Home > Essays > A Good Problem for Public Schools: How to Spend Federal Windfall Funds Without Setting Up a Cliff

A Good Problem for Public Schools: How to Spend Federal Windfall Funds Without Setting Up a Cliff

August 27, 2021

As a result of the funds the federal government offered to school districts in response to the pandemic, school districts across America are faced with an unusual problem: they have more money than they ever expected.  AP writer Holly Ramer offers a good description of the various stratagems being used by New Hampshire school districts but does a poor job of explaining WHY there are disparities in the funding. She opens her article with this:

Dan Donovan sounds a bit sheepish when he describes his monthly Zoom calls with fellow school district business administrators. While they all are figuring out how to spend their share of federal pandemic aid, he’s aware that his allocation far exceeds many of the others.

“When I talk about the money I have versus what they get, I have an embarrassment of riches here,” said Donovan, chief operating officer of the Nashua School District, the state’s second-largest.

Either Mr. Donovan is oblivious to the funding formula that offered more money to districts serving children raised in poverty or Ms. Ramer did not ask the obvious follow up question: “Why do you think that is the case?” In either case, it is a crucial piece of information that would provide readers and voters with a better understanding of the thought that went into the bills passed by Congress. And, based on how cash-strapped and tax-poor Stratford NH handled the funds, it is evident that NH Superintendents and school boards appreciate the reality that this level of funding should be targeted with the idea that it can only be spent once: 

Ronna Cadarette, the superintendent who oversees schools in Stratford and two other communities, said the majority of the money has gone directly to programs that support students’ safety and their physical, social, emotional and academic well-being.

Among other things, the district provided devices to each student, installed new communication systems for remote instruction, provided wireless access to families, replaced exhaust fans, and bought additional supplies so students didn’t have to share textbooks and materials. It also purchased a social and emotional guidance curriculum, added an elementary teacher and offered summer school for all students, she said.

And though Mr. Donovan may not be aware of the funding formula used to allocate federal money, he DOES understand the best use of the funds— and the practical reality that districts are not at all accustomed to spending— they are used to scrimping:

In Nashua, Donovan said much of that money likely will be spent on construction and renovation projects.

“We’re just not built to spend that much money that quickly,” he said.

Nashua spent about $1.7 million from the first round of funding on technology for remote learning and about $500,000 on personal protective equipment, and it plans to upgrade heating and air quality systems at three elementary schools, he said. It has asked the state for approval to spend another $7.4 million for staff and services aimed at helping students recover from learning setbacks.

The good news (so far) is that local school boards are effectively being rewarded with the trust of the federal government to make sound financial decisions despite their lack of experience at spending. Here’s hoping that they continue to do so going forward. 

Categories: Essays Tags: ,
%d bloggers like this: