What the American Rescue Plan Means for Your School District
School districts are about to get a lot of new funding thanks to the American Rescue Plan, but the question is: what’s the best way to use it?
The Senate recently approved the American Rescue Plan, a massive package designed to support various industries and institutions through the COVID-19 pandemic. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan includes $168 billion for education, of which $122 billion is specifically designated for K-12 institutions. While some of that money is supposed to be used to offset the loss caused by the pandemic, school districts are free to use the majority at their discretion for a wide range of projects and investments that will have long-lasting effects. That includes construction projects, technology upgrades, security improvements, and more.
The ARP comes after last year’s COVID-19 federal funding gave schools the opportunity to make similar investments. The good news is that even if your school district has not yet taken advantage of last year’s funds, you can still secure money for your district now. And even if you think you don’t need the additional funds, there are several important ways that schools can use the funding to upgrade their technology and create a better, safer experience for their students in the long-term.
The Best Ways for School Districts to Use the ARP Funds
One thing that’s clear in the framing of the ARP is that Congress wants schools to use the funds to support long-overdue technology upgrades. The freedom to make these upgrades is an exciting opportunity, but some decision-makers may become overwhelmed when determining which projects to prioritize. To help combat that, we’ve zeroed in on a few great ways that school districts can use the ARP funds to create a lasting positive impact. These uses fall into two key categories:
Student safety should be a top priority for every school. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a major need for safety systems that can help prevent the spread of the disease. Fortunately, many of the technologies that support student health can also increase general safety. Some strategic uses of ARP funds include:
- Purchasing better smart cameras: In addition to capturing your image, smart cameras connect to the control software to proactively identify and address security risks. If an incident occurs, the cameras can help you identify the culprit and track their path throughout the entire school. Those same features also mean smart cameras can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Plus, the best ones have additional features including occupancy counting, face mask detection, and social distancing technology.
- Investing in contact tracing: Contact tracing is one of the best ways to prevent major COVID-19 outbreaks. It works by quickly identifying an infected person’s contacts so that those individuals can take steps to prevent the spread right away. Rapid contact tracing is particularly important in schools given that students are often in close proximity. The Delta variant, a far more contagious form of COVID-19 than any we’ve witnessed before, is on the rise, so it’s critically important for schools to implement contact tracing technologies like smart cameras or Aruba access points to stop individual cases from turning into outbreaks.
- Integrating better alarm systems: While alarm systems may not directly relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are a critical safety feature for any school. They give your staff members a way to communicate discreetly in case of an emergency as well as quickly contact the authorities. Unfortunately, many school districts still rely on alarm systems that are now obsolete. A great use of ARP funds is to ensure you have alarms in place that are ready to keep your students safe in 2021 and beyond.
In addition to cameras and tablets, ARP funds can also go toward building a better infrastructure for technology in general. That means investing in things like better access points, new switches, and improved cabling.
Increased network security is another great use of ARP funds. Cyberattacks targeting schools were already on the rise before the pandemic, but the switch to remote learning created a veritable smorgasbord of opportunity for bad actors looking to take advantage of vulnerabilities. The best way to prevent these types of attacks is to find and address these vulnerabilities for yourself. That begins with getting a secure network assessment to identify weak spots in your school district’s current cybersecurity architecture. From there, you can start investing in solutions that will address those specific weak spots as well as provide a higher level of general security for both wired and wireless networks.
Invest in Your School District’s Long-Term Future
While the best use of ARP funding will look different for each school district, the most important thing is to make sure the funding actually gets used. If districts don’t spend their allocated ARP budgets, they are essentially burning free money. The money won’t roll over and once it’s gone, it’s gone. These funds can make a huge difference in schools for years to come — and it’s a waste not to take advantage of them now.
At Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI), our experts can help you determine which funds are available, how you can secure them, and how you can purchase and install the right solutions to get the best ROI from your ARP funding. Given how much money is at stake, whether you’re a superintendent, a BA, or an IT/technology director, it’s well worth your time to give TTI a call to discuss your options.
By Tony Ridzyowski