Education group seeks input for spending $4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds
As Tennessee school districts plan how to spend more than $4 billionin federal coronavirus relief funds, the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education is asking families, students and community members what they hope to be true about education in Tennessee by 2025.
The alliance, made up of more than 46 partner organizations, is launching a statewide campaign, TN25: Mapping Our Future Together, to help provide public input on how the state and school districts should spend the state's federal coronavirus relief funds for K-12 education. Sessions begin July 20.
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“This isn’t just about spending money. It’s more than that. It’s about a shared vision for the future and a plan that works for all Tennesseans," Gini Pupo-Walker, state director of The Education Trust in Tennessee, said in a statement.
Public participation is actually required by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law in March by President Joe Biden. Some Tennessee districts already have launched surveys or scheduled public meetings, but others have not.
The Ed Trust launched the coalition in January to take on the work of the previous Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, a statewide network of more than 50 civil rights and advocacy groups. The group's priority areas include: student achievement, funding and resources, teacher diversity and quality, and social and emotional development.
The Tennessee Department of Education released recommendations for how districts use the funding — within federal parameters — but districts have until the end of August to submit draft spending plans.
In March, Tennessee received nearly $2.5 billion for K-12 education through the American Rescue Plan, with individual districts receiving on average about $15.3 million.
Previously the state also received $260 million and then $1.1 billion in the first two rounds of the CARES Act.
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The funds are allocated through federal Title I funding and can be used to expand COVID-19 protocols and help make schools safer, to improve technology to help disadvantaged students or to provide additional training to teachers.
At least 20% of the latest funds are earmarked to combat learning loss, and many districts also used relief funds to help fund summer programs this year.
Pupo-Walker, who also serves on the Metro Nashville Board of Education, said the alliance's effort is not meant to sidestep districts' participation process, but rather is an additional opportunity for community members to provide feedback and establish goals for Tennessee schools.
She hopes the listening sessions — and these funds — will provide people the opportunity to "to really think big."
The campaign includes virtual listening sessions, surveys, interviews and polls and participants will learn how the relief funds can be used. They also will be given the chance to identify and prioritize strategies that they believe will address achievement for all students, student social-emotional needs and increased supports for educators and staff.
Pupo-Walker hopes findings from the listening campaign will be available in time for the alliance to publish a final report for lawmakers for their summer study session in September.
For more information about the campaign and to register for a session, visit thealliancetn.org/tn25/.
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Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network — Tennessee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.