Using Federal Stimulus Funds to Engage the Community and Re-imagine Education


As school districts around the country make decisions on how to invest federal stimulus funds, James Fogarty, Esq., the Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative convener and executive director of A+ Schools, shared his insights and suggestions. His innovative ideas on using the funding to shape education for the future emphasize equity for all students and building partnerships with community-based organizations.

In his recent webinar, Focusing on Student Needs: The Opportunities & Challenges of Federal Stimulus Investment, James encouraged the audience to work with their communities, dream big, and create new opportunities for students to succeed.

“We can imagine something bigger and help create a clear vision for your community.” — James Fogarty  

Overview of Stimulus Funding

Congress allocated stimulus dollars to address a myriad of challenges to our economy, especially unemployment and business closures. Most important, the funds are needed to help families with food and housing and get kids back in school.

Who gets education stabilization funds?

  • The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER) is meant for K-12 schools
  • The Higher Education Emergency Relief fund is helping colleges and universities remain open
  • Discretionary grants, Rethink K-12 Education, and Reimagine Workforce Preparation encourage educators to be creative in planning for changes in K-12 education and Career and Technical Education (CTE)
  • Governor’s Emergency Education fund (GEER) is allocated entirely by the governor of each state
  • Other funds include the Education Stabilization Fund to the Outlying Areas, Emergency Assistance for Non-public Schools, and the Bureau of Indian Education

Just how much money do K-12 school districts actually have to spend?

How will schools use the funds?

Most of the dollars flow through Title I, federal money meant to supplement local budgets that support children in poverty. States are obligated to distribute a portion of the funds, at least 20%, specifically to address lost learning time. Fogarty emphasized the importance of  Maintenance of Equity. Districts must look school by school to determine whether dollars are deployed equitably to ensure students at each school, especially high poverty schools, don’t get less funding than those attending other schools in a district.

What are allowable uses of the funds?

Funds can be spent on any educational expense allowed under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and IDEA, plus a number of specific uses. States and districts will use these funds to:

  • Accelerate student learning
  • Provide students and staff with safe school reopening
  • Upgrade school facilities
  • Invest in supports, including the use of community schools
  • Stabilize and diversify the educator workforce
  • Rebuild the educator pipeline

Districts must decide on the most effective use of funds to address key issues:

  • Lost learning time
  • Programs for students with disabilities, including preschool, infants, toddlers, and school-age children
  • Extended school year, summer school, high-dosage tutoring
  • Healthy learning environments
  • Community schools

James points out a key resource districts would be wise to invest in — data systems and collection — to better know the communities they serve. Data tracking could identify gaps and determine not only if their investments are working but also demonstrate transparency by showing they made their best effort with the funds available.

Now is the time for school districts to rally their communities around critical needs that can help them emerge stronger from this crisis. In fact, they have an obligation to. Community engagement, a requirement of the grant, can be leveraged to develop relationships sure to benefit students, families, and schools for years to come.

Opportunities: Three Big Buckets

Fogarty recommends three primary areas that provide the most promising opportunities to support students:

  1. Critical needs include mental and physical health services as well as safety through proper ventilation and masking. Topping the list are assessing learning loss, developing individual student learning plans that include high-dosage tutoring to accelerate learning, and providing services for students with disabilities.
  2. This may be a once-in-a-generation chance for innovation. How many ways can schools think outside the box? Look past the sacred cows. Fogarty suggests investing in leadership throughout the organization. Explore options to reimagine high school and expand early learning opportunities. Developing a research-practice partnership with a local university or high-quality organization will help drive improvement over time. Take input from community partners, find out what their needs are in a qualified workforce. Align ideas with the district’s vision for its graduates. A vision created with input from the community is more likely to be successful.
  3. You need a diverse set of stakeholders to be champions for the best use of funds. Look for new partners like the out-of-school time businesses and organizations in your community. Use home visits to build parent partnerships. Find out how you can directly meet the needs of families.  Seize the opportunity to find ways to provide resources to them that you haven’t been able to accomplish before. Engage immigrant and non-native English speaker communities to help improve communication. Identify the community stakeholders who will support your communications efforts.

Change can seem overwhelming. Where do you start?

Look to other districts and organizations, both local and national. Leverage resources that are already available. James has provided a plethora of free resources available to schools and districts. Take advantage of the data and research that has already been done and be willing to ask for help.

Resources for Critical Needs

Resources for Innovation


Challenges: The 4 Ps of Advocacy

What happens when the money is all gone? How can districts make these one-time funds have the greatest impact without generating additional expenses that will continue over time?

Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Education stimulus funds come with regulations that call for “meaningful consultation” and “public reporting” of your planning process. Turn that requirement to your advantage by building partnerships.

“No matter where you are, make listening to the families, students, educators, and community organizations that serve them your priority now to set yourself up for success over the next three years.” — James Fogarty

Who’s at the table? Think about the 4 Ps of advocacy:

People: Relationships matter. Are you listening to experts, constituents, and even critics?

Policy: Do you have policies in place to ensure transparency and data to prove it?

Process: How will you ensure the process leads to a “maintenance of equity” and includes diverse groups of stakeholders?

Politics: Focus on opportunity to create long-term change.

Key Learning

The opportunity in front of you has a high degree of flexibility to address critical needs, invest in innovation, and forge long-standing partnerships that can transform your district.

Theodora Schiro, M.Ed.

A former K-12 teacher and school administrator, Theodora Schiro, M.Ed., is a veteran educator with over 37 years of experience. She is a book author and content writer focused on providing helpful information for school and district leaders.