(WXIN/WTTV) — If you had a billion dollars and were required to spend it in a little over a year, what would you do with all that money?
That’s the enviable task facing Indiana’s K-12 schools.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, or IDOE, there is still roughly $1,068,000,000 in federal pandemic relief aid that schools must spend (or commit to spend) by the end of September 2024. Unspent money is returned to the feds in Washington D.C.
The cash started flowing in December 2020 to schools across country to offset the additional expense of keeping classes going during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In three separate federal bills, the CARES Act, CRRSA and American Relief Plan, the money flowed to state governments. The feds determined allocations to individual schools and school districts, as well as the rules on how the money was to be spent.
Functionally, IDOE hands out the money to schools, but has no role in how it’s spent.
“We don’t necessarily dictate exactly what they can utilize the funds on, but we try to align with priorities with the state,” explained Rebecca Estes, a senior director at IDOE.
Those state priorities include teacher recruitment, teacher retention, and student instruction.
The federal rules for use of pandemic relief are pretty loose but do include a mandate “at least 20% of funds… address (student) learning loss”.
One lesson educators learned during the pandemic is that remote/virtual learning is not nearly as effective as in-person instruction.
The reliance on virtual schooling is believed a significant factor in lower scores across the board in reading and mathematics in the 2023 National Assessment of Educational Progress, referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card”.
How far behind did students fall during the pandemic?
“I’ve seen estimates of anywhere between a tenth of a year of loss to a half-year,” said Mike Steele, chairman of the Educational Studies Department at Ball State University.
The general consensus is to address educational gaps with more instruction for students.
Hamilton Southeast schools did exactly that.
DOUBLE DOSES OF CLASSES
When federal dollars began arriving, administrators at Hamilton Southeast put together a survey of teachers, parents, and some students to examine the community’s priorities for this one-time money.
The priority identified was getting students caught-up academically.
Assistant Superintendent Matt Kegley said, “We knew that remediation support and making sure we got students equipped with the skills that they need academically was going to be number-one.”
Federal funds were used to bring in extra teachers to assist delivery of extra instruction.
There was small group tutoring and targeted lessons before, during, and after school as well as during summer recess.
“We’ve really focused on an interventionist type of strategy spending a majority of the funds on human capital to come in and work with our students,” said Kegley.
So far, Hamilton Southeast has spent almost half (48.6%) of its pandemic funding on instruction and is budgeted to use almost two-thirds (63.3%) to address learning loss when the money’s all spent.
MOST LEFT TO SPEND
FOX59/CBS4 reached out to more than two dozen Central Indiana school corporations with the most federal pandemic dollars left to spend. We asked what their spending plans were especially in regard to beefing-up student instruction.
One of the few school corporations to respond to our request for information was Muncie Community Schools. Is has a little more than $10-million of its $38.4-million dollar federal allocation remaining.
The district’s Chief Communications Officer Andy Klotz tells us the lion’s share of the district’s $38-million dollars in pandemic relief funds is going to major renovations at West View and South View Elementary Schools. IDOE data suggests Muncie schools are on track to spend $30-million on these projects compared to less than $5-million on instruction.
Monroe County Community Schools opted for a more student-centric approach. Director of Business Operations, John Kenny explained the district did spend some of the funds on HVAC system improvements and technology improvements. But the school district is budgeted to spend over half (50.4%) of its federal funding on student instruction.
The school system with by far the most pandemic relief money to spend is Indianapolis Public Schools. It still has a whopping $97.3-million left to spend. FOX59 got no response to multiple requests for an interview on how the federal largess would be spent.
But IDOE data suggests over a third (38.4%) of its total allocation ($217.3-million) on student instruction.
If you’d like to take a look at your local school corporation’s spending of these pandemic relief dollars, you can go to the IDOE website that breaks it all down. Here’s the link.