Study reveals how schools spent federal pandemic funds

Districts should invest in changes to benefit students
Posted at 8:13 AM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 09:20:05-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In response to COVID-19, Congress passed several pieces of legislation that sent billions of dollars in relief funds to states, and a good portion of that money went to schools. We're looking into how school districts are starting to use the $2,400 per-student on average that they're getting from the federal government.

Tennessee received about $4.2 billion to be spent on schools across the state in three phases. In fact, Metro Nashville Public Schools was granted $276 million. They plan to use the money to build infrastructure, accelerate academics, grow their staff and invest in the children more.

This one-time federal money must be allocated by the fall of 2024. The government is urging schools to invest in big changes that will benefit students for years to come.

Some districts are seeing they have more urgent problems to deal with first.

“We're seeing a lot of layering on of existing staff new hiring rather than rethinking roles or reenvisioning how different staff can be used differently,” Edunomics lab at Georgetown University Policy Director Chad Aldeman said.

Chad Aldeman has been tracking how schools are using the money through a school finance think tank at Georgetown University.

He says along with those new hires to support things like kids' social and emotional learning needs, he’s also seeing new investments in technology.

Schools are also spending a lot of money on things like air filtration and COVID-19 testing.

He expects they'll be expanding summer school again next summer after doing it this year, as well.

He thinks it's a missed opportunity that some districts aren't looking more long-term.

“If districts want to redesign the school day or invest in new ways of doing things, whether that's new courses or new programs or other things that can be using the upfront money to invest in those things now that will pay dividends in the future and don't necessarily need sustaining dollars going forward.” Aldeman said.

The Associated Press found the amount of money some districts are getting is 50% or more than the cost to operate their schools for a year.

20% of the latest and largest round of money coming to schools has to be used to address learning setbacks.

The rest can be used on nearly anything else school leaders see as reasonable and necessary, but there isn't a lot oversight and transparency of how the money is being used.