School may be out for the summer but many East Texas school district administrators and teaching staff are working to gather data and compile plans for grant submission to receive the latest rounds of federal funding provided through the latest COVID-19 relief package.

Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government passed three stimulus bills providing a total of about $190 billion in grant money to schools across the nation to help ensure students continued learning throughout the pandemic.

Titled the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, each state is allocated a certain amount, which is then awarded to school districts to implement measures to help close learning gaps created during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our deadline to write the grant is July 28 so that’s what we’re working on now,” Karnack ISD Superintendent Amy Dickson said Wednesday. “There was ESSER 1 and ESSER II last year and now we’re writing the grant for ESSER III. The money is to be used to close learning gaps created due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and teachers were quarantined, sometimes more than once during the school year, due to COVID-19 and we also had virtual classes at some points. This money is to create after school programs, tutoring sessions and different programs that can help close possible learning gaps created due to the pandemic.”

Earlier American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in March, provided about $122 billion for the latest round of ESSER III Funds to districts across the nation. Texas received about $11.2 billion of that money to award to districts, based on need presented in districts’ grant applications.

Dickson said her administration, like other East Texas school district administrations, is currently conducting parent surveys, holding stakeholder meetings and meeting with teaching staff and principals to outline needs and plans to address ways to close learning gaps and spend the ESSER III Fund money.

“We have a survey up online now that we’ve asked our parents and stakeholders to complete,” Dickson said Wednesday. “We have met with teachers and we are looking at options like tutoring programs, after school programs and more to spend the about $800,000 that Karnack ISD is set to receive. Some of the things we spent the money on in the past from ESSER I and ESSER II included an additional staff member hired to come in and clean the classrooms and the campus after hours and an additional virtual school teacher. There are a wide variety of ways to spend the money but everything must be documented and match up under the grant.”

The latest round of ESSER money is the largest sum yet. In ESSER I, the state of Texas as a whole received about $1.1 billion and in ESSER II, the state received about $5.9 billion. This latest allotment is more than double the last with Texas receiving about $11.2 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Marshall ISD Superintendent Richele Langley said her district is receiving about $15 million.

“We have done the survey and we are gathering those results,” she said Thursday. “We’ve been meeting about the use of funds. We plan to use funds to pay for summer school, after school tutorials as needed, beginning next year, and we may hire some extra personnel (aides, interventionists, etc.) to help with small group and/or individual instruction.”

Langley said the districts are still currently receiving guidance from the Texas Education Agency, the entity that oversees districts and the release of the federal funds.

“We just received the template from TEA on exactly what they plan to do as far as financing the districts for the upcoming school year, so we have been holding off on making any specific plans,” Langley said. “We have had an ESSER Comprehensive Needs Survey for community/parents on our website, and will be closing it at the end of this week, and then diving into the data to begin determining priorities of that important group of people. We also had a stakeholder meeting on May 25 where we received input and the principals have each given me a list of their priorities. We plan on having all of the data disaggregated by the end of this month, so that we can complete the grant that is due in July.”

Langley said the funds will begin arriving to districts late this summer.

“TEA can release the funds anytime between August 2021 through September 2024, so much of the allocation of the funding will determine when we actually receive it,” she said. “I can tell you that we will prioritize our needs in determining how to spend these funds, and that more than 20 percent will be allocated to academic interventions needed due to the pandemic.”

Jefferson ISD Superintendent Rob Barnwell said his district is set to receive about $4.4 million.

“We have done the survey and we are gathering those results,” Barnwell said. “We’ve been meeting about the use of funds. We plan to use funds to pay for summer school, after school tutorials as needed, beginning next year, and we may hire some extra personnel (aides, interventionists, etc.) to help with small group and/or individual instruction.”

Elysian Fields ISD Assistant Superintendent Monica Simmons said her district is set to receive about $1.6 million in ESSER III funding.

“Elysian Fields ISD has not narrowed down how we will spend our ESSER funds,” she said. “We are just beginning the planning process. We have shared a survey with all stakeholders, parents, staff, students, and community members to gather input. Elysian Fields ISD is holding our first planning meeting next week with committee members.”

Harleton ISD Superintendent Jay Ratcliff said his district is due to receive just under $1 million in ESSER III funding.

“Harleton ISD has just started the planning process for the use of ESSER III Funds,” he said. “We’ve recently held our Comprehensive Needs Assessment Meeting with all stakeholders, as well as surveyed all stakeholders (staff, parents, and students).”

Hallsville ISD is due to receive about $9.1 million in ESSER III funding and Waskom ISD is set to receive about $1.8 million, according to the TEA data.

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