School system to seek new COVID relief

HAMLET — The Richmond County School Board has voted unanimously to request the Elementary and Secondary Schools II and III (ESSER) emergency relief funds.

Funds come from the US Department of Education through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). About 90% of these funds go to local educational agencies. The percentage of money each county receives is the same as its Title I allotment. Title I-eligible schools have low-income families who make up 40 percent of their enrollment.

Dr. Pam Patterson, director of federal programs/Title I, said there have been meetings with superintendents, superintendents, and individual department heads to identify areas for improvement in schools.

“We’ve been planning three years ahead for these funds that we’re about to receive,” Patterson said.

ESSER I funds, available under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), have focused on remote learning. RCS received $2.8 million. It was primarily used for technology devices, hotspots, software, extended hours for computing, PPE for students and staff, curriculum development, and nursing supplies and salaries.

Applications now approved for ESSER II and III are less involved in distance education and focus on a return to in-person learning.

ESSER II and III are needed to address summer learning and learning loss, which refers to the gaps that have manifested in student achievement due to the pandemic. RCS would receive $9.8 million from ESSER II and just under $22 million from ESSER III.

ESSER III requires a minimum of 20%, or approximately $4.3 million of RCS, to address learning loss.

“I’m really happy to see there’s money for learning loss,” said chairman Wiley Mabe. “We know it’s a huge thing.”

Patterson agreed there are a lot of negative trends in student achievement resulting from the coronavirus.

ESSER III requires a minimum of 20%, or approximately $4.3 million of RCS, to address learning loss.

Patterson said it’s difficult to project budgets for the next three years, but the request and budget can be changed as needed.

Some districts have not used all of their ESSER I funds. Patterson explained that due to the influx of funds from the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund (GEER) and the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), the districts were forced to use the money from these allocations due to shorter deadlines. Money not spent by the deadline cannot be used by the school system.

ESSER I expires on September 30, 2022. ESSER II expires on the same day in 2023, while ESSER III expires the following year.

“We are diligent about using it to the best of our abilities to help our students,” Patterson said.

Both applications for ESSER funds are due by May 7. It is now subject to NCDPI approval.

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Contact Matthew Sasser at 910-817-2671 or [email protected]

Jeremy S. McLain