LITTLE ROCK, Ark – School leaders in Arkansas preparing to return to classrooms after more than 18 months of pandemic restrictions are getting a boost of federal funding.
Arkansas will get an additional $418,634,738 in American Rescue Plan funds that’ll go to schools.
This is money from the government meant to be used to safely re-open schools and address the needs of students because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arkansas already received $835,485,222 in federal funds back in March. In total. that’s about $1.2 billion being pumped into Arkansas schools.
“These funds can make a big difference in the lives of our students,” Ivy Pfeffer, Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said.
With millions of dollars on the way, Pfeffer said the state has two top priorities, the first of which is to address learning loss.
“We are partnering with the Arkansas Out of School network in order to support summer and after school programming,” Pfeffer said, adding they were also creating the Arkansas Tutoring Corps.
“We will have, hopefully, up to 500 tutors who will be trained and dispatched throughout the state,” she said.
The other top priority is addressing students’ emotional and mental health. Former high school counselor Andrea Fortner, who now works for the Department of Education, said she saw firsthand the mental and emotional toll the pandemic had on kids.
“A lot of times, what I was seeing was a lot of unknowns, insecurity, food insecurity, family stability insecurity,” Fortner said, adding that students were also dealing with fear, anxiety, isolation, depression, and safety issues.
With the additional funding, Fortner said the plan is to assess and determine what mental health resources students need.
Because the state will be given so much money, the Department of Education said it’s important the public make their needs known to their local school districts.
“We want to encourage everybody to be in contact with their district, to not only ask what decisions are being made, but ask to be a part of those decisions,” Pfeffer said.
The Department of Education said part of the funds will be reserved over the next three years in order to ensure there is “money in the bank” to address other needs that may pop up.