The Nevada Department of Education’s federal funding tracker, www.nevadaesser.org, details how dollars designated for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief programs are being used.
A Nevada Department of Education website that provides access to information about how school districts are using federal relief funds was built for transparency and accountability, state Superintendent Jhone Ebert said.
But Nevadans should not expect quick results on academic outcomes, she added.
“A lot of times, we go, ‘We spend money and we get our results right away,’” Ebert said. “I’ll go to the library and I’ll check out a book and expect results. We spent this dollar today (with ESSER), and we think, ‘Where are the results?’ right at that moment. And we’re investing in human beings, and that investment does take time to see.”
NDE oversees $1.5 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding, made available in three rounds between March 2020 and March 2021. The federal government provided the aid after COVID-19 temporarily closed schools in March 2020.
“The goal of this new tool is to increase transparency and accountability into education spending in Nevada,” Gov. Joe Lombardo said in a statement announcing the website’s launch. “Nevadans deserve to see how federal relief dollars are being spent within our state’s education system.”
It took a year to develop the website – www.nevadaesser.org. It came in the third of three phases of the NDE’s pandemic recovery efforts, Ebert said, which have included servicing classrooms for health and safety and ensuring they had the proper personal protection equipment. Phase two was making sure students had the resources to recover academically.
“The students did not lose anything,” Ebert said. “They were provided with opportunities. Where they might have been during the learning process and currently where they are, are two different things. This (ESSER) funding is a lot of investment on where they currently are at.”
This third phase includes additional instructional time and curricular resources, she said, to help districts and schools improve graduation rates.
“(Graduation rates are) on the upward trend, and we need to get them beyond pre-pandemic rates and have that trajectory keep going up,” she said.
Of the total $1.5 billion package for all three rounds, the website indicates as of Jan. 7, Nevada has spent $696.6 million and has approximately $803.5 million remaining. The tracker also shows all funding sources by district budgeted and spent per student. Clark County School District, the state’s largest with a 2021 enrollment of 310,342 students, has a total of $1.2 billion and has spent $596,778,037.
Rural school districts generally show they have spent approximately 30% to 40% of their ESSER funds.
Carson City received approximately $2.6 million during the first round. For the second round, to be spent by Sept. 30, the district was provided $4.4 million, then was given $9.9 million with the third round, which must be used by Sept. 30, 2024.
“It is pretty well done,” Carson Superintendent Andrew Feuling said of the website’s accuracy. “I would just say that it definitely reflects the investments we made to keep students and staff safe under the uncertainties of the pandemic and to continue our operations as close to normal as possible.”
Ebert called ESSER a “double-edged sword,” as well as the “most flexible use of funding” states and school districts have received because the funding did not come with the traditional reporting requirements.
“Because the pandemic came on so quickly, they (federal government) wanted to make sure the districts did not have a lot of bureaucracy upfront with the process to be able to get the dollars into the classrooms right away,” she said.
Ebert says while she hopes everyone will check the site for regular updates, she adds it’s important to note the dollars also are meant to help students and staff members in social-emotional learning.
“It’s not all about the test scores,” she said. “We had over 3,000 students across the state who lost a parent or guardian in the pandemic. Our own staff members lost relatives. We need to make sure we’re growing happy humans, too, and that they’re well-educated, that they’re enjoying school. (This pandemic) is an event that happens once every 100 years. We have a lot of work to do.”
Ebert said the website has been tested with parents and the Nevada PTA organization in multiple languages but said the NDE continues seeking input.
“The outcome we hope for is there would be more communication at the school level and district level,” she said.
For information, go to www.nevadaesser.org or www.doe.nv.gov.