As we enter into another winter season living with the pandemic, special education services are not where schools hoped they would be, with many feeling that they are still falling behind rather than beginning to catch up.
New York City recently announced delays to its academic recovery program for students with special needs. New York, like many others, is stretching limits to get programs activated, even allowing for educators not specifically trained in special education to staff programs. In addition to the urgency they are feeling every day to serve parents and children, there’s another good reason to expand programs right now: funding.
It was good news when states and districts received $190 billion in federal aid from three relief packages in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. But it’s a jaw-dropping amount of money, with limits on when and how to use it for special education. For once, the challenge on the ground for schools is not how to manage a tight budget. It’s how to manage the rush of money that’s available: when to get it, how best to use it, and how to be accountable for it.
If used well (and before the clock runs out), it could be a game changer for schools.
Identify the highest needs.
More than ever, directors of special education and counseling are taking stock of their challenges at this point in the year and are seeking advice on how best to use their funding to address them.
“It’s time to determine your highest priority needs,” advised Mike Lowers, former executive director of Central Kansas Cooperative in Education. “What are the ones that are keeping you up at night?”
There’s no one-size-fits-all way for schools to get it right. What will delay children in recovering skills? What are the challenges that will hold back your program next year? What could potentially take you off track?