.

Inspiring examples

Last week, we shared a video overview of this framework and a new brief focused specifically on equitable and strategic funding decisions that will accelerate learning. Our brief highlights examples of district, school and state leadership in making effective and forward-thinking resource decisions to support students and families. As detailed in the brief, we have identified the following exemplars:

  • Logan Township School District, which has been deeply committed to equity and diversity for five years and has maximized all available funding sources, like pre-K expansion aid and a School Climate Transformation Grant with district and university partners to maintain this commitment amidst a cut in state aid;
  • Paul Robeson Charter School, which demonstrated forward thinking before the pandemic with a commitment to technology and one-to-one devices for students, which enabled them to pivot faster to remote learning. School leaders are also using student data to drive intensive planning to address students’ academic and enrichment needs. As a result, Paul Robeson was able to secure a grant to address learning loss in the first round the state offered;
  • College Achieve – Paterson, which is thinking strategically about federal relief funds and investing these dollars to avoid a fiscal cliff a few years down the line. This includes boosting educators’ pay in some instances, and the creation of a new summer program called Summer of A Lifetime, which will focus on college preparedness.

Philanthropy is also playing a critical role in jump-starting needed initiatives. The innovative New Jersey Summer Tutoring Corps will look to employ educators-in-training across the state as tutors in summer programs this year thanks to the support of the NJ Pandemic Relief Fund and Overdeck Family Foundation. The program is led by The College of New Jersey, with summer offerings made possible through the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Y Alliance.

These are inspiring examples of education communities and leaders stepping up to serve students and families in a coordinated approach. Over the next few weeks, we will share more videos and briefs highlighting additional New Jersey schools and districts leading the way. We are proud to elevate efforts like these and hope they will inspire other district leaders with new ideas for investing this influx of funding in a more equitable future for students statewide.