Northeast Tennessee schools using ESSER 3.0 CARES Act funds to continue bettering education amid pandemic

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – While the pandemic caused a difficult year for everyone across the board, government relief in the form of stimulus provided aid not only to individuals but school districts across the nation.

Through the CARES Act that was passed in January, Tennessee received about $2.36 million in relief funding with school districts across Northeast Tennessee receiving different allocations per ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief).

ESSERs 1.0 and 2.0 were already allocated, with ESSER 3.0 currently being negotiated as to what these districts will spend the remaining funds on.

For school leaders across the region, they want these funds to make a lasting impression on students and staff for years to come.

“We’re trying to be very strategic about making our money extend into the future as far as we can to be able to provide for kids, and so we’re looking at not only the kids that we’re serving now, but the kids that we’re serving in the future and how we can make their learning experience and learning environment the best that they can be,” said Kingsport City Schools Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum Instruction, Dr. Rhonda Stringham.

According to guidelines set by the Tennessee Department of Education, in this third ESSER of funds, at least 20% must be allocated to learning loss recovery and some districts are even allocating more than that off their remaining funds.

“We’re spending roughly 40% on learning loss with different projects there. We’re focusing on an in-school tutoring program and also some personnel to help with remediation to address learning loss, and then the remaining bulk of that is going toward a building project that we would like to do at T.A. Dugger, our Junior High School,” said Director of Elizabethton City Schools, Richard Van Huss.

VanHuss said this third round of funding is about $5.7 million and the school system received about $8 million in total. He said they also plan to hire a social worker to assist students throughout the school system.

A number of districts are using these funds to focus on mental health and the well-being of students, including Washington County, Tennessee Schools.

“We want to focus on supporting mental health for our students and providing additional access to social workers and other support systems, so we’ll be looking at spending funds on those mental health supports,” said Washington County, TN Schools Superintendent, Jerry Boyd.

Boyd also plans to address learning loss and acceleration as well as target some of the funds for facility improvement across the district. He said they received just under $12 million in ESSER 3.0 and about $19 million in total funds.

In Johnson City Schools, most of their initial funds went toward the transition into online learning, equipping staff and students with the right tools to navigate the pandemic. While students will be returning to campuses this fall, the pandemic is still very present.

“It’s really important that we use the funds to prevent, prepare and respond to the pandemic,” said Johnson City Schools Director of Accountability and School Improvement, Dr. Robbie Anderson. “So this money is still very much tied to our response to the pandemic and how that impacted education.”

Johnson City Schools will be receiving around $13.8 million and Anderson said involving stakeholders in the process is crucial. She said they’ve put out a number of surveys regarding where the money would be best spent. In ESSER 1.0 the focus was on technology improvements, and in 2.0 funds, were allocated to rebuilding science labs in the high school.

Kingsport City Schools received $26.2 million in total with ESSER 3.0 sitting at $17 million. 20% of those funds will go to the designation for learning loss while the remaining goes towards deferred maintenance, technology, and resources and materials for math and literacy.

All of the districts News Channel 11 spoke with said community participation played a huge role in helping to assign these funds.

“We would never have that opportunity without this money, so we’ve really been intentional, and we continue to get feedback from community members, parents, board members, city council members, anyone in the community because we want stakeholder input,” said Director of Elizabethton City Schools, Richard Van Huss.

Below is a breakdown of the funds in ESSER 3.0:

  • WASHINGTON COUNTY- $11,963,190
  • JOHNSON CITY SCHOOLS-$13,881,917
  • KINGSPORT CITY SCHOOLS – $17,075,503
  • SULLIVAN COUNTY- $20,610,150
  • CARTER COUNTY- $15,034,317

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