Bulletin Board: Advocate

Making American Rescue Plan funds matter, investments in school infrastructure, and National Principals Motnh.

Topics: Advocacy and Legislation

Make ARP Funds Matter More for Students

Since summer, school districts have been deciding how to spend the funds distributed by the American Rescue Plan (ARP)—the largest-ever one-time federal investment in public education. Now more than ever, principals should step in to shape the ways money is spent to ensure that the strategies work for students, families, and communities.

The Edunomics Lab’s Marguerite Roza and Laura Anderson recently mapped out “5 Ways Principals Can Make Federal Relief Money Matter More for Their Students” for NAESP’s Principals’ Office blog. Principals can:

  1. Weigh in as districts create plans to spend the funds. The money is highly flexible, which means districts have enormous latitude in how they choose to spend it. Districts must use 20 percent of their money to address the impacts of lost learning time, but even this comes with no real strings attached. When principals have ideas about what will work to get their students to start the year strong, they don’t need to wait for their districts to propose the ideas; they can ask directly.
  2. Use data to get smart about what their students need. Since every school is part of a district, any money spent on one school comes at the expense of spending at another. With that in mind, principals can check their state’s school-by-school spending data to see if their school has been historically underfunded compared to peer schools in the district and advocate accordingly.
  3. Engage school families and staff. Principals tend to be highly trusted in their communities, so they are especially well positioned to gather input and share it with the district. What do they believe will make the biggest difference for students? Small-group tutoring? An extended school year? Weeklong summer learning camps? Fewer half days or late starts? New supports for mental health? Depending on what they hear, principals might need to consider using funds in customized ways to meet the specific needs of their families.
  4. Understand spending tradeoffs and educate staff and families about them. ARP money isn’t an endless gusher, nor is it a silver bullet. By developing data-driven, community-​vetted, and cost-equivalent tradeoffs, principals can help the public and school staff understand the menu of options and use them to inform spending plans. One related caution on expectations: The federal money is one-time funding. Leaders will want to be careful about choices that produce recurring costs, such as hiring a slew of new staff; odds are they’ll just lose those new hires to painful layoffs once the relief funds run out.
  5. Continue throughout the school year to help revise spending plans for greatest impact. As the school year unfolds with new interventions and investments, there will be opportunities to pivot on spending as needed. Principals represent a critical two-way communication bridge with families and the district; they can keep families up to speed and offer a forum for their feedback—feedback that gets channeled to district leaders. Principals can also report to district leaders how the investments are playing out in classrooms—and advocate for spending shifts that better serve their students.

Here’s the bottom line: Spending decisions made in the coming months will play out in communities for years to come, impacting the educational prospects of millions of students.

NAESP Advocates for Investments in K–12 Infrastructure

Millions of students attend school in buildings that need major repairs and upgrades, creating unsafe conditions that depress student performance. And while the American Rescue Plan (ARP) provides $122 billion in direct federal funding to K–12 schools, Congress must also address an issue that preceded the pandemic: the thousands of outdated and crumbling K–12 facilities that exist due to decades of underinvestment.

A recent Government Accountability Office study found that in about one-quarter of all U.S. school districts, at least half of schools needed upgrades or replacements to major building systems, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; plumbing; wiring; or windows. A leaky roof or HVAC system can cause water damage, exposing students and staff to mold or asbestos.

NAESP has been working with Congressional leaders to include at least $100 billion in direct grants to help schools and districts make necessary upgrades to school facilities. The need is especially urgent in low-income school districts, which lack the tax base necessary to perform routine maintenance. NAESP will continue to push Congress in the coming months to support K–12 infrastructure funding that helps bring America’s school buildings into the 21st century and offers students a real opportunity to recover from this tumultuous period.

National Principals Month

October is National Principals Month, and NAESP will take this special opportunity to show appreciation to its principal and assistant principal members.

As part of the monthlong celebration, we will recognize the newest class of NAESP National Distinguished Principals (NDPs) in Washington, D.C. Over two days of events, NDPs will give inspiring speeches on their passion for education, share mementos, and meet with and learn from education leaders from the federal government—culminating in a gala celebrating their accomplishments.

Congratulations to the 2021 class of NAESP NDPs! Learn about them at naesp.org/NDP.

Paul Wenger Takes the Helm as New NAESP President

Paul Wenger, 2021–2022 NAESP president, is principal of Jordan Creek Elementary School in West Des Moines, Iowa. His leadership journey includes 20 years as an active, engaged member of NAESP.

“As an organization, we must continue to develop and support principals across this nation and advocate for a common-sense approach to leading schools,” he says. “I commit to partnering with the NAESP Board of Directors to build more effective principal coalitions across our nation, serving as a leading voice for elementary and middle-level principals, and protecting the promise of a quality public education for all, in a profession where kids really do come first!”