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A one-time cash dump for schools

COVID-19 aid package sends billions to districts and universities

A preschool classroom at Dawes Elementary School in Chicago Associated Press/Photo by Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times (file)

A one-time cash dump for schools

The stimulus package President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday includes a massive burst of money for education. Its spending requirements focus on restarting safely and helping students, particularly disadvantaged ones, bounce back from a year of interrupted learning. But critics are concerned a one-time cash dump may not be what schools need.

K-12 education will receive $128 billion—double what the federal government spends on it in a typical year, Chalkbeat reported. How much each district gets will depend on how many low-income students it enrolls. Districts must spend 20 percent on academic recovery like summer classes, after-school programs, or other “evidence-based interventions.” The rest can go toward a list of spending options including HVAC upgrades, cleaning supplies, laptops and software, and mental health support. It also directs schools to focus on students with particular challenges, such as homeless students, those in foster care, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The stimulus sends almost $40 billion to higher education. Colleges and universities must distribute half to students in grants. The money also comes with COVID-19 tracking requirements, and schools must launch campaigns to tell students about financial aid opportunities. The law forbids schools from spending the relief on capital projects such as new buildings. And through 2025, any student debt cancellation will be tax exempt.

Republican lawmakers criticized the stimulus package as bloated and pointed out that schools have yet to spend money from previous relief. Some of schools’ largest anticipated costs are still on the way, including hiring staff for extra summer classes and tutoring. In one study, a year of intensive math tutoring cost about $3,800 per student.

But districts may hesitate to spend the one-time windfall on hiring more school counselors and nurses or other long-term investments. “There is a basic budgeting principle that you don’t spend one-time funds on recurring needs,” Michael Fine, head of a California agency that monitors districts’ financial health, told EdSource. “Doing so sets you up for failure down the road.”

The money will arrive in a few weeks, and schools have until 2024 to spend it, an education department spokesperson told Chalkbeat. Most school districts have already reopened for in-person learning. For those that haven’t, the funding comes with a final requirement: When it arrives, schools will have 30 days to form a plan to bring students back into classrooms.

Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.


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