June 14, 2023
New Report Explains how Covid Aid is Helping K-12 Schools after the Pandemic and Calls for Greater Federal Support

As Congress continues to debate funding levels for federal agencies and programs, Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of district and state education leaders, today released A Work in Progress: How Covid Aid is Helping Schools Recover and the Need for Sustained Federal Support. The report outlines promising initiatives funded with emergency K-12 aid. It also describes persistent challenges, and calls on policymakers to support measures for fiscal year (FY) 2024 that would strengthen educational opportunities overall and allow K-12 systems to continue impactful Covid recovery work.

“We are grateful for the federal emergency aid that has helped and is continuing to help our students, but America’s recovery will take years,” said Chiefs for Change Board Chair and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez. “Educators can’t do it alone. We need a long-term commitment from the federal government that is in line with the vast challenge remaining before us.”

The Covid pandemic was the worst public health crisis in generations. In response, the federal government provided an unprecedented amount of emergency aid for K-12 education: approximately $190 billion. Aid was included as part of three packages through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. A Work in Progress highlights some of the ways that members of Chiefs for Change have used their ESSER funds. Spotlights in the report include:

  • From Low Performing to Bright Spot: How ESSER Helped Turn Around a School in Boulder Valley
  • Proficiency Gains: How Stimulus-Funded Tutoring is Making a Difference in D.C.
  • A Heart Coach at Every Campus: How Henry County Schools Uses ESSER For a New Model to Support Student Wellbeing
  • Staying Focused: How ESSER is Advancing Strategic Work on High-Quality Curriculum and Instruction in Aldine ISD
  • Maryland Leads: How the State is Incentivizing Evidence-Based Initiatives in School Districts 

Leaders say these and other approaches are beginning to make a difference, but with deadlines on the horizon for when districts and states must commit or spend their remaining federal aid, many K-12 systems will soon be forced to cut positions and/or programs paid for by ESSER.

Beaverton School District, in suburban Portland, Oregon, for example, will reduce and reallocate 25 ESSER-funded positions before the start of the new school year. It will do the same for 85 additional licensed positions in the subsequent year. “We have been slowly eliminating the roles,” said Chiefs for Change member and Beaverton School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas, who plans to cut $10.5 million once covered by ESSER from his district’s budget. “It is painful because these team members are still needed in our district, but we simply can’t afford them.”

In Shreveport, Louisiana, Caddo Parish Public Schools Superintendent T. Lamar Goree, also a member of Chiefs for Change, says “preparing for life after ESSER” is a top priority heading into the new school year. Without a new funding source, he says Caddo Parish will be forced to cut some or all of the 50 additional math teachers the district hired using ESSER funds as it double blocked math instruction for children in grades 6-8. The extra teachers and more time in math has led to student achievement gains, but Caddo Parish doesn’t have the money to sustain the intensive math model after ESSER aid runs out. 

“We are deep in the recovery work, and we are seeing the extent of how Covid affected our children,” Martinez said. “We are making the right investments in this work, but progress will take time, and everyone who cares about children and the future of our country must be dedicated to seeing that through.”

In the report, Chiefs for Change urges federal policymakers to:

Elementary and Secondary Education Act 

  • Approve at least $25 billion for Title I, Part A to support districts and schools with high percentages of children from low-income families.
  • Approve $490 million for Title I, Part B to support sound state assessments, with $112 million dedicated to helping states develop innovative models.
  • Ensure at least level funding of $2.19 billion for Title II, Part A to support effective instruction.
  • Approve at least $2 billion for Title IV, Part A for student support and academic enrichment programs.

Education Sciences Reform Act

  • Approve $298 million to support the Institute of Education Sciences in studying, among other topics, the effects of the pandemic on student learning and the impact of federal relief funds.

Educational Technical Assistance Act

  • Approve $66 million to help modernize state longitudinal data systems.

Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act

  • Approve at least $1.5 billion for state grants and $215 million for national programs to modernize and expand CTE opportunities for students.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

  • Fully fund the IDEA program to support special education students, programs, and personnel.

The report states that Covid may be largely gone from the headlines, but the crisis upended society—exacerbating gaps and affecting the nation’s students in ways that, in some cases, cannot be quickly remedied. Members of Chiefs for Change say K-12 systems need more federal support to address extensive challenges, sustain what’s working, and build excellent schools for our 21st-century world.

“We’re not responsible for how students come to us,” said Aldine ISD Superintendent LaTonya Goffney, a member of the Chiefs for Change Board of Directors. “But we are responsible for how they leave us—and ZIP code is no excuse for destiny.”

About Chiefs for Change

Chiefs for Change is a bipartisan network of diverse school superintendents and state education leaders. The network supports members and provides technical assistance; advocates for the adoption of effective policies and practices; and develops the next generation of bold, student-focused superintendents.