May 16—Local school districts are finalizing plans to hire more teachers while providing expanded academic and emotional support programs for students over the next year as they await state funding tied to in-person learning.
The expanded learning opportunities grant is one of two COVID-19 relief funding opportunities provided to schools in AB 86, along with an in-person instruction grant allocated to districts that offered some form of in-person learning prior to mid-May.
Districts are not required to apply for expanded learning funds but are expected to receive half their allocation later this month and the other half in September. The money can be spent from the beginning of July through the end of the 2022 school year.
The Santa Maria-Bonita School District received the largest local allocation of expanded learning funds totaling $16 million, along with $6 million through the in-person education grant.
"Programs supported by the [expanded learning] grant must be geared toward academic, targeted, in-person support," said Rebecca Herrick, plan alignment and implementation director for Santa Maria-Bonita School District. "Districts are also required to provide support for social-emotional well-being, and meals and snacks during expanded learning programs."
One of the grant's uses will be for a variety of summer school programs focused on elementary and junior high students, as well as hiring personnel to run the programs. The offerings include migrant education programs, bridge programs focused on different school subjects and special education extended year programs.
For the summer learning opportunities, as well as similar opportunities offered throughout the rest of the school year, students with the greatest needs will be selected to participate. However, the number of students who can join depends on the school site, according to officials.
"We will be identifying students based on their achievement needs drawn from the assessments we've done and teacher recommendations," Professional Learning Director Jennifer Loftus said. "We could certainly add more programs, but it does come down to staffing."
The Guadalupe Union School District has been allocated $1.1 million in expanded learning opportunity funds, the majority of which will go toward hiring additional teachers to reduce class sizes.
Funds will also be used for summer academy programs in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years and paraprofessionals offering instructional and behavioral support for those programs. Under AB 86, 10% of expanded learning grant money must be put toward paraprofessionals.
Since the Guadalupe district board opted not to launch any form of in-person learning for the remainder of the school year, the district was not eligible for in-person instruction funds received by other districts.
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District was allocated an in-person education grant of $3.3 million after bringing students back on campuses in mid-April, and an $8.2 million expanded learning grant.
According to district spokesman Kenny Klein, expanded learning funds will be used for additional nurses, counselors and other support services for student well-being, along with summer school programs and additional teachers to reduce class sizes.
While the exact number of students participating in summer programs is still unknown, district officials said they would like to include courses focused on art and music as well as credit recovery.
"We're also wanting to offer some enrichment and wellness [opportunities] for our kids this summer. Not all of our students need credit recovery, but we do have a sense that we have students out there ... that would like an opportunity to get out of the house, come to campus and do some hands-on activities," Assistant Superintendent of Cirriculum John Davis said.
The district's in-person learning grant is being used for safety supplies and supplies to support social distancing, such as additional PE equipment, along with testing and cleaning efforts.
The Orcutt Union School District was allocated around $2.7 million in expanded learning opportunity funds for K-8 students, according to district documents.
District spending plans now will be sent to the Santa Barbara County Office of Education for approval. A summary of actual expenditures under the grant will be due in December 2022.
While most local districts have expressed interest in fully returning to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, none have officially made that determination while they await further guidance and information about COVID-19 trends.