June 22, 2021

A Slew of New Education Initiatives are Coming, Thanks to Federal Dollars

Kim Hamm, an Elk City Elementary School counselor, talks to a pre-kindergarten student. (Courtesy photo)

The influx of federal funds coming to help students recover from the pandemic presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in education. Most of the funding is allocated directly to districts (you can check how much in our handy table), but today I’m taking a look at the slice that was given directly to the Oklahoma Department of Education: $149 million from the American Rescue Plan.

I’ve read through the plan Oklahoma submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. Here are the main initiatives outlined:

• Counselor Corps. This has been on the Department’s wish list for a while and they announced May 28 a plan to use $35 million to fund hundreds of new counselor positions. “We are making our single largest investment of COVID emergency relief funding in the Counselor Corps because we know its impact will benefit students in every corner of our state,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in a news release. (To read more about the need for counselors, particularly in rural areas, my colleague Whitney Bryen wrote this story recently.)

• Math tutoring. Beginning this summer, the Department plans to partner with Oklahoma colleges and universities to provide math tutoring to middle and high school students. The effort will continue through the 2023-24 school year.

• Teacher training on the science of reading. The Department plans to train 10,000 educators teaching grades kindergarten through third on how students learn to read, including phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. (For more on the science of reading, see my story from 2019 and this one from 2020.)

• Teacher training in math. Another initiative will provide professional development to educators to address “unfinished learning for students in mathematics,” according to the plan.

• Paid student teaching. About $12.7 million will be used to pay 1,300 student teachers over three years. Each will receive a stipend of $3,250: half in their first week of student teaching and the remaining half upon completion. It’s meant to ease the burden of student teaching and encourage aspiring teachers to complete a traditional certification pathway because those teachers tend to stick with the profession longer, studies show.

•  First-year teacher induction. In another initiative meant to address the state’s teacher shortage, the department plans to provide coaches and mentors to 800 new teachers.

• Grants for other programs. $10 million was set aside t0 fund evidence-based programs to support students in “regaining lost learning.” Vendors will compete for the grants, which are likely to range from $250,000 to $1 million each, according to the plan.

Oklahoma Watch is in the process of planning how we’ll cover these programs as well as how individual districts spend COVID-19 relief funds. Tips and suggestions always welcome. I can be reached at jpalmer@oklahomawatch.org or find me on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.

— Jennifer Palmer

The Latest

The Public Expects Some Accountability for Private Schools That Receive Vouchers.

But a 2019 law requiring certain data hasn’t been fully implemented yet. [Read more…]

What I’m reading

  • Like countless school districts across the state, Ponca City Public Schools is facing a teacher shortage. [Ponca City News]
  • Oklahoma ranked 42nd for child well-being according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book. [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
  • Students at wealthier and whiter schools in Arizona secured disability protections easier. [Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting]
  • Families of students with disabilities say they’re owed services that were disrupted during the pandemic. [NPR]

Tweet Watch

The U.S. Department of Education has incentivized summer learning to help students reengage in school following the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently gave a virtual high five to Oklahoma City Public Schools for its summer learning program.

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