Lowell Public Schools Plan for Federal ESSER Funding Is a Model of Excellent Budget Management

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I would like to provide some insight in response to Mary Tamer’s June 7 editorial “Time for Lowell Public Schools to Put COVID-19 Funding to Work”.

In 2021, Lowell Public Schools received $58 million through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program to support students through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19. As a child of Lowell, who became a teenage mother and overcame countless personal challenges while growing up in Acre, I know the importance of public resources to our families and our community. This personal perspective, combined with 25 years of experience in school finance, reinforces my sense of responsibility in managing the opportunity our community has with this significant injection of federal funds.

In 2021, LPS developed a three-year plan in collaboration with parents, teachers, principals, and community partners that aligned our spending through ESSER with the district’s overall strategic plan. This type of multi-year strategic budgeting allows LPS to maximize every dollar coming into the district to accelerate student learning throughout the ESSER grant cycle.

Lowell’s ESSER plan was developed based on both long-term strategic priorities and immediate needs, including investments to support teachers, extend student learning time, provide academic interventions, improve partnership with homeschooling and fund long-awaited facility upgrades.

The plan is thoughtful and agile, retaining the flexibility to accommodate additional student needs as they arise. Significant investments have been made to expand early learning across the city and to revitalize libraries in every school building. Additionally, based on the data that became available after our students returned to full-time in-person learning last fall, critical investments have been made to improve mental health and behavioral supports and to mitigate the impact of nationwide staffing shortages on district replacement. teacher pool.

In 2019, LPS implemented a student fair funding resource allocation model whereby every dollar coming into the district now tracks students based on a weighted funding formula. Through this system, if the state provides additional financial support to student demographics like the economically disadvantaged, special needs, or English as a second language, those dollars are allocated to schools with those student populations. This effort to address long-standing opportunity gaps and inequities proved timely, as a well-defined and transparent mechanism was in place to distribute funds directly to schools in an equitable and accountable manner.

For fiscal year 2023, 70% of the total district budget, including a portion of ESSER funds, was planned directly by parents, teachers, and support staff at each school through site council meetings. published publicly, which helped LPS ensure that the people who know our children were best able to make decisions based on the individual needs of our students and schools.

The plan also takes into account the inevitable fiscal cliff that occurs whenever there is an influx of short-term cash. We regularly review our priorities and spending plan, moving recurring costs to the general fund and using ESSER dollars for one-time or non-recurring costs throughout each fiscal year. We also use a “first to expire – first to spend” process that incentivizes us to pivot and use other sources of funding for planned investments if they expire, allowing us to maintain investments within our plan. ESSER for the full three years of grant availability. .

I am a Lowell kid who has benefited from the wise use of funding and our education system from kindergarten to UMass Lowell. I have lived in Lowell all my life, my children graduated from Lowell High and my local taxes go to this town. Therefore, the wise and calculated use of these funds is a personal matter for me. The LPS plan not only provides a roadmap for significant investments on behalf of our students, but also offers a model of good financial management for others to follow. I am excited about the opportunities that are now available to our students.

Billie Jo Turner is the CFO of Lowell Public Schools and an alumnus of Lowell High School.

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