Iowa schools to use $774.5M in federal aid to improve literacy, achievement gaps

By: - June 14, 2021 3:09 pm

Iowa has developed plans to use $774 million in federal aid to address education issues after the pandemic. (Photo by Getty Images)

Iowa state education officials laid out plans for spending $774.5 million in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan, including efforts to address a drop in student literacy. 

The pandemic-related aid is aimed at elementary and secondary schools, part of a $122 billion effort nationwide

Iowa and other states got access to two-thirds of their allocation in April. The rest will be released after federal officials approve a state’s plan. Iowa was one of 28 states whose plans were posted Monday, though it was dated April 21. 

Iowa’s report addresses some key issues, some of which preceded the pandemic by decades.

“Based on the best and most recent information available at this time, the state’s long-standing and unacceptable achievement gaps by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, and English language learning status that existed prior to COVID-19 persist but do not appear to be widening,” the state education department wrote. “However, all student groups have lost progress toward proficiency in literacy.”

Among Iowa’s plans:

— Ensuring that instructional and professional training materials are accessible to non-native English speakers and to those with disabilities.

— Helping schools work through issues caused in some cases by students learning remotely for at least part of a school year. Some may consider summer classes, an extended school day, after-school programs or year-round school to help students in need. 

— Making sure that socioeconomic status, language or disabilities aren’t barriers to full participation in activities, such as using interpreters, flexible scheduling and remote participation. 

— Working to address teacher shortages. The department told federal officials the state has approved at least six new programs to promote teaching careers, including condensing coursework, considering alternative teaching license requirements and working with community colleges. The report notes that 29 of 67 recent postings for bilingual teachers weren’t filled, but 201 applied for 69 positions for English as a second language teachers.

— Broad-based programs to address “educational equity.” In a survey of principals and other educational leaders, nearly half said they want “some support” in that area. 

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona welcomed the states’ efforts. 

“We’re thrilled to see that states are directing the unprecedented resources from the American Rescue Plan toward addressing student needs and quickly and safely reopening our schools, so we can give every student the opportunity to learn full time, in person,” he said in a statement. “These state plans make clear that the American Rescue Plan is providing much-needed support to states and districts as they work to not only bring students back to in-person learning, but also to address inequities made worse by the pandemic and make sure every student has the social, emotional, and mental health support they need to create a strong foundation for academic success.”

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.