Providing additional academic support for students recovering from the pandemic has become a key use of federal school rescue funds in local districts across Michigan. Many school leaders are spending these resources on tutoring for students who struggled to adjust to learning from home and are now working to catch up.
More than 200 school districts throughout the state signaled their intention to use federal COVID relief funding on tutoring in grant proposals submitted to the Michigan Department of Education last December. Now, many neighborhood schools are beginning to follow through with that promise.
Anchor Bay Public Schools have used federal funds to add academic coaches, literacy tutors, and a dedicated literacy coach for each of their seven elementary schools. These specialists work together to provide scaled support before, during and after school to at-risk students and those falling behind their peers academically.
“Having more hands on deck is great,” Anchor Bay EA President Jamie Pietron said. “We have a lot of catching up to do from the pandemic, so giving kids interventions right away is critical. I’m glad Anchor Bay has put these wheels in motion, and it definitely has helped our classroom teachers.”
Various forms of academic support have been explored by local schools, with expanded summer learning options being a common and effective choice. For example, Plymouth-Canton is currently training an additional 130 employees to expand their summer tutoring program and continue it into next school year.
“Expanding support and learning opportunities for students are exactly what we intended these funds to do when my colleagues and I voted to deliver them to local schools last year,” said state Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), who is a former teacher and local MEA president in Airport Community Schools. “Continued increases in state funding in the coming years will be crucial to maintaining these vital programs.”
While these successes warrant celebration, many other Michigan districts do not include tutoring in their submitted grant proposals. A January poll showed that Michiganders want their neighborhood schools to prioritize spending school rescue funds on expanding tutoring programs, with 82% of those polled saying that investing in tutoring is important – a higher rate than any other category of potential spending.
District grant proposals submitted last December were soft outlines of potential spending and far from set-in-stone, so there is still an opportunity for school districts to update plans and use available federal funds to create and expand tutoring programs.
Additional academic support through tutoring not only helps students, but it also creates a better working environment for staff by reducing workloads.
“Anytime we have added support in the classroom, it changes the way we do our job,” West Ottawa EA President Theresann Pyrett said. “More hands to lift up our students makes for a lighter load.”
Pyrett recently brought this message to Washington D.C. when she met with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and senior White House officials last month to discuss the effectiveness of funding public schools through the American Rescue Plan.
On average, school districts across Michigan received $4,100 per student in federal support. However, the exact figure varies significantly by district as the funds were allocated through a weighted formula, with higher-need areas receiving additional support.
Statewide only 13.7% of federal rescue funds have been spent so far, providing ample opportunity for other school districts to craft plans that consider historically high needs among educators and students alike with successes achieved in other communities.