As $190 billion in coronavirus relief runs out, schools face tough decisions

Goff Justice announces a $20 million expansion of nursing education programs

Cinque Culver had a feeling his kids’ school in D.C. would have to cut the budget next year. But he wasn’t expecting the six-digit number he saw when he and other members of the school’s parent-teacher organization got the predictions.

The $256,827 cut, about 4 percent of the overall budget for Bears Elementary, was deeper than expected — costing school positions including intervention coach, special education teacher and music coach, budget papers show. Officials said the school expects an increase in enrollment next year and enough special education students to decline to fire a teacher. But cuts come after cuts this school year, like when the Bears were downgraded from full-time to part-time, according to Culver.

“For the Bears, this is a great loss,” said the father.

A looming budget crisis in Beers is unfolding in schools across the capital and the country as millions of dollars in relief aid for the coronavirus pandemic are set to expire. Over the past three years, the federal government has issued the largest one-time cash injection ever to help schools weather the pandemic — ultimately $190 billion to support virtual learning, school reopenings and tutoring programs. Final installment, approximately $122 billion, sundown in September 2024.

Dollars came with little guidance, allowing schools to spend them on almost anything related to education, particularly catching up with students academically. But as money runs out, education advocates warn of a fiscal abyss that could plunge school systems into financial chaos, with districts serving the poorest students suffering the most damage.

The fallout could lead to several turbulent years for schools as they struggle not only with losing money, but also with declining enrollment and inflation — creating a perfect storm for regions still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. Experts at the Edunomics Lab, an education financing research center at Georgetown University, project that districts will need to cut annual spending by $60 billion, an average of about $1,200 per student.

School leaders across the country discuss the possibility of mass layoffs and program cuts; Others hope state legislatures can help make up the difference.

“These federal funds have really been a lifeline for school districts across the country to get us through what was a once in a generation interruption to public education,” said Brian Hall, director of operations for Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. largest area. “We’re going to need our local, state and federal officials — someone — to step up and continue to provide additional funding because the needs and demands on public education are much greater today than they were five years ago, 10 years ago.”

The federal government has delivered three batches of its Emergency Relief Fund for Elementary and Secondary Schools, known as ESSER, to states over the course of the pandemic. As part of a strategy to slowly return schools in the capital to pre-pandemic funding levels, officials have begun to cut back on spending.

During the 2021-2022 school year, $47 million in federal pandemic relief has been distributed directly to traditional public school budgets. This year, that number is down to $6 million; Next year it will be $4 million. “We made this slide to try to ensure that ending short-term funds, which we always knew was short-term, wouldn’t be too abrupt,” said Paul Kane, Washington’s deputy mayor for education.

Meanwhile, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to inject local money to replace some federal dollars and smooth the transition back to pre-ESSER spending. But the $36 million “recovery fund” will not continue beyond 2024, which is contributing to budget cuts at schools like the Bears.

Recovery-focused programs will be scaled back across the city, including tutoring programs that were needed to help students gain reading and math skills they lost during the height of the pandemic.

Other supports will be cut further. For example, Ken said, a classroom with a teacher, aide, and teacher this year might have only two adults next year. But he added: “We are very lucky that we don’t even think about other things [jurisdictions] Do that, like losing schools or moving to four-day school weeks.”

Regions across the country will suffer when federal relief runs out, but some will be worse than others, experts warn. For example, some of the systems that will run into more problems are school systems that used funding for recurring costs, like hiring more staff, said Katie Silberstein, a researcher with Edunomics.

“To be fair, hiring and giving raises is what counties know how to do,” added Margaret Rosa, director of the Edunomics Lab. The Ministry of Education also encouraged regions to hire staff and raise salaries, she said. “some [districts] Not good at long term planning. And some may hope that the feds or their states will bail them out when the time comes to lay off workers.”

Districts have been urged to focus on academic recovery, and decisions about how to hire staff and fund those efforts are left to districts, according to an education department official. The department also noted calls by President Biden to increase Title I funding by $2 billion, which would direct more money to high-poverty areas as ESSER expires.

Right now, districts are facing tough financial decisions about which staff and programs they can afford to keep. Detroit notified 100 employees — primarily in central office management positions — that their jobs could be eliminated in June and is encouraging hourly employees to work in understaffed areas, such as school cafeterias, to avoid layoffs.

Anchorage Education Leaders recently voted to close an elementary school as they deal with a budget shortfall caused by the gradual deterioration of funds for the pandemic, along with inflation and stagnant state education funding.

Denver Public Schools will reduce summer lessons and reduce building maintenance.

“We had some programs that were specifically targeting social and emotional health in our schools, particularly knowing that COVID had created a kind of acute dynamic there. I hope we can continue these things,” said Chuck Carpenter, chief financial officer in Denver. Stuff, but the truth is, whenever you get a grant, you have to expect the day when you don’t get that grant.”

In Montgomery County, one of Maryland’s wealthiest jurisdictions, officials will cut back on summer school offerings. “It is unlikely, unless we receive another stream of funding, that we will be able to continue” with programs at every school, said Hull, chief operating officer.

An entire preschool is at stake in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as well as 66 jobs funded with ESSER dollars. Cedar Rapids Community School District Turn the former school building into a full day early childhood center, using ESSER dollars to pay the teachers. Meanwhile, officials have been hiding the government funding she receives to support the kindergarten so that it can be used to run the center after federal aid runs out.

However, government funding will only support the school for an additional two years; Hogan said officials would then need to look for a different funding source.

Despite the domestic investment in education in Washington, D.C. — including a proposed 5.05 percent increase for the city’s per-pupil funding formula and a boost for teachers — advocates say budget cuts will hurt schools, especially those that have historically been under-resourced. Peers serves a large population of students that the city deems to be “at risk” of academic failure, a broad term that includes children in low-income families, experiencing homelessness or living in foster care.

Kane said enrollment shifts and programmatic changes — such as a school’s reduced demand for special education services — are also leading to cuts at dozens of schools. Less staffing, larger classes and fewer activities for students have warned parents and lawmakers.

“In the blackest, poorest, most underserved wards, anything less than a big infusion of dollars into neighborhood schools just doesn’t make sense,” Ebony-Rose Thompson told members of the D.C. Council recently. She represents the ward – where Beers is located – is a member of the DC School Board and serves as its president.

Researchers in Educational Resource Strategies predict that states where ESSER has accounted for a significant portion of total education funding—because they have many school systems with high poverty rates and student concentrations in high-needs areas—will have the hardest time adjusting.

This is largely because ESSER funds were distributed on a need basis, and school systems with higher poverty rates received more than wealthier districts, said Ventura Rodriguez, a partner at the financing firm, which helps school districts decide how to spend their money strategically. .

And as the spending deadline approaches, states will need to provide additional support to those areas, Rodriguez said.

In Tennessee, where most of the state’s school districts serve large numbers of children living in poverty, lawmakers have adopted a new funding formula that will pump an additional $1 billion annually into schools. These reforms have been underway for years, but they come because schools desperately need them. “This is part of the work we’re seeing in places preparing to continue effective ESSER-funded investments for students most in need,” Rodriguez said.

Changing school students

School budget problems are further compounded by low school enrollment rates, particularly in cities. Schools are usually funded based on the number of students attending.

Birth rates have plummeted, immigration is down, and metropolitan areas are losing students to affluent suburbs, said Jess Gartner, CEO and founder of educational financial firm Allovue. These trends have been unfolding for years, but in many cases have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Meanwhile, ESSER consolidated schools as students dropped out and avoided late cut-offs.

Gartner added that these problems were largely driven by education financing, which has long failed to keep pace with inflation. “In the vast majority of cases I see, the area [chief financial officers] She’s actually really thoughtful and strategic about how she can use those dollars to fill in some of the gaps, either temporarily or on a long-term basis.”

In Detroit, Nikolai Viti, the system’s supervisor, said in a statement that pandemic funding “filled budget gaps after losing 3,000 students to the pandemic.” “Without covid funding, we would have had to lay off staff during a period of great stress and uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, nearly every school district is feeling the brunt of inflation, which has eased in recent months but still squeezes budgets. Detroit public schools are anticipation rising energy, transportation and health care costs, that did it all. Prices of school supplies, materials and equipment are expected to increase by 10%.

In its proposed operating budget, Moniva B. McKnight, the Montgomery County School Superintendent, of “increased costs of goods and services,” including diesel fuel for school buses and construction facilities. she recommended that the district school board approved an additional $444,000 to cover the increased costs of books and materials.

Maryland is among the states where political leaders are considering strengthening the public education budget. The state’s new governor, Wes Moore (D), has proposed a $500 million increase for schools. “This is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Hull, the Montgomery County official.

But it won’t come close to the cash infusion that ESSER has provided.

“This has been a difficult time in public education, from our teachers to our bus drivers to our administrators,” Hull said. “This is something that shook our institutions and it is something we will recover from for many years to come. It is not over when the ESSER money is gone.”