Area schools get aid from new round of stimulus

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – A second round of federal funding has been earmarked for area schools, but one county school official is disappointed in the formula being used.

School districts are receiving supplemental aid from the spring CARES Act funding. This round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) funds are being distributed via a formula used for determining Title 1 assistance. ESSER II is part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed on Dec. 27, 2020.

The bill included close to $82 billion in supplemental coronavirus relief, of which $54 billion went into the ESSER II aid to the state’s public school districts. Four billion was reserved for a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief pool, and $22.6 billion went to higher education relief.

The formula for the ESSER aid is based on certified students within the school district boundaries and the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Fort Madison Community School District is set to receive $1.57 million in aid. Central Lee will receive just over $500,000. Keokuk will receive the largest amount in Lee County at $1.95 million.

Burlington is set to receive $4.73 million. Non-public schools are not included in the ESSER II relief funds, but can apply for other grants under the CRRSA.

Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said the money will help the district to continue to offset increased costs associated with dealing with the pandemic in the district.

School districts didn’t have to reapply for the funds, since they were supplemental to the a first ESSER release in the spring.

“We are appreciative of the additional relief dollars,” Slater wrote to Pen City Current.

“Operating an entire school district in a COVID environment has created additional financial strains.”

She said those include extensive cleaning supplies for buildings, classrooms, and buses, which are not one time purchases.

Funds will also go to additional technology for students and teachers for continued virtual learning and family connectivity support with hot spots.

Slater said that coupled with additional curriculum and supplies to keep student shared access to a minimum are just some of the examples of how prior stimulus dollars were used and will be continued to be used to support the students and families for teaching and learning in the district.

But Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier was disappointed in the apportionments.

“The title 1 formula is extremely outdated. The money doesn’t follow the kids,” he said. “We lose a big share of what our funding should be and now this CARES Act funding is following it.”

Crozier said Central Lee services about 340 more students than the certified enrollment figure used by the state due to open enrollment into the district. He said the district’s share of revenue is shorted based on that data.

Our per pupil was considerably less than our neighbors not even half. We brought it up to the Department of Education but apparently it doesn’t have much authority. COVID has created expenses for everyone regardless of what Title 1 shows,” Crozier said.

“This should be per pupil funding. We added staff, added supplies, and worked hard on our Pod program to keep our kids in school. Des Moines public schools gets $41 million and haven’t been open one day.”

He said Central Lee’s certified enrollment is 771 but the district serves 1,135 students considering the 381 students that open enroll into Central Lee and the 17 that opt out.

Fort Madison has 2,079 certified enrollment but loses 309 to open enrollment each year, while taking in 19 for a total serviced enrollment of 1,789. Keokuk has 1,902 certified with 137 students opting out of the district and 16 coming in for a total of 1,781 students.

Central Lee has a free and reduced lunch eligibility for 40% of students, while Fort Madison’s is 54% and Keokuk’s is 63%.

Breaking down the aid per pupil, Central Lee will receive $445 per pupil, while Fort Madison will get $878 and Keokuk will receive $1,097 per serviced student.

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