At the April 19 board work session discussion of the 2021-22 operating budget, RISD presented a major acceleration plan to address student learning and engagement loss and academic deficiencies resulting from the pandemic.
Texas school districts, including RISD, are expecting to eventually receive some level of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds allocated by the U.S. Department of Education to the state of Texas as part of the three, major COVID relief bills passed by Congress. The use of any ESSER funds that RISD may receive is limited to address the academic and social and emotional impact of the pandemic on students, including learning loss, recovery of missing students, and health and safety. ESSER funds may not be used for construction or renovation, and the primary use would be for operating expenditures related to additional educators and academic programs.
Texas is one of two states that has not yet released ESSER funds to school districts, other than using funds from the first relief bill to replace or supplant state education funding for the current school year, in which school districts are held harmless from the financial impact of pandemic enrollment loss.
Dr. Stone told trustees that RISD cannot afford to wait any longer for the federal funds to begin the process of implementing the academic acceleration plan, and trustees provided directional approval for RISD to move forward with the process of posting positions so programs can be in place for the summer and next school year.
Highlights of RISD’s academic acceleration and engagement plan include:
- Acceleration: Comprehensive summer intervention and enrichment opportunities for students in PK-8.
- Acceleration: Expansion of Saturday instructional/intervention opportunities for students (RISE Program).
- Acceleration: Reading and Math interventionists in every elementary school for targeted small group instruction and acceleration.
- Acceleration: Advanced phonics training and materials for every RISD K and 1st grade teacher.
- Acceleration: Additional certified K-2 grade level support teachers in every elementary school.
- Acceleration: Reduce class sizes in grades 5 and 6 at schools with higher student to teacher ratios.
- Acceleration: Reduce class sizes at all junior highs and high schools.
- Acceleration: Further reduce high school class sizes for core EOC tested subjects.
- Acceleration: Further reduce high school class sizes for remediation courses.
- Parent Choice: Creation of the RISD Virtual Learning Academy as a permanent and separate RISD school choice for students K-8 (pending passage of state legislation).
- Special Education: Additional training and supports for dyslexia services and ARD/504.
- Social & Emotional Learning: Increase student access to counseling services and community resources over the summer and during the school year.
- Equity & Student Engagement: Implementation of RISD Academic Bowl competition among elementary schools.
- Equity & Student Engagement: Implementation of RISD student interest camps (e.g. robotics, coding, writing clubs, design).
- Equity & Engagement: Implementation of RISD elementary extracurricular teams and leagues (e.g., basketball, cheer, volleyball, dance).
- Learning Environment: Replacement of air filters in all school systems and deployment of air filtration devices in classrooms.
The estimated operating cost of the learning loss initiatives is $28.2 million a year over the next two years, and an additional one-time cost of $4.1 million. The acceleration efforts would be in place for the next two schools years and summer programs. During budget planning for 2023-24 school year, the district and trustees will evaluate aspects of the plan beyond the initial two years based on the effectiveness of the measures and funds available.
The amount of ESSER funds that RISD may eventually receive could offset most or all of the operating costs of the academic acceleration plan for the initial two years. The actual amount of emergency funds that RISD could receive is currently unknown and has not been released by the state of Texas, nor have any further state limitations on how ESSER funds eventually received could be used.