South Dakota Department of Education approved for $382 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — More than $382 million is coming to South Dakota schools. 

On Wednesday, the South Dakota Department of Education received an additional $127 million along with the $254 million received in March for a total of $382 million of the American Rescue Plan. Deputy Secretary Mary Stadick Smith said each state was required to fill out a state plan to receive the final part of the funds.

Stadick Smith said the state submitted a survey to many school administrators, superintendents and principals. After receiving feedback, the state submitted a 51-page report in April with three top priorities: 

  1. Supporting strong pedagogy and educational opportunities
  2. Addressing students’ social-emotional and mental health needs 
  3. Continuing to address issues of educator recruitment and retention

South Dakota education officials reported some big changes in fall enrollment data from 2020. There were drops in student numbers enrolled in Bureau of Indian Education schools and a drop of students with disabilities in public schools. There was also an increase in students opting for homeschool or other “alternative instruction.” 

“We know a majority of our students were in face-to-face or in-person learning environments, but we also know that there are a number of students, for a variety of different reasons, that were not in-person and more of a virtual learning situation,” Stadick Smith said. “In particular, several of our schools located on reservations were following tribal orders and they were not able to do in-person learning.”

Stadick Smith said along with learning, some of students’ emotional and social needs from normal school settings were also lost.

“How do we find those students that maybe dropped off the radar during the pandemic. How do we get them back to school? How do we get them engaged and learning,” Stadick Smith said. “That will be one of our biggest challenges.”

For top priority No. 2, state officials are looking to give training opportunities for school administrators and educators for youth mental health. Money will also be used to help fund a partnership with the Department of Social Services to offer students in rural areas access to mental health services through technology. 

“We hear anecdotally that students are experiencing more stress, anxiety, fear and isolation. Those aren’t academic things but they certainly impact a student’s learning,” Stadick Smith said. “Part of the solution will be training. How to help educators to recognize when a student is struggling with one of those issues.”

Keeping teachers is a challenge many small schools routinely deal with in South Dakota. State officials say “understanding the pandemic’s true impact on the education workforce will be paramount.” Officials highlighted the 2016 Blue Ribbon Task Force to raise teacher pay through a half-cent sales tax. A partnership with Black Hills State University offers student teachers working in high-needs schools the chance to earn a teaching degree and certification. 

“Challenges with finding and keeping educators in our schools have been around for a number of years, they are not new to us in South Dakota,” Stadick Smith said. “It is possible the pandemic has exacerbated that situation. We don’t have data to tells us that yet, but we’ll be looking to see how it’s impacting our educator workforce.”

She added the state will continue to draw the “best and brightest” to the classroom and keep them there.

With state officials receiving $382 million, local education school board plans for the funds are due to the state by Aug. 20. Stadick Smith said each public school will get a portion from the $382 million. At the school district level, 20% of the funds have to be used with “addressing any learning lost associated with the pandemic.”

The remaining 60% of the funds can be used “more broader activities.”

You can view the full 51-page report attached below.

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Education, the state plans “detail how states are using and plan to use ARP ESSER funds to safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools, and address the needs of students, including by equitably expanding opportunity for students disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Along with South Dakota, Texas, Massachusetts, Utah, Arkansas, Rhode Island and Washington D.C. were approved for nearly $6 billion in federal aid. 

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