The School Superintendents Association (AASA) says Missouri is the only known state in the nation that has not yet authorized the distribution of American Rescue Plan Act funds designated for K-12 schools. Sasha Pudelski, director of Advocacy for the national organization, says the Missouri Legislature has not given approval to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to dole out the nearly $2 billion in funding.
Pudelski tells Missourinet the funding could transform the public education system and beyond.
“Even transportation, the ability to hire bus drivers, which I know is a constant shortage in Missouri. So, it is something that is enabling them to dedicate resources to things that allow their schools to stay open and open later and open year-round and provide more services to students and their families as well, while of course, the emphasis is on what’s happening in the classroom to that child. There’s so much more that schools care about,” she says.
Pudelski says the legislature has been authorized since at least last October to give DESE the blessing to distribute the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to schools. She says the funding is not building interest.
The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Missouri about the delay in getting the funding out the door to schools.
“It says, ‘The delay in awarding this money to districts in Missouri raises significant concerns. Because of the unnecessary uncertainty is creating for districts across the state and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of students.’ So that was kind of a warning shot that the Department of Education sent the state and said, ‘Hurry up, get this money out the door please,’” says Pudelski.
Missouri has roughly 550 school districts and charter schools awaiting the bucks.
“This is a critical moment at this point of the pandemic, to STEM learning loss and to move things beyond where they were before to really accelerate learning and outcomes for students. And that doesn’t mean just students who are already doing okay but students with disabilities students who come from disadvantaged homes, students who are vulnerable because they may be homeless or in foster care.
Missouri has until March 24 to approve the funding for distribution. Schools would have until September 2024 to use the funds. If the state does not approve the funding for distribution by March 24, the money will be doled out to other states for use instead.
“That may seem like quite a bit of time, but districts around the country are experiencing like many other sectors a lot of the ways because of labor shortages and supply chain issues that prevent them from quickly purchasing, say, technology or HVAC units or a host of other things that they would like to use this money for. And so for districts in Missouri, they are really behind the curve in terms of spending this funding right now and getting those contracts underway, which could jeopardize the ability to use this money wisely,” says Pudelski.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, has filed 45 lawsuits against school districts with masking/quarantining requirements. Pudelski says the districts do not have the option of using the federal dollars for legal costs.
Dr. Richard Asbill, superintendent of Bolivar R-1 Schools in southwest Missouri, tells Missourinet his district is awaiting more than $4 million in ARPA funds.
“We want those dollars to make the most foundational impact to students. We don’t want it to be a splash. We don’t want it to be neat,” he says. “We want this to be long term impactful for our local school districts, our local taxpayers. So, when you’re talking about $4 million for our district, we have a responsibility one to be good stewards of that, to lay out a plan that’s going to help us ensure that they’re used wisely, but to we want them to be effective. We don’t want this to be an overnight experience. We want to make sure that it’s going to give Bolivar a sustaining chance to improve learning for the next 20 years.”
Asbill says his school’s plan has been submitted to DESE and the department has approved it already.
“We have a specific plan that addresses a lot of personnel needs,” he says. “It allows us to support current positions that we need. We want to add some additional positions in regard to some of the social emotional support needs that our students are having with counseling positions. But it also allows us to look at how we can respond to some building level needs, some air quality need.”
The department has approved most of the funding plans submitted by the state’s public schools.
He wants Missouri’s school districts to get an additional year to spend the federal dollars. He says he has reached out to Sen. Roy Blunt’s office.
“There’s no supplemental approved, yet all of those projects lie in wait. And a lot of school districts are taking these projects on, under the notion that we’re supposed to get this money. And so we’re competing against other school districts, there’s already a labor issue,” says Asbill. “There’s, HVAC supply issues across the nation, let alone in Missouri. So, the longer we wait for this supplemental, the harder it gets for local school districts to be not only effective with taxpayer dollars, but efficient with taxpayer dollars. So, we know that local school districts are going to want those dollars used effectively. Well, we’re going to need the time to do that. We don’t want to rush into these things and say, ‘We’ll just spend it.’ That’s never a good plan for school districts. We don’t operate that way. We have boards of education that really trust that we’re going to do right by the taxpayer. So we’ve asked for that additional time. But even while we’re asking for additional time to spend it, we really need the allocation, the supplemental approved at its earliest convenience.”
To hear the Show Me Today interview with Sasha Pudelski, click below.
To hear the Show Me Today interview with Richard Asbill, click below.
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