School board approves local plan to spend $4.7 million American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County School Board voted to approve the school district’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding plan at their August 3 meeting.

The ARP funding totals $4,744,748 and includes money for academic interventions, student programs, technology, mental health services, additional personnel and equipment to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morgan County Schools Superintendent Kristen Tuttle and Special Education Director Nicole Hiles gave a PowerPoint presentation on the plan which includes academic needs, health services, mental health and behavioral support, personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitation supplies and facility needs.

The plan was available for public comment on the county school website and school websites and distributed through the school app.  Paper copies were also on hand at the school board office.


The Morgan County Schools ARP funding plan budget will provide:

— $2,924,050 for addressing learning loss

— $300,000 for after-school programming

— $566,326 for summer programming

— $846,789 for discretionary funding

–$107,582 for indirect costs.

Addressing learning loss programming costs will include additional personnel, professional development, Edmentum and Schoology ($400,000 for years 2 and 3), online tutoring services, Tier II and III intervention services and a mobile learning lab.

Additional personnel include a school psychologist, social worker, a credit recovery teacher, math interventionist, graduation coach, a behavior support specialist, a grant administrator/accountant, and four academic coaches/interventionists.

Graduation rate decline

The Morgan County Schools graduation rate has been declining especially in hard to reach students and students with disabilities, school officials said in their presentation.

In the 2019-2020 school year, the 4-year cohort graduation rate was 88.71% and the students with disabilities graduation rate was 74.19%.

Strategies to boost the graduation rate include a fulltime graduation coach/credit recovery position, the Capturing Kids’ Hearts Curriculum, academic coaches/interventionists, updated Tier 2/3 curriculum, professional development and online tutoring programs for students.

Social-emotional needs of county students and families have also been rising.

School officials reported that there has been a significant increase in middle and high school students reporting thoughts of self-harm and suicide from the 2019/2020 school year pre-COVID.

Students weren’t participating in extra-curricular and community activities.  Kids also had outside-of-school issues that hampered their ability to fully engage in school.

Staff surveys reported moderate issues including a lack of respect toward staff from students and disruptive student behavior. They requested more staff development on closing the achievement gap.

Staff, student case data

School COVID-19 data shared by Tuttle showed that 1,398 students were quarantined with 108 positive COVID-19 cases.

Some 200 staff including HeadStart, contractors and Morgan County Partnership was quarantined, with 41 positive COVID-19 cases.

Student and staff cases occurred almost completely from outside transmission, said Tuttle.

Professional and service personnel COVID-related absences from COVID positive illness or restrictions amounted to 884 days of absences.

Local challenges

Morgan County Schools has had 10 years of declining enrollment and has families with generational trauma and non-traditional family units,

Some 34% of students have technology connectivity barriers with limited or no Internet.  Tuttle said they were excited to hire a technology coach.

School board member John Rowland said he thinks this is a good plan that has plenty of discretionary money. Board vice-president Pete Gordon said the plan was tight and concise.

Board president Aaron Close said that there was the flexibility of funds to try it out and see if it was working.

Board member Eric Lyda was impressed by the plan and its out- of-the-box thinking.  He had heard some public comments that asked why do we need the special levy if schools are getting all this money?

The current special levy expires on July 1, 2022.

Superintendent Tuttle said that there are a large number of things that the levy funding can’t be used for.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding’s purpose is to help schools with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The ARP money can’t be used for regular budget items.