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461 Million Dollar Question for BPS

Boston Public Schools’ 461 Million Dollar Question

With nearly a half billion in federal aid available now through FY23, how will BPS leverage this once-in-a-generation opportunity?

Boston Schools Fund

8 hours ago·9 min read

Photo by FatCamera via Getty Images Signature

This is part four of our five-part series on the BPS FY22 Budget Proposal. Read parts onetwo, and three.

Perhaps the biggest change to the budget (that isn’t necessarily reflected in the budget itself) is President Biden’s historic signing of the American Rescue Plan Act, through which public K-12 education is set to receive $128 billion in federal aid, in addition to previous two rounds of ESSER funding via the CARES and CRRSA Acts, totaling more than $113 billion.

While federal funds aren’t part of the BPS general budget process itself — the School Committee has no authority over how those funds are allocated or spent — Boston Public Schools’ anticipated $283 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan has substantial implications for the district’s fiscal strategy over the next two years.

A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity

Both the City of Boston and BPS have received considerable federal aid since March 2020. When totaling all the federal aid made available since then (including the estimated $283 million in ESSER 3 funds), BPS has approximately $461 million dollars — nearly half a billion — earmarked solely for education.

A half-billion-dollar investment is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity for BPS.

Graphic via Boston Schools Fund

Of the original $55.5 million the district received last year in both federal ESSER 1 funds and CARES Act dollars from the City of Boston, BPS has spent less than half of that aid so far (approximately $26 million) on summer and distance learning, health and safety expenditures including personal protective equipment, facilities upgrades, and family engagement and outreach.

In ESSER 2 funds, BPS has been awarded $123 million. At budget hearings over the last eight weeks, BPS presentations have indicated that only 35% (~$44.3 million) of ESSER 2 funds have been allocated for FY22. While the final award amount has not yet been announced by the state, BPS is poised to receive as much as $283m in ESSER 3 funds courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act, more than double what it received in ESSER 2 funds.

It’s important to note that all of the ESSER funding made possible by the CARES, CRRSA, and American Rescue Plan Acts, respectively, are eligible to be allocated to costs backdated to March 2020 (FY20) and through September 2023 (into FY24).

It is up to districts to meet state grant deadlines to apply for any FY21 usage of ESSER 2 funds; the deadline to do so is March 31, 2021. BPS has not indicated it intends to apply any of the $123m in ESSER 2 funding for current FY21 efforts to return to schools for this school year.

(And even a full return this year remains in doubt, as Supt. Cassellius told The Boston Globe on Mar. 22 the district has applied for a waiver from recent state mandates in order to delay a full return to in-person instruction this spring.)

Federal Dollars at the Student Level

Once you start talking about numbers with more than one comma, it can be hard to conceptualize what half a billion dollars could really look like. The entire package of federal funds — that full $461 million dollars — breaks down to about $9,581 per BPS student.

Remember, this is in addition to the roughly $23,000 BPS already spends per student each year. Theoretically, BPS has approximately $32,500 per student for FY22 at their disposal if they leveraged the full amount of federal spending available to them. If they did, BPS per student spending would exceed the average cost of private school tuitions in Massachusetts by nearly $11,000.

To say that BPS has an opportunity to make systemic, lasting changes to benefit all K-12 students within the district is an understatement.

Graphic via Boston Schools Fund

And yet, as billionaire business mogul Jack Ma has said, “Spending money is much more difficult than making money.” So far, BPS has either spent or has plans about how to spend just 15.2% of the available $9,581 per student in federal aid.

That leaves around $8,100 of federal aid per student still on the table, with no publicly-shared plan for what to do with all that money.

Building a Needs-Based, Research-Backed Plan for Recovery

But if you talk to BPS school leaders, as we have, they’ll tell you exactly what they could do with an influx of federal dollars to their school budgets. Here’s what some leaders had to offer:

“Train teachers on best practices to re-engage students back to in-person learning, how to foster a collaborative, productive, and welcoming environment.”

“We would prioritize mental health, [specifically] by allocating additional funds for students to receive small group time with a counselor (for students who are struggling with a transition back to schools). This counselor will work closely with students, families and teaching staff to ensure students transition back to in-person learning is successful and to address loss of social skills, trauma, and anxiety.

Money for substitute teachers to allow classroom teachers time to collaboratively plan units, focusing on the standards as they determine the best way to accelerate the learning using our current curriculum.”

1:1 devices in each classroom at school so students can keep the devices they received during the pandemic at home.”

“Funding for each class to do an early-in-the-year experience that allows for students to reconnect with each other and with staff [such as local field trips] — something for everyone to help with reconnecting as a community.”

“With a year of remote learning, we want to really encourage the joy of reading, book choice, and literacy, with a specific push to have all students reading on grade level by grade 3.”

“Fund before and after school programs for enrichment and academic support to help students make the rapid gains they need.”

“Pay for counseling for families in crisis and are under-insured, have interrupted medical insurance, or are undocumented.”

“Purchase supplies and materials for students who for medical reasons may not [return] in-person in the Fall”

“[Conduct] a family needs assessment and let the results drive the use of funds.”

“[To address] significant social-emotional and behavior needs, we need to focus on classroom structures and routines, relationship building, and both prevention and crisis response through a lens of cultural responsiveness.

“It would be amazing to be able to make such decisions… based on the unique needs and priorities of [our school]… given more financial resources.”

What these school leaders shared with us reflects not only the unique needs of their individual school communities, they echo the concerns of parents and families, too. In a recent MassINC poll, nearly two-thirds of parents surveyed said they are concerned about their child’s mental and emotional health. This same poll revealed most parents would support summer education programs to recoup pandemic learning losses.

What does currently available research offers in terms of best practices for pandemic recovery in schools?

Graphic via Boston Schools Fund

EdResearch for Recovery, a project of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, is one of many education think tanks recommending individualized 1:1 high-frequency tutoring as a critical component of accelerated learning post-pandemic. When combined with expanded learning time programs before and after the school day and into the summer, as the Afterschool Alliance recommends, students could recoup learning loss from disrupted instruction, particularly for students of color who have experienced greater learning loss than their white peers.

There is a need for good data to drive informed, responsive decisions around recovery, as both our school leaders shared and NWEA has affirmed in a December 2020 report. And as our sample of BPS school leaders notes, these kinds of large-scale interventions require professional development for teachers to implement said interventions, as CPRE reiterated in a November 2020 report.

The cost of addressing social-emotional learning needs cannot be underestimated, either. In a city such as Boston, authentic, aligned community partnerships will be essential for the holistic recovery of schools, especially those neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic, as the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College recommends.

Now Is Not the Time to Reinvent the Wheel

While most school districts have not released federal aid allocation plans, there are some who have — and their plans for federal aid have either spent or allocated substantial portions towards FY22 recovery priorities.

In Baltimore City Public Schools, it received $48 million in ESSER 1 funding last year. Of that, BCPS allocated $18 million just to keep vitally-needed city meal sites up and running. Another $15 million was spent on providing students with devices and wifi hotspots so students could remain connected as learning went remote.

Washington D.C. Public Schools announced last month that of the $80 million in ESSER 2 federal aid it’s expected to receive, $33 million will be allocated for academic interventions and small group tutoring. Wisely, $15 million will be set aside for teacher training to implement said interventions.

Just last week, Shelby County School District, which includes Memphis, Tennessee, announced its plans for the $170 million it will receive ESSER 2 aid: $101 million allocated to academic interventions, including summer school and $24 million budgeted for air quality improvements within its school buildings.

To claim that the needs and challenges of Boston are simply too unique and diverse to effectively replicate or adapt the solutions of other urban districts fails to see the bigger picture — or worse, fails to seize upon a half-billion-dollar opportunity for systemic change.

Finding Answers to Boston’s $461 Million Dollar Question

While the School Committee can’t tell BPS what to do with its federal aid, it would be prudent to probe the district on the specificity of its post-pandemic plans beyond the broad headers of “Return, Recover, Reimagine.”

School leaders need answers, too: how much of this $461 million will be controlled centrally, and how much will be left to the discretion of school leaders who know their communities most intimately?

And finally, when we look back at this strange time in our lives, after all the federal dollars have all been dispersed and spent — we have to ask: was the money spent well? Did the lives and outcomes of students improve?

Photo courtesy East Boston Social Center

These are the questions BPS must consider as it plans for how best to use its half a billion dollars — because the cost of anything but the affirmative to such questions far outweighs the amount any federal relief package could ever provide in our lifetimes.

What’s Next

The Boston School Committee will vote on the FY22 Budget this Wednesday, Mar. 24 at 5:00 PM Eastern. Head here for the Zoom webinar. Sign up here for Public Comment or submit your written testimony to by 4:30 PM Eastern on Wednesday.

Even though the vote happens this week, our analysis of the FY22 BPS budget isn’t done yet, as it heads to a crucial next step: the Boston City Council. Make sure you’re following us here on Medium and are subscribed to our Friday newsletters so you don’t miss a post.

As always, we welcome your feedback and thoughts on our Budget Analysis Series; send us your questions and comments here.

About Boston Schools Fund

Founded in 2015, Boston Schools Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that leverages grant-making, partnerships, data, and policy work to advance educational equity in Boston by providing opportunity and access to high-quality schools, particularly to those most underserved. Follow BSF on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, and Medium and sign up for our curated round-up of weekly education news in your inbox.


Share your Special Education Goals with School Committee

Boston School committee redesign and evaluation will be based on the goals and guardrails they have listed below. Please give feedback to ensure there are appropriate student outcomes for special education students also. The form closes on Friday, February 24th.

School Committee Priority Setting: Goals and Guardails 
The Boston School Committee is seeking community feedback on a draft set of goals and guardrails that will strengthen the Committee’s focus on student outcomes. 


Sign up for Public Comment at School Committee

To sign up for public comment, please complete this brief Google Sign Up Form.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 

5 p.m. Public Meeting


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Public Comment:

To sign up for public comment, please complete this brief Google Sign Up Form.   Sign up for public comment will close at 4:30 p.m. on the day of the meeting.
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School Committee Meeting: School Reopening Plan Update_8/19


The Boston School Committee will be meeting remotely on August 19 at 5 p.m.


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  1.  Agenda
    • Pledge of Allegiance
    • Roll Call
    • Approval of Meeting Minutes: August 5, 2020
    • Superintendent’s Report
    • Reports
      • School Reopening Planning Update
      • Policy Regarding Preparing and Sharing Student Incident Reports and Other Student Information with the Boston Police Department
    • General Public Comment
    • Action Items
      • Grants for Approval Totaling $62,889,945
    • Temporary Suspension of Maximum Age Assignment and Enrollment Policy
    • Superintendent’s School Year 2019-2020 Final Performance Evaluation Rating and SY 2020-2021 Goals
    • Report
    • Connecting Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) and Boston Public Schools (BPS): Proposal for a Connector System between UPK programs and BPS
    • Public Comment on Reports (Optional)
    • New Business
    • Adjourn



Suspend Boston Exam School Admissions Testing for One Year!

Below is information on the petition the NAACP started yesterday urging BPS to uphold the recommendation made by the OAG (Opportunity and Achievement Gaps) Taskforce to halt testing students this year for entry into the 3 BPS exam schools. If you agree, you may sign the petition here.

Suspend Boston Exam School Admissions Testing for One Year!

NAACP – Boston Branch started this petition to Boston School Committee.

On June 30, 2020, the BPS School Committee Opportunity Gap taskforce voted to formally recommend the suspension of an admissions test.  On July 2, 2020, Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced the selection of a new standardized test for admission to its three exam schools ignoring the recommendation of the Boston School Committee Opportunity Gap Task Force to suspend the test for one year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the interest of racial justice, we oppose the central office decision, and strongly support the Task Force recommendation.

In 2016, the NAACP Boston Branch, in collaboration with several civil rights and advocacy organizations including BEAM, Lawyers for Civil Rights, ACLU of MA and Mass Advocates for Children began strong research based advocacy for alternatives to “exam” based admissions citing the adverse impact and potentially discriminatory impact on Black and LatinX students.  After years of this advocacy, published white papers and neighborhood town halls, in 2018 the Harvard Kennedy School Rappaport Institute released a report that supported our position and highlighted how the admissions process, including the test, disadvantages BPS students (who are predominantly Black and LatinX).  As the advocacy groups wrote to the Mayor, Superintendent and School Committee in 2019, “The  Harvard  researchers  concluded  that  the  substantial  racial  gaps  in  ISEE-taking  rates,  ISEE scores,  and  GPAs  could  not  be  explained  by  or  attributed  solely  to  “underlying  differences  in academic  strength,”  given  that  high-achieving  African-American  and  Latinx  students  were “substantially  less  likely  to  be  invited  to  exam  schools”  than  peers  of  “similar  academic strengths.”  Goodman  and  Rucinski  concluded  that  “many  talented  [African-American]  and [Latinx]  students  in  BPS  do  not  enroll  at  the  exam  schools  due  to  various  factors  that  make  it more  difficult  for  them  to  succeed  in  the  admissions  process”  and  that  alternative  means  of admitting  students  could  be  accomplished  “while  maintaining  the  high  academic  requirements  of the  current  admissions  process.” The BPS response was to identify a new test provider for the ‘20-’21 school year without addressing the disparities highlighted in the report.

In March 2020 BPS closed its building doors to students and faculty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  For three months students, families and the school district have struggled to continue the learning process.  The Boston Globe reported that up to 20% of BPS students were “virtual dropouts” having not engaged in online learning.  The reality of students and families balancing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, coupled with the ineffective ad-hoc implementation of virtual instruction, without accurately measuring learning, through the pandemic make this executive decision against the recommendations of the taskforce patently unfair and unjust. To now force low-income students to compete with middle income and wealthy students for “golden ticket” seats at the exam schools when we are fully aware of the gaps and disparate impact of the admissions process is the definition of racial injustice.  If the Boston School Committee does not suspend the test for this year, the students who are harmed will potentially feel the impact for a lifetime. In previous years, errors made by BPS algorithms resulted in irreversible harm to hundreds of families. Our families should not bear additional and new irreversible harm due to deliberate choices.


Inclusion Done Right Meeting Notes 4_28_20

Dear Educators and Parents,

It was great to see so many of you at yesterday’s Inclusion Done Right meeting! We had 83 people in attendance, our largest meeting yet!

We promised to send out the instructions for how to sign up to testify at the City Council Hearing on Inclusion, Special Education and English Language Learners – scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, starting at 1:00pm.

Instructions for Signing up to Testify

You can testify “live” via zoom by  emailing michelle.a.  Your testimony should be 2 minutes max.

You can also appear at the Hearing by uploading a 2 min. video.  Your video testimony will be played at the Hearing if it is received by 12:00 pm this Friday, 5/1.  Instructions for how to upload a video can be found under #3 in this document. Here is the link: .  (It is also possible to email your remarks, however, testimony connected to a person is far more powerful!)

The Hearing will begin with a presentation by BPS where we’ll hear their version of how inclusion, special education and ESL services are being implemented in the district.  Our comments will follow.

Please contact me if you would like support with crafting your testimony. We’d be delighted to provide assistance.

Reaching out to City Councilors

We want to strongly encourage that every member of the City Council be present at next Tuesday’s Hearing, sponsored by Councilor Essabai-George.  At the meeting yesterday, participants volunteered to be point people for emailing/calling each City Councilor to urge them to show up.  It would be great if everyone could reach out to one or more  members of the City Council.  Here is the link we provided yesterday for info on contacting City Council members:  We encourage you to email, and then follow up with a phone call if you don’t get a positive response.

Sample message:

My name is _________ and I am an educator/parent at the ___________ in your district (or I live in your district.) I am emailing/calling to say how important it is to me that you attend the upcoming City Council Hearing on Inclusion, Special Education and English Language Learners, Tuesday, May 5 at 1:00.

School closures have made it even more challenging for our most vulnerable students to receive the education and services they deserve.  We are counting on your support for Inclusion Done Right!  Please let me know that you will attend the Hearing. Thank you.

Slides on DESE Findings on BPS Special Education

Here is the link to the slides on the DESE Findings prepared by BTU member and Inclusion activist, Emma Fialka-Feldman.  There were a number of requests to share these slides.

Please reach out with any questions!   Hope to see you many of you next Tuesday!



1/29/20: Inclusion Done Right @ School Committee

Dear Educators and Parents,

This Wednesday we go to School Committee to stand up for Inclusion Done Right.  Please meet at 5:30 on the first floor of the Bolling Building if you want pizza before the meeting.  Make sure to RSVP here to let us know you will be there.

We have bright red “Inclusion Done Right” T-shirts for everyone who is there to stand with us.

Parents and educators will be speaking up about the need to improve the teaching and learning conditions in our inclusion classrooms and schools now.

The public comment period is from 6:00 – 7:00pm.  We hope you will join us!

Thank you,
Ilene Carver
BTU Organizer