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ESSER in Action – Oct. 2023 Update

Omaha Public Schools is committed to providing regular updates on our use of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. ESSER funds reached school districts in three rounds: ESSER-I, ESSER-II and ESSER-III. The window for ESSER-I ended in September 2022 with all funds available to Omaha Public Schools successfully invested and reimbursed.

ESSER-II Funding Wraps Up

Our active ESSER-II spending is complete. Funds expired Sept. 30, 2023.

As of Oct. 18, 2023, Omaha Public Schools has used 97% of our ESSER-II grant total. This $84.2 million in funds supported employee retention stipends, internet connectivity on student iPads and Next Level Learning.

In the final month of grant availability, we completed the rollout of 10,000 new student iPads, refreshing the devices available to young people. We also completed our investment in important curriculum updates, including high school science and K-12 social studies curriculum.

We will continue to use ESSER-III funds to support curriculum updates including K-12 art and computer science, secondary English/Language Arts, reading and English Learning and elementary social studies. As a part of this process, staff and students are actively testing proposed curriculum in the classroom and providing feedback. Resources are also available for review by community members, with meeting times communicated on all school and district homepages.

“It’s important to have engaging and interactive lessons for students because the more engaging the lessons are, the more the students want to learn,” said Belvedere Elementary first grade teacher Karli Frederick. “The materials have been wonderful to field test. My students are invested in what they are learning and can’t wait to learn more.”

The completed spending plan for ESSER-II will use all $86.42 million in allocated funds. Our district is working to submit final claims to the Nebraska Department of Education by the Nov. 16 deadline.

“We have worked diligently to ensure the use of ESSER-II grant funds has had an appropriate level of visibility,” Chief Financial Officer Shane Rhian said. “We have had regular meetings to monitor the progress of the use of these funds and provided regular updates to the Board Budget and Audit Committee and the full Board. As we finalize this grant, we are pleased we have been able to fully allocate these funds to support our students, staff and families.”

ESSER-III Funding On-Track

As of Sept. 30, 2023, we have spent 26% of our ESSER-III grant total. This amounts to $51.1 million of the $194.56 million grant.

The ESSER program mandates at least a 20% spend on academic recovery projects. We have planned and committed 39% of ESSER-III funds to curriculum and instructional enhancements.

“Supporting our students' academic progress is at the center of how we invest ESSER funds,” Interim Superintendent Matthew Ray said. “Planning, implementing and evaluating these initiatives reflects our commitment to student success from early childhood through graduation and beyond."

Academic recovery funding will support adaptive learning tools, early literacy programming, curriculum, advanced academics and the continuation of high-dosage tutoring. 

Using ESSER funds, our staff has been able to provide over 22,000 hours of in-person tutoring to our students since Aug. 2022. With the launch of our virtual tutoring option Paper in Jan. 2023, we have seen students from every school engage with tutors, logging over 19,000 activities in a variety of subjects.

“We have already seen great engagement with our academic recovery programs,” Chief School Improvement Officer Susanne Cramer said. “Being able to continue this work with ESSER-III funds will help us make even more of an impact on our students’ success.”

Through ESSER-III, we will continue classroom technology updates and roll out a second wave of new student iPads. We also renegotiated our student device internet connectivity contract, saving $6.9 million during the remainder of the grant period.

The grant supports building updates across our district including cleaning machinery, hydration stations and HVAC upgrades at several schools. We have begun the construction phase of mechanical upgrades at South High and the new Benson High addition, which will provide health services for area students and healthcare education opportunities.

For staff, this funding will cover employee retention stipends, mental wellness and support projects and leadership development programs.

“Leadership development programs are an important retention strategy as they provide opportunities for current and aspiring leaders to see and build a future in our school district,” Kanyon Chism, Ed.D., executive director of professional learning and development, said. “As they engage in these leadership development opportunities, they grow their skills that not only benefit them in their future endeavors but also strengthen the impact they are able to make in their current roles.”

As we continue to manage this spending, we plan to review our ESSER-III budget with our Board of Education in Dec. 2023. These funds must be allocated by Sept. 2024.

Previous ESSER in Action Updates: