desk stock file photo school

During a tour of the West Jefferson High School with coronavirus precautions it can be seen that each desk in the classroom has a grey or red sticker on the top corner in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Each period, students will be asked to alternate their use of desks and to clean them off after each class. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Thanks to federal COVID relief, nearly $50 million in additional funding is coming to Baton Rouge public schools this fall.

Local school officials plan to use it to help educate 1,000 preschool children, replace laptops, add extra workdays for employees and hire dozens of learning coaches.

Those are just some of the ideas spelled out in a spending plan for the federal stimulus money approved by Congress in December and in March. The school system has already been allocated about $60 million in stimulus funds, about $48 million of which would go directly to educational initiatives. Another $144 million is to be allocated next year.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday reviewed the spending proposals developed by Superintendent Sito Narcisse, but won’t take final action on them until May 20.

Several board members expressed concern about what happens when the federal windfall runs out.

“If we can’t sustain this, we will be back at square one,” board member Tramelle Howard said. 

Board President David Tatman shared those concerns and urged Narcisse to project spending over the next three years.

“I do think we’ll be getting some more money," Tatman said, "but I don’t think we’ll get it in three years.”

Board member Mike Gaudet agreed, but said some of these proposals may be viable by saving in other areas.

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“We’re going to have to stop doing things that are not effective to do things that are more effective,” he said.

The added spending on early childhood education, totaling about $8 million, is part of a long-term push by Narcisse to eventually offer universal preschool in Baton Rouge. The federal money will support educating 937 young children. Only 200 of those would be by adding spots in pre-K. The rest would be children educated through local child care centers — 117 of the seats would be for kids 3 years old and younger.

The new learning coaches are another key effort by Narcisse to improve academics at district schools. They include new literacy coaches at 53 schools and math coaches at 20 schools. The money would also fund new personnel, including 44 specialists for working with students learning English as a second language, 22 teachers for alternative schools, 11 social-and-emotional support workers, eight art instructors and at least six new counselors. A related line item would pay for 10 more nurses contracted from Our Lady of the Lake Health System.

Barbara Lashley, the district's newly hired chief of literacy, said all but the highest-performing schools would have a literacy coach. However, she added, “we would greatly love to put literacy coaches at all of our schools.”

Board member Jill Dyason urged Lashley to find ways to help the non-served schools.

“We have students with dyslexia even in our A and B schools,” Dyason said. “(The schools) can make it work, but it’s a real struggle.”

Other notable spending proposals:

  • $8.2 million for educational resources to supplement what teachers already use. The materials would come from EL Learnzillion, Guidebooks Learnzillion, myPerspectives and Dreambox Math.
  • $4.6 million for “Smart Start,” an effort to catch up students who fell behind during the pandemic. This includes three more days of pay for certified staff and two days more for non-certified staff. Some of the money also is paying for professional development for teachers.
  • $1 million for computers and student connectivity. Hotspots. Replacement Chromebooks. Google Chrome licenses. Impacting about 4,000 students with 4,000 devices. Will be pooled with tax plan funds.
  • $1.1 million for COVID safety issues, paying for upgrading air filter systems, assessing heating and air in schools, cleaning wipes, disinfectants.
  • $762,817 for a literacy screener for preschool to elementary grades known as Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.