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Finding Hope in Light of the Fiscal Cliff

Susan Gentz, blog author, is the founder of BSG Strategies and an education policy expert working to educate district leaders on funding, flexibility, and opportunities for innovation in state and federal policy.

Every article we see on education, including articles specifically about the education market, has at least a hint of doom and gloom. There are reasons to view the future of education and the coming market this way, but don’t we always try to find opportunities when presented with challenges? We talk about wanting our students to have grit, resilience, and problem-solving skills. September 30, 2024, will be our chance to begin showing students not only how to talk the talk, but also walk the walk.

Besides the stimulus funds ending, there are other challenges within the current education market. There is declining enrollment, labor shortages, and a possible recession. So what can educators do to mitigate some of these challenges? It’s time to get creative.

ESSER Funds Ending

It is true that these funds will end abruptly, but districts have been granted “late liquidation,” which translates into almost a year available to still plan. ESSER funds must now only be obligated (contracted) by September 30, 2024 and spent (liquidated) by late March, 2026. Originally these funds were to be liquidated by January 28, 2025, but the Department released new guidance that allowed for extended liquidation requests.

The Department of Education stated, “States requesting liquidation extension for ARP Act funds, either for themselves or their sub-grantees, must submit an extension request to the Department’s Office of State and Grantee Relations (SGR). A grantee requesting a liquidation extension for its subgrantees must also assure that it will continue to conduct oversight of the subgrantees, attest to the allowability of the expense(s) to be liquidated, maintain documentation to support timely obligation of the expenditures, and attest that subgrantees are low-risk entities. Grantees may use their oversight authority to collect any additional information they deem necessary to support the liquidation extension request and ensure proper oversight of subgrantees. In submitting the request, the Department will additionally ask for an explanation about how liquidation extension contributes to the acceleration of academic success for students and how continuing these investments may extend or expand on a continued path of academic recovery.” 

Sept30 ESSER

Treat the first nine months of 2024 like a planning year, as if it was a federal grant with a planning phase before implementation needs to start. Use the opportunity to think about how cohesively the last dollars can be used to stretch and help in the coming years of rocky funding terrain.

Declining Enrollment & Labor Shortages

Both of these challenges are incredibly nuanced and the implications vary across the country. Both challenges provide an opportunity to rethink all the reasons for all the school and district decisions that have been made. If declining enrollment is a challenge - why? Take the opportunity to survey, hold conversations, connect with the community and figure out what will make students not only stay in your school or district, but want to come. Is it offering a new learning modality? Is it flexing schedules? Is it nontraditional perks? Is it adding marketing services to engage your community? This is a true opportunity for innovation. Not just tweaks, but large-scale change to attract and retain both educators and students.

Possible Recession

Start evaluating priorities now. Not only will ESSER funds no longer be available, but many states will have a shrinking budget. This makes evaluating financial structures very important. Consider how much inflation has increased pension costs and evaluate teacher pay lanes (are there ways to restructure or combine them?) This is also an opportunity to create new legislative priorities and start coalition and relationship building at the state house.

Cute lovely school children at classroom having education activities

So, Where’s the Hope?

These are all difficult challenges, and that is not being downplayed. There are essentially nine months left to plan for all of them. Take this time to evaluate how innovation can help lessen the burden of these challenges. Be the district that inspires, attracts, and provides opportunities to draw families in. Nobody is telling leaders no — take the leap and turn the challenges into hope.

You have the vision — we have the building blocks.

With over 20 years of experience, StrongMind delivers immersive, impactful digital curriculum and SEL for K-12 and school marketing services — and our courses and SEL qualify for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds and title funding under ESSA. We innovate with schools and districts across the country to empower communities with reliable, flexible digital solutions.