The federal government has allocated over $90 million dollars in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS). Of that, ACPS has already been paid almost $53 million according to the Florida Department of Education.
These funds, issued in three waves, are meant to be used to recover from learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic. Each wave comes with specific parameters to limit their use, and ACPS is now amending its grant application to match how it has already spent funds from the second wave, ESSER II.
The federal government approved ESSER I in March 2020, followed by ESSER II in December 2020. In March 2021, the government approved the final lump of funding, ESSER III. The second wave of funding is available for use until September 2023, so ACPS is trying to get its spending worked out before that deadline.
The amendments staff presented to the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) on Tuesday shifted an additional $1,290,000 to high school laptops and $20,000 to a volunteer management program. The funds are taken from money allocated for benefits and salaries of family liaison specialist positions which were never filled.
The amendment also moves about $36,000 to physical textbooks instead of digital resources, and about $270,000 more for literature to send home to parents. Staff told the board the shuffling of money is an attempt to make the best use of funds and cover overpaying.
“That's the problem when you get this federal money,” Board member Kay Abbitt said. “It's always got all these restrictions to it, so what you really need to spend it on is not happening.”
Joram Rejouis, ACPS’s new director of project development, told the board school districts across the nation are dealing with problems like this, which is why ACPS may be able to get an extension on its grant application.
Rejouis said he has been communicating with the state, and the state is expecting the amendments.
School board chair Tina Certain said she has been and still is concerned about the lack of attention paid to the ESSER allocations.
“I think going forward, we need to have dedicated staff over this last pot of money to ensure that what we had happen these previous two years doesn't happen in this next year,” Certain said. “Because we will have spent $90 million and our students will be no better off.”