Providence schools ask for input on how to spend stimulus money

Education

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Public School students and families had the opportunity to hear from district administrators, and give feedback, on how $180 million in federal stimulus money will be spent in the district.

12 News listened into a webinar that was held at 10 a.m. Saturday. We’re told 73 people attended it. 

In the virtual meeting, school administrators, including Interim Superintendent Javier Montañ​ez, first outlined progress in the state’s turnaround plan for the district, such as offering a summer academy for all interested students, not just those who need to make up class credits. Then, they showed how the pandemic impacted learning.

In the past year, there was a 60% chronic absenteeism rate, which is an increase from 37% from the year before. Target 12 Investigator Steph Machado dug deep into that data in her report, Lost Learning.

The conversation then transitioned to how the federal money could best be used to enrich students’ learning experience. Deputy Superintendent of Operations of Providence Public Schools Zack Scott cautioned that the federal tax money, which was made available to Providence through two stimulus bills, does have some limitations on how it can be spent. To put it simply, it needs to be spent on programs or initiatives related to the impact that COVID-19 had on students and staff.

But Scott also showed how COVID-19 impacted most areas of student learning, especially the socio-emotional health of students and staff. He said the money can be spent over the course of more than two years’ time. 

“It’s important that we spend these funds sustainably… We want to avoid any expenditures that are kind of long-lasting because the challenge is sometimes when you have this large influx of federal dollars is if you spend it in a way that you will have to pay for years and years and years, once that funding runs out, it can lead to problems with the district, sustainability-wise. So. we want to avoid expenditures that will be a long-term cost burden,” Scott said.

He outlined the top priorities into four categories for the district in alignment with the turnaround plan. Scott said the stimulus funding could fast-track some existing plans. The categories include student-centered facility upgrades, second-and-third year TAP priorities, boost grants, and COVID safety. 

Guidance counselors will be added at elementary schools. It was already a goal of the district that was fast-tracked by the stimulus money, due to the impact the pandemic has had on young students’ socio-emotional health. 

Khechara Bradford, Deputy Superintendent of Learning for Providence Public Schools, said, “When we look at even emergency room visits due to mental health emergencies, those rose about 24% for children last year.”

Other ideas to use the money included enrichment programs for struggling students as well as those in advanced placement classes. New innovative learning proposals also include more field trips and out-of-school experiences, small group tutoring for ninth grade math, and more language immersion opportunities, to name a few.

Those who logged onto the webinar were able to give their input by answer “yes” or “no” to polls that popped up on their screen after each section of the presentation concerning stimulus money spending.

The next opportunity for students and families to offer their input is Wednesday, June 30, at 6 p.m. The same webinar will be presented. Questions can be asked through a Q&A feature box. At the end of Saturday’s session, the administrators addressed the few questions that were asked. 

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