Kentucky Maximizes Funds for Direct-to-Student Supports

State Strategy & Vision

The Kentucky Department of Education is working to target as much funding as possible directly to student academic supports but recognizes its own capacity limitations to deliver upon that priority. Through partnership work with regional cooperatives across the state, the agency seeks to expand its reach and further encourage the prioritization of student academics in recovery spending plans. To further drive local district investments in accelerating student achievement, the state agency is using its set-aside in a unique way. By offering districts access to this state fund in exchange for meeting certain criteria – for permissible purposes, including capital improvements and the like, the state incentivizes districts to use (their much larger) American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funding directly on student supports. At the same time, the state is providing professional development and technical assistance – through the regional cooperatives – to district and school leaders on how to implement the types of student support most needed.

Why We Like It

The Kentucky Department of Education believes strongly in the need to ensure that federal relief funds directly reach students and developed a strategy to help ensure that happens. By offering districts access to the state’s own funds, while simultaneously funding a support network for districts on how to implement strong programming, the Kentucky SEA has found an approach worthy of consideration by others.

Kentucky’s statewide accounting system additionally serves as an investment that other states should consider. In the long-term view of recovery – from disbursement of funds by the federal government to the tracking and reporting of outcomes years down the road – Kentucky’s recovery story may very well be different than those of other states due to its use of such an innovative, practical tool.

The Kentucky DOE is incentivizing districts to spend recovery funds on direct services to students and investing in professional development teams across the state

What They Did

The Kentucky Department of Education developed a multi-pronged strategy to help ensure that federal COVID-19 relief funds reach students directly in targeted and specific ways.

The state education agency provides districts across the state with an opportunity to access a significant portion of Kentucky’s ESSER II administrative set-aside, equivalent to up to $75 per pupil. Districts are eligible to access this funding if they agree to: 1) spend 85% of their locally allocated ESSER II funds on direct services to support students, and 2) offer 12 or more hours each week of in-person instruction to students who request it. The state provides a clear list of permissible direct services and expenditures that includes investments in student instructional or extra-curricular experiences, mental health or social-emotional learning supports, or staffing to meet individual students’ needs.

The agency’s Office of Teaching and Learning (OTL) partnered with the state’s eight regional educational cooperatives for professional development and technical assistance. Using ESSER/ARP funds, each cooperative formed dedicated teams to help support district efforts around accelerating learning and/or providing social-emotional learning supports. Each team has an overall coordinator, two accelerated learning specialists and two SEL coordinators. The teams work directly with district and school leaders as well as classroom teachers by offering guidance, implementation support and professional development. In one compelling example, the state launched a pilot with 12 districts across the regional cooperatives to adopt and implement high-quality local curriculum. Federal funds are enabling a partnership with a professional learning provider for direct coaching and implementation support.

Note: While not funded by federal COVID relief funds, Kentucky is unique in that – so far as we know – it is the only state with a centralized and universal accounting system in use across all of its 171 school districts. By having established consistency in budgeting and accounting practices across districts, Kentucky is positioned to deliver a clearer picture of how federal relief funds were used across categories like accelerating learning and educator recruitment and retention.

For more information about Kentucky’s recovery strategy, please contact Robin Fields Kinney, Associate Commissioner, or Micki L. Roy, Chief Academic Officer.

About the Author

Chad Aldeman is a nationally recognized expert on education policy, including school finance; teacher preparation, evaluation, and compensation; and state standards, assessment, and accountability. Keep up with Chad on the EduProgess: Unpacked blog.