Evaluating District Budgets and Funding Options: Finding the Dollars to Secure Funding for CCR Initiatives

Evaluating District Budgets and Funding Options: Finding the Dollars to Secure Funding for CCR Initiatives

While looking at next year’s budget may seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be. Continue reading to review or discover a variety of resources and funding options to promote teacher development and help ensure students can still access research-based, equitable programming.

A looming financial meltdown for America’s schools. That’s how Cody Turner of NPR characterized the wicked combination of COVID-19, rising unemployment rates, business shutdowns, and decreasing state income. All of these, of course, led to dramatic slashes in educational spending. 
States understandably had to review and reallocate funds and resources when people stopped spending money. Since schools receive roughly half of their funding from state tax revenues, less funds meant deep cuts to the education system. Although the CARES Act, which provided emergency relief last March, lessened the blow, schools still experienced budget cuts of 15-20% . 
Not only are schools desperate for money, they are also facing new and additional costs to add to their bill. Turner explains these necessary yet expensive purchases: “Where kids are back in person, schools have to spend big on things like sanitizer and facility cleaning. If schools run online-only, they’re buying extra laptops and internet hot spots. For schools attempting to do both, it’s a double whammy of new costs to go along with all those budget cuts.”
While looking at next year’s budget may seem daunting, it doesn’t need to be. Continue reading to review or discover a variety of resources and funding options to promote teacher development and help ensure students can still access research-based, equitable programming.

Finding Money in Federal Initiatives

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (otherwise known as CARES) set aside roughly $13.5 billion for the nation’s K-12 schools in the spring. An additional $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II Fund) was signed in December of 2020 as a part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRS) Act. This money can be used for various initiatives– paying staff, equipping students with technology, reopening educational grants, and improving sanitation and school air quality. 
If districts are eligible and are considering tapping into these funds, be aware of the CARES Act guidelines. The payments can only be used to cover expenses that:

  • are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19);
  • were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the State or government; and
  • were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 31, 2021.

ESSA, Title IV
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), established in 2015, focuses on the notion that every student deserves a high-quality education and that all students should be held to high academic standards. 
Within ESSA are state grants, such as the Student Support and Academic Enhancement Grants (SSAEC), which allots a flexible $1.6 billion dollars to states. In order to access grant money, districts must include a needs assessment in their proposal that examines the needs for improvement in three key areas: 
(a) access to and opportunities for a well-rounded education 
(b) safe and supportive conditions for learning
(c) access to personalized learning experiences supported by technology
If chosen, districts must use at least 20% of these funds on efforts to improve student mental and behavioral health, school climate, or school safety. The National Council of School Psychologists suggests districts to focus using money on the following:

  • comprehensive school mental and behavioral health service delivery systems
  • trauma informed policies and practices
  • bullying and harassment prevention
  • social–emotional learning
  • improving school safety and school climate
  • mental health first aid training
  • professional development activities

Therefore, research-driven programs, such as Inner Explorer, Second Step, and Xello, qualify, as they improve the climate and culture of classrooms, equip kids with self-management skills, and help students develop a growth mindset. 
Perkins V
While ESSA is more broad and flexible in focus, the Perkins Act requires that funds are used to improve career and technical programs. Funds are allocated to states based on population and demographics; after an approved proposal, states send money to districts, which is then funneled to the schools.  
The best option is to contact your state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) director for guidance on the application process as well as networking opportunities with other programs and districts. Your state director will also help you organize timelines and due dates, since it can be tedious and potentially confusing. The director may also point you to your state’s resource page with direct information on Perkins, such as this one from California. 
Lastly, make sure you know the allowable and unallowable uses of Perkins funds. Some states have additional protocols in place, so checking with the state CTE director is key. 
CTE classes have looked dramatically different this past school year, and future planning programs such as Xello allow students to continue engaging in skill-based lessons and career exploration, even if they are learning in a remote setting. Since future planning programs qualify as an allowable use of funds from this grant, district leads should consider this option if they are looking to continue or add a college and career readiness curricula. 

Consider Grants, Piloting Products, & Local Fundraising

Grants for Student and Teacher Development
Grants can be applied for at the national, state, and local level, and are often gifted by an organization or private donor. Grant eligibility and focus are specific, and schools usually have to document use of the money being appropriately allocated. 
Many teacher unions and local educational foundations offer grants to help support school programming and enrichment activities. With an emerging focus in SEL, technology, and student equity, grants are being geared toward innovative practices that provide ways for all students to grow and succeed. 
Lastly, school districts can partner with nonprofits that qualify for additional national and state grants. One example would be tapping into the opportunities provided by RemoteEdX, which partners with Ohio schools and educational agencies to help remote, blended, and hybrid learning environments.   
Raise Money Through Local Fundraising
Schools provide a service to the community, and more often than not, a district’s biggest fans are the families it serves. Therefore, one way to raise money is through the use of local fundraisers.
Restaurants often promote “school takeovers” where a portion of the night’s proceeds are donated to a district. Silent auctions (even virtual ones) are a fast and effective way to raise money. PTAs and other parent organizations may have additional fundraising ideas (and connections) that can help sustain or enrich curricula and programming. 
If a district chooses to fundraise, it is important that communication be open and transparent. Stakeholders should clearly understand decisions regarding raised resources for continued support and alignment. 
Allocate Resources to Meet Budget Goals
A smart practice to do before any school year, but especially the upcoming one, is to analyze how current funds are being used.  
An in-depth budgeting resource created by Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy suggests reviewing district and building goals to see if budgets are being appropriately allocated. The guide suggests “conducting a cost analysis; converting dollars into per pupil, per teacher, or other per unit terms; and analyzing equity within the district. Districts must understand how money is currently spent in order to create a realistic and needs-based budget moving forward.”
Sometimes, superfluous district spending can be cut with something as simple as limiting the number of program licenses used. Districts can also see what budget categories– such as school safety– can be paid for through a grant or scholarship, freeing up that money to be put to something else. 

Looking Towards the Future

While schools may still be looking into alternative sources to fund education initiatives in 2021, the new administration has promised to prioritize education. We have already seen over $50 billion federal dollars invested into education, and will hopefully continue to invest to close the gaps created by socioeconomic status and the digital divide. 
To that point, Biden vowed while campaigning to triple funding for Title I, the federal program funding schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families. There is also a plan to increase federal funding of community schools. 
Former education policy fellow Bijan Verlin explains the importance of these community schools and their wraparound services: It “does a lot to treat the school as the center of the community. Whether that’s hosting polling stations, whether that’s providing adult literacy classes or hosting community college courses—all of those things add up to make a school more of a bedrock for the community. In places that are sometimes food deserts, a central location for food drop-offs or farmers’ markets can make a big difference. When we’re thinking about providing resources to the neediest, the most at-risk students, that is one way to shift resources.”
This plan to support students of color and/or low economic status should come as a relief to districts struggling for resources and equal access to opportunity. 

In Short

Years down the road, we don’t want our students to look back on this time and reflect on everything which they missed out. Instead, we need to help kids rewrite a personal narrative of resilience and adaptability.
Students shouldn’t have to feel the weight of budget cuts in their day-to-day learning experience. Therefore, it is crucial for districts to revisit their yearly goals and analyze their spending of money. Are decisions being made for the best interest of teachers? Students? The community? 
Educators are known for their innovation, and while districts are floating in uncharted waters, there are many untapped resources and partnerships out there. With some research, hard work, and data-driven proposals, districts can secure further funding to make the 2021-2022 school year engaging and empowering for students and teachers alike.