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Magazine

Make It Count: COVID-19 Relief Funding

We have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the future of public education with the huge investment in public schools under the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
Advocate Fall 2021 covid
Published: 10/11/2021

The American Rescue Plan (ARP), enacted on March 11, will deliver $122 billion in aid to states and school districts to help safely and sustainably reopen school buildings and bridge the learning gaps stemming from the pandemic.

The total allocation for Arizona schools is $2.3 billion. Two-thirds of this money was to be received in March and the remaining one-third will be received when the state submits a plan that complies with the federal requirements. Many states are in the process of drafting plans, which mandates stakeholder input including educators, their unions, civil rights organizations, students, and families.

AEA has created several resources intended to help local associations understand how the funds will be distributed and navigate the appropriate and optimal ways to ensure that the voice of educators remains at the table as plans are made to utilize these resources.

School Rescue Funds

Ninety percent of ARP funds must be distributed to local education agencies within 60 days of receipt. Of these funds, at least 20% must be used to address pandemic-associated learning gaps through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs.

These interventions must address students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. To do this, ARP funds may be used to hire new staff.

Effective implementation of these ARP programs necessitates the participation and involvement of current employees for both consistency and quality as well as to identify students who suffered the greatest negative impact during the pandemic. These educators can best ensure that students with the greatest needs are prioritized for summer school programs and have access to tutoring services, smaller class sizes, or additional supports.

Allowable Use of Funds

The ARP provides that 20 percent of ESSER funding is to be used for implementation of evidence-based interventions, including summer learning, summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs. The remaining funds can be used for many purposes, from resources to keep schools safe and healthy, to much needed supports for educators, including improving salary, benefits, and working conditions which are critical to recruiting and retaining high quality staff.  These improvements are crucial to ensure sufficient staffing for schools. See a checklist of allowable uses for the ARP funds at arizonaea.org/rescue-funds.

What Is the Union’s Role in Bargaining These Funds?

There are no state laws prohibiting or granting collective bargaining in Arizona. Whether affiliates are entitled to engage in formal collective bargaining under state law or rely on less formal advocacy practices in non-bargaining districts, they should immediately invoke their right to engage in “meaningful consultation.” It is vital that local associations raise educator voices and assert their professional authority to ensure that all stakeholders, including educators, parents, and community, provide input and be a part of the decision-making processes.

AEA officers and local leaders have spent the summer engaging members in conversations about how to best advocate for our students and colleagues with this new influx of federal funding. ARP ESSER funds are an opportunity to chart a new, innovative course that will attract and engage students and educators. More importantly, while there must be some academics, an effective and engaging program will address the whole child. To create such a program, the voice of educators is important. Visit arizonaea.org/rescue-funds to read the American Rescue Funds: Bargaining Implications guidance developed by the AEA Advocacy and Bargaining Department to learn more about how and what your local union can (and should) bargain for.

Student success is about their future. And ours.

Each and every student deserves a quality public education. AEA is bringing together our members and community leaders across the state to ensure all students have the resources they need to fulfill their potential and their dreams.
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With more than 20,000 members, the Arizona Education Association (AEA) is the largest professional association for public school employees in Arizona. AEA members are teachers, community college professors, counselors, speech pathologists, bus drivers, secretaries, retired educators and student teachers and they belong to more than 150 local affiliates across Arizona.