California charter schools have experienced two years of funding hardship. Additionally, schools nationwide have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, adjusting nearly everything about the teaching container. There’s been massive changes to the way teaching is done, and the way schools interact with students. Schools have had to invest in technology, train teachers, hire additional staff and make all sorts of adjustments to teach their students safely during this health crisis.
Fortunately, the Federal Government has responded to educators’ needs with school funding relief packages, including The CARES Act, which went into law on Friday, Mach 27, 2020. That legislation included over $30 billion in emergency school funding.
Along with The Cares Act funding, we’ve broken down other funding sources for California charter schools and included strategic recommendations on leveraging those funds.
The first source for this founding is Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I Fund) The ESSER fund includes approximately $13.2 billion of funding for all states and California’s allocation is $1,6+ billion.
The second source of emergency funding for schools is the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER I Fund).
The GEER I Fund includes approximately $3 billion of funding for all states, and California’s allocation is $355,227,235. This funding will channel through local educational agencies (LEAs). These emergency relief funds aim to help elementary and secondary schools recover from the impact COVID-19 had and continues to have on their budgets.
The Learning Loss Mitigation Funding (LLMF) includes $5,3 billion nationwide, stemming from three different funding sources and allocated to local educational agencies (LEAs). The funds are specifically aimed at supporting student academic achievement and mitigate learning loss related to disruptions in education resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.
What Should You Do With These Funds?
These funds are a substantial amount. For some schools, they may represent 20%-30% of their annual revenue. Choosing how to spend this money will be a critical strategic decision for most California charter schools.
First of all, these funds are reimbursable. What that means is that you need to spend them in order to receive them. That’s why it’s crucial to have a spending plan in place.
It’s essential to know these funds are fungible, unlike students. For example, if you’ve been contracting for an educational service or product that is not part of your school, and you’ve been paying that through regular State funding or through receivable sales, you can submit that as an ESSER reimbursable expense. You can use your ESSER funding for any number of expenses to serve your students. (Of course, before you assume an expense is allowed by ESSER, check California guidelines to ensure that you’re in full compliance.)
Spending for Growth
These funds give your school some great expansion opportunities. You can serve more students, or serve existing students with more programs or upgraded facilities.
If you’ve been hoping to bring in a special program, such as a Hebrew-language program, or a STEM program, and you need to hire educators, allocate infrastructure and buy materials for that, this may be the time to move on that.
A word of caution here: I do recommend that any new programs are deployed as a pilot, setting expectations to a finite length (I suggest one or two years). It is important that this one-time school funding package does not lead you into long-term financial commitments which could become a liability down the line.
This might be the time to invest in your school building. This could include building maintenance. The COVID pandemic brought increased awareness of airborne contaminants. Many schools have responded by overhauling their air-purification systems.
Getting the community involved in how to use these funds provides an excellent opportunity to build local connections. Consider organizing a town hall meeting with parents and other neighborhood stakeholders to discuss discuss which needs the community feels your school could fulfill. What might emerge could be an after-school program, or the need for school transportation, or other initiatives that might not even be in your line of vision. Allowing the community to participate in this process is a wonderful way to build allies and rally the community in support of your school.
The most direct way to impact school growth is through continuous and intentional enrollment marketing. As we described in a previous blog post, this is a time to look at your waitlist, ensuring that you have a strong pipeline to keep your rosters healthy with incoming pupils.
Enrollment marketing is a combination of initiatives. This may include collateral, pamphlets, word of mouth, and digital marketing – and ideally it includes what I like to call your ‘Ground Game,’
Your ground game is composed of initiatives like a standing weekly tour of your school, even including tours in the summertime when your school is not in session. It includes a monthly open meeting with the CEO or the Principal. You can tailor these to your unique style and your school’s needs. The idea is to create opportunities for parents and potential new students to interact with the school, to show transparency, and raise parent confidence in your school’s programs.
Your school should also have solid branding. You should have a unique, recognizable logo that communicates your school’s focus and mission. You should have collateral, brochures and leaflets, and other informational material. With these COVID funds, you have an opportunity to bolster what you currently have – or seize the opportunity to launch a new branding initiative.
Most of all, your enrollment marketing should include a solid, strategic digital marketing plan. This involves several digital channels – it includes website design, email marketing, blogging, Facebook ads, Google ads, and social media marketing. If you happen to be well-versed in these disciplines, all the better. In most cases, it’s best to outsource these marketing efforts to a professional marketing team. This allows school leaders to focus their time on what they do best – serving students.
Charter School Capital offers a pay-for-performance enrollment marketing service. Our knowledgeable team of school marketing professionals brings new students to you, and you only pay based on actual growth.
Why Focus on Growth?
While these funds are substantial, they’re not a steady revenue stream. It’s vital to channel these funds toward long-term sustainability. Consider that a percentage of your operational expenses are student-specific, while a percentage is a fixed cost. There is a ‘sweet spot‘ where a school’s fixed costs become a low enough percentage of the budget and the school moves into long-term financial viability. In my experience, most California schools should aim for 450 students. Depending on your area, this number could be lower or higher. I encourage you to set a goal for this ‘sweet spot’ and grow your school towards it. These COVID relief funds give you a golden opportunity to do so.