Federal Relief Update: What impact have we seen from how CICS prioritized the COVID-19 relief dollars?

Written by Himali Patel
25 October 2021
Posted in Voices

Previous Piece (June 2021)

In June, I wrote a Voices Blog piece to share more with our community about how we make our budgetary decisions at CICS and what the incoming federal relief dollars might mean for how we support our schools, teachers, and students this school year. 

Now, a few months into this school year, I have the pleasure of being able to follow up on my piece and share more about our priorities, our spending, and most importantly, the impact we hope to see from this landmark investment in our schools. 

Overall, CICS received funds from three federal relief bills passed in 2020 and 2021: the CARES Act in April 2020; the Coronavirus Relief Bill in December 2020; and the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021. The most recent of these relief packages, the American Rescue Plan Act, resulted in an influx of approximately $7.7 million to invest across all 13 CICS campuses. While each SMO and schools had the autonomy to spend their dollars as they deemed necessary, I know we were all united around the common priorities and values that drive decision-making across our network. 

To ensure every student in the CICS community can flourish, we had to ask ourselves some important questions before allocating these dollars. How do we get our kids back into schools safely on a full-time basis? Once they’re there, how do we keep kids and teammates safe in our schools without taking away dollars from instruction? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we use funds to equally prioritize both social-emotional health and academic recovery?

The answers to these questions are what ultimately drove our spending decisions. I am eager to share some of the big ways we invested our dollars:

  • New Personnel: An immediate and concrete way to better support our teachers and students was to hire additional personnel who are aligned to the priorities we set. We wanted to make it easier to keep students safe and healthy, so we created new or additional positions like in-house substitutes, additional school nurses, and temporary support staff to help with arrivals, contact tracing, and managing our care rooms. We also added staff to better support learning, especially in this new context, such as technology leads and Virtual Academy instructors. More hands on deck, especially when they are the right hands, can make immeasurable differences in student learning and teacher sustainability.
  • Technology & Innovation: As COVID-19 continues to influence the way we teach and the way students learn, it’s important that we continue investing dollars to help us adjust to this evolving reality. This means investments in maintaining our one-to-one student laptop ratio, investing in software and platforms to improve parent communication, and putting dedicated resources behind our Virtual Academies to support remote and quarantined learners. At CICS, we pride ourselves on our ability to innovate in the name of supporting excellent instruction and equitable learning. Leveraging dollars to support this aim is a natural use of these increased funds.
  • Staff Development & Resources: Meeting students’ academic and social-emotional needs, even in the midst of continued change, will always be a top priority across CICS. Allocating dollars towards this aim was a critical way we invested in our students’ futures. Whether that investment was in continued support and resources for trusted programs like Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) or in introducing new concepts and tools to educators through additional professional development, we know that schools made decisions to put dollars towards ensuring staff can holistically support and nurture all students to learn and grow.

The above priorities certainly don’t fully encompass all the ways that we have leveraged this $7.7 million in additional dollars for our students. However, I hope they have given you a window into how we translate these priorities into concrete expenditures. And, perhaps more importantly, I hope they give you insight into the kinds of impact we hope to see in the months and years ahead.

If we invest in the tools and resources to keep our communities safe, we can mitigate dangerous exposures before they start and instead focus on rebuilding our communities and supporting learning. If every student has a laptop and access to both in-person and virtual instruction, we know learning can continue despite any obstacles. If we acknowledge the challenges facing our schools in terms of staffing and capacity, and innovate around personnel accordingly, we can help provide some much needed relief. And if we are constantly learning about and investing in our students’ needs – both academic and social-emotional – then we know we can set them on a path towards seizing the kinds of successful futures they each deserve.

As I mentioned in June, an organization’s budget and spending tells the story of what matters to them. I hope in communicating a little more about how CICS has spent these precious federal relief dollars, you now have better insight into the concrete ways we are prioritizing our schools, teachers, and students during this landmark school year.

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