WASHINGTON (TND) — School districts across the country are out with their plans on how to spend the next phase of emergency relief funding from COVID bills passed by Congress.
From staffing shortages to mental health needs, schools face a range of issues but some are concerned that the money isn’t being spent effectively or quickly enough. From March of 2020 to March 2021, Congress allocated about $190 billion for K-12 schools.
Earlier in the pandemic, schools spent much of it on PPE, cleaning supplies, staff pay and remote learning technology. Now, the Department of Education is in the process of approving states’ plans to spend the next disbursement of funds.
“There’s a big emphasis on summer learning and after-school programs, a big emphasis on tutoring,” said Phyllis Jordan, Associate Director with Georgetown University think tank Future-Ed.
Jordan analyzes the challenges schools face now, like staffing issues and chronic absenteeism. Watchdog group Open the Books took issue with some of the plans and spending that has already been done.
“In Creston, Iowa, they spent $231,000 to expand their stadium and their bleachers,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of Open the Books.
Andrzejewski also points to a Kentucky school using $1 million in aid to rebuild their track and other athletic facility upgrades in Massachusetts and Tennessee. The general purpose of the funding was to provide schools with emergency support to respond to the pandemic, but the Department of Education says that money can be spent on new construction, remodeling, alterations or repairs.
Earlier in the pandemic, there were concerns that municipal budgets would take a hit as millions were laid off. Now, thanks in part to federal relief, those budgets are 16% above pre-pandemic levels, according to the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Jordan says some districts have a tough time figuring out how to spend the rest of the aid.
“The education money can be spent through 2024, so there’s a lot of stories you see like, ‘Oh how are they spending their money?’ The reality is most of it hasn’t been spent yet,” Jordan said.
Anytime there's this amount of money going to states, there are concerns about oversight to make sure the money is spent properly. So far, the Department of Education's Office of Inspector General has put out 14 audits and review reports are currently underway.