young black girl holding a book, wearing a pink mask

First Book Study Discloses Educator Priorities for American Rescue Plan Funding

With American Rescue Plan Funding Arriving for Back to School, New First Book Study Reveals That 97 Percent of Educators Want to Give Input on Funding Allocation, 75 Percent Have Not Yet Had the Opportunity to Do So

Report Discloses Educators’ Out-of-Pocket Spending in 2020 and their Priorities for American Rescue Plan Funding

August 10, 2021 (Washington, D.C.) – First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to educational equity as a path out of poverty, today released the findings of a nationwide survey of 2,004 educators serving kids in need that examines their spending priorities for American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. The report provides valuable insights from frontline educators supporting children’s immediate and long-term needs. These educators resoundingly cite books and learning materials, student mental health support resources, and additional staff as leading priorities for ARP funding. The study, conducted by First Book Research & Insights, also highlights that a significant majority (75%) have not yet had the opportunity to provide input on current budget planning as the funding begins to reach states, districts, and schools.

“Educators have faced incalculable obstacles throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and have adapted to these obstacles with grace and an unrelenting commitment to our children,” says Kyle Zimmer, President, CEO and Co-founder of First Book. “Our classroom leaders are the backbone of the American education system, and their priorities reflect the changing needs of the students they serve. As school districts and communities evaluate how they will use the influx of ARP funding, this valuable input should be at the heart of spending decisions.” 

young black girl holding a book, wearing a pink mask

Top Priorities for ARP Funding

Educators also shared their top priorities. As educators face a new year of challenges and COVID-19 barriers and recovery, their top funding priority is investing in books, with an overwhelming 99 percent of educators prioritizing books for the students they serve in their own classroom or program. Educators report that books act as a simple yet effective tool to address a broad range of students’ needs from promoting social-emotional health, to supporting struggling readers and offering stories that reflect diversity.

Educators are also very concerned about the mental health of their students. According to the First Book 2020 COVID-19 survey, 87 percent of educators reported being more concerned about kids experiencing mental/emotional health challenges during the pandemic than they were before the pandemic. This finding is amplified by the fact that only 14 percent feel extremely or very prepared to support children who have experienced trauma over the past year. To address the mental health needs of students, 81 percent of educators believe community partnerships will help, while 68 percent of educators report wanting books & conversation guides to help better equip them to support children experiencing trauma and grief.

Out-of-Pocket Spending

One startling finding involves educator out-of-pocket spending. Educators made clear that acquiring books for their students is a top priority – truer this year as educators work to replenish depleted classroom libraries post COVID-19 – but lack of funding has caused more educators to dig into their own pockets to do so. More educators spent over $1,000 from their own wallet last year than those spending less than $100 or none at all, and nearly 60 percent of educators spent between $100 and $500. The percentage of educators using their own money to purchase resources is up 20 percent from two First Book surveys performed just a year ago.

Beyond the decisive commitment to restoring classrooms, libraries and home libraries with new books and learning materials, and supporting children and their families with their mental health needs, this report also highlights educators’ call for additional staff. The need for more staff ranked third in educators’ top areas of need with 59 percent of respondents citing it as a priority for ARP funding. Additionally, the digital divide represents an education issue that dominated the past year and continues to be a priority moving forward. For teachers, approximately 51 percent reported spending money on digital resources in the last year, and 84 percent of principals have prioritized using ARP funding for digital learning resources going forward. 

“We know that district superintendents and childcare leaders feel a tremendous responsibility to leverage this new infusion of funds to effect impactful, sustainable gains in equity for the children they reach,” says Candace Radoski, Vice President of Network Engagement Partnerships at First Book. “We’re already working with district leaders who are prioritizing books and educational materials for their schools and programs, even as they work toward other important goals for their districts. It’s thrilling to be able to share this insight from the field with leaders across the country and we look forward to supporting even more districts and states in the coming months as educators prepare for the school year.”

First Book’s Research & Insights gives voice to educators serving children in need through surveys, analysis, and sharing best practices of the First Book Network of more than 500,000 members. This illuminating new report provides unique insights into educator priorities for the American Rescue Plan funding and highlights the contributions they seek to include in determining how funds are used. 

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About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 500,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.