Oscar James of Newark Truth has launched a campaign demanding that Newark City Public Schools reveal its plans for spending $282 million in federal stimulus funds. Today the activist and candidate for City Council repeated his plea for a “transparent process” for spending the money “conducted with community input,” as prescribed by regulations attached to the funds, also known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER).
Newark families are hurting from the academic and social-emotional trauma of the pandemic, and this huge influx of federal funding could be transformative in helping the community heal and recover. But the public still has not seen the district’s plan for this money. You have also failed to meaningfully engage the community in this process, even though that is an explicit requirement of the grant: “In developing plans to utilize these funds, it’s critical that states and districts bring to the table the voices of those who can best speak to how we can meet these goals, including students, parents, educators, and stakeholders.
In fact, New Jersey’s template for ESSER proposals includes this: “Describe how the [Local Education Agency, or LEA] sought public comment on its plan, and how it took those public comments into account in the development of its plan. Note, the [American Rescue Plan] requires that LEAs seek public comment for each 60-day revision to the plan.” Howell Township’s application, for example, is posted on the district website and explains the process it will use to solicit community input.
Yet, according to James, Newark has yet to include its community in this process and, thus, the need for a petition with a list of demands:
- Post on the district website Newark Board of Education’s existing proposal to the Department of Education on how it plans on spending the federal stimulus money.
- Create specific outreach opportunities for the Newark community and district families to share their concerns and priorities for this significant federal funding.
- Throughout the funding period (which goes until November 2024), provide the community quarterly updates on how the federal stimulus money is being spent, including facility repairs, safety measures, teacher training, tutoring, etc.
- Every month at school board meetings, report out on the progress the district is making on behalf of its students: including but not limited to (1) attendance, because chronic absenteeism is a critical issue in Newark; (2) results of the in-district NWEA assessments in the fall and spring; (3) results of the state’s standardized StartStrong assessments this fall.
James writes, “Superintendent Leon is from Newark, and we want to believe that he and the school board members will do right by the city and its students. However, we remain utterly uninformed about how the district plans to spend the nearly $300 million in federal stimulus money. That’s three times what Zuckerberg brought to Newark a decade ago. Community voices have not been ‘brought to the table,’ as required by the Biden administration.” He warns, “Don’t ignore us. We will fight for our children’s education and social-emotional well-being for as long as it takes.”
Here is the petition: