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COURT HOUSE - The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) contained $122 billion for elementary and secondary school emergency relief (ESSER). 

When the funds are distributed, 13 Cape May County school districts will receive up to $24.5 million in allotments. The county funding is part of the $2.8 billion allocated to New Jersey.

The funding is intended to get students back in the classroom quickly and safely. It is also aimed at dealing with the learning and emotional toll the pandemic inflicted on students, especially those who were least equipped to deal with a year dominated by remote-learning models.

The state draft plan speaks to this aspect of intent when it emphasizes support for “students who have been most severely impacted by the Covid pandemic and are likely to have suffered the most because of longstanding inequities in our communities and schools that have been exacerbated” by the pandemic.

Who Gets What?

Funds ranged from $19,222 for West Cape May School District to $4.7 million for Middle Township School District. See accompanying chart to find out how much your district received.

The funds arrive in a county that has been subject to a multi-year progressive reduction in state aid. How that will play into fund utilization is not clear. 

School district administrators and elected school boards are in for another year of extraordinary funding, coupled with restrictions on use, state monitoring, planning requirements and the ultimate task of getting students safely back to a regimen of in-person instruction.

How Were Funds Calculated?

Fund allocationswerebasedlargely on the proportion of each state’s receipt of Title I monies in the most recent fiscal year. The “hold harmless” provisions in Title I were excluded from the calculation, meaning the allocations did not consider school districts that receive Title I funds but do not have concentrations of low-income students.

In Cape May County, that means 13 of the 19 school districts qualify for funds. 

Three county districts are non-operating and receive no funds - Cape May Point, West Wildwood, and Sea Isle City. 

The Cape May County Special Services School District, often funded in separate ways, did not receive ARP ESSER funds in the allocation list provided by the state Department of Education (DOE). 

The two operating districtsthat did not qualify for funds were Avalon and Stone Harbor. 

The funding is one time, with two-thirds upfront and one-third after the state plan is accepted by the U.S. DOE. 

The funds can be used for eligible costs dating from March 13, 2020. They must be liquidated by Oct. 13, 2024. School districts were able to begin obligating funds May 24.

How Can Funds be Used?

The funds can be used in various ways. There is a strong desire to see funds put toward summer, after-school and extended learning programs. 

They can help with expenses related to improved ventilation, the buying of personal protective equipment (PPE), and to provide for social distancing in schools and on buses. 

The ARP states funds can be used to avoid layoffs and even to hire sufficient staff to keep schools safe and healthy. 

School districts will directly receive 90% of total funding, and the state will keep a set-aside of 10%, which it will use to encourage specific programs, according to its plan. 

The requirement for local school districts is that they develop a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction, they employ at least 20% of the funds received for learning loss activities and programs that address the academic needs of disproportionately impacted subgroups, and the remaining 80% can be used on a wide range of activities, with special emphasis on implementing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance regarding health protocols.

State Plan

The state was required to submit a plan to the U.S. DOE by June 7. With a date of “Spring 2021,” the state DOE developed a PowerPoint presentation to aid the public in understanding the 57-page draft state plan (https://bit.ly/3w4WYhD). 

One federal requirement calls for public input into the state plan. The public comment period came and went, with many in the public unaware. 

The presentation lists the state’s overall priorities as:

Unfinished learning

It also states that plans from local school districts must be submitted to the state DOE by June 24.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

Social, emotional and mental health needs

Variation in learning models and a return to in-person instruction