Plano ISD plans use of federal funds to combat pandemic-related learning loss

A new school year for Plano ISD also brings questions about how the district will spend the more than $43 million in federal funding it is slated to receive to cover pandemic-related expenses as many students return to in-person learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
A new school year for Plano ISD also brings questions about how the district will spend the more than $43 million in federal funding it is slated to receive to cover pandemic-related expenses as many students return to in-person learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

A new school year for Plano ISD also brings questions about how the district will spend the more than $43 million in federal funding it is slated to receive to cover pandemic-related expenses as many students return to in-person learning. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Image description
Image description
A new school year for Plano ISD brings questions about what the funding impact will be of adding a virtual option for students and how the district will spend the more than $43 million in federal funding it is slated to receive to cover pandemic-related expenses.

The district is required to spend at least 20% of the grants to address learning loss. While that can take different forms for different students, the decreases in State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness scores for PISD students were a tangible sign of the pandemic’s effect on education.

Results released in June show across-the-board decreases in the number of PISD elementary and middle school students who passed STAAR compared to 2019.

STAAR was canceled in spring 2020 due to the pandemic.

Middle school math scores saw a 25 percentage point drop in the number of PISD eighth-grade students who passed from 2019 to 2021.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said the statewide STAAR scores were “problematic” and called the state school system damaged due to the pandemic during a June 23 State Board of Education meeting.

Under requirements passed by the Texas Legislature this year, he said school districts have to create a written plan to accelerate learning for students who did not meet grade-level expectations in third, fifth and eighth grades.

In addition to such a plan, the district intends to use the federal funds to help retain teachers with more than six years of experience.

“[Those teachers] are our best prayer for recovering learning loss,” Superintendent Sara Bonser said during the June 22 PISD board of trustees meeting.

STAAR experiences

Students had to take the exams in person, though some opted not to take it. PISD officials said just 77% of the students in grades that were supposed to take STAAR did so during the spring semester.

PISD is part of the state’s Region 10 Education Service Center, which offers professional development and other assistance to North Texas school districts. Region 10 Executive Director Gordon Taylor said the drop in STAAR scores was expected due to pandemic-related disruptions. However, he cautioned against comparing individual districts to state scores.

“The only bar that a district should and really can be comparing itself to is itself because every school has a different set of students,” Taylor said.

Abby Mitchell, a junior at Plano West Senior High, and her brother, Aiden Mitchell, a freshman at Jasper High, spent most of the 2020-21 school year in person. Their mother, Susan Mitchell, said she was pleased with their scores.

“I might be in the minority of the parents that did favor the STAAR,” Susan Mitchell said. “I just feel that ... it’s giving us a good baseline to see where gaps have occurred in the past year and a half.”

Sandy Venkat, the mother of a sophomore and eighth grader, said she would like there to be less pressure on students about the STAAR.

“Make it as smooth a ride for a child as possible,” Venkat said. “Maybe if they weren’t so stressed, [STAAR] wouldn’t be a big deal overall.”

School year challenges

During a June 28 press conference, Morath said districts with a higher percent of students learning virtually in 2020-21 saw greater declines in assessment results. PISD’s in-person learning population grew from 46% at the start of the school year to 57% at the end.

Plano ISD announced Aug. 9 that it would offer a temporary, parent-led virtual school in the fall for students too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The asynchronous virtual option for students in pre-K through sixth grade is scheduled to last until Sept. 3.

“I want [virtual learners] to be using Plano ISD curriculum and resources because we know how good those are,” Bonser said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to support our students, keep them enrolled and then get them back to us right on target as soon as we can.”

Venkat said school was easier for her children when they returned to in-person learning after the first nine weeks of the last school year.

“I wouldn’t say that they under-learned, but I would definitely say that there was a little bit of struggle in grasping the concepts ... when the school was online,” she said.

Abby Mitchell said her virtual experience was not as productive as in-person learning because it was harder for teachers to deliver instruction.

“I definitely didn’t learn as much because I kind of had to rely on myself,” she said.

Addressing learning loss

Texas will use the first two rounds from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to ensure school districts receive state funding based on projected enrollment despite attendance declines for the last two school years. The third round of funding will be distributed to districts as grant funds.

“We are required to spend about $8.6 million of the grant on evidence-based interventions for learning loss and ensure those interventions respond to students’ academic, social and emotional needs,” PISD Chief Financial Officer Randy McDowell said at the June 22 meeting.

Areas in which the district plans to use ESSER funds include mitigation of learning loss; assistance for parents and families; workforce continuity and professional development; college, career and military readiness; and other expenditures that did not fit in one of those categories.

A new staffing model meant to mitigate learning loss that is being developed for elementary and middle schools will add new teachers, McDowell said.

“Our plan includes adding additional instructional specialists and additional dyslexia support teachers to try to combat that learning loss that we’ve experienced,” he said.

McDowell said PISD plans to spend about $18 million this year as part of its three-year budget for the funds. However, district officials said they expect the budget and spending plan will evolve as student needs arise.

During the Aug. 9 board meeting, Bonser said the district could be in for another budget shortfall for the upcoming school year. Students enrolled in the temporary virtual school will not qualify for attendance funding from the state. The district will also have to budget for new tutoring requirements approved by the Legislature this year for students who did not pass the STAAR exam.

“Districts just don’t have infinite resources,” Bonser said during the meeting. “People will choose to keep their kids home or find other options where they can keep their kids safe, if that’s what they feel compelled to do.”

McDowell told the board an average student who is not in any special programs generates around $7,500 in state attendance funding each year. While the district did not have final figures for how many students will choose the virtual option, he said that can quickly add up to $10 million-$40 million depending on how long it is offered and how many students enroll.

“That [$7,500 per student] doesn’t sound like a real big number until you start multiplying,” he said.
By William C. Wadsack

Senior Reporter, Plano/Richardson

William joined Community Impact Newspaper in December 2019. He previously served as managing editor of several daily and weekly publications in North Texas and his native state of Louisiana.


Plano Mayor John Muns and former Mayor Harry LaRosiliere attended the Sept. 24 groundbreaking event. (Erick Pirayesh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Groundbreaking held for $1 billion Collin Creek Mall redevelopment

The first phase of construction is expected to be complete in 2024.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit offering limited-time items at Plano locations for chain's 80th anniversary

To celebrate its anniversary, Dickey’s announced the launch of new, limited-time menu items such as Sweet & Smoky Pit-Smoked Wings, Dr Pepper Barbecue Sauce and brisket chili.

The Texas Secretary of State's office has launched an audit of 2020 election results in four of Texas’ largest counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Texas Secretary of State's office announces audit of 2020 election results in Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Harris counties

In a statement released Sept. 23, the office said it anticipates the state Legislature will fund the process.

Kyle City Council voted 6-1 and approved the new citywide trail master plan that will utilize 2020 bond election funds for trails that will help connect Austin to San Antonio. (Courtesy Pexels)
CI Nation roundup: Perfect Game coming to Cedar Park; Kyle City Council approves trail master plan to connect Austin to San Antonio and more top stories

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Sept. 24.

The West Grove mixed-use development will include about a 4-acre entertainment area called The Hub. (Rendering courtesy city of McKinney)
New mixed-use development planned for McKinney; Frisco raises water, sewer, solid waste rates; and more top news from DFW

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Several parents of New Caney ISD students spoke at the district's Sept. 20 board meetings about recent allegations that a student brought a firearm to Porter High School's Sept. 18 homecoming dance. NCISD Superintendent Matt Calvert stressed that no gunshots were fired at the event, and that the district is investigating the allegations. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI Nation roundup: Round Rock ISD trustees considered for censuring; New Caney ISD addresses allegations of student with gun at campus event and more top stories

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Sept. 23.

McKinney City Council considered design concepts for future wayfinding signs for the city Sept. 21. (Illustration courtesy city of McKinney)
McKinney eyes designs for wayfinding signs; Plano House of Comedy reschedules opening and more DFW-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

People in a meeting.
Plano ISD board to allow temporary mask mandate to expire on Sept. 24

The temporary mandate, which allows for medical, religious, philosophical and administrative exemptions, has been in place since Aug. 26.

There are eight statewide propositions Texans will get to decide at the polls Nov. 2. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
8 statewide propositions on Texans' November 2021 ballot and what they mean

Brandon Rottinghaus, the University of Houston’s political science chair, breaks down each Texas proposition before voters head to the polls in November.

The case was proposed at the Sept. 20 planning and zoning meeting, but commissioners agreed to table the matter until Oct. 18. City staff recommended the commission approve the zoning request. (Erick Pirayesh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Mixed-use development proposed for Haggard-owned farmland in Plano

The more than 2-million-square-foot area is one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in Plano

 Redistricting is one of the items on the Texas Legislature's third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Senate releases proposed redistricting maps as special session begins

Redistricting is one of the items on the third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18.