Student and educator mental health programming supported by Covid grant relief funds may be in limbo after the Arizona Department of Education requested reports on the efficacy in remedying learning loss.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne informed a handful of grant awardees with focuses on mental health and social emotional learning that the department was “evaluating the use” of the grant money and asked for “evidence of the measurable results you have had from your expenditures in improving academic performance of students.”
Doug Nick, a spokesperson for the department, declined to say whether they planned to rescind grant funds, which expire next year, but he said the department would be holding a press conference on Sept. 5.
Horne declined to comment as well, citing the upcoming press conference. In a press release today, the department said it would be announcing a “multi-million dollar” project to address pandemic learning loss.
ADE was allocated a total of $405.9 million in total relief funds directly from the federal government, with $180.9 million required to be set aside for statewide projects to support schools’ recovery from the pandemic.
Select counties, universities and nonprofit organizations applied for federal funds to be awarded by ADE and approved through a state procurement process. The grants, issued by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, marked the third round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, set to expire in September of 2024.
But on Aug. 18, Horne sent a letter to grant awardees with a focus on mental health, asking for evidence of academic improvement in students and citing the “sole discretion” of ADE to request for data needed to “judge the efficacy of the program.”
He added that, “If there are other measurables such as providing professional development to teachers, please give us that information and exactly what professional development training was used.”
Horne set a five-day deadline.
Among the recipients of the notice were Coconino County Education Service Agency, the Valley of the Sun YMCA, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley and notMYkid.
Coconino County Education Service Agency received $4.8 million to support the Building Resilient Youth and Schools Project, which “aims to equip educators and schools with the skillset required to address the multi-faceted mental and physical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic directly correlated to a reduction in education effectiveness in youth.”
Coconino County Superintendent Cheryl Mango-Paget said the county received the letter from Horne and responded with a report by the deadline, but she has yet to hear anything back from the department.
“We have done everything we were supposed to do under the grant,” Mango-Paget said. “We have met every benchmark and gone beyond.”
Paget said the county had already allocated $3 million of its funds.
If ADE were to cut off the grant, Mango-Paget said it “would devastate our programs and the office.”
Valley of the Sun YMCA received $3 million to “to support the mental, physical, and behavioral health needs of students and educators” via their YMCA Healthy Living Program.
Libby Corral, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Valley of the Sun YMCA confirmed they had received the notice and provided the report they sent to the department.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley received $3 million to implement its “Whole Child Approach,” which helps “alleviate social and emotional stress among children and youth.”
Cassidy Campana, vice president of communications and external affairs for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley, said the organization provided the department with a report tying academic outcomes to mental wellbeing before the deadline.
Other awardees with a focus on mental health or social emotional skills included Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Chicanos Por La Causa, Mindfulness First and Playworks Arizona.
Horne is slated to announce the learning loss mitigation project at 11 a.m. on Sept. 5.