Districts begin planning for state relief funding

Reggie Ellis

Farmersville, Lindsay, Woodlake Unified will not lose out on money despite starting after the April 1 deadline to return students to campus

FARMERSVILLE – It was reported last week Farmersville and Woodlake school district could lose thousands of dollars by not opening up for in-person instruction by April 1, and they would have, if not for a proactive exemption embedded into the law.

Signed by Gov. Newsom on March 5, Assembly Bill 86 earmarked $6 billion in COVID relief for California public, charter and private schools. About $2 billion in funding was an incentive for schools to reopen campuses to in-person instruction (IPI). Schools not open by April 1 were to be docked 1% of their IPI funding each day until May 15, when districts would have to forfeit all of the IPI funding if they were unable to reopen to all elementary grades and at least one secondary grade level.

Farmersville Unified Superintendent Paul Sevillano said this would have posed a problem for many districts which scheduled spring break last week through Monday, April 5, the day after Easter. Lindsay Unified would have lost more than $60,000, Farmersville Unified about $47,000, and Woodlake Unified about $55,000, by the time they reopened on April 5, 6 and 9, respectively, if not for a small exemption built into the legislation. The legislature realized most schools would be on spring break around the time of the deadline so they exempted non-instructional days, scheduled as of March 1, that fell between the April 1 and May 15 deadlines, according to School Services of California, a financial management and advocacy resource for educational agencies. That means Lindsay should receive $1.5 million for opening this week, Farmersville should get nearly $950,000 and Woodlake should receive just under $790,000.

IPI grants can be used for purposes associated with in-person instruction including COVID-19 testing, cleaning and disinfection, personal protective equipment, ventilation, salaries, and social and mental health support services. While some of the money is tied to the April 1 and May 15 deadline, most of $6 billion in state funding is for expanded learning opportunities (ELO), such as summer school, tutoring, mental health and social emotional support. The bill authorizes districts to continue distance learning and allows ELO monies to be spent “to increase or improve services for pupils participating in distance learning.” Farmersville will receive a little more than $2 million in ELO funds.

As part of AB 86, districts will have to adopt and submit a plan to the state for the new funding by June. Sevillano said Farmersville Unified is still working on how it will spend its IPI and ELO funding from the state, but the district has already heard some ideas from parents and teachers. Farmersville Unified surveyed parents about ways to address learning loss during the pandemic and many suggested expanding the afterschool program and expanding summer school.

Currently the district has a waiting list for afterschool programs because there is not enough money to staff and house afterschool programs, especially now that they must be socially distanced and split into smaller groups sharing the same space. Sevillano said the district is discussing hiring more afterschool staff to enroll more students in afterschool programs where they can focus on tutoring and homework assistance.

The district has also discussed hiring more teachers for summer school. This would allow for a three-week online version of summer school, for students who did not return to campuses this week, after the traditional three weeks of summer school session held in-person.

Half of the money from the school relief bill will be given to districts in May and the other half this August but the deadline to spend the funds is Aug. 31, 2022. With more than a year to spend the funds, Farmersville is looking to pilot a new software platform to help students who may be falling behind. Sevillano said the software, called Standards Plus, provides additional exercises in subject matters were students are receiving low grades. ELO money will also be spent to hire more intervention teachers in subject matters to work with students independently from the classroom, primarily in core subjects like English language arts and math.

The school board held a special meeting yesterday, April 6, for a study session on facility planning and funding options, including a discussion of the use of the IPI and ELO funding. The meeting happened after press time.

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