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More Money, More Problems: Schools Struggle To Spend COVID Relief Funds

Teacher and students in 2020 / Getty Images
• May 19, 2022 5:20 pm

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American schools have spent just 7 percent of the $122 billion in federal aid allocated to them under the American Rescue Plan.

Districts across the country are "struggling" to spend the money earmarked as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The Los Angeles Unified School District "has yet to spend a penny" of its more than $2.5 billion of relief funds, according to the Journal. And New York City Public Schools were "behind target" on spending coronavirus relief funds.

Schools can use relief payments to fund salaries and mental health services or purchase ventilators and personal protective equipment, which teachers' unions deemed a prerequisite for reopening during the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan earmarked 20 percent of school aid for programs to combat learning loss caused by remote learning. But schools are hesitant to hire more teachers, whose salaries they would have to cover when funding expires, and supply chain issues have made it hard to obtain ventilation systems and other equipment.

Some schools found creative ways to spend their relief funds. Fairfax County Public Schools used American Rescue Plan payments to dole out $32.7 million in bonuses to teachers after the 2020-2021 school year, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Fairfax also spent half a million dollars on an online tutoring program intended to reverse the negative impact of online learning.

Amy Carney, a parental rights advocate and school board candidate in Scottsdale, Arizona, says the disbursement of these funds is "a big experiment." Carney is particularly concerned with schools using relief funds to hire groups like Panorama Education, which designs and administers surveys that ask students about their gender identity and sexual preferences.

Carney told the Free Beacon that parents can help ensure schools put federal funds to good use.

"I just think that we need people to get involved in their local schools and figure out what their money is being spent on," Carney said. "The money needs to go to address real learning loss."

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, teachers' unions claimed schools were desperate for funding. The American Federation of Teachers estimated in June 2020 that it would cost at least $116.5 billion to reopen schools.

Schools will forfeit any American Rescue Plan funds left unspent by September 2024.