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Boston Public Schools releases preliminary plan for spending $123m in federal relief funds

Second grader Ku Swaray crossed the street with her twin sisters, Miatta and Emma, who are both in first grade, as they returned to F. Lyman Winship Elementary School in Brighton in April, among the 23,000 Boston Public Schools students returning to full-time in-person learning at the time.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools released Friday its preliminary plan for spending $123 million in federal relief funds to help the school system recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This batch of emergency funding is part of about $400 million in one-time funding the system will receive over the next three years. Many educators and families hope the influx of money will be transformative for the district, where many schools are considered underperforming by the state.

“This federal funding represents a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for us to dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity that have persisted in the Boston Public Schools for far too long,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a news release. She said the money would help “achieve our goal of providing every student in every neighborhood with access to an excellent education in a high-quality school.”

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The money represents the second phase of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funding released by the federal government, which is aimed at recovering students’ learning and wellness lost during the pandemic. The third phase, ESSER III, will be focused on reimagining the district to be more strong and equitable, officials said.

The district is seeking feedback on its spending plan from families and community members. Under the proposal, the district said it would invest every dollar to support stronger student outcomes: Half the money will go directly to schools, 30 percent will be spent on school department investments, and the final 20 percent on district-wide innovation, collaboration, and community partnerships.

Schools will receive more funding per student for children hit hardest by the pandemic including those in special education, English learners, and those who are low-income. They will work with their communities to develop proposals by Oct. 1 for how to spend their money, officials said.

Among the areas of focus: inclusion classrooms that mix students with and without disabilities; bilingual learning; equitable access to enrichment such as arts and sports; and improving school buildings to offer science labs, arts spaces, and libraries; and improving partnerships with families and community groups.

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Tiffany Luo, a rising senior at Boston Latin School, said the district needs to focus on improving buildings and class offerings in underresourced schools.

“They have way less options” for classes at most high schools than at Boston Latin School, Luo said. “That’s not fair — in high school, you’re supposed to figure out what you want to do in life and they don’t have the options for that.”

District officials said they created the funding plan with many community voices and “with equity at the center.”

But some education advocates said the plan didn’t prioritize equity enough for low-income Black and Latino students, who make up most of the district’s student population but are overrepresented in struggling schools and underrepresented in high-performing schools.

Edith Bazile, a past president of the Black Educators’ Association of Massachusetts, said she would prefer more focus on prioritizing these disadvantaged students for preschool, early literacy assistance, reading interventions and tutoring, accelerated learning opportunities, and access to exam schools.

“We’re going to have a lot of money come in and then when the money ends, we’re going to have the same gaps” in achievement between white students and students of color, Bazile said. “I see nothing in this plan that’s going to help that.”

Will Austin, chief executive of Boston Schools Fund, said the plan lacked detail, making it hard to evaluate.

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“There’s a lot of good ideas here, but this is not a plan,” he said. “You need goals, activities, staff, timelines, specific spending plans. They’ve got a lot of work to do in the next three weeks.”

Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said she hoped the district would use the money to ensure adequate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in all schools, many of which lack such systems.

“It’s very strong on academics and social-emotional supports as it should be, but one area that could be further explored in particular is facilities,” Tang said.

The district will issue a final report after the public comment period ends on July 30.


Naomi Martin can be reached at naomi.martin@globe.com.