Back-To-School Checklist for Parents
Helping to Ensure American Rescue Plan Funds Make a Difference for Your Students and Community
The Biden-Harris Administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) provided states and school districts with $130 billion to help students recover, succeed, and thrive. Schools across the country are using ARP funds to safely remain open for in-person learning, to help students grow academically, and to support students’ mental health needs. States and school districts are required to engage with families as they make decisions about using these funds and parents and families should talk with their local leaders about whether students’ needs are being met.
Below is a checklist you can use to ask school leaders during back-to-school and beyond about how they are supporting students, including by using ARP funds. The strategies in this checklist are ones that support students’ learning, mental health, and overall well-being.
While not all school leaders and teachers may know how specific programs at their school are funded, they can tell you if these effective strategies are in place.
Every school district must spend at least 20 percent of its ARP funding on activities to address the pandemic’s effects on learning. But many districts are spending well more than this amount.
President Biden has specifically called on states and districts to use ARP funds to ensure schools have enough teachers and staff, provide tutoring and mentoring, and expand high-quality summer and afterschool programs. These strategies support greater learning and well-being as students recover from the pandemic.
- Ensure Students Have the Educators They Need: Districts and schools can spend [PDF, 354KB] ARP funds to ensure students have the teachers they need and address the teacher shortage. Districts should use funds to attract, support, and retain excellent teachers and reduce class sizes, as well as hire other staff, like reading and math specialists, and paraprofessionals. Districts can also use funds to train educators to better support students’ academic recovery and mental health, including to better meet the needs of students with disabilities and English learners.
- Provide High-Quality Tutoring: Access to high-quality, high-impact tutoring can be a game-changer for students as they progress in reading, math, and other subjects. Research has shown that high-quality tutoring programs can help students gain five months of additional learning. The best programs provide tutoring three times per week, for 30 minutes each day, and use teachers and well-trained volunteers. With ARP funds, and through the National Partnership for Student Success, schools can provide effective tutoring for students who need it. To learn more, visit the National Partnership for Student Success website.
- Expand Afterschool and Summer Programs: ARP funds can be used to support after school and summer learning and enrichment programs, and other programs that operate outside of the normal school day, like internships for older students, that can get students more engaged in learning. Programs that occur before or after the regular school day or outside of the regular school week or year (such as summers, Saturdays, or holidays) help build engagement and strengthen social, emotional, and academic skills and outcomes. They also help build interest and spark learning in areas that students love. Through the ARP, school districts, cities, and states have unprecedented, dedicated funding to extracurricular activities, including afterschool programs, vacation academies, work-based learning programs, youth development programs, and experiential or service-learning programs. For more information, see the Department’s Engage Every Student website.
Addressing the Needs of the Whole Child
- Support Mental Health: ARP funds can be used to help increase access to mental health services. Schools should have a strong team of professionals, such as school counselors, school psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, school social workers, or other qualified support specialists. For more information related to supporting the mental health needs of students with ARP Funds, see the Department’s fact sheet [PDF, 354KB].
- Provide Wraparound Supports to Students: ARP funds can also help schools provide wraparound supports to students such as bringing services like health services into the school building. ARP funds can also be used to hire staff to coordinate these supports. One model of support is called “community schools.” Community schools provide many wraparound supports to students and their families, including both physical and mental health services, nutrition support, afterschool programs, and adult education opportunities. ARP funds can also be used to help schools adopt this model.
COVID-19 Health and Safety
- Vaccine Clinics: Schools can use ARP funds to host vaccine clinics for students, staff, families and the community. Vaccines are available now to nearly all Americans, and schools can make it easy to provide access to first, second, and booster COVID shots – as well as other vaccines – so people stay healthy and students can stay in school.
- Clean Air: Clean air is essential for living and learning, and effective ventilation can help prevent COVID-19 and other illnesses. ARP funds can support better ventilation; upgrades to Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning systems; new air conditioners and fans; repairs to windows and doors, that let fresh air into school buildings; increased heating or cooling costs; as well as other public health protocols.
- Testing: Free COVID-19 tests are available to schools, and $10 billion in dedicated funding has also been provided to states to help schools to set up testing programs and services. Schools can stock nurse’s offices with COVID-19 tests so parents, families, students, and teachers can have peace of mind when a child presents with symptoms, following outbreak or exposure, or at any other time schools administer COVID-19 testing.
- Increasing Parent and Family Involvement in Education: Schools can use ARP funds to hire parent engagement coordinators who connect the school and families. Schools can also use ARP funds to conduct home visits or other engagement activities, that reconnect students with school or engage families in their child’s learning.
States and school districts are required to post their plans for ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, sometimes referred to as ESSER III, online. Districts should communicate to your community how they are spending these funds through multiple channels. Parents and community members can access their state’s plan, and many district plans, through this U.S. Department of Education map. If your school district’s plan is not linked on the Department of Education map or easy to find on your district’s website, contact your school district for its ARP spending plan.
As you learn about the programs that your school community offers, it may be helpful to consider strong examples of how ARP funds are delivering supports for students across the country. Together, we can all work to ensure ARP funds provided by the Biden-Harris administration continue to deliver for our nation’s students.
- Guilford County Schools in North Carolina allocated nearly $10 million of its federal relief funds, including from ARP, for a high-dosage tutoring program. Students are identified based on factors such as grades, test data, course failures, and absenteeism. To strengthen the tutoring program, the district is partnering with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically Black college. In the 2021-2022 school year, more than 420 tutors provided a total of nearly 67,000 hours of tutoring.
- The Arkansas Department of Education launched a Tutoring Corps in October 2021 using more than $4 million in ARP funding. This two-and-a-half-year, in-person program is recruiting, training, and paying qualified tutors to support students’ academic needs. Training for tutors includes how to teach math and reading and how to build positive relationships with students. So far, over 700 tutors have provided more than 15,400 hours of tutoring.
- Aurora Public Schools in Colorado is spending $35 million in ARP funds to address academic recovery, through programs such as tutoring at every school in the district and summer school. During the 2021-2022 school year, the district provided more than 168,600 hours of tutoring to over 8,100 students. In summer 2022, over 3,500 students in grades K-12 participated in the district’s summer school program.
- Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky used ARP funds to open the first of three student support centers. Each center is staffed by retired teachers who provide targeted support to students who were chronically absent during the pandemic. In total, Jefferson County intends to allot $35 million of ARP funding to student learning centers and community learning hubs.
Mental Health and Supports for the Whole Child
- Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico is focusing on the mental health and wellness of students and staff. The district is using federal relief funds to expand the district’s existing restorative justice program, hire additional school psychologists, and expand school counselor programming.
- The New York City Department of Education used ARP funds to hire 500 new social workers. These social workers will provide critical supports to students that benefit them inside and outside the classroom.
- Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota is spending almost $13 million in ARP funds to support the mental health and wellness of students and staff. This approach includes: hiring 32 additional counselors, social workers, and psychologists; partnering with community organizations to offer mental health support for students; training staff on how to handle trauma; and creating calming spaces for staff and students.
- The Mississippi Department of Education is using more than $17 million in ARP funds to provide on-demand health care and expand access to care during school hours. In partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, school nurses in four districts—Pearl, McComb, Quitman, and Yazoo Counties—have been trained to use telehealth technology and are helping provide telehealth services, including mental health, urgent care, and specialty care. By November 1, 2022, the state plans to bring telehealth services to 30 additional school districts.
Addressing the Teacher Shortage
- The Iowa Department of Education is spending more than $45 million in ARP funds to create a program to train 500 new paraeducators and 500 new teachers. Starting this school year, the program [PDF, 384KB] will help current high school students and adults to earn a paraeducator certificate and associate degree. The program also will support paraeducators to earn a bachelor’s degree and their teaching license, all while learning and working in the classroom.
- The Puerto Rico Department of Education is using ARP funds to increase the salaries of teachers by $1,000 per month to address the long-standing challenge of significant teacher shortages. This represents a 26 percent increase for educators in that region, where the average teacher salary is only $2,750 per month.
- The Tennessee Department of Education is using $20 million in ARP funding to train more teachers. The state established a permanent grow your own model with Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University’s teacher residency program, becoming the first registered teaching apprenticeship program in the country. Building on this model, the Tennessee Department of Education launched the first round of grow your own initiatives to strengthen the teacher pipeline through partnerships between educator preparation programs and 63 school districts.
Health and Safety
- Gaston County Schools in North Carolina used ARP funds to double nursing staff and secure a nurse for each of their 54 school locations, so that nurses no longer have to split their time between two buildings.
- Houston Independent School District in Texas is using $34 million in ARP funds to install air filtration systems in spaces that did not have systems in all buildings across the district, including in classrooms, lunchrooms, and nurses’ offices. The district has invested additional resources—almost $83 million—to improve heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in the 20 schools most in need of repairs. The district also has invested $12 million in safety, including masks, cleaning supplies, and other equipment for students, teachers, and staff.
- Detroit Public Schools in Michigan plans to spend $700 million, including ARP funds, to improve facilities. These improvements include upgrading and repairing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Today, only 35 percent of school buildings have working air conditioning. When the project is complete, 95 percent of school buildings will have working air conditioning.
- Denver Public Schools in Colorado is spending $25 million in ARP funds to improve ventilation and air quality. These efforts include installing about 800 air quality sensors in classrooms and providing digital controls for schools’ heating and ventilation systems. The district also is repairing and replacing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning components, such as exhaust fans and boilers; building more outdoor classroom structures; and upgrading school air filters.