SWSFs: What They Are & How to Use Them
Are you scratching your head about what to do with the Student Wellness and Success Funds (SWSFs) that just landed in your district’s coffers? Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
House Bill 166, which was passed in July 2019, set in motion the effort to allocate $675 million toward helping advance Ohio’s strategic plan for education – Each Child, Our Future. The bill was designed to help districts and schools support academic achievement through mental health counseling, wraparound services, mentoring and after-school programming. But now that funds are being disbursed, questions are beginning to bubble to the surface. To eliminate some of the confusion surrounding SWSFs, we’ve set to work answering some common questions. Read on to learn more.
How Are Student Wellness And Success Funds Dispersed – And When?
SWSFs are distributed through the larger school foundation funding process to all Ohio school districts with half of the annual amount provided in October (this was paid within the Additional Aid Item section of October 1) and the remainder in February.
When it comes to determining how much funding your district will be receiving, the ODE has determined the allocation will be based on a per-pupil basis, with per-pupil funding scaled based on federal census poverty data. That being said, every school district, community school and joint vocational school district in the state will receive a minimum of $25,000 in Fiscal Year 2020 and $36,000 in FY21. As previously mentioned, half was remitted through October 1, and the annual amount is posted to identify remaining amount to be paid in February.
The school foundation payment reports are available on the Ohio Department of Education’s website.
How Are Student Wellness And Success Funds Classified On The Budget?
SWSFs should be deposited into Fund 467, which is a special revenue fund. And, according to Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber, these funds do not need approval from the Auditor of State to be established. Furthermore, Fund 467 does not need to be included in your district’s five-year forecast.
Currently, H.B. 166 only addresses Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. So, when looking to the future, districts should evaluate and identify any costs associated with mandated programs or locally adopted programs that will continue after funding has been expended. At that time, if the programs are expected to continue, the costs will need to be evaluated for inclusion in subsequent periods.
With regard to SWSFs and the five-year forecast, Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) surveyed its members to determine:
- How well-informed members are with regard to the purpose and uses of SWSFs. (73% of respondents said they consider themselves to be well informed; 27% of respondents said they do not consider themselves to be well informed.)
- Whether members were aware that funds would be tracked through Fund 467. (95% of respondents said they are aware of how the funds will be tracked; 5% of respondents said they were unaware that funds would be tracked via Fund 467.)
- What members’ opinions were concerning whether or not to include SWSFs in their district’s five-year forecasts as well as their reasoning for their views. (82 respondents said funds should be included in school districts’ five-year forecasts; 109 respondents said funds should not be included in school districts’ five-year forecasts, and 27 said they were unsure. Several respondents elaborated on their response.)
- If members had other questions and concerns pertaining to SWSFs. (186 respondents provided additional explanation for their position.)
Once OASBO members completed the survey, findings were shared with the ODE as well as posted on the OASBO website. While this particular survey has closed, OASBO continues to seek additional thoughts and ideas related to SWSFs. Members are also encouraged to participate in OASBO’s online community to ask questions and share how they plan to use the funds.
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Are Community Partnerships Required To Spend Student Wellness And Success Funds?
When it comes to allocating your district’s SWSFs, you can’t go it alone – literally. In fact, you’re going to need to choose a community partner to work with. Together, you will establish a plan that outlines your program’s goals, strategies and the partnerships required to help meet the desired outcomes.
Partnership between the school district and the community is essential because lawmakers and others agree that the entire community, not just schools, share the responsibility of preparing children for successful futures. Furthermore, according to official SWSF guidance, partnering with a community organization will provide school districts with resources they might not otherwise have, such as content expertise; data sources; joint planning; and human, financial and organizational capital.
To facilitate effective programming that successfully drives student wellness and success, districts can choose to partner with at least one of the following types of community organizations:
- A board of alcohol, drug, and mental health services established under Chapter 340 of the Revised Code;
- An educational service center;
- A county board of developmental disabilities;
- A community-based mental health treatment provider;
- A board of health of a city or general health district;
- A county department of job and family services;
- A nonprofit organization with experience serving children;
- A public hospital agency.
The guidance goes on to state that: “Districts are encouraged to leverage existing collaborative teams, such as a district leadership team, and to engage diverse groups of local stakeholders to guide these efforts. By prioritizing and capturing a diverse set of voices, districts can ensure they are intentionally planning and engaging vulnerable youth and their families and organizations that represent their needs.”
It’s important to mention, you do not need to contract with one of these partners – you are only required to obtain input on plan development.
Key data points can help you determine whether a need for your program exists. The department of education suggests that districts tap into their existing database as well as community relationships to identify specific risk and protective factors that exist within their communities
How To Choose The Right Initiative For Your District?
You might have a few ideas to get your SWSF initiative off the ground, but how do you know if a need really exists; and, more importantly, will you be able to justify your program when the Ohio Department of Education comes asking questions? To determine whether a particular initiative is a worthwhile one for your district to tackle, you’ll have to turn to the data.
Key data points can help you determine whether a need for your program exists. The department of education suggests that districts tap into their existing database as well as community relationships to identify specific risk and protective factors that exist within their communities. Potential data sources to consider evaluating might include:
- Attendance, including chronic absenteeism;
- Course performance;
- Discipline data (office discipline reports, suspension, and expulsion rates);
- School climate surveys;
- Internal and external health, mental health and behavioral health referrals;
- Screening and assessment data;
- Additional data sources collected by community partners (i.e. community violence and trauma rates, rates of homelessness among the student population, juvenile arrests, alcohol, and drug usage, etc.).
Once your data is collected and before you move forward with your program, be sure to share your data and actively seek feedback from key stakeholders. This will not only help you determine whether you’re moving in the right direction but will help you secure buy-in from all parties, which will go a long way in helping your program succeed.
How Can Student Wellness And Success Funds Be Spent?
SWSFs were designed and designated for the purpose of eliminating “barriers to students’ educational success.” However, because a clear definition of what constitutes a “barrier” has not yet been developed and a formal approval process has not been established, how SWSFs are allocated is solely at the discretion of the school district. But, of course, all this could change once reports begin to roll in and state officials determine that additional guidance/requirements are needed – especially if districts fail to effectively explain how funding a particular initiative will successfully eliminate a barrier to the educational success of its students.
Fortunately, HB 166 does provide us with some initial guidance. According to the bill, SWSFs can be used to support 11 different initiatives:
- Mental health services.
- Services for homeless youth.
- Services for child welfare involved youth.
- Community liaisons.
- Physical health care services.
- Mentoring programs.
- Family engagement and support services.
- City connects programming.
- Professional development regarding the provision of trauma-informed care.
- Professional development regarding cultural competence.
- Student services provided prior to, or after, the regularly scheduled school day or any time school is not in session.
To avoid compliance issues in the future, your district should put together a comprehensive plan to help govern how SWSFs will be used. It’s important to design a program that not only meets the expectations established by H.B. 166 and the ODE, your program should adhere to your district’s existing initiatives. Furthermore, you should consider whether the program will be sustainable after funding has diminished. To ensure your program’s longevity, you might consider securing additional sources of funding to promote success beyond the time period outlined in the legislation.
It’s important to note that even though your district should define and outline critical components of the plan, at this time you are not required to share it with the department of education beforehand. Again, how your district’s SWSFs are allocated is solely at the discretion of your school district. That being said, the ODE’s SWSF guidance encourages districts to align plans with the greater Comprehensive Continuous Improvement Plan and the reporting requirements set forth by the department. Again, this degree of reporting is not necessary – but it is encouraged.
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Can Funds Be Used To Supplement Existing Projects?
Yes! If your district already partners with community organizations on initiatives that promote student wellness and success, great! This funding can be used to supplement the work you are already doing. That being said, this could be a good opportunity to reevaluate your existing efforts to determine whether your programs are, indeed, meeting the needs of your students and whether students could benefit from other/or additional initiatives that could be supported by these funds. It’s also important to note that:
State of Ohio is not imposing the federal “supplement, not supplant”
requirement on SWSFs.
- SWSFs will count toward meeting your district’s Every Student Succeeds Act Maintenance of Effort requirements.
- If any of your SWSFs are allocated toward providing special education services to students with disabilities, those expenditures will count toward meeting your district’s federal Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act requirements.
Can Funds Be Used For Personnel?
Yes! If you wish to use the funding to hire additional personnel, just be sure that your plan includes language that explains what the position is for and how it helps support your Student Wellness and Success funded project. It would be especially beneficial to find out if your community partners can provide you with the necessary staffing and to ultimately partner with your community partners in this way. Regardless, your community partner should be involved in the development of the plan to provide additional insight and expertise.
Can Funds Be Used For Infrastructure?
Yes! SWSFs can be used for capital projects as long as the reasoning for your allocation of funds is reinforced in your plan, your community partner was involved in the development of the plan, and you can show that the project supports the initiatives previously outlined.
Additionally, your district can collaborate and partner with others on a joint initiative to achieve greater impact. Just be sure to work closely with all stakeholders, promote transparency and inclusion and detail everything out in your plan. That being said, even though the Ohio Board of Education encourages collaboration among other districts and organizations, and even though your district may choose to purchase services or provide funds to community partners to achieve their desired results, there is nothing in the legislation that requires school districts to provide SWSFs to their community partners.
Even if you still haven’t determined what to do with your funding, you still have time to figure it out.
When Must Student Wellness And Success Funds Be Spent?
Still haven’t determined what to do with the funding you were given? That’s OK. You’re actually not required to spend your Student Wellness and Success Funds in the same year provided. So, even though you are required to report how your district spent its Student Wellness and Success Funds to the ODE by the end of the fiscal year, you actually have the option to report your intention to push the funding into a later year. All this to say that, even if you still haven’t determined what to do with your funding, you still have time to figure it out.
On the other side, the effective date of HB 166 was Oct. 17, 2019. Expenditures eligible for these funds are allowable after that date (effectively a substantially approved date).
How Can Districts Determine The Success Of Student Wellness And Success Programming?
Your school district is not required to update its SWSF plan at regular intervals. However, continuous evaluation is critical in determining whether your Student Wellness and Success program is successful. Don’t be afraid to get your community partners involved in the implementation and monitoring phase. Their added human capital, knowledge and expertise can help you stay on top of your responsibility to evaluate the program and implement strategies designed to improve your efforts and maximize results.
What Information Must Be Reported To The Ohio Department Of Education – And When?
Your school district must provide the department of education with a report thoroughly describing how SWSFs were spent. To construct your report, you must maintain adequate records to demonstrate that all legislative requirements have been met.
You may click here to view the Reporting Template released by the ODE, which provides prompts and questions that may be asked in the report your district will be required to complete at the end of the fiscal year. Additional questions may be added later and districts are encouraged to collect artifacts and evidence to demonstrate each component of the reporting tool for verification purposes.
The Ohio Revised Code requires districts to submit their reports after June 30. The formal deadline and the process by which reports will be collected are still being developed.
Where To Go For More Information
For more information about the Student Wellness and Success program, the state’s strategic plan for education, best practices or additional guidance, visit the Ohio Department’s website or contact a member of Rea & Associates’ government services team. These resources can also be helpful when developing your plan. While not required, the ODE encourages districts to develop their plan using the five-step process outlined in the Ohio Improvement Process.
By Zac Morris, CPA (Millersburg office)