Vt. education officials solicit feedback on how to spend federal money

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 6:14 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont Agency of Education wants your feedback on how to spend $285 million in federal money. The cash is from the American Rescue Plan and the third installment of Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Relief, known as ARP ESSER.

The money must be spent by 2024.

About $256 million will go directly to the schools which submit their plans for approval to state and federal authorities. The Vermont Education Agency receives the remaining $28 million.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says ARP ESSER is a way for most states to re-introduce in-person learning.

In this area, Vermont is ahead of many states, so we can take the time to apply this funding to more long-term issues and regional impacts of the pandemic.

Two school superintendents told me that’s a good thing because applying is taking time.

“Community input was key throughout this whole thing,” said Michael Clark, the superintendent of the Grand Isle Supervisory Union.

The Grand Isle Supervisory Union is getting $1.8 million in ARP ESSER funds to use for interventionists, classroom supplies, technological equipment and training for foundation literacy skills and phonics in the K-2 classrooms.

“More than just recovery, this is an opportunity to really set the stage well for the next three years for education in the islands,” Clark said.

The state wants a big chunk of that to go toward literacy to make up for pandemic learning loss but the state is not saying how to achieve that.

“I would much rather they were thoughtful about how to spend the money than be able to say we have the money, spend it by September first, or whatever,” Clark said.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says it’s too early to identify specific strategies when the state knows the money will be spent over a three-year period.

“We still have some more work to do to issue the grant applications and so forth and define those programs more fully, but the general appropriations have been made and they are described in the statewide plan,” French said.

But the grant applications are holding up some districts, like the Slate Valley Unified School District.

“We’re being told that it won’t be available until the end of August, so we’re kind of in a holding pattern in terms of applying,” said Brooke Olsen-Farrell, the superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified School District.

Slate Valley wants to apply for construction funding, expand after-school programming, add technology, as well as clinician and academic support. But Olsen-Farrell says there are a lot of state and federal hoops to jump through which is straining central offices.

“It’s great to have additional funding, but there are a lot of strings attached to it and it’s not easy money to spend necessarily where we need it in a timely fashion,” Olsen-Farrell said.

Click here to see the state’s full draft report.

The state is collecting feedback until mid-August. If you want to weigh in, email your comments to by Aug. 13, 2021.

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