This past year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the Tahlequah school district.
School leaders from the local level, through the state level, and across the country have been charged with an unprecedented surge of federal pandemic financial aid. They face one of the greatest challenges in the history of public school education.
Our schools are changed forever. Federal funding assistance has opened up the potential for school districts to significantly reshape and reform education policies and practices to improve and positively impact all aspects of the school district’s operations.
Newly released guidance from the U.S. Department of Education permits school districts to use money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, the American Rescue Plan, and other COVID-19 aid packages to provide additional compensation for educators, money for professional development, and also funds for school facility repairs and building improvements to enable safe operation of schools to reduce risk of exposure to the virus and support student health needs.
The nation as a whole is facing many of the same challenges as Oklahoma schools when it comes to state funding education needs.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education underscores the importance of identifying the most critical needs, now and over time. District leaders must keep student achievement and growth at the forefront of all decision-making with a special emphasis on providing equitable access to education services consistent with federal civil rights laws. Districts must examine the possible funding sources that can be integrated with federal funds to meet the many needs identified to maximize the benefits to our students.
Mark McBride, chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee on Education in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, champions the Legislature’s increased education spending over the past four years. ”We’ve added almost $1 billion to K-12 education, going from $2.4 billion for the Fiscal Year 2018 to $3.2 billion for FY22,” he asserts, to fund an average pay raise of $6,100 for teachers beginning in the 2018-19 school year.
Lawmakers also increased the common education appropriation that year by $480 million, he adds, specifying the excess be used for teacher and support staff pay raises, as well as additional health benefits, textbooks, and more money distributed through the state school’s funding formula. Schools have hired more teachers and counselors, McBride notes while benefitting from class size limits in Kindergarten and first grade.
Districts are required to reserve a minimum of 20% of ESSER III funds to provide Summer learning and enrichment programs, extended day programs, comprehensive afterschool programs, and extended school year programs. All of which are very successful programs currently offered by Tahlequah Public Schools.
Our plan includes a steadfast focus on serving students and their needs, helps students make up for lost learning, and supports both short and long-term expenses through future-focused strategies to move students toward their ultimate goals.