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March 29, 2021

This message was shared for the 2020-21 school year.

Dear Colleague:

Every passing day brings another marker of progress in our education recovery efforts.

On Friday, Pennsylvania became one of the first states to secure relief from Federal school accountability requirements, thereby ensuring that Federally-required assessments from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years will not be used for high stakes purposes. Over the weekend, we surpassed 110,000 school employees receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, a major milestone in our collective efforts to accelerate a safe return to in-person teaching and learning. Today, my team posted estimated school district and charter school allocations under the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund, the first step in administering Pennsylvania's nearly $5 billion share of emergency, non-recurring aid to support the long-term work of education recovery.

I know every education leader feels a moral and professional imperative to use these resources well. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is committed to continuing to support you with guidance, technical assistance, and policy supports. Today, I offer three guiding principles for initial efforts to implement ARP ESSER funding:

  1. Evaluate both short- and long-term needs. Counting the Tydings Amendment provision, ARP ESSER funds will be available for obligation until September 2024. Recognizing that this may be the last round of Federal emergency aid, consider how your school entity can sustain these resources over the allowability period and how these funds can interact with other Federal support and Federal funding flexibilities.
  2. Consult stakeholders. Communication with your staff, parents and families, students, and broader community has been central to your local recovery efforts over the past year. Keep using those lines of communication to assess needs and build consensus around your school entity's use of ARP ESSER funding. These efforts will ensure compliance with the American Rescue Plan Act's Safe Return to In-Person Instruction Plan requirements, elevate equity considerations in plan development and implementation, and generate evidence that supports the use of ARP ESSER funding for priority school facility repairs and improvements.
  3. Consider the research. Are you receiving a steady stream of suggestions for investing ARP ESSER resources? The best way to evaluate any such proposal is by reviewing it against PDE's Evidence Resource Center (ERC)—a customized website, designed by Pennsylvania educators and some of the nation's foremost education scholars. The ERC identifies strategies backed by rigorous research and allows educators to filter these strategies based on Federal evidence tiers, school type or grade level, specific student groups, and other factors. Schools operating under Federal accountability designations, now extended through 2022, will be asked to assure that ARP ESSER plans reflect consultation of the Evidence Resource Center, and I encourage every school leader to do likewise.

While we await additional Federal guidance, my team is working aggressively to finalize the ARP ESSER application system in eGrants; to develop our state application that will secure the final third of Pennsylvania's ARP ESSER allocation; and to plan a system of regular updates, beginning Friday, April 9, on implementation of this funding.

After a year of unimaginable challenges, ARP ESSER funding presents a historic opportunity—along with a set of challenges all its own. Using the resources equitably and in a way that balances urgency and sustainability will ask more of each of us. In advance, thank you for creating and continuing to strategically modify your local planning to best reflect the needs of those you serve. I am honored to work alongside you.

- Noe