Across the United States, public schools received billions of dollars in COVID relief funds. It was reported that throughout the pandemic 190 billion dollars in aid was disbursed to public school districts, with little to no oversight of how the funds were to be spent. Some districts are claiming that they are finding difficulty spending the money because of staffing shortages. If they cannot find teachers, maintenance workers, and bus drivers to hire, they obviously cannot employ them.
While this is a problem for some, other school districts have already begun lobbying for more money. Some claim they did not receive enough to cover the lockdowns and unprecedented protocols, but others are seeking additional funding on the premise that they will need help when COVID relief funds expire in 2024. In Norwalk, Connecticut public schools are motioning in favor of legislation that would shift the funding schedule — which fully pays for underfunded districts through 2028 — to a new schedule that only funds them through 2025. In addition, this change would use taxpayer dollars to fund magnet schools, charter schools, and vocational schools, in a move that would virtually absorb these school-choice alternatives into the public education system under the guise of needing more money to combat student mental health issues.
Meanwhile, Washington County Public Schools is asking for a 4.7 million dollar increase despite its 318.5 million dollar budget slated for the 2023 fiscal year. The district is claiming that without the increase they will not be able to properly meet student’s needs. This is questionable after COVID relief funds pumped more tax dollars into education at a record rate and those funds do not expire until after the year being addressed. One might wonder, how did they spend it all?
Then there’s the case of the most recent teacher’s strike in Minneapolis. Last week teachers marched through the streets demanding better pay, smaller class sizes, and more mental health support. This display was also carried out in St. Paul to request that the state’s surplus be utilized for these purposes. Minnesota currently has a 9 billion dollar surplus, yet teachers and students are not reaping the benefits of such a large amount, even after receiving COVID relief funds specifically for the purpose of education.
These concerns are growing more frequent as districts across the country are not thriving the way people expected them after receiving a massive boost from COVID relief funds. Because the federal aid money came with no instruction, no rules, or limitations, some fear that those taxpayer dollars are being subjected to mismanagement and even potential fraud. If schools are begging for money because they fear the looming 2024 deadline to utilize COVID relief funds, which were supposed to keep districts from collapsing when school was canceled and then moved to online learning, concerns about mismanagement and fraud are valid. Yet the issue continues.
Public education COVID relief funds have given some districts more money than they can spend, while others believe they are entitled to even more. It is a sign of the varying degrees of education practices across the nation. How this will be addressed in each district comes down to local, city, and state politics.