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Federal Covid-19 School Funding: A Planning and Reporting Guide

March 7, 2022 at 1:15 PM

There is no question that oodles and oodles of cash have been flowing into local school districts nationwide recently thanks to federal legislation through the American Rescue Plan.

These funds are targeted at supporting demographically underserved students and numerous other education efforts to mitigate the toughest challenges of Covid-19 recovery.

However, what is in question is:  

  • how can local districts best strategize to get the funds they are entitled to?
  • can schools build a forward-looking and sustainable fiscal plan for the good of their students’ Health & Safety, Learning Losses, and Mental Wellness?
  • and just as critically, how will districts demonstrate that the funds were properly utilized when filing the inevitable federal and state spending reports coming down the road?

If your district has not taken advantage of this special federal funding in the wake of Covid-19’s drain on schools and students nationwide, funds are still available to use.

Yet once your district secures its fair share, challenges are likely still ahead.  

What’s concerning is most school districts’ lack of understanding of how to put processes in place to maximize their financial share. Most districts have also never had to report on such initiatives before, so they would not have clear, full ‘buy-in’ procedures to develop best practices for planning, and then providing accurate information.

Utilizing federal funds to support data quality is an appropriate use of your Title dollars.

The Fed has been asking for data to be merged and viewed in ways that school districts have never been obligated to do previously when primarily dealing with local funding.

Imagine how much extra staff time will be needed to carry on, at least based on past methods and protocols. For school districts operating PowerSchool for their SIS, staff will not only be able to manage the new demands but staff time can be saved as much as 90 percent – with easy-to-use new plug-ins through PowerSchool’s Preferred Integration Services Partner, Level Data.

Level Data has been partnering with districts nationwide for over a decade to give them straightforward, intuitive, and lightning-fast results for creating validated, data-generating reports.

Level Data’s system, processes, and data rules provide the power of effortless data extraction for planning and reporting, coming from information that’s stored deep within your PowerSchool SIS.  Level Data has also just launched similar capabilities for Skyward users.

Using an ongoing service from Level Data called RealTime Reports – which have been available for more than two years but fall under the newer allowable use of new federal funding – school districts can cultivate information from their data inside PowerSchool and quickly extrapolate all that’s needed to address every issue listed above. What’s more important is it’s so easy and intuitive for non-data experts in the schools to use it.

Level Data’s mapping software to identify the poverty status of the groups geographically, has made it pretty close to as easy as possible.

Some two-dozen-plus reporting categories include: Attendance Summaries, Gradebook Analysis, Contact Tracing, Mapping Student Home Addresses, Student Access to Technology, Incident Management, Lunch Status and so many more.

The Proof is in South Carolina:

South Carolina uses PowerSchool as its statewide Student Information System (SIS) – but goes one step further to partner with Level Data – which serves school district populations nationwide totaling nearly 5 million students.

Dan Ralyea is Director of the South Carolina Department of Education’s Office of Research Data Analysis, which for several years has earned numerous top federal Gold and Silver awards from EDFacts for “On-Time Files” and “Common Core of Data Proactive Follow-up.”  Gold awards represent 100 percent on-time data submission, and Silver indicates 95 percent or more.

Ralyea raised the question with the federal government about using federal funds to pay for data quality and validation.  The reply he received was: “Utilizing federal funds to support data quality is an appropriate use of your Title dollars.” 

Ralyea explained how his state and others nationwide can benefit and get the maximum amount of federal support with the help of a vendor like Level Data.

“One of the main drivers in this new economic recovery plan money (from the feds) is the ability to de-segregate students by subgroup, and identify how different subgroups are impacted,” he said. “To utilize a service like Level Data as a connector and have a single point of contact for the SIS, then all of a sudden data quality and data validation – and even modification to the SIS – becomes expedited.”

Raylea added: “Level Data has done everything from developing plugins for PowerSchool that allowed us to identify broadband access and now, tying it to the (address validation) mapping and the $500 billion expansion money nationwide, and being able to target that through Level Data’s mapping software to identify the poverty status of the groups geographically, has made it pretty close to as easy as possible.”

Addressing Lost Learning, a Fed Money Aid Requirement:

In just one of many examples of Federal funding guidelines, according to Phyllis Jordan of FutureEd, at least 20 percent of the money provided in the American Rescue Plan must be spent to address lost learning.

The law specifically mentions the need to administer high-quality assessments to determine academic needs, implement evidence-based practices, support students and families in distance learning, track student attendance and engagement during remote instruction, and monitor student academic progress to identify students who need more help.

“Now, federal dollars can be used to get the entire staff moving toward the new model of data utilization,” said Matt Betts, president of Level Data. “It’s affordable, it’s intuitive, and it’s got a lot of immediate reporting capabilities that are totally relevant in today’s education field. It’s going to help capture additional funding as well, mostly by identifying pockets of disadvantaged kids.”

The ease of diving inside PowerSchool is the secret of RealTime Reports

During a recent Level Data client conversation, a school district IT Director talked about a Covid-19 kids-at-risk assessment requested by the Superintendent.

The task: provide a report showing a list of at-risk students not passing their classes, during the date range of Covid-19, and break it down by grade level[;l, ethnicity, and virtual vs. in-person learning, among a few other categories.

Their IT team was able to pull all the information out of PowerSchool, but it took 2 people 3 days to generate such a report.

During the time frame, they were explaining this assigned task, a Level Data demonstrator utilized a trio of RealTime Report categories to create the same report in 5 minutes, complete with categorized lists, pie graphs, and charts.  

“School districts now more than ever need to use data,” Betts added. “They need a vehicle for staff (like principals, counselors, and curriculum developers) to be curious to look at their data, to do it without worrying they could damage the SIS and have it be super intuitive, super easy to use, and very beneficial with real information. It’s there right now, without a lot of professional development. It’s something you don’t need a Master’s Degree in data to utilize and get answers to your questions. This is where it all starts.”

Tom Lang
Written by Tom Lang

Tom Lang has spent more than 3 decades in the field of journalism and marketing, while always having a hand in public education. His father was a school teacher, his mom a school secretary, and his wife teaches high school English and Humanities. On his own, Tom worked his way through college as a school bus driver and today remains closely tied to education as a Board member of FIRST (Robotics) in Michigan. He has worked with high school coaches and athletes for nearly 30 years as a freelance sports writer at the Detroit Free Press, and for more than 10 years as a basketball referee. Bottom line -- help kids grow, learn and create productive futures.

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