The U.S. Department of Education announced yesterday that it has approved the CNMI Public School System’s plan on how it will spend the $160 million American Rescue Plan Outlying Areas State Educational Agencies funds it received to safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aligned with PSS’s August return to school, the department released the “Return To School Roadmap,” which provides key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning. American Rescue Plan funds can be used to support the Roadmap’s efforts.
“I am excited to announce approval of the [CNMI’s] plan,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a news statement the department issued yesterday. “It is heartening to see, reflected in these plans, the ways in which we are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities, particularly as we look ahead to the upcoming academic year. The approval of these plans enables education systems to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The plans that have been submitted to the department lay the groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better.”
The USDOE statement quotes Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada thanking the USDOE for its action. “The plan focuses on helping our schools address the lost instruction time through high-dosage tutorials, socio-emotional counseling programs for students and staff, athletics and other programs that directly benefit student learning,” said Ada. “On behalf of the team that developed our ARP plan, we thank the Secretary of Education, the Insular Area team, and all other staff who reviewed and approved our ARP implementation plan.”
The statement also quotes Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP): “With this unprecedented pandemic and learning loss for students, the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress responded with unprecedented resources through the American Rescue Plan. …As the new school year begins, the U.S. Department of Education’s approval of over $160 million in American Rescue Plan funds for the Northern Mariana Islands will ensure a safe reopening of our schools, protect teacher jobs, and address the learning loss and the social and emotional toll the last year took on our students and educators.”
The implementation plan approved by the department outlines how federal pandemic funds are supporting safe in-person instruction and the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students—with a focus on the students most impacted by the pandemic. For example:
• Returning to In-Person Learning in 2021: Vaccination for Education campaign – CNMI PSS is encouraging students 12 years old and above to get the COVID-19 vaccine with raffles to win prizes.
• Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: The Student Portal Program, that currently offers high school online courses to students across the CNMI, will be expanded to offer a wide array of online course offerings to include elective and advanced placement courses available to both public and private schools throughout the CNMI. Additionally, the program will expand to offer more online learning opportunities at the middle school and elementary level. This is an important step in ensuring equity and access for all learners in the CNMI PSS.
• Investing in Summer Learning and Expanded Afterschool Programs: CMNI PSS will provide Extended Year Learning Opportunities for elementary and secondary students by offering face-to-face credit recovery, project-based learning, and other extended learning opportunities including Career Technical Education Program/Career Pathways and Chamorro and Carolinian Language and Heritage Studies.
The American Rescue Plan Outlying Areas State Educational Agencies Fund, authorized under section 2005 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, provides $850 million for the Secretary of Education to allocate to the Outlying Areas (American Samoa, the CNMI, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) on the basis of their respective needs. The USDOE secretary allocated these funds to support safely reopening and sustaining safe operations of schools while meeting the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students resulting from the pandemic.
The approval of the PSS implementation plan is part of the department’s broader effort to support teachers and other educators as they work to reengage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19, and build our education system back better than before. In addition to providing $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools and meet the needs of all students, the Biden-Harris Administration also has:
• Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook.
• Held a National Safe School Reopening Summit.
• Prioritized the vaccination of educators, school staff and child care workers. As of the end of May an estimated 84% of teachers and school staff were fully vaccinated.
• Provided $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing for PreK-12 educators, staff, and students.
• Launched a series of Equity Summits focused on addressing inequities that existed before, but were made worse by the pandemic.
• Released a report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on underserved communities.
• Developed a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse elevating hundreds of best practices to support schools’ efforts to reopen safely and address the impacts of COVID-19 on students, educators, and communities
In addition to the actions the Biden Administration has taken to reopen schools, the President has proposed critical investments through his Build Back Better agenda that will enable schools to rebuild stronger than they were before the pandemic, such as investing billions to build a diverse educator workforce, expand access to pre-K to all families, and invest in school infrastructure, among other provisions. (PR)