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Tulsa, Okla., Schools Plan To Use Latest Stimulus To Expand Learning Opportunities

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Schools around the country are about to get a massive infusion of funds. The coronavirus relief package signed into law late last week will pump nearly $130 billion into K-12 schools across the country. And there's additional money for state governments, which will also help many of these struggling school districts. Twenty percent of the money that school districts receive is targeted at addressing what's called learning loss, and that's where Jorge Robles comes in. He's the CFO of Tulsa Public Schools, where the district has already announced a host of new programs aimed at helping students regain some of the learning that was lost during the pandemic.

Welcome.

JORGE ROBLES: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Well, as we mentioned, your district has announced a lot of new programs. Can you just give us an idea of what's being offered?

ROBLES: Some of the things that we're offering are - for our high school students, we're having - we're setting up a series of programs that go from one-on-one tutoring to boot camps as well as a - we call it the Twilight Academy. So we're - students have flexible evening learning options so that our students who are in secondary can actually have an opportunity to work with teachers and counselors on catching up on learning and work to make sure that they're graduating on time and they're meeting all the graduation requirements.

And then we're also planning for next school year to make accessible our before and after care for all of our families that we know are very important opportunities for families to access enrichment programs and supports before and after school. And it's a great support for families overall and allows their - our students to continue to engage and learn in safe, joyous environments where they can engage with others and adults.

CHANG: I mean, it sounds like it could be very expensive. And I understand that these one-on-one tutoring plans were announced even before the relief package was signed into law in Washington. I mean, would you have even been able to do this one-on-one tutoring program without this extra funding from the federal government, you think?

ROBLES: It would be extremely hard to do those. So we would have - probably have to change the scale of which we could have been doing them. Having a stimulus package of the size that was authorized, it allows us to essentially put these programs in place for a longer period of time and then have a better degree of success on supporting our students.

CHANG: Well, let's talk a little more about how this money can be spent and how quickly it can be spent because the amount of money flowing into your school district and in other school districts is on a pretty historic level. As the CFO of your school district, how confident are you that you can all spend this money effectively and on the tight timeline the federal government has laid out?

ROBLES: We are essentially working with the different teams in the district to make sure that we understand the initiatives, that we're going to move forward, make sure that they meet the criteria that is established by the relief fund as quickly as we possibly can.

The other piece, which is the concern that I know is often discussed, which is, are we going to create a cliff at the end of this by investing on programs and resources and then once the funds expire, we're no longer going to have them there? - we are not essentially changing the structure of how the district functions. We are essentially leveraging these dollars to come back from the massive impact that this pandemic had on our students and be able to provide those additional supports that will allow them to recover from all of this and avoid then essentially having that cliff when these funds expire.

CHANG: Jorge Robles is the CFO of Tulsa Public Schools.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

ROBLES: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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