Third through fifth graders head back to physical classes at Rosa Parks Elementary School, April 13, 2021 Photo: Pete Rosos
The district has begun allocating COVID-19 relief funding to mitigate learning loss associated with the pandemic. Credit: Pete Rosos

The school district has now allocated $3 million of its state and federal COVID-19 relief funds and expects to spend $13 million more.

The largest allocation so far is $2 million that will go directly to schools for a “restorative restart” for the upcoming academic year. Each school will receive $150 per student and an additional $150 for high-needs students. 

Schools will determine how to spend these funds individually, but they have been asked to prioritize five areas: relationship-building, whole-child needs, staffing and partnerships, rigorous and relevant curriculum, reimagining systems. The school board approved the $3 million in allocations during its April 21 and May 5 meetings.

Longfellow Middle School principal Paco Furlan told Berkeleyside the school will put the money toward lowering class sizes, adding electives and supporting the seven-period-day program. Principals at Martin Luther King Middle School and Ruth Acty Elementary told Berkeleyside they have yet to determine how they will spend the money. Principals at Willard Middle School and the district’s 10 other elementary schools did not respond to Berkeleyside’s question about how they would spend their COVID-19 relief funds as of press time.

The district also approved funds for replacing and refurbishing technology, summer special education assessments, additional costs associated with graduation, hiring a data specialist and the added period at Longfellow. 

The COVID-19 relief money comes from a combination of state and federal sources, including the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and California’s Senate Bill 98 and Assembly Bill 86. The funding comes with a variety of deadlines by which the funds must be spent, ranging from end of May to September 2024.

The state funding generally has stricter requirements than the federal funding on how it should be spent. The in-person instruction grants from Assembly Bill 86 require that schools reopen for students in transitional kindergarten through second grade by April 1 and that districts only spend the money on costs associated with in-person instruction. Other state funds are intended to mitigate learning loss, provide supplemental educational opportunities and support students with higher needs, such as students with disabilities. Federal funds are also intended to support student learning, but the district has significant leeway on how it will spend much of that money. It could choose, for instance, to fill budget gaps using some of the COVID-19 relief money.

The district said it is engaging the community in determining how the relief money will be spent, soliciting feedback on the spending through webinars, via ThoughtExchange and in committee meetings.  

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...