The Federal Government Provided Billions to America’s Schools in Response to COVID-19. What Happened to the Money?
Due to the Education Department’s limited tracking of $190 billion in pandemic support funds sent to schools, officials are unsure how effective the aid has been in assisting students.
America’s Schools Received Billions in COVID-19 Aid and Flushed It: Following the closure of schools across the country due to the pandemic, the federal government provided approximately $190 billion in aid to assist them in reopening and responding to the pandemic’s effects.
The Education Department has done only limited tracking of how the money has been spent in the past year and a half since millions of children were sent home. As a result, officials in Washington have been largely unaware of how effective aid has been in assisting students, particularly those whose schools and communities were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.
We know that billions and trillions of dollars are spent by the federal government every year and the American people never see the fruits of such efforts. However, the American people are given “pocket change” by the federal government and are expected to yield to mandates, bow, and kiss the feet of alleged government medical “experts”.
The goalposts are constantly moving and the “experts” see no end in sight yet, they are demanding that the American people follow their directives.
Meanwhile… The wise and embodiment of government administrators sees no need for oversight in the billions of dollars that they’ve paid out to American schools.
“We’ve been in a pandemic for nearly a year and a half,” said Anne Hyslop, policy development director at the education advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education. “There is a responsibility to the public to ensure that funds are spent responsibly, but also that funds are spent in a way that supports students and educators.”
State education agencies’ provisional annual reports to the federal government highlighted a lack of clear, detailed data. Agencies categorized how the funds were spent into six broad categories, including technology and sanitation. According to a ProPublica analysis of over 16,000 reports covering the period March 2020 to September 2020, just over half of the $3 billion in aid was classified as “other,” providing no information on how the funds were allocated.
The monitoring of relief funds flowing to the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts has largely been left to states in the absence of a centralized and detailed federal tracking system. Some districts have been caught spending federal funds on projects that appear to be contrary to the spirit of the aid program, such as track and field facilities and bleachers.
While such spending is not prohibited by the federal government, the relief program’s stated goals were to open schools safely in order to maximize in-person learning and, more broadly, to address the pandemic’s impact.
The Biden administration wishes to collect more information. However, its efforts come more than a year after the previous administration began disbursing relief funds, and some school districts have reacted negatively to the belated push for more detailed data collection. Go figure…
According to Hyslop, while this may add to the burden on districts, the information is critical. “We need this data to ensure that needs are met and that high-needs schools are not underserved.” We must ensure that this is actually beneficial to students.”
The majority of school aid was distributed between March 2020 and March 2021 through state education departments to K-12 school districts, which have until 2024 to budget the remaining funds.
Noted by the terms set forth by the federal government, states are responsible for developing tracking systems to ensure that funds are spent on mitigating the effects of the pandemic.
The federal government has long given states broad leeway in establishing standards and curriculum. According to Christine Pitts, a fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, responsibility for tracking COVID-19 relief funds has also been delegated to states, resulting in a patchwork of oversight practices. “There are 50 states, and oftentimes in education, that means 50 different ways of doing business,” Pitts explained.
The federal government has begun asking states for limited information on how districts have spent their funds. The department also requires state spending plans, which must be approved before the final round of funds is released.
These limited reporting requirements reflect the pandemic’s early, urgent days when officials wanted to get money to school districts as soon as possible.It also reflects the current day cluster bomb of conflicting information from government officials.
In June 2020, as the first federal relief dollars were being distributed to districts, the Education Department’s inspector general issued a report warning that the department must improve its oversight, monitoring, and data collection in order to reduce potential fraud and waste. Following the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the Education Department was in charge of allocating $98 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which resulted in numerous investigations into abuse and waste, according to the Office of Inspector General.
OIG report, when the OIG raised concerns with then-Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais last year, Zais stated that the pandemic aid legislation itself had created “enormous pressure” to distribute funds quickly.
Catherine Grant, an OIG spokesperson, stated that while distributing pandemic aid presented its own set of challenges, oversight and monitoring were “longstanding” issues for the department.
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. signed Executive Order 14000, Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers, on January 21, 2021, to “ensure that students receive a high-quality education during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to support the safe reopening and continued operation of schools, child care providers, Head Start programs, and institutions of higher education.” As part of that order, the President directed the Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights to “deliver a report… on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on students in elementary, secondary, and higher education.”
“We have a rare moment as a country to take stock and to begin the hard work of building our schools back better and stronger—with the resolve necessary to ensure that our nation’s schools are defined not by disparities but by equity and opportunity for all students.” Notes Buden.
The law imposes few restrictions on how districts can spend federal funds as long as the investments are only tangentially related to the pandemic’s effects. Because of this leeway, districts have been able to fund projects that some education experts have questioned.
Creston Community School District in Iowa used approximately $231,000 of its pandemic relief funds to upgrade its outdoor stadium, including an expansion of its bleachers. The construction, according to district documents, is intended to provide more space for social distancing and to make the bleacher’s wheelchair accessible.
The school board in Pulaski County, Kentucky, approved the reconstruction of its track and field facilities, allocating approximately $1 million in federal pandemic funding for the track replacement.
“There is certainly a lot of flexibility in how the money can be used,” the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Hyslop said, but athletic investments are “not in the spirit of the law.”
The federal education department launched an investigation into Fairfax schools in January 2021 after receiving “disturbing reports involving the district’s provision of educational services to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.” When asked about the status of the Fairfax investigation on Tuesday, the Education Department’s press office said it didn’t have any information.
Fairfax schools received at least $157.5 million in pandemic aid from the county, state, and federal governments in the first two waves, of which $9.6 million was spent on direct services for students with disabilities to help them catch up.
Helen Lloyd, a Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson, said much of the initial coronavirus relief funds were used to pay for “systemwide technology, school safety mitigation measures, and equipment and PPE costs.” She stated that “it is impossible to calculate the percentage of funding that was spent solely on services for students with disabilities.”
The district’s spending plan was developed with extensive community input and learning loss was identified as a priority. She went on to say that the district has received $46.2 million from the third wave of pandemic aid, which was approved this year, and that it is being used to extend special education teachers’ contracts by 30 minutes per day, as well as $500,000 to compensate for learning loss in students with disabilities.
What, what, what???… Special needs students miss out due to “learning loss” and pandemic money is being used to extend teacher’s contracts and compensation for jobs that teachers did not perform.
The McAllen Independent School District in Texas decided to spend $4 million of its education pandemic relief funds to build a 5-acre outdoor learning environment connected to a city-owned nature and birding center. Tory Guerra, whose children attend McAllen schools, expressed concern that the project, which will not be completed until December 2024, is not prioritizing the urgent learning needs of children directly impacted by the pandemic.
“There are so many other programs that we could invest in that we could use right away and see results right away rather than years down the road,” Guerra said. She believes that federal aid should directly address students’ urgent emotional and academic well-being, as many of them have struggled to keep up in class. “Half of the children will not even be able to benefit because the nature center has not yet been built.”
Some states and municipalities have created their own public reporting platforms. In Georgia, the education department created a dashboard that displays how much money each district has received and the programs on which it has spent it. However, other states have not provided as much transparency into district spending. Indiana, for example, has made little information public thus far, but it is currently working on an online portal.
In the preliminary federal reports that categorize how aid money is spent, some of the nation’s largest districts, including Los Angeles Unified, which spent $49.5 million, and New York City’s schools, which spent $111.5 million, marked all of their aid as going to the “other” category.
Even if the information is publicly available on a local level, the lack of standardization from state to state makes a national picture of how the funds are being directed impossible to obtain.
The Federal Education Department announced plans to increase data collection from districts in 2022 this past July, but dozens of districts and state education agencies have expressed concern that increased oversight will overburden them.
Accountability is not the federal government’s strong suit and it is outlandish for the government to demand and mandate accountability for their lack of foresight and direction.
Of course, the Biden Administration will avoid discussing the topic of “America’s Schools Received Billions in COVID-19 Aid and Flushed It.”