The American Rescue Plan (ARP), enacted on March 11, is a desperately needed boon of $122 billion to states and school districts to help safely and sustainably reopen school buildings and bridge the learning gaps stemming from the pandemic.
The total allocation for Maryland schools is $1.9 billion. Two-thirds of this money should have been received in March and the remaining one-third will be received when the state submits a plan that complies with the federal law.
Ninety percent of ARP funds must be distributed to local education agencies within 60 days of receipt. At least 20% of these funds must be used to address pandemic-associated learning gaps through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year programs.
These interventions must address students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. To do this, ARP funds may be used to hire new staff, including counselors to provide the mental health services and supports.
All collective bargaining agreements define and limit the work year of employees to fall within the 10-month period between August and June and thus summer employment opportunities are deemed voluntary for bargaining unit members. In some contracts, these opportunities must be advertised in each school and the rate of pay agreed upon through negotiations.
Effective implementation of these ARP programs would include the participation and involvement of current employees for both consistency and quality and to identify students who suffered the greatest losses during the pandemic. These educators can best ensure that students with the greatest needs are prioritized
for summer school programs and have access to tutoring services, smaller class sizes, or additional supports.
Summer enrichment programs should be considered extended-year employment; and through negotiations, educator unions and local boards of education may incentivize participation of both certificated and non-certificated current employees through increased wages, salaries, and benefits and maintainence of safe and healthy working conditions.
In the same way, the staffing of afterschool programs requires the extension of the workday as defined in the collective bargaining agreement. In the case of non-certificated employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the ability to extend the workday/week is limited to 40 hours per week to avoid overtime. The school system might, through negotiations, consider flexible scheduling options to meet the needs of students and work within the allowed 40 hours.
The voice of educators is critical to ensure that the ARP funding is spent in ways that are the most effective and beneficial for students. This is not a time to sit on the sidelines. Be a participant and make sure that you and your colleagues are heard at the collective bargaining table and in conversation with local school system leaders. The road to recovery will be a long one, and our students will be best served if the educators who know best what their students need are driving conversations at the local level.