How Illinois could use ‘American Rescue Plan’ to reimagine education in a post-pandemic classroom


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — School districts are preparing to seek public input as they determine how to spend a combined $7 billion in federal education aid in the ‘American Rescue Plan.’

At a press conference in Champaign on Monday afternoon, Governor J.B. Pritzker promoted the potential for educators to reimagine the future of learning in a post-pandemic world.

“Thanks in part to the American Rescue Plan, we have an unparalleled opportunity to revitalize learning and teaching for students and educators, an opportunity to address learning loss, and make the years ahead so much better,” Pritzker said.

“These resources make it possible for Champaign and every district in Illinois to make significant investments that were otherwise out of reach,” he said.

Pritzker echoed calls from the State Board of Education’s recommendations that call for schools to implement high impact tutoring, after school programs, expanded school years or longer school days to help students make up for lost time during the disruption of the Coronavirus.

Dr. Susan Zola, who is retiring from the Champaign Unit 4 school district after 37 years on the job, described it as the most unique year she’s ever witnessed.

“We’ve seen quite an evolution about what teaching and learning looks like,” Zola said. But I think that evolution is a responsiveness to how our community and the nation has evolved [with] the use of technology and digital curriculums.”

Champaign is one of several school districts to use federal funding to make sure every student had access to a mobile device during the pandemic.

School board president Amy Armstrong said the $38.9 million coming to her district “opens up the door to opening different programs.” While she said administrators and board members were “excited” for the federal funds, she said they have concerns about what might happen to the programs in the long run once federal funds run out.

“If you start the program, then how do we take it on in perpetuity as a district, and how do we fund it,” she asked.

“That is absolutely something that two or three years from now will have to be addressed,” Governor Pritzker acknowledged.

“It’s one time money, but it’s not one year money,” he explained. It’s really intended to fill the loss of learning that perhaps has occurred for some or many of the kids who didn’t have a chance to be in school together with their classmates and with the teachers,” the governor said.

“It’s up to the local school boards,” he said. “They’re making decisions with teachers, with parents and so on, what’s best for bringing kids up to the standard that they know they want them to be brought up to, and then thinking about what the future will look like once those programs are created.”

While districts welcome the windfall from the federal government, they do not anticipate any additional state funding in this year’s budget. Pritzker said he’d like to see the state increase its funding for education, but said the state can’t afford to at the time.

“I would like to do more,” he said, but added, “We’re in a pandemic budget.”

At his second press conference promoting the education funding available in the ‘American Rescue Plan,’ Pritzker said he was not using the federal dollars to allay public displeasure from the pandemic or to boost his own political popularity.

“This is a result of the change of control of Congress, the change of control in the presidency, and the fact that the President of the United States put forward an American Rescue Plan that is good for schools all across the nation,” he said.

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