CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District has made plans to spend $104 million of its $163 million ESSER III allocation from federal COVID relief programs. On Monday, Interim Superintendent Don Kennedy revealed $28 million would be given directly to schools based on need and the rest will be spent by the central office.
While the district is announcing it allocation goals, school board member Cindy Bohn Coats says the administration is taking too long spending the money.
“These dollars end in about 935 days and that means we have to have them expended. That conversation about when we had to have them expended happened in December and we are now halfway through March and are no closer to doing that,” Bohn Coats said. “We still have $60 million in ESSER II we need to spend.”
CCSD is lagging behind neighboring districts and similar size districts in getting the money out, according to the state’s ESSER dashboard.
CCSD has received the most money of all districts and spent the least. Greenville Schools, the largest district in the state, has already allocated 39 percent of its ESSER III funds, while Horry County, the third largest district, has allocated 79% of its funds.
“We haven’t really changed what we’ve heard from the community,” Bohn coats said in reference to the community engagement that started last summer and continues today. “I don’t know why we didn’t just take those marching orders and start producing results. We are halfway through this school year with access to funding we have had since last summer that we are not using, and children are not growing in their educational achievement.”
Kennedy says the state’s tracking website doesn’t tell the full story.
He says the district spends the ESSER money and then submits a claim to the state for reimbursement. He says the dashboard is updated every quarter and they haven’t submitted any claims yet.
“It’s the middle of March. We have until the end of April, the first of May before we assimilate all those costs for that time and submit that,” Kennedy said. At the same time, he couldn’t say how much, if any, money has been spent yet from ESSER III.
In January, Kennedy and his team created guardrails for how the district would administer the federal aid. The district laid out an end goal of getting students to read on grade level by 5th grade. Internal data shows almost 51 percent of CCSD students between 3rd and 8th grades are not reading on grade level.
Kennedy says they choose the reading metric because of its implication on future success.
“Students who can read on grade level by the end of elementary school are four times more likely to graduate from high school,” Kennedy said.
The schools with the highest percentage of students that can’t read on grade level will receive larger amounts of the ESSER III dollars. Kennedy says 75 percent of the money will be spent on schools with 50 percent or more of students not meeting the reading goal. This also means 75 percent of the money will be spent on elementary schools.
Supporting the reading goal are three tiers, each with a newly announced ESSER III allocation that will be spent by the central office.
Kennedy announced $32 million for tier one to support the development of rigorous curriculum. That money is being funneled into a new English Language Arts curriculum, professional development and extended learning.
“We have a new curriculum that is about $10 million,” Kennedy said in reference to ELA.
Tier two is dedicated to developing high quality teachers. There’s $22 million slated to support acceleration schools, teacher incentives and programs aimed at recruiting new teachers.
There is also $22 million for tier three that includes wrap around services. Those are services that are not directly tied to classroom education and support a student’s quality of life.
“Like $14.3 million that I presented to the board around mental health services,” Kennedy said. “Our central staff will be responsible for hiring new staff and then distributing them to schools for mental health services.”
The spending goals could include funding community groups and organizations that submitted applications for funding over the summer.
However, Kennedy says, most of the money, especially in tiers one and two is already spoken for. Schools also have until April 1 to submit ESSER III plans.
“The idea is that we have plans coming in from different schools and community organizations and so we will base those final allocations on the validity of those plans,” Kennedy said.
Bohn Coats says this is a great plan on paper, but it’s overly complicated. She says teachers and district leaders know what the problems are and how to fix them, they just need to spend the money.
“That’s typical for our district. We tend to over complicate a lot of these things,” Bohn Coats said.
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