AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Amarillo Independent School District received over $100 million in funds from the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II and III Grants.
The ESSER III grant is part of the American Rescue Plan, in which Texas received $16.7 billion. The district said the funds will be used for various student/teacher improvements across AISD, as the district works to return normalcy to its classrooms. All funds the district receives from the grant must be spent by September 30, 2024.
According to the TEA, AISD received $72,709,732 in ESSER III funds. The ESSER II Grant is part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA), in which the district received more than $30 million.
AISD said input from parents, staff, students and the community helped prioritize how the funds will be allocated.
“Regression of our students, we have to make sure we address the regression of our students from COVID,” said Chris Tatum, Chief Human Resources Officer for AISD. “Mental health of our students and staff, professional development, teaching and retaining staff, and going out there and getting new staff. Those four aspects came up from every one of our meetings.”
District students were negatively impacted in several ways by COVID-19. For instance, the district said the number of students below grade level is expected to increase due to attendance gaps and deficiencies possibly resulting from quarantine and the lack of direct instruction.
AISD officials added students lose 2.5 months of instruction in a typical year due to the summer break, in what they call the summer slide. However, with all of the changes brought on by the pandemic, that slide increased to almost six months of instructional loss.
In addition, some students struggled socially, emotionally and educationally from inconsistencies in directional teaching and instruction. According to AISD, over the last school year, students and staff had to mix traditional in-person learning, then had to switch to virtual learning in quarantine.
“A large percentage of it is going to go to campuses, probably between $70-$75 million of that will go directly to campuses,” Tatum said. “Each campus is going to have an allotment that they spend on tutoring, on staff, on hiring, on different types of products and incentives that they can bring in to the campus to help student learning. It’s all about helping students get back on track from COVID.”
The district said after adding all the input from the community, it found the top eight priorities are:
- Addressing student learning loss
- Mental health interventions and support
- Retention of staff
- Professional development
- Purchasing supplies and cleaning
- Prior cost associated with COVID
- Maintenance, repair replacement and upgrade equipment to improve air quality
Members of the community said it’s exciting for the district to get the funds, and keeping quality and consistency in AISD’s staff, will be key in improving the overall experience for students.
“A consistency in who they have is going to be key,” said Rev. Bennie Anderson, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. Bringing in more teachers, that’s going to be awesome as well. Just having consistency, having a good group of teachers, just not having the last, and throwing us those who don’t want to go. Knowing that they love their job, they love what they do, and they’re being paid well, man that creates a great environment for learning.”
AISD said it will retain some money off the top to support retention stipends for teachers, instructional assistants and substitutes, cleaning and PPE, indirect grant costs, special education services and purchasing technology. Any remaining funds will be allocated to each campus, based on an at-risk-per-pupil allotment.