The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) is an unparalleled investment in U.S. public education that provides $125.4 billion for state K-12 public education programs. State and district leaders have the opportunity and responsibility to use these funds to address immediate needs associated with the pandemic and to make long-term investments that will make schools more equitable over time. As part of a national convening for the Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative, Edunomics Lab, part of the National Comprehensive Center team and a research center exploring and modeling education finance decisions to inform education policy and practice, provided five principles to guide American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) spending:
- Commit to a multi-year spending plan. This action entails avoiding adding new recurring costs to avoid a disruptive fiscal cliff and maintaining a long-term financial forecast. Edunomics Lab staff recommended committing to a spending plan such as, 40% for SY21-22, 30% for SY22-23, 20% for SY23-24, 10% SY24-25.
- Seek targeted investments to increase learning time for students who need it most. To assess costs of investments, consider different metrics, such as total cost, cost per student and/or cost per hour of the intervention or program.
- Consider how equitably funds are applied across schools. For example, compute dollar/student impacts on each school.
- Focus on students and relief. ESSER funds can be used for a board range of activities such as: enlarging a gym to allow for greater social distancing; reinstating a 5% pay raise that was put on hold; paying a program fee for any student who opts in; paying for staff positions that would be cut due to enrollment declines; and/or to supply COVID-19 tests at school sites.
- Be transparent and ensure broad participation in spending decisions. This principle entails: engaging parents, communities and especially boards on spending choices; having principals gauge whether investments match the need of their students with feasibility for success; following proper procurement protocols; and publicly communicating all investments, providers and intended benefits.
In this Education Next commentary, Edunomics Lab staff suggest that it’s a good time for leaders to employ the classic “would you rather” test to help explore spending tradeoffs and think through the cost and value of competing investments. For example, consider the following spending options for a district aiming to spend a portion of its money to alleviate unfinished student learning. Each option would cost about the same $1,000 per pupil. For that amount, a district could:
- Reduce class sizes by two students for a year
- Extend a school year by four weeks for all students
- Provide one-third of students with a year’s intensive tutoring
- Offer 4-week learning camps for all K-5 students this summer and next
- Give principals the money to decide what makes the most sense in their school
The authors note these are back-of-the-envelope estimates, and districts should run their own numbers, but there are clear tradeoffs across and within each option.
Districts could also use Budget Hold’em developed by Education Resource Strategies) – a national nonprofit that partners with district, school, and state leaders to transform how they use resources – to assess tradeoffs and transform district budget challenges into best practices. To support redesign efforts funded by ARP, ERS identified five "power strategies" (Empowering, Adaptable Instruction, Time & Attention, The Teaching Job, Relationships & Social-Emotional Supports, and Family & Community Partnerships) to accelerate equity-focused recovery and redesign. In their Start Here series, ERS prioritizes strategies and provides emerging examples of districts and schools that are taking a what they call a “do now, build toward” approach.