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FCPS boosts academic supports, staff pay with $189M in COVID-19 relief funds

The Fairfax County School Board (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools will provide additional compensation for select staff members, particularly bus drivers and special education teachers, and bolster its mental health services, thanks to a new round of federal COVID-19 relief.

The ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) spending plan approved by the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday (Aug. 26) devotes $188.6 million to various expenses tied to keeping schools open and safe during the ongoing pandemic.

The funds will last for three years and came from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in March.

“We believe our ESSER 3 plan addresses key areas to support schools as they return to in-person instruction from the pandemic as well as increase our focus on serving students and staff in our school division with an equity lens,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement for the board’s meeting last week.

The school board approved the measure almost unanimously. Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin abstained, restating concerns that the spending plan doesn’t contain the level of detail she wanted to ensure adequate oversight.

The multi-year funding covers:

  • Nearly $55 million for academic intervention
  • $46 million to pay special education teachers more for increased workloads connected with the pandemic and individualized education plans
  • $23 million for social and emotional learning needs of students
  • Nearly $14 million for after-school programming and transportation
  • $10 million for cafeteria, classroom, and outdoor monitors
  • $9 million for cybersecurity
  • $3 million to increase bus drivers’ starting pay from $19.58 per hour to $22.91

The academic and social and emotional learning categories encompass everything from tutoring support for before and after school programs to mental health materials, technical education, and transportation to school programs on Saturdays.

“Each school will receive funding allocations as well as stipends for academics and wellness,” FCPS said in a news release on Friday (Aug. 27). “The academic and wellness allocations are to be used to directly support students. The amount each school receives is based on its project enrollment and need.”

For academic and wellness-related items, which make up 82% of the allocations, elementary schools are expected to receive about $50,000 to $189,000, middle schools will get $69,000 to $298,000, and high schools can count on around $105,000 to $368,000.

Schools will get similar amounts to address social and emotional learning needs, resulting in about $37 per student.

The plan was designed to give schools flexibility in how they spend their money, while also establishing checks and balances for approving and overseeing the money, according to FCPS.

“All schools will create a plan that outlines how they will use their ESSER III funding to support students’ academics and wellness, and they will post information about their plan on the school website,” FCPS said.

The plan also calls on FCPS to fast track the addition of 10 positions for its English Language Learner programs, which already include 887 positions, 98% of which are teachers, Brabrand noted.

According to the state, $124 million was available as of April 30 for Fairfax County, and the remaining third will become available after FCPS submits a plan to the state due on Wednesday (Sept. 1).

The Commonwealth required school districts to post their plans for using the money within 90 days of receiving the funds. Districts were also required to gather public input, which FCPS did with a hearing on June 7.

The ESSER plan is separate from the year-end budget review that the school board approved during the same meeting on Thursday, which included one-time bonuses for FCPS staff.

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