Chart of the week: Federal recovery spending likely increased school-level spending by an average of 2 percent in school year 2020-21

The federal government has provided pandemic recovery funding to schools through three rounds of Elementary-Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) grants. In DC, the three rounds of ESSER funding for Local Education Agencies (LEAs) added up to $540 million allocated for schools to spend by the end of fiscal year 2024. This equates to approximately $1,307 per student per year.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) recently launched a dashboard to track expenditure of ESSER funds by LEA. As of August 2022, $113.5 million of these ESSER funds at the LEA level have been spent, or 21% of the total. The majority of ESSER funding (76%) was spent on accelerated learning. This category includes many activities, such as access to technology, assessments, extended school day or year, tutoring, support for students with disabilities and English language learners, and professional development. But the data does not allow us to see how funding was allocated to these subcategories. Additional detail at the subcategory level would help to better understand how LEAs have prioritized their accelerated learning approaches. Other major expense categories include safe reopening and student/staff welfare.

The only information available on federal spending (including ESSER) at the school level is for total federal spending from the 2018-19 school year through the 2020-21 school year in data from the DC School Report. Card SchoolFinance. During this period, federal spending at the school level per student increased from 10% to 12% of total spending per student, or 2 percentage points (an additional $658 per student on average). This includes all expenses with a source of federal funds income, such as Title I and Medicaid. ESSER funds are probably the biggest addition to federal funds during this period, which means that the review of the change largely reflects this new source of funding. Based on the evolution of spending federal funds in the first full school year of the pandemic, some schools have come to rely more heavily on federal funds. Of 180 schools with data for both years, 15 saw an increase of at least double the average amount, suggesting that these schools will face more of a budget cliff after 2024 when ESSER funds expire. Additional detailed school-level data on ESSER funds would help to better understand the fiscal cliff in some schools.

For more information on the spending of ESSER funds, see DC SBOE’s Testimonial on ESSER Funds and the Future of School Finances in the District.

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