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Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Pennsylvania schools have been the recipients of federal funds under two different COVID-19 relief programs, and recently, a third federal emergency funding program called the American Rescue Plan Act passed on March 11, 2021. The amount of relief monies provided to county public schools under the American Rescue Plan is unprecedented.
The first COVID-19 relief program was enacted on March 27, 2020 and was commonly known as the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES). Under the CARES Stimulus Bill, schools received additional funding under the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER l). Pennsylvania’s public school districts and charter schools were allocated $471.4 million from this program. The allocation amounts provided to each school district was based upon the same formula used for Title 1-A (disadvantaged students) allocations as of 2019.
The second COVID-19 relief bill was enacted on Dec. 27, 2020 and was called the Coronavirus Response and Relief Appropriations Act (CRRSA). Additional relief money was again provided to Pennsylvania school districts and charter schools under the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER ll). According to this program, Pennsylvania’s schools received $2.2 billion. Again, the funding was proportionate to Title 1-A allocations as of 2020.
The most recent relief program, enacted on March 11, is expected to provide unparalleled additional funding to schools. Under the American Rescue Plan, Pennsylvania’s public and charter schools are expected to get about $4.5 billion under the Elementary and Secondary Relief Fund (ESSER lll). This amount is far more than the previous two school relief programs combined. As was the case with the two previous programs, schools will receive their share of the money based upon Title1-A allocations for 2020.
Under the guidelines of the new American Rescue Plan, school districts and charter schools must use 20% of this money to address learning loss and the academic needs of underrepresented students, including low income students and those with disabilities. Schools do have generous leeway in terms of how they use the rest of the money. Schools can use the money for professional training, technology, cleaning supplies, food services, summer and after school programs, and mental health support. School districts and charter schools must apply to the Pa. Department of Education to obtain their allocated funds and the money must be used by September 2024.
Superintendent of Lebanon School District, Dr. Arthur Abrom, intends to spread ESSER lll funding over multiple years. Dr. Abrom stated, “At least 20% of ESSER lll federal funding will be used to cover a more extensive summer school program for the 2021, 2022, 2023, and 2024 summers as well as learning recovery opportunities during the school year”.
Dr. Krista Antonis, superintendent of Annville-Cleona School District, has similar plans for this federal funding. “At this time, we are not planning to use ESSER lll funds for the 2021-2022 budget, but we will be utilizing it in the subsequent budget years,” said Antonis.
Likewise, superintendent of Northern Lebanon School District, Gary Messinger states, “We will be spreading out the funds over the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. We will determine whether or not we will allocate some funds for 2023-24 over the summer as we get more information on the status of COVID-19 and state funding”.
Listed below are not only the anticipated amounts of ESSER lll funding from the most recent American Rescue Plan, but also the estimated allotments under the two previous federal school relief programs, ESSER l and ESSER ll. The estimated amounts to each school district is listed and sourced on the Pennsylvania Department of Education Allocations list for ESSER l, ESSER ll, and ESSER lll.
ESSER l $161,825
ESSER ll $810,669
ESSER lll $1,578,693
Cornwall Lebanon SD
ESSER l $575,776
ESSER ll $2,964,597
ESSER lll $5,953,393
Eastern Lebanon County SD
ESSER l $387,160
ESSER ll $1,719,680
ESSER lll $3,478,026
ESSER l $2,205,838
ESSER ll $9,459,854
ESSER lll $18,926,751
Northern Lebanon SD
ESSER l $279,500
ESSER ll $1,223,773
ESSER lll $2,497,320
ESSER l $253,176
ESSER ll $1,234,854
ESSER lll $2,425,103
In general, the federal funds available through the earlier ESSER l and ll programs are already being used to cover expenditures specific to COVID-19. Messinger stated, “Most of the first two grants were used for additional supplies and labor for cleaning. There were also some funds allocated for technology purchases, but technology is even more heavily targeted in the third grant. The virtual instruction we have provided required technology purchases both in the areas of hardware and software programs.”
“We’ve utilized some of the funds for COVID cleaning (i.e. sanitizing sprays/wipes and contracted staff to assist with cleaning etc.) along with safety measures related to COVID (i.e. face coverings, plexiglass barriers, etc.),” said Antonis. “We are planning to use other funds to support technology for our students and staff (i.e. laptops, hotspots, etc.) as well as utilizing some of the funds to assist with any learning loss (i.e. additional teaching/support staff) to reduce class size next year.”
“While it is not a permanent fix for school budgets, it was very much appreciated to help us with the costs that arose due to COVID,” said Messinger.
Ultimately, it remains to be determined if the allocation of federal money under the American Rescue Plan, along with earlier COVID-19 relief money, will impact any anticipated property tax increases. Proposed school budgets, along with any property tax increases that might be deemed necessary, will depend on the budgetary recommendations from individual school district superintendents and subsequent approval by local school boards.
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Full Disclosure: The author of this article is a former board member of the Cornwall-Lebanon School District.