$3.2 billion is flowing into SC schools, some used to expand summer programs

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 10:00 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Over the next three years, South Carolina public schools will have about $3.2 billion dollars in money from COVID-19 relief bills to help lift up schools in the wake of the pandemic.

The three large pots of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds provide the districts and the states with the opportunity for schools to improve technologies, update facilities, make new hires, and implement new programs.

“It’s a once in a generation opportunity,” said SC Education Oversight Committee chair Ellen Weaver.

While about 90% of the funding will go directly to school districts, the State Department of Education will have oversight over whether the money is in line with ESSER requirements and monitor that the funds are being used effectively.

“If it is not evidence-based, we are not approving it,” said Deputy State Superintendent John Payne. “We do have a fairly extensive program for monitoring and overseeing a school district’s use of these funds,” Payne said.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman told the SC Education Oversight Committee Monday that she has sent back 15 academic recovery plans submitted by the districts because they needed to be more specific about their objectives.

These plans are meant to address “unfinished learning” from the past school year and aren’t specific to the ESSER funding, but Payne is encouraging schools to not “reinvent the wheel” and to keep the goals they came up with within their plans as cornerstones in their plans on how to use their ESSER funds.

Payne acknowledged with such a large influx of cash heading into the state, they will make sure districts aren’t spending a lot of the money on programs that are framed as a “silver bullet” to fighting learning loss or programs that will go unused.

20% of the funding from the funds passed under the American Rescue Plan must go to learning loss, which includes extended school year and summer learning programs.

For Kershaw County, the extra funding has allowed them to expand their summer learning options.

“This summer’s going to be considerably different for us because we are going to hit a wider range of students K-12, it’s not going to have just learning loss initiatives and remediation but also acceleration opportunities and some enrichment opportunities for our students as well,” said Kershaw County Superintendent Shane Robbins said.

Robbins said in addition to traditional camps and classes focused on reading, they added programs to help students transition from 5th to 6th grade, STEM classes for girls, and a SOAR camp.

He hopes that these classes don’t only help students progress academically, but also offer some social and creative advancement too.

Yet, he is optimistic the typical learning loss students experience over the summer won’t be any more drastic this year.

“We are coming back early so they got less of a summer to have that summer slide so to speak, so i think we kind of know where we are going into the summer break and that’s going to help us a little bit,” he said.

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