How Can Schools Use $129 Billion in Covid Relief Funds?

Most of it will go directly to K-12 schools, with a chunk dedicated to learning loss. But districts will also have much leeway in how they spend the aid.

By Amelia Nierenberg and Kate Taylor

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Where the money goes

The $1.9 trillion relief plan has a lot of money going to education. About $129 billion goes directly to K-12 education. Before a school reopening summit meeting on Wednesday, President Biden announced the release of $81 billion of the funds. Separately, colleges and universities will get about $40 billion.

On top of school-specific funding, about $7 billion goes to the federal E-Rate program, which helps students get online. And the stimulus expanded funding to families with children, a policy overhaul that will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class, if only temporarily.

Below, we compiled a breakdown of key items. And here’s the bill, if you want to read it for yourself.

K-12 schools

Advancing one of President Biden’s main policy agendas, the relief package focuses on getting students back into classrooms and making up for learning loss. Districts have until late 2024 to spend the money, which they should receive within a few months. Experts said the long timeline is an acknowledgment of how much investment students may need to recover from this past academic year.

Here are some of the main provisions:

About $110 billion goes directly to school districts. States and districts that serve low-income students will get more money per student. About $22 billion of this money must go to address lost learning. The rest is pretty much up to the district.

Summer enrichment programs and after-school programs both will get at least $1.2 billion.

Programs and grants for students with disabilities will get about $2.6 billion.

Private schools that serve a “significant” number of low-income students will get about $2.8 billion. Our colleague Erica Green wrote an illuminating piece about how this provision sneaked into the bill.

The plan also earmarks $800 million to identify and support homeless students.

In earlier stimulus packages, K-12 schools received about $70 billion, a financial defibrillator that many districts plan to use to stave off deep budget cuts or retrofit buildings for in-person learning. Mike Griffith, a school finance expert at the Learning Policy Institute, estimates that the new injection of money comes to about $2,400 per student, weighted toward students in low-income, low-performing districts. (In total, the stimulus bills and rescue plans provide schools with an extra $4,000 per student, Griffith found.)

There are few parameters on how districts must use the money, meaning it could be used to fill budget holes, provide critical services — or be squandered. Some experts worry that some of it will go toward things like deep-cleaning, which studies show does little to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

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