Phillips outlines schools' plan for $49M Covid relief funding

Dr. Del Phillips

Extra help may soon be on the way for Sumner County students who have fallen behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in October, the school district will use a portion of the $49 million it’s expected to receive in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for before-and after-school tutoring programs at each school.

The programs are expected to begin after the school district’s Fall Break which runs from Oct. 4-8, according to Sumner County Schools Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson. Parents interested in the program should contact their child’s school.

Sumner County Schools has received three rounds of ESSER funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (passed by Congress in March 2020); the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act (passed in December 2020); and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law on March 11, 2021.

The funds, dubbed ESSER 1.0; ESSER 2.0 and ESSER 3.0, are distributed and approved through the Tennessee Department of Education.

Sumner received $3.5 million in ESSER 1.0 funds that must be spent from March 2020-September 2022; $14 million in ESSER 2.0 funds that must be spent from January 2021-September 2023; and $31.4 million that must be spent from May 2021-September 2024.

At least 20 percent of ESSER 3 funds must be geared toward addressing learning loss assessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to state guidelines.

Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips gave an overview of how the school district is using its allocated ESSER funding during a School Board meeting on Sept. 21. Phillips had said a week earlier that the school district planned to use around $3.5 million in indirect ESSER funds to help pay for a proposed agricultural/STEM learning center.

After several parents opposed the use of federal funds for the project, School Board members voted instead to take money from the district’s general purpose fund for the project.

“There’s been a lot of conversation around what these dollars are actually being spent on, so we kind of wanted to give you an idea of where those dollars are going,” said Phillips. “And I think I heard from several speakers this evening about learning loss, about technology, so I hope they are paying attention because you’ll see a lot of dollars in here.”

With input from several committees comprised of more than 100 principals, teachers and Board of Education staff, the school district is focusing on four main areas, Phillips noted: Academics, Student Readiness, Foundations and Educator Pathways.

Academics — $16.3 million — includes investments in literacy and tutoring. Uses for the funds include before and after school tutoring, the Summer Scholars program, and early reading support.

Student readiness/school-related supports — $19.2 million — includes funding for AP/Dual enrollment courses; CTE equipment; math curriculum; a school counselor coordinator; social workers; nurses; mental health training and support materials, STARS counselors; ELL teachers and K-8 school supplies.

Foundations — $12.4 million — includes technology and Internet in the form of student Chromebooks, iPads and related security software and equipment; equipment to expand high-speed Internet; cleaning supplies; and cleaning equipment.

Educator Pathways — $1.2 million – includes funding is for teacher/parent communication tools; demonstration classroom teachers; teacher support; Sumner Connect teacher stipends and an ESSER coordinator.

Phillips said the school district is awaiting approval on its ESSER 3.0 plan from the state Department of Education.

“We submit to the state and the state says yes or no for every item we submit,” he said.

Johnson said that each school will determine whether or not to offer tutoring before or after school or both.

“Each school will look at how many students they have in need,” he said.

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