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Louisiana's K-12 education leaders deciding how to use $1 billion in federal aid

7 months 3 weeks 4 days ago Wednesday, February 24 2021 Feb 24, 2021 February 24, 2021 10:00 AM February 24, 2021 in News
Source: The Advocate

BATON ROUGE - School superintendents across south Louisiana are deciding how to use a substantial amount of federal aid assistance that will soon make its way to their districts.  

According to a recent report by The Advocate's Will Sentell, the federal allocation totals $1.1 billion, with $100 million left to the discretion of the state Department of Education.

The funds were approved by Congress in December of last year and include $77 million for the Jefferson Parish School District, $64 million for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, and $37 million for public schools in Lafayette.

School officials hope to use the assistance to address learning issues triggered by the pandemic.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School District hopes to expand its early childhood education capacity, student academic assessments, computers and connectivity, among other items, according to Sito Narcisse, who serves as the newly appointed superintendent of the district.

The push to offer students assistance works in harmony with a $1 million state plan to help districts provide tutoring in math and English/language arts, The Advocate reports.

"Unfinished learning is nothing new to educators but the pandemic has exacerbated the need to provide our children with extra help," state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said.

The spending plans also indicates that virtual learning, in some fashion, will be employed for the foreseeable future.

As the largest public school district in the state, education leaders in the Jefferson Parish School District told The Advocate that addressing learning loss since the outset of the pandemic 11 months ago will be a focus of its share of the aid.

These officials will use the funds to support social and emotional resources for students, tools to improve reading skills for children from pre-kindergarten through third grade, and professional development programs for teachers.

The Advocate notes that Wes Watts, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and leader of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, said ensuring students are on grade level will be the priority with the $3.2 million his district is set to get. "That will include providing tutoring, enrichment and having those options available this summer also," Watts said in an email.

On a similar note, schools in Zachary will receive $2.6 million and officials hope to use the money to get students back on track after the upsets in education caused by the COVID-19 health crisis.

Scott Devillier, superintendent of the top-rated Zachary School District, spoke of summer school planning, saying, "The big question is a lot of kids may want to sign up but you also have to have enough educators to be in the classroom."

Officials with the St. Bernard Parish School District are on track to receive $9.5 million and they intend to use the first round of federal aid to focus on making sure students had Chromebooks and internet access, which has been a statewide problem, The Advocate reports.

Most of the district's 7,840 students live in economically disadvantaged homes and Superintendent Doris Voitier said school officials are regularly assessing students to see which ones might benefit from summer school for reading and other basic skills.

"We are going to have an extensive summer program," said Voitier, who is also a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Set to receive $15.5 million in federal aid, the Livingston Parish School District anticipates using the assistance to make sure students are connected to classrooms and have technology devices.

Meanwhile, the Ascension Parish school system is in line to get $11.8 million and hopes to funnel the money into increased costs of instruction and the purchase of technology.

According to The Advocate, the Lafayette Parish school system plans to use its federal dollars for academic recovery, student services and personal protective equipment.

Hollis Milton, superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish School District, said officials there will target computers and other instructional resources with the federal aid, The Advocate reports.

The news outlet says West Feliciana public schools will receive $1.1 million; Iberville, $6.2 million; Orleans, $28.1 million; Plaquemines, $2.6 million; St. Charles, $5.2 million; St. John the Baptist, $7.5 million and St. Tammany, $28.5 million.

Districts will receive federal aid in two equal payments and the money will be available for spending in June and January 2022.

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