AASA Central | P9_Action Steps
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Action Steps for Guiding Principle 9

from the AASA COVID-19 Recovery Task Force

Anticipate Potential Budget Shortfalls and COVID-19-Related Expenses

Task force superintendents consistently voiced their concern about anticipated immediate and long-range budget shortfalls and expenses extending from this crisis. All of them are facing some form of budget reduction or reallocation during the present fiscal year. Many are also hearing about potential major reductions (ranging from 16% to 18% of projected budget allocations) during the coming fiscal year. School district budgets are subject to the compounded impact of federal, state and local budget cuts, the confluence of which can be dire. Concerns expressed included the following:

  • Dealing with existing and proposed budget reductions and their potential impact on service delivery, staff cost-of-living raises, and related contractual obligations;
  • Addressing the need for local, state and federal agencies to allow for a greater range of budget adjustments and reallocations to deal with COVID-19-related contingencies;
  • The very real impending priority of building a reopening response infrastructure that will include vetting and purchasing of masks, PPEs, thermometers and related testing equipment, expanded bus availability (to accommodate alternative scheduling models), and costs related to sanitation and building maintenance; and
  • Recurrent concerns about public perceptions: e.g., The minute we open schools, people will think everything is open. How do we message people in the community about reopening and the necessary restrictions and protocols we must follow to ensure the health and safety of students and staff?

Anticipating Budget and Fiscal Issues Associated with Reopening

  1. Gather information concerning local, state and federal funding sources related to building a COVID-19 response infrastructure that will meet the needs of returning students and staffs.
  2. Analyze budgetary implications of health, safety and sanitation equipment purchases necessary for successful reopening (e.g., thermometers, thermal imaging technology, sanitation equipment and supplies).
  3. Anticipate funding implications related to space configurations required for social distancing, including the possibility of using and/or leasing adjacent or accessible buildings outside of the immediate school structure.
  4. Analyze transportation implications of reopening, including potential need for leasing of buses to address the transporting of students if an alternating schedule configuration (e.g., A-Week/B-Week) is used or if schools use a half-day model, alternating students in attendance.
  5. Investigate staffing implications and related funding issues if additional teachers and paraprofessionals are needed to provide intervention, coaching and support for students demonstrating learning gaps that require intensive intervention.
  6. Continue to build your technology infrastructure, including processes for dealing with lost equipment and resources if students have moved or cannot be located during school closings.
  7. Address the stark reality of contract issues involving negotiated salaries.
  8. Analyze the implications of some staff and students requiring at-home accommodations because of compromised health (i.e., how will their needs be supported in addition to the regular schooling process?).
  9. If possible, expand professional development funding to accommodate emerging needs for training in areas such as virtual learning, technology integration, social and emotional learning, and trauma-skilled education.
  10. Work collaboratively with local, state and federal agencies to ensure that the most accurate and recent information concerning funding sources—and potential cutbacks—are accessed and addressed expeditiously.

Navigating Federal and State COVID-19 Funding Cycles

Superintendents consistently cited the continually changing landscape associated with federal funding and state pass-through funding initiatives. It is imperative that district leaders stay informed about recurring budget cycles and get clear interpretations of how funding can be used. A major recurrent issue in the task force discourse centered on the ways in which Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is emphasizing reallocation of Title I funding for use with private and parochial schools. Following is a synthesis of current federal and state COVID-19-related funding cycles and priorities:

Phase 1: Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (3/6/20)

  1. $8.3 billion emergency package; 3x request from White House.
  2. Includes $2.2 billion to help federal, state and local health agencies prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

 

Phase 2: Families First Coronavirus Response Act (3/18/20)

  1. Nutrition Provisions:
    • $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to provide nutrition assistance for children and their mothers who have lost their jobs as a result of the outbreak.
    • $400 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help local food banks meet increased need for low-income Americans.
    • $100 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.
    • A provision that allows the Department of Agriculture to approve state plans to provide emergency Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) food assistance to households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price school meals in the event that their school is closed (The MEAL Act).
    • Gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to approve state waivers addressing nutrition assistance with school closures even if it increases cost to the federal government.
    • Provides provisions to allow child and adult care centers to serve food to go, allow the Secretary of Agriculture to waive meal pattern requirements in child nutrition programs if there is a disruption in food supply, and allow the Secretary of Agriculture to issue nationwide school meal waivers during the emergency.
    • Allows participants to be certified for WIC without being physically present at a WIC clinic.
    • Suspends work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the emergency.
    • Allows states to request waivers for emergency CR-SNAP benefits to existing SNAP households up to the maximum monthly allotment.
  2. Health Provisions:
    • Provides free COVID-19 testing to all Americans, regardless of insurance.
    • Medicaid and CHIP, which cover over 45 million children between the two programs, will cover diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider visit to receive testing, with no cost to the patient.
    • Increases states’ federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for public health programs like Medicaid and CHIP for the duration of the emergency.
    • Increases Medicaid allotments for U.S. territories.
    • Ensures that American Indians and Alaskan Natives do not experience cost sharing for COVID-19 testing.
  3. Paid Sick Leave, Unemployment Insurance and Family and Medical Leave Provisions:
    • Provides employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees the right to two weeks of fully paid leave when they are sick, or two weeks of paid leave at 2/3 of their normal rate to care for a family member.
    • Provides employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave.
    • Provides $1 billion in 2020 emergency grants to states to meet the increased need for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.
    • Provides several tax breaks for employers who give their employees mandatory paid leave during the emergency.

 

Phase 3: CARES Act (Passed 3/27)

  1. $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
  2. $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to ensure students receive meals when school is not in session.
  3. $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide childcare subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems.
  4. $750 million for Head Start early-education programs.
  5. $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools and provide support for mental health services and distance learning.
  6. $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education.
  7. $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.
  8. The $13.5 billion in stabilization fund money could be used to provide K-12 students internet connectivity and internet-connected devices; a separate item in the bill for rural development provides $25 million to support “distance learning.”

 

Using CARES Act Funding:

  • Under the CARES Act, states and districts are set to receive $13.2 billion for K-12. The money must be spent by September 2021, although it’s not clear whether the funding can be directed at costs already incurred related to the pandemic ( that is our hope).
  • There is an urgent push by governors to expedite the process for moving these funds to districts, which AASA supports, but it still could be at least two months before they show up in districts’ coffers.
  • Once the funds are released, districts can use them in several ways:
    • For any activity authorized in ESSA, IDEA and Perkins CTE;
    • To coordinate with public health departments to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19;
    • To address the unique needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, homeless and foster care youth;
    • For PD for staff on sanitation and minimizing spread of pandemic and purchasing supplies to clean and sanitize buildings; and
    • Planning for and coordinating long-term closures including how to provide meals.

 

Phase 4: COVID Package (4/23/20):

  • The proposal includes $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, including setting tens of billions aside for smaller lenders, $25 billion for testing, and $75 billion for hospitals.