ACA.schoolbuses001.adv.jpg (copy)

Public school leaders are deciding how to spend about $1 billion in federal coronavirus aid authorized by Congress in December.

Repairing student learning loss sparked by the coronavirus pandemic will be one of the priorities as superintendents decide how to spend a whopping $1 billion in new federal assistance.

The money, which was approved by Congress in December, includes $77 million for the Jefferson Parish School District, $64 million for the East Baton Rouge Parish School District and $37 million for public schools in Lafayette.

It is on top of $287 million that schools got last year in the early stages of the pandemic to help offset expenses caused by the deadly virus.

School leaders for months have voiced concerns about the learning loss some students will suffer because of the disruption in classes, especially for those who were struggling academically before the pandemic.

In-person classes ended nine weeks ahead of schedule in 2020, forcing educators to rely on virtual classes that are uneven at best.

About one-third of Louisiana's roughly 700,000 public school students still rely on a combination of virtual and in-person instruction or distance learning only.

Officials of the Jefferson Parish School District, the largest in the state, said addressing learning loss since the outset of the pandemic 11 months ago will be a focus of its share of the aid.

Other areas will include social and emotional support for students, better reading skills for children from pre-kindergarten through third grade and professional development for teachers.

Wes Watts, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and leader of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, said ensuring students are on grade level will be the priority with the $3.2 million his district is set to get. "That will include providing tutoring, enrichment and having those options available this summer also," Watts said in an email.

Scott Devillier, superintendent of the top-rated Zachary School District, said the federal dollars will help his system pay for the staff needed to address learning gaps students have experienced in the past 11 months. "The big question is a lot of kids may want to sign up but you also have to have enough educators to be in the classroom," Devillier said of summer school planning.

Zachary is set to get $2.6 million.

In the first round of federal aid, officials of the St. Bernard Parish School District focused on making sure students had Chromebooks and internet access, which has been a statewide problem.

The district has 7,840 students, with 80% living in economically disadvantaged homes.

Doris Voitier, superintendent of the district, said school officials are regularly assessing students to see who would benefit from summer school for reading and other basic skills.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

"We are going to have an extensive summer program," said Voitier, who is also a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The district is getting $9.5 million.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School District, the second largest in the state, plans to expand its early childhood education capacity, student academic assessments, computers and connectivity, among other items, according to Sito Narcisse, superintendent of the district.

The push to offer students assistance dovetails with a $1 million state plan to help districts provide tutoring in math and English/language arts.

"Unfinished learning is nothing new to educators but the pandemic has exacerbated the need to provide our children with extra help," state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said.

The spending plans also reflect the view that virtual learning, in some fashion, will be employed for the foreseeable future.

Aside from learning loss the Livingston Parish School District plans to use its federal dollars to ensure that students are connected to classrooms and have technology devices.

The district is scheduled to get $15.5 million.

The Ascension Parish school system is targeting increased costs of instruction and the purchase of technology.

The district is line to get $11.8 million.

The Lafayette Parish school system plans to use its federal dollars for academic recovery, student services and personal protective equipment.

Hollis Milton, superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish School District, said officials there will target computers and other instructional resources with the federal aid.

West Feliciana public schools are set to get $1.1 million.

Others are Iberville, $6.2 million; Orleans, $28.1 million; Plaquemines, $2.6 million; St. Charles, $5.2 million; St. John the Baptist, $7.5 million and St. Tammany, $28.5 million.

Districts are set to get the federal aid in two equal payments. The money will be available for spending in June and January 2022.

The federal allocation totals $1.1 billion, with $100 million left to the discretion of the state Department of Education.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.