Arntzen pledges to fight for waivers for schools that have met benchmarks, to remove burden from the Federal level
HELENA – As required by the Biden Administration’s U.S. Department of Education (USED), the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) yesterday submitted its State Plan outlining how it will assist Montana schools in distributing and utilizing more than $382 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the American Recuse Plan (ARP) Act. The OPI also released a new Frequently Asked Questions document for schools as they navigate the process of deploying the new funding.
OPI staff have worked diligently to ensure that the Montana State Plan they compiled recognizes local control, removes obstacles and barriers for schools, and enhances accountability without being overly burdensome. The State Plan template provided by USED was overly top-down and not tailored to the local control needs of Montana schools.
Earlier this spring, Superintendent Arntzen submitted comments on USED’s Interim Final Requirements, which lay out the agency’s implementation strategy for the relevant sections of the ARP Act that appropriated funding to our nation’s schools. Arntzen’s comments were the only from any state educational agency nationwide that proposed solutions to fix the challenges embedded in the Interim Final Requirements.
If those issues remain uncorrected in the final rule, Arntzen will pursue a variety of waivers to help minimize the burden on our local educational agencies (LEA). These LEAs are required to produce two Federally mandated plans related to how they will spend their allocated dollars, and how they plan to bring students back to the classroom safely. However, the Federal rule “does not mandate that an LEA adopt the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, but only requires that the LEA describe in its plan the extent to which it has adopted the key prevention and mitigation strategies identified in the guidance.”
“Many schools in Montana were open throughout all or much of the 2020-2021 school year, and have already returned students to school safely,” Arntzen noted. “They should be afforded the opportunity to focus on other matters, and have a waiver instated for the requirement to update the plan every six months, with stakeholder input, until September 30, 2023.”
Montana’s State Plan received support from U.S. Senator Steve Daines and U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale, who wrote to USED Secretary Miguel Cardona urging him to approve the proposal in separate letters (Daines letter; Rosendale letter).
The ARP Act represents the third round of funding to come through the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. In previous rounds, Montana received more than $41,000,000 (ESSER I) and $170,000,000 (ESSER II). Through the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS), the state also received nearly $20 million for home and private schools. Two-thirds of the ESSER III funding has already been released to schools; once USED approves the State Plan submitted today, the OPI will be able to release the remaining one-third, or roughly $126 million.
Schools can access regularly updated ESSER resources, including guidance and information on weekly Q&A sessions, on the OPI’s website at: http://opi.mt.gov/COVID-19-Information/ESSER.
Chris Averill, Communications Director, 406-444-3449