The Maryland State Board of Education evaluated the state’s 100+ page proposal for paying almost $2 billion in COVID-19 emergency funding on Tuesday — and reverting to in-person education is a top priority.
The federal assistance stemming from the American Rescue Plan is expected to assist in reopen schools securely and to help meet students' academic and social demands.
In April, states received two-thirds of their ESSER funds. The remaining third will become available after the U.S. Department of Education approves the state's plan for using ESSER funds. In developing the plans for using the funds states must consider input from stakeholders.
According to MSDE, the state has already received about $1.3 billion of the total $1.95 billion available in the American Rescue Plan's ESSER funds.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education posted plans from 28 states that met the June 7 deadline to submit plans for using ESSER funds. But state superintendent Karen B. Salmon had asked for, and was granted, an extension to July 30 to allow incoming state superintendent, Mohammed Choudhury, to review the plan after he takes office July 1.
According to MSDE, local schools should begin receiving the remaining portion of ESSER funds by August this year.
In its draft plan, MSDE reported that its top priority is to speed the return to in-person instruction in the coming school year. The department's next priorities are to address mental health, social-emotional learning and academic losses from the pandemic.
However President of the Maryland State Education Association, Cheryl Bost, stated that starting the return to in-person learning is a "wasted priority" because many school systems have already revealed that they are returning to in-person learning. Instead, expanding digital access should have been a priority, the union president said, because virtual learning will continue even though the pandemic is nearing its end.
Bost also stated that she was disappointed in the lack of stakeholder collaboration in drafting the proposal.
It was not the intention of the crafters of the American Rescue Plan to show stakeholders a plan just to have them react to it," Bost stated. "I'm really looking for that to change underneath the new state superintendent."
According to the draft proposal, MSDE will focus on supporting recent high school graduates who want to pursue higher education but are not quite ready to take college-level classes because they lost learning time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In partnership with the Maryland Higher Education Commission and state institutions of higher education, MSDE hopes to facilitate conversations to determine next steps, such as summer remedial courses, to ensure that this group of students are prepared for college.
Community colleges in the state have "stepped out of the box" during the COVID-19 pandemic, and students can finish career technical education (CTE) programs at community colleges supported by MSDE, Tiara Booker-Dwyer, assistant state superintendent for Career and College Readiness for MSDE, told board members.
To address social-emotional learning, MSDE is implementing a statewide mental health program with six regional crisis response and clinical support teams focused on those needs for students, families and educators.
There will also be "family navigators" — individuals experienced in caring for children with behavioral challenges — who will connect families to local community providers and assist with case management, according to the draft plan.
Board member, Rose Li, asked if the ESSER funds could be used for school building construction costs, highlighting the need to improve ventilation in buildings. Salmon said the Interagency Commission on School Construction is the main agency that works on renovating school buildings and that "there are many low cost improvements that can be made to ventilation."
Board members unanimously approved sharing the ESSER draft plan with stakeholders before reviewing it with the new state superintendent Choudhury on July 27 and submitting the plan to the U.S. Department of Education by July 30.
Board members also recognized the difficulty of leading during a pandemic, when half of the public demanded schools to reopen while the other half equally demanded schools to remain closed.
To thread that needle and to do that in the diplomatic way that you have, and to lead everybody in that direction, which based on the results we saw today about school achievement and test performance, I think was the right thing to do, and it really took bold, courageous decision-making and leadership to do that, so I commend you for that," Li stated.
I personally want to thank you for being here for an extra year — I know it was a personal sacrifice." Jean Halle, board VP, added.
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