Webinar provides tips on combining funding sources to equitably mitigate learning loss

With funding already stretched thin and districts and county offices of education responsible for ensuring student learning and services continue during school closures — and now, planning how to address learning loss — administrators may be especially concerned with how to provide additional support to students who need it.

In a May 5 WestEd webinar, “Blending and Braiding Funds to Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 on the Most Vulnerable Students,” experts highlighted ways to combine multiple federal, state and local funding streams to provide programs or initiatives aimed to support students and close achievement gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

Jason Willis, WestEd director of strategy and performance, said that through recent waivers and other prior provisions, the U.S. Department of Education has shown a desire to advance a more flexible use of funds. One reissued fact sheet about transferability of funds, for example, now includes an appendix which addresses “where certain Title programs can be moved from one place to another,” he said.

States and local educational agencies should take advantage of this flexibility to blend or braid revenue from different sources to help ensure high-needs children are able to access the support services they need to thrive academically, Willis said.

“The federal government really is pushing and opening up opportunities for schools and school districts to think about the braiding and blending of these funds in a way that really is going to meet your local needs in this extraordinary time that we’re living in,” Willis said. “What the opportunity that blending and braiding offers is the chance to rethink the allocation of resources without as many constraints as we might have once perceived were really there.”

Braiding funds refers to directing different funding streams toward one purpose. Braiding is beneficial for LEAs that need to distinguish individual funding streams for eligibility and reporting purposes, Willis said. Blending, or consolidating revenue into one funding stream, can be easier to manage for some.

Regardless of how LEAs coordinate their funds, doing so can help better serve students with complex needs by providing access to streamlined services rather than services from multiple programs and reducing the duplication of resources.

It’s important that schools conduct a needs assessment to determine how funding can best be used to improve achievement among children experiencing homelessness, English learners, migrant youth, students with disabilities and others who may have needs for support above and beyond traditional services. Just as important is identifying students who have multiple needs, such as an English learner who also has a disability, or a homeless youth who is also a migrant student.

Assessing needs will be especially important as students begin to return to classrooms following the abrupt shift to distance learning and the learning loss children are projected to experience as a result. Researchers predict that the impact of COVID-19 closures will disproportionately affect underserved students and widen opportunity and achievement gaps, just as the “summer slide” often does, but to an even greater extent.

Find slides from the WestEd webinar as well as other resources here.