Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Plan for Final Round of COVID-19 Relief Funding: Board

Metro Nashville Public Schools on Tuesday released the detailed breakdown of its plans for spending $276 million in the third and final round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds. This COVID-19 relief money has been allocated to the district to spend on pandemic relief strategies that range from technology support to tutoring services, though it must be spent by September 2024. 

The ESSER budget came later than expected, following a week of controversy between the district and the state regarding school mask mandates. Just days before the school year began, MNPS passed a mask mandate for both faculty and students. Not long after, Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order enabling parents to opt kids out of wearing masks in districts requiring them, though MNPS has refused to follow it. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent a letter to Lee last week, warning that his executive order may prevent schools from providing safe learning environments to children during the pandemic. This is a stipulation of the ESSER funding, and money could be withheld if it’s not met. In the letter, Cardona warned Lee that “the Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether Tennessee is meeting all of its Federal fiscal requirements.”

“The Federal funding allocated to Metro Schools can be transformative in the services and support we offer to our students, families and staff as a district,” says director of schools Adrienne Battle.“We are also proud to be the only district we know of to be directly allocating a significant portion of our ESSER funds directly to schools to better meet the unique needs of their student populations. We appreciate all of the stakeholders who have participated in this process to develop as robust and comprehensive a plan as possible, with the top priority of closing learning gaps and accelerating the academic and SEL outcomes for all of our students.”

ESSER dollars are distributed across four major categories. $67.4 million will go toward “building infrastructure,” which includes hiring nurses for every school, hiring two Title IX support staff members, enhancing technology and technology support, recruiting bus drivers, improving indoor air quality and more. $73.9 million will be used to “accelerate academics” through extending summer programming, enabling academic interventions and tutoring services, supporting students as they transition out of high school, investing in alternative learning centers and priority schools, and supporting academic and extracurriculars. $25.2 million will support MNPS’ “Every Student Known” initiative, funding mental health services and resources, student advocates, translations services and parent feedback opportunities. The last category, called “Grow Our People,” will provide $13.5 million for staff development opportunities and resources, as well as hiring long- and short-term staffing and Parent University, a program that enables families to become more involved in their students’ education. More detailed breakdowns of the costs can be found on MNPS’ website

Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Plan for Final Round of COVID-19 Relief Funding

Additionally, $43 million of the ESSER funds are reserved for charter schools, and another $48.8 million will be allocated directly to schools to spend based on their individualized needs. Each school will receive $75,000, plus an additional $450 for every economically disadvantaged student — a group most affected most by the pandemic, which was reflected in 2020-2021 TCAP scores. “To date, we're not aware of any other districts who have chosen to allocate a significant portion directly to schools,” Battle said at Tuesday’s board meeting, “and we're proud of the principal leaders who have taken on this opportunity and responsibility to give their students and staff what they need to succeed.” She also noted that $1.8 million will be reserved for administration, which she says is lower than the ESSER laws allow for this purpose — “but we want as much money more to schools as soon as possible.”

The finalized ESSER budget must be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education by Friday. Dr. Battle noted that MNPS will “continue to make adjustments through the end of the week to make sure we're in full compliance with their requirements.” Additional changes can be made after the plan is submitted if additional information creates a need for necessary adjustments. Citizens can provide feedback by emailing esser@mnps.org.

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