In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on our K-12 schools, the federal government recently passed the American Rescue Plan, which provided stimulus funds to a variety of state and local agencies. As part of that, K-12 school districts were specifically provided funds to help reopen and sustain schools in the coming year.
AkitaBox has been getting a lot of questions around the recently announced stimulus funds, so we wanted to help provide some guidance on how you can start accessing some of those funds for your facilities and operations projects.
What is the American Rescue Plan and What Did It Promise to K-12 School Districts?
The American Rescue Plan is the latest stimulus bill signed into law by the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Acts before it, the American Rescue Plan set aside a specific amount of money for K-12 school districts. In this case, each state received additional Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds totaling somewhere in the ballpark of $130 billion in total. Got all those acronyms memorized?
While all three funds have funneled money towards public and private K-12 schools and districts, the overall goal of each has been different. The CARES and CRRSA Acts were focused on helping bridge the gap so schools could make a fast transition to virtual learning. That money had requirements that it be used on technology, IT, and other pieces needed to help students be successful in a virtual learning environment. The ESSER funds had specific requirements around how money could be spent by the districts.
The American Rescue Plan funds are a bit different. These funds are meant to provide the financial boost districts need to reopen their schools safely. The most important difference is that districts have more flexibility and freedom to use the funds as they see fit. The requirements and oversight are a lot lower with these funds, as district superintendents can determine the best way to allocate them.
What can the stimulus funds be used for by my school district?
With the latest school stimulus money opened up by the American Rescue Act, districts are being given a lot more freedom on how they use those funds. There are not the tight restrictions that the previous two stimulus bills had attached. The main objective is to ensure that schools can be reopened, and stay open, safely for students, staff, and teachers.
At its core, this new round stimulus money is meant to sustain the safe operations of schools. While some may consider the goal to return schools back to normal, right now offers a unique opportunity to make your schools and facilities better than they were before. Better maintenance and operations has a direct impact on the health and safety of everyone who uses your schools. After years of underfunding and a lack of resources, districts have the chance now to address some of their long standing issues that can lead to safer, healthier, and more sustainable buildings.
This flexibility on how to spend this new stimulus money opens a lot of opportunities...and a lot of internal competition. Making sure your facility needs are heard comes down to proper planning.
How do I secure stimulus money for my school buildings?
Managing and applying for these funds most likely falls to the superintendent, business manager, or district finance team. School districts have to apply to their State Educational Agency (SEA) to receive the stimulus funds. Your school district may have set up a funding review committee to help distribute these funds.
No matter what project you want to promote for stimulus funds, it is going to require a strong business case. This can be simple but it is important to lay out how much you are looking for and what you will use them for. Focus on what the long-term value your requests will bring, either to the learning environment, student health, or the schools' bottom line. This process is no different than your typical budgeting process.
Once you secure funds, it is important to track metrics related to your projects. While the stimulus offers flexibility, it is good practice to track the effect major renovations and purchases have on your team. It also provides the data you need to make future budget requests, highlighting successes your team has had in past cases.
Deciding on what projects to use stimulus funding on
Building your business case starts with having a plan. Having a plan starts with knowing where your facilities and assets stand today. If you haven't done an FCA recently, now is a great time to either do a formal one through a third-party or focus your team on conducting your own. Using this data, your deferred maintenance list, and the maintenance history in your facility management software you can start to formulate what projects are your highest priority. Some projects you might consider include:
- Tackle deferred maintenance that has been growing over the years.
- Roofs are often neglected, but now might be the right time to replace them and upgrade your rooftop units.
- Look for capital projects and additions that can help increase space and create healthier learning environments.
- Target issues that are a result of your buildings sitting empty or being lightly used over the last year.
- With the need for better airflow, consider replacing your HVAC with a larger, more energy efficient system.
- Initiate sustainability projects that you have been waiting on, such as light bulb replacements, lighting systems, or new windows.
- You could also earmark a small percentage of funds to upgrade or purchase your first facility management software, which can help improve your maintenance and operations for safer and healthier schools.
No matter what projects you decide to apply for, this influx of money can help offset costs and free up additional budget now and in the future. Use this opportunity to start initiating real change that delivers benefits for years to come.
Make Positive Change in Your Schools and Facilities Team
You hold a lot of responsibility when it comes to your students, teachers, and staff. The time is now to start working on your plan to secure your ESSER funds before they run out.
AkitaBox is here to help guide you both now and in the future. Learn more about how AkitaBox Essentials can streamline your maintenance and operations to help you sustain your stimulus projects.