KISD to Spend Federal Funds on Learning Loss and Mental Health

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Through a May district survey with more than 13,000 responses from parents, staff, students and community members, KISD established the community’s priorities for federal funding, which directed a significant portion towards the fight against learning loss and mental health until 2023. (Impact on the community Photo from newspaper file)

Katy ISD plans to tackle learning loss and student mental health with the federal funding she received during the second and third cycles of elementary and secondary school emergency relief funding, according to officials at the district.

Through a May district survey with more than 13,000 responses from parents, staff, students and community members, KISD established the community’s priorities for federal funding, which directed a significant portion towards the fight against learning loss and mental health until 2023.

The district has received $ 102.4 million in ESSER funding, not including funds that will go to state protection policy, a pandemic-era guarantee that schools are not financially penalized for decreases in attendance due to COVID-19. The Texas Education Agency is demanding that the funds, which were distributed in spring 2020 and summer 2021, be spent on mental health, learning loss and safety.

“We have always ensured the safety and well-being of our students and staff throughout the pandemic, so the majority of our funds will be spent on [mental health and learning loss]”Christine Caskey, KISD’s director of studies, said of the funds at a meeting in June.

The first ESSER funding round brought KISD $ 5.3 million, but the funding only supplanted state funding and was not considered “new funding,” according to a KISD statement. . ESSER II brought in $ 29.9 million for KISD, but a portion will also displace state funds. ESSER III, which will only fund items related to COVID-19, has allocated $ 67.2 million to KISD, of which $ 44 million was issued this summer and the rest is expected to arrive by spring 2022, according to the reports. district officials.

Despite federal funding, experts statewide are still concerned about the lingering effects of the pandemic on education. KISD’s Spring 2021 Texas State Academic Readiness Assessments followed trends in the state with scoring drops in almost all subjects compared to spring 2019, when testing took place. for the last time.

Additionally, a report released by the American Psychological Association in July showed that 81% of teens ages 13 to 17 experienced more stress during the pandemic, which raised concerns about the mental health of students. .

“[During the pandemic,] we see a lot more self-injurious behavior and depression, anxiety, social anxiety, opposition [and] challenge and conflict in family relationships, ”said Alyssa Muchaw, Certified Professional Counselor at Katy Child Psychology Associates. “Technology addictions, disengagement from school and disrupted sleep patterns have also increased. … All forms of anxiety seem to have increased. We see a significant number of clients suffering from depression and self-injurious behaviors.

Learning loss

According to the KISD community survey, 41% of those surveyed rated learning loss as the highest priority for ESSER funds.

Statewide STAAR results released in June showed a 4% drop in the percentage of Texas students reading at or above grade level and a 15% drop in students doing math at or above grade level. grade level compared to 2019. Statewide results also showed a decrease in subjects such as humanities, biology and history.

A higher percentage of KISD students were approaching grade level in all subjects in spring 2019 and spring 2021 compared to the state average. Still, KISD STAAR’s results declined slightly in most areas between the two years, according to the results.

Among the most notable performance declines for KISD students was seventh grade math. In 2019, 81% of students were nearing grade level, but in 2021 that figure was 66%, according to the results.

The TEA has compiled a list of authorized activities to which KISD could distribute ESSER funds. The district presented its plan for the funds, and KISD budgeted nearly $ 35 million to specifically target learning loss.

According to the district survey, 48% of respondents supported hiring additional university response staff with the funds. TEA spokeswoman Melissa Holmes said Texas students may have lost nearly six months of learning.

“The data indicates an additional 3.2 months of teaching loss directly attributable to the school campus closures,” Holmes said in an email. “This is in addition to the typical 2.5 months of lost summer learning.”

To address issues of loss of learning, the district proposed various activities authorized by TEA at its June meeting. They included hiring more intervention teachers, paraprofessionals and tutors; expand summer school possibilities; reduce class size; purchase educational materials, technology and software; hire additional staff to facilitate the response process; and identify and facilitate campus planning and opportunities for collaboration.

According to the district, the review of activities for the allocation of funds has not yet started, but it will be done before the semi-annual review of the plan in December.

KISD administrator Rebecca Fox and other district officials attended a Texas Legislative School Board conference in September, where Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath spoke about the loss of learning, citing in particular the disruption of learning caused by Hurricane Katrina. He said it took four years of intervention to catch up with these students in reading and language arts, but in math they never caught up.

“It’s scary to think that no matter how many interventions we’re going to make, they might never catch up,” Fox said at a board meeting on September 27.

Mental Health

Mental health initiatives will also receive a significant portion of funding in KISD with $ 4.6 million in ESSER III funding allocated to the provision of mental health services and supports, according to district documents. Mental Health Supports received $ 1,262 from ESSER II.

Muchaw said districts have the opportunity to offer much needed mental health support to students.

“[Schools can] provide students with a private, non-stimulating environment or room to adapt, such as a space in the adviser’s office or a room in the reception desk out of sight of others if necessary, ”he said. she declared. “[Schools can also] communicate well with parents and express concerns and praise for students who appear to be struggling.

Erin Green, the mother of an elementary school student at KISD, said her family had used the district’s mental health services during the pandemic and was happy that more funds were going to these services.

“We were set up with family counseling last year for six weeks, and it was free,” Green said. “It was wonderful. We got in touch with a therapist and had weekly sessions. We got to talk about [our] family and how to better parent. They also helped us show the children good coping strategies. I hope Katy [ISD] will use [the funding] to continue programs like this.

While KISD’s mental health resources have helped the Green family adopt positive coping strategies, Muchaw said parents and teachers can support students in a variety of ways, such as breaks during schoolwork; encourage movement and stretch breaks; and practice meditation and deep breathing exercises.

Other expenses

District officials also said that KISD has allocated $ 2 million from ESSER II and III for developing public health strategies and protocols.

This initiative includes adopting policies consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for the reopening and operation of school facilities.

In addition, there were several uses authorized by TEA for which the district will not spend funds, according to its requests. For ESSER II and III, the district’s requests showed that it would not spend grants to purchase supplies to disinfect and clean the district’s facilities; plan, coordinate and implement activities during long-term closures; training of staff on disinfection and reducing the spread of infectious diseases; and coordinate preparedness and response efforts with local health services.

District officials said they had not allocated funds for sanitation because KISD supplies are currently sufficient.

According to the district, the largest allocation of ESSER funding – nearly $ 17.8 million – will go to other activities needed to continue employing existing staff. This amount is also used to supplant the public funds that KISD expected to have.

“Campuses will receive endowment units and funds to implement on-campus initiatives that meet the specific needs of their students,” said Caskey. “These funds will be allocated based on the total number of enrollments, the number of economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and our English learners.”

The positions hired would have three-year contracts, lasting as long as funding is distributed until 2024, but could be made permanent, she said.

KISD administrator Lance Redmon said at the June meeting that the temporary roles created through the funding could identify staffing candidates for KISD schools that have yet to open.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to come out and get some great talent,” he said. “We don’t have places at the moment, but we know that we have the funds to pay them until these [new schools] are open. If I’m a teacher in another district right now and want to come to Katy, I think this is a great opportunity.

Sean Dolan, who also has a child in the district, is the originator of the “A Better Legacy” Facebook page, which aims to “empower KISD,” according to the page’s description.

Dolan said he is happy that money is being invested in mental health initiatives, but wants to be clear where the funds are going. Dolan said he was particularly interested in the proposed hiring of 160 full-time human resources staff when only two full-time nurses and four social workers were described in documents from the June meeting.

“Without this clarification, it seems to me that we are developing a very heavy organizational structure instead of responding to the direct needs of the students,” Dolan said.

When presented with the staffing problem in a list of questions Community impact journal, KISD officials said the additional 160 roles would be used as full-time positions across the district and respond to a request from the human resources department.


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