A Forsyth Central High School student studies during lunch break in August 2020.
A Forsyth Central High School student studies during lunch break in August 2020.
Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The Georgia Department of Education is asking the public to weigh in with suggestions for spending money from the latest $3.8 billion installment of federal COVID-19 relief assistance.

Feedback is due by May 19 and should apply specifically to the money received by the state to address statewide learning loss and other needs, not to individual school district wish lists, the department said.

Submissions should be emailed ARP_ESSER@doe.k12.ga.us by May 19.

Participants can provide the top two or three challenges students are struggling with as a result of the pandemic, offer tips on strategies known to be effective in supporting students’ needs and give an opinion on ways the department can help students, families and schools return to normal.

The latest federal money is in addition to the $411 million Georgia received from the CARES Act in May 2020 and $1.7 billion from CARES 2 in January.

School district officials will be required to set aside at least 20% of the money they receive to help students recover from learning loss, according to the department. The remaining money is less restricted and can be allocated to fix other problems exacerbated by the pandemic.

In March, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona directed state school officials to “plan to expend these funds to safely reopen schools as expeditiously as possible this spring, sustain their healthy operations, and address the significant academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of their students.”

Cardona listed COVID mitigation efforts, after school and summer learning programs, early childhood education and staff retention as examples of appropriate uses of the federal money. He also directed states to focus on groups often struggling before the pandemic, including students from low-income families, students of color, English-learners and students with special needs.

The U.S. Department of Education also says it’s OK to spend the money to improve school facilities to slow the spread of illnesses, buy sanitation equipment, and plan for future long-term schoolhouse closures.

Districts that receive American Rescue Plan money must solicit public comment on plans and publish a proposal to return to in-person instruction within 30 days of receiving the relief money.

The amount of federal funds set to go to each school district is available on the Board of Education’s website. By federal law each district’s share is allocated based on its proportionate share of Title I funding. For example, if a school district received 2% of Georgia’s overall share of Title I funding in the 2021 school year, it will receive 2% of the American Rescue Plan allocation. 

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.