Billions in Education Relief May Go Unused

Education funds | Image by Number1411

Billions of dollars of education relief money may go unused. According to The National Desk, the American Rescue Plan passed during the pandemic granted over $200 billion for schools in a program called ESSER.

The money was released in three phases: ESSER I ($13.2 billion), ESSER II ($54 billion), and ESSER III ($122 billion).

School districts seem to be more hesitant to spend funds from the third phase, signed in by President Joe Biden.

“They have what they need,” Biden said during a White House COVID response team meeting last week. “The states and the school districts have spent this money well, many of them. But unfortunately, some haven’t.”

According to information on the Texas Education Agency website, school districts have a deadline of September 30, 2024, to spend the money. After that, the money will be removed from school budgets.

The first two installments came with no restrictions on how the money could be used, but according to CNN, 20% of ESSER III funds must be used to address learning loss. That can include extra tutorials, extended school days, tutors, and summer school.

Nat Malkus with the American Education Institute says the temporary nature of the funds is one reason districts are struggling to spend the money. Once the funds run out, districts will have trouble paying the new employees brought on with the relief dollars.

“If early indicators hold, many districts will use ESSER funding to hire more staff — both teaching and nonteaching — or to pay for existing programs in ways that can do harm down the road when ESSER funds are finally spent,” according to the report.

It has been about a year since districts were able to start making decisions about how they would spend the money, but districts have not made a dent in what is available.

According to the Wall Street Journal, other reasons include a slow release of the funds by some states, federal government requirements about how the funds are spent, and lengthy paperwork for reimbursement. Completing the paperwork can take longer for some school districts because the district offices don’t have enough personnel.

The WSJ also names teacher shortages as a problem point for districts. Rural areas are hardest hit due to the lower numbers of potential educators. The temporary nature of the money makes recruiting difficult, as some schools cannot guarantee new hires will have a job after the deadline.

Aside from hiring new teachers, schools can use the funds for safety equipment, such as masks and gloves, but most schools have what they need of these supplies already.

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