Many local school boards haven’t yet decided how to use the most recent round of funds released in March. In most states, districts are required to submit a spending plan between mid-August and mid-September and will be reimbursed after they use the money.
“I’m both sympathetic and frustrated with the rate of district spending at the moment,” said Marguerite Roza, professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy and director of the Edunomics Lab research center.
The Covid relief money — which came from three different pieces of legislation — is a huge federal investment equal to roughly six times the amount of fiscal year 2021 base funding. Congress gave schools more than three years to spend the latest and biggest round of money, with few strings attached. It’s unlikely to be spent all at once, especially if it’s used for teachers’ salaries or capital improvements that are paid for over time.
Here’s what we know about what schools are getting and how they’re spending it.
How much money are schools receiving?
Not every school will get the same amount of money. The law directs states to disburse the money like it does Title I funding, which means more money goes to districts with more low-income families. Some districts, those with very low poverty rates, won’t receive any direct Covid relief funding — but may be eligible for some funds that are left up to the state’s discretion.
When the pandemic first hit, the CARES Act authorized about $13 billion for K-12 schools, or about $270 per pupil. The bill that passed in December delivered about $54 billion, or $1,100 per pupil, and the most recent and biggest package, the American Rescue Plan, allowed for $128 billion in spending, that amounts to $2,600 per pupil, according to an analysis by FutureEd, another non-partisan think tank at Georgetown University.
How are schools allowed to spend the money?
About 20% of the money a district receives must be used to address learning loss — which can include tutoring programs, summer school or extended school days going forward.
But there are few other restrictions on the funding, so it’s largely up to the local school boards to decide how to spend it on a broad range of pandemic-related needs.
The law notes that it can be spent on things like sanitation supplies, technology, mental health services and ventilation systems, to name a few. But it’s not certain all the plans will be fully executed — especially when it includes hiring more teachers and counselors who may be hard to find.
Districts are required to seek public input on how to spend the money, though outreach efforts vary. Many school boards have discussed the spending at public meetings throughout the summer. On agendas, the topic is often referred to as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, or ESSER.
Spending plans: tutoring, mental health counselors, renovations
CNN’s Mallory Simon contributed reporting.