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Leveraging Economic Relief Funding for K-12 Back to School Safety

Image: Verkada

As the United States pushes to recover from the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal funding continues to become available to schools across the country.

The initial CARES Act, passed in March 2020, allocated more than $30 billion for education spending, but the two follow-up rescue and relief plans signed into law in December 2020 and March 2021 added another $82 billion and $168 billion to the tally respectively.

Combined, the educational institutions across the U.S. have received roughly $280 billion in 12 months. This large sum is helping schools get back on track and make some much needed changes and safety improvements–but how exactly is funding being dispersed and how are schools allowed to use this funding?

In this blog, we explore how relief funding is awarded, how it can be used, and how security vendors such as Verkada, play a pivotal role in back to school planning for student safety.

How Is Relief Funding Being Awarded?

Within the most-recent American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the federal government has announced distributions to each state that vary greatly.

Formally, the awards are being dispersed to State Educational Agencies (SEA) through the public Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund), and priority funding was reserved for areas that serve low-income students.

In practice, large states like California ($15 billion), Texas ($12 billion), New York ($9 billion), and Florida ($7 billion) naturally lead the way, while low-population states like Alaska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Montana, and Maine will be receiving less than $500 million each.

While the exact process differs some by state, districts generally will be receiving their share of the funds to start allocating how they deem fit.

How Can Relief Funding Be Used?

School districts will have a lot of flexibility and discretion in how they use the funding. Of the $122 allocated for K-12 schools, some $22 billion must go toward making up for “learning loss,” the time missed by students due to the pandemic. Qualifying expenditures could include “extended school days, tutors or summer school” and the associated costs, according to CNN.

The Department of Education is also recommending that schools use funding to prevent layoffs, purchase PPE, improve ventilation, and “(hire) additional school personnel…to keep schools safe and healthy.”

The law itself includes this detail: “Each SEA must reserve, at a minimum, 7% its total allocation as follows: 5% for interventions to address learning loss, 1% for summer enrichment programs, and 1% for comprehensive after-school programs.”

As for the rest, much of it is to the discretion of district administrators. “There are few parameters on how districts must use the money, meaning it could be used to fill budget holes, provide critical services — or be squandered,” reported the New York Times.

Important to note is that districts don’t have to spend everything immediately. While funds are already being made available and some urgency is stressed by the Department of Education, most districts will have until 2024 to spend their allocation. For example, California has set a deadline of September 30, 2023.

While some infighting is already being seen about fund distribution and usage, the extended timeline will hopefully help prevent any of the feared squandering and allow for a multi-year approach to making up the missed learning time — which, with months away from the classroom, cannot be done all at once.

Relief Funding for Back to School Safety & Planning

To create a safe and conducive learning environment following the COVID-19 pandemic, many school leaders are proactively planning for the eventual return to campus.

A critical part of that plan entails physical safety precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. This new consideration is a part of a larger discussion surrounding school safety, that’s been an ever present discussion across the nation for years.

The new challenges introduced by the pandemic have prompted educators to look into adaptive technologies that bolster safety on campus, with COVID-19 features such as:

  • Face match for contact tracing

  • People heat maps for effective cleaning schedules

  • Real-time person-of-interest alerts

  • Crowd notifications to prevent large gatherings

  • Custom door permissions for PPE storage

Making Campus Safety a Shared Responsibility

As educational institutions work to return to normalcy and make up for lost learning time, all providers who work to improve schools should be extending their expertise to help.

At Verkada, we’re committed to making students, teachers and staff safer every day of the year, and we offer a suite of solutions that can help administrators with many aspects of this vital mission, including video security, environmental sensors and access control.

About Verkada’s Integrated School Security Solution

In the following overview of Verkada’s cloud-based security solution, discover why thousands of educational leaders nationwide partner with Verkada to meet their evolving security needs.

  • Video Security: Hybrid cloud cameras leverage the benefits of cloud-based physical security to centralize video monitoring from across your district onto one platform, giving faculty and staff full visibility into who is coming and going at all times.

In addition to offering the aforementioned COVID-19 features, administrators can share live and historical archives of footage via SMS or link, reducing incident response time by up to 75%. Best of all, the platform is easy enough for anyone to use regardless of technical experience. With customizable levels of user permissions, administrators can grant permissions to specific subsets of cameras, ensuring that access is only granted where needed.

Other core features — such as onboard storage and processing, low bandwidth requirements, and plug-and-play installation— make our camera solution a leading choice for schools looking to scale coverage on an as needed basis.

  • Access Control: Verkada’s cloud-based access control solution integrates with Verkada cameras to give schools new levels of insight into door-based activities.

In addition to the benefit of pairing access control and cameras for visual context, administrators can set custom door schedules that limit access to certain areas of a building, or restrict entrance after school hours. When unusual activity occurs, teams can receive proactive notifications to their phone and email so they can quickly respond and take any necessary action to protect their facilities.

Verkada’s Access Control solution also automatically keeps a detailed log of who has been in and out of buildings, which greatly assists with any contract tracing needs. When paired with cameras, modern access control provides administrators with a level of premises awareness.

  • Smart Sensors: Verkada’s all-in-one Environmental Sensor comes with eight sensor readings that help districts monitor and respond to changes across their physical spaces, including: temperature, humidity, TVOC, particulate matter, vape detection, motion, noise and air quality.

Sensors are also natively integrated with Verkada’s camera solution, which makes it easy for faculty to manage hard to monitor areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. Especially with the rise in the vape pandemic, having sensors that detect smoke with context cameras outside allow faculty to respond appropriately to any situation while ensuring the privacy of students and staff.

In addition to common detection capabilities, understanding patterns leading up to an unusual spike in any element, such as air quality, might be indicative of equipment malfunctions or poor filtration across indoor environments. Responding quickly to these anomalies with preventative maintenance may eliminate the need to replace equipment completely down the line.

Teams can also leverage TVOC levels for detecting cleaning occurring across their facilities. Spikes in TVOC levels can represent the use of products such as aerosoles and common cleaning products. Paired with camera footage, faculty can track and report on high-traffic areas receiving appropriate cleaning.

Read the full Verkada article by Christine Dzou

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