Wyoming Education Association

Fall 2021

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/1419437

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Page 12 of 31

By: Tate Mullen On March 11th, 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan. The ARP is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package meant to address the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill includes provisions to help protect our nation's most vulnerable, both economically and in terms of health. It provides funds to small businesses, local and state governments, and public schools. The American Rescue Plan allocated $123 billion in "new, flexible funds for school districts" to be spent over the next three-and- a-half school years. This legislation represents "the largest-ever one-time federal investment in K-12 education." The plan also provides an additional $10 billion to our nation's community colleges. The state of Wyoming is set to receive just over $300 mi llion in federal funding for schools. These funds are referred to interchangeably as either ARP dollars or ESSER funds. These dollars have the potential to be transformative for schools across the nation, including here in the state of Wyoming. These dollars provide ample opportunity to build on an education system that has been under attack in the state of Wyoming. They provide the opportunity to invest in our at-risk and low-income students; to help with the acquisition and retention of much-needed staff; to invest in and build summer school and after school programs; to provide much-needed mental health services and supports to our students; to purchase educational technology; and to assist in any of the much needed public health protocols, supplies, training, prevention and mitigation strategies nec essary to make our schools—not only highly-effective learning institutions—but safe, as well. Unfortunately, not everyone sees the opportunity behind these dollars. There has been some degree of pushback from some Wyoming lawmakers to the state accepting ARP funds. The American Rescue Plan establishes specific guidelines for the ESSER funds. This includes a Maintenance of Effort, which stipulates that sta tes receiving these dollars must maintain a level of overall financial support for elementary and secondary education in FY 2022 and 2023. The guidance also includes a Maintenance of Equity, which states that if state or local funds are cut for education, those schools serving large segments of low-income students must not experience a disproportionate share of cuts. If either of these provisions is viol ated, Wyoming is subject to penalty. These aspects of the law make it incredibly difficult to implement any further cuts to education. Those opposed to Wyoming's acceptance of federal funds available through the American Rescue Plan point to economic volatility, particularly in the energy sector, as a reason to forego $300 million in available federal funds for the state. The Wyoming Education Associati on firmly believes that—particularly in a time when education funding has been consistently subject to cuts and attacks—Wyoming must accept this federal aid and comply with the Maintenance of Effort and Equity thus required. Even in the event of an inability of the state to maintain effort and equity, Wyoming would potentially be penalized $6-8 million. This would essentially mean that the state could acc ept the $300 million, pay $6-8 million and still have a surplus of $292 million for education. It is worth remembering that the state is currently facing a year-over-year shortfall for public education of $250 million. $300 Million in Federal Funds Could be Transformative for Wyoming Students While determinations are being made regarding these dollars, the Wyoming Education Association has been actively working with the Governor's office and with the Department of Education to provide input on how State Education Agency (SEA) dollars should be allocated. The WEA invited a diverse group of members from across the state to participate in a call with the Wyoming Department of Education to determine where these dollars could be of most use to districts. At the same time, the Wyoming Education Association is reaching out to local leaders and presidents to work together to ensure that WEA member voices are at the district-level tables that will determine how Local Education Agency (LEA) dollars are spent. WEA will continue to engage our local membership around this issue so that these dollars, when finally accepted and allocated, can be used to their highest potential, becoming not only a lifeline to Wyoming students amid the countless detriments brought on by COVID-19 but also a transformative tool for public education in Wyoming. 13

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