What is ARPA and the ESSER III Grant?
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III Fund was developed to help reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and to aid schools in addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on the nation’s students through academic, social, emotional, and mental health supports. The grant provides funding necessary for schools to address the impact of COVID-19 on services throughout the pandemic and to develop and implement plans for resuming normal school operations.
What is required by schools?
School divisions must develop and implement a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services. The plan must be made available and communicated via normal communications channels to staff and families. In developing the ARPA/ESSER III Plan, the division must inform and conduct meaningful consultation with stakeholders about the use of the funds for the stated purposes of COVID response, recovery and the return to normal operations.
How is APS using the ARPA/ESSER III funds?
APS was notified by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) on April 30, 2021, that it would receive approximately $18.9 million in ARPA/ESSER III funds. (UPDATE: On November 5, 2021, APS was notified that its ARPA ESSER III award would increase from $18,855,017.73 to $18,868,508.45.) To date, APS has received no ARPA/ESSER III funds from VDOE. APS included the funds from ARP/ESSER III as revenue in its FY 2022 budget to help close the substantial shortfall it was facing. Through the budget process, which concluded in May with School Board approval of the FY 2022 budget, APS signaled its intent to use the ARPA/ESSER III funds to implement return to school plans and continue the delivery of essential services to students. Without these funds, significant additional cuts in the budget would have been required, over and above the reductions implemented in the FY22 budget. Using the ARPA/ESSER III funds provides APS with the funding needed to develop and implement plans for the return to normal school operations.
Please see APS’s ARPA ESSER III Plan here for how the funds are being used.
How did APS engage with the community about the budget process and use of the funds?
Community engagement has always been an essential part of the APS budgeting process. APS conducted extensive engagement and ongoing communication about the FY 2022 budget development process.
The School Board held six public work sessions over two and a half months to develop the budget and to determine how the ARPA/ESSER III funds would be used in the budget in support of students, staff, and school operations. Public hearings also were held during the budget process to obtain stakeholder feedback on the budget, the reductions that were proposed to help reduce the shortfall, and how additional revenue, such as the ARP/ESSER III funds should be used. Additionally, the School Board met with the chairs of several advisory committees (the Advisory Committee on Teaching and Learning, the Facilities Advisory Council, and the Budget Advisory Council) as well as employee advisory committees (the Collaborative Professional Strategies Team, the Employee Advisory Council, and the Arlington School Administrators) to seek their input and feedback on the budget.
APS also requested feedback and comment from the community through the Engage process, maintained a budget development webpage, and communicated on a weekly basis about the budget development process via Engage Thursday messages and other School Talk messages.
What are some examples of how the funds can and will be used?
The funds support ongoing operations as APS resumes five-day, in-person schedules and offers the Virtual Learning Program for the 2021-22 school year. Without these funds, significant additional cuts in the budget would have been required, over and above the reductions implemented in the FY22 budget. Using the ARPA/ESSER III funds provides APS with the funding needed to develop and implement plans for the return to normal school operations.
Examples of essential services supported by the ARPA/ESSER III funds include summer school programming, added incentives for staffing of summer school, accommodations and planning for testing and assessments, technology and access for students, development and implementation of the Virtual Learning Program, hiring of school counselors to support students’ social, emotional, and mental health, additional staff in certain schools to help address learning loss, as well as additional services and academic and social emotional supports for students in the summer 2021 and the 2021-22 school year.
The APS return-to-school plans and instructional models have been communicated to families via School Talk messages and engagement around the family selection process conducted in preparation for the 2021-22 school year.
Will there be additional communication or information provided to update the community on details of how the ARPA/ESSER III funds are allocated in the FY 2022 budget?
APS will provide additional details on how the ARPA/ESSER III funds are allocated in the FY 2022 budget as we move through the school year and as we receive further guidance from the VDOE. APS was required to provide to VDOE a funding application outlining how it intended to use the ARPA/ESSER III funds by September 1, 2021. A revised application was submitted to the state on December 7, 2021.
Why is APS not doing the same type of community engagement around the ARPA/ESSER III funds as Fairfax is currently?
APS conducted community engagement during the FY 2022 budget process. Throughout that process, APS communicated its intent to use the ARPA/ESSER III funds to help balance the budget and mitigate the significant funding shortfall in FY 2022. Because Fairfax did not need the ARPA/ESSER III funds to balance its budget, it included the funds in its FY 2022 budget as a placeholder, with community engagement following that.