Fiscal Facts: How are school districts spending their federal relief funds?
Wisconsin Policy Forum
Wisconsin school districts have been allocated nearly $ 2.4 billion in federal pandemic relief funds. Much of this has been spent, and they have until September 2024 to spend the remaining large amounts.
A recent forum review of all Wisconsin school districts found in its initial rounds of federal aid spending that districts were geared toward immediate pandemic needs, such as health and safety, educational technology, and instruction. at a distance.
These dollars were primarily intended for investments that can be broadly classified as educational technology and preparation and response to COVID-19, followed by addressing long-term school closures.
The specific sample costs associated with each of these categories include student laptops, access points, and instructional software (educational technology); personal protective equipment and staff training to minimize the spread of disease (preparation and response to COVID-19); and teaching materials, curriculum costs, staff professional learning, and salary reimbursements for educators ’planning time to adapt to new learning environments (addressing long-term school closures).
When we disaggregated these statewide totals by district location, size, and demographics, we found that these three categories remained the main spending categories regardless of district type or size.
Meanwhile, districts with more than 50% of low-income home students spent the largest proportion of their initial federal aid grants on educational technology. This reinforces the Forum’s previous research on the “digital divide” which showed that technology needs were greater for the districts that serve the majority of low-income and students of color households.
More recent federal aid spending has addressed the needs of students and the district more broadly. Tackling long-term school closures rose to the top, while educational technology dropped to a smaller proportion of the total. The proportion of expenditure on preparation and response to COVID-19 remained relatively stable
Districts across the country are facing the challenge of determining how to use federal relief funds for single COVID-19 demands without leaving budget gaps when single funds expire. For Wisconsin districts, the 2021-23 state budget increased this tension by not offering any increase in state revenue limits on local property taxes and general state school aids.
Most of the federal aid dollars were allocated in the form of Governor Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESS), the latter of which has been assigned in three rounds. They are left to spend large amounts of federal aid on schools, especially with regard to the third and most recent round of ESSER funding.
As most districts still face a convergence of financial challenges, the strategic use of the remaining dollars will be critical to the fiscal health and successful outcomes of students.
This information is provided to members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association as a service to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the state’s leading resource for non-partisan local and state government research and civic education. More information at wispolicyforum.org.