Public schools are in line to get a staggering $2.6 billion from the federal stimulus bill that won final congressional approval last week, more than double the amount that schools landed in December.
The announcement has set off a new wave of questions on how the aid will be used, especially since public school leaders are still grappling with how to spend the $1.2 billion approved less than three months ago and even some of the $287 million authorized in March 2020.
More than half of the $287 million in federal stimulus money for Louisiana public schools to help defray pandemic expenses remains unspent nin…
State education leaders are planning for a "robust" summer school used by lots of students, including full-day classes, rather than the typical half-day sessions that attract only a fraction of those enrolled.
"We have received a lot of positive feedback from system leaders that they intend to do that, and they have the financing available through the stimulus dollars," state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said.
Louisiana is getting the 12th largest share of public school dollars in the nation, behind only much bigger states like Texas, New York and New Jersey, according to the Congressional Research Service.
It also amounts to $3,643 per student, Education Week magazine says.
The portion of the $1.9 trillion bill for public schools totals about $130 billion.
Sandy Holloway, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the funds are mostly aimed at addressing student learning loss during the pandemic and reopening schools.
The state's 69 school districts have to spend at least 20% of the money on learning loss – exactly how remains unclear – and craft a plan for students to return to school safely.
Holloway said other possible uses for the money are the purchase of hardware and software for distance and hybrid learning; summer school and after-school programs and repairing schools, including the installation of ventilation systems to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Legislative leaders are also pleading with local school leaders to devote part of their windfall to building the infrastructure needed to expand access to high-speed internet, especially in rural areas.
Leaders of the Louisiana Legislature are asking that public school districts use part of the $1 billion in new federal coronavirus aid to expa…
Twenty percent of students rely on virtual learning entirely – about 140,000 children – and another 13% rely on distance learning in part – about 91,000 students. Another 67% of students attend in-person classes.
Upgrading internet access could carry a price-tag of at least $600 million, said state Rep. Daryl Deshotel, R-Hessmer and one of the leaders of the push.
"We have an opportunity right now to fix our digital divide," Deshotel said. "We have the money. We have everything lined up. We just have to execute."
School districts may need to hire retired teachers or college students to lead classrooms for summer school.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has decided to use $32 million of $50 million in discretionary federal dollars for computers and improved internet acces…
Brumley said state officials plan to create a dashboard to show taxpayers how the federal aid is used.
Public schools are not the only ones in line for a major injection of federal education dollars. Louisiana colleges and universities are set to get an estimated $599 million, according to the state Board of Regents.
Half the money is for college campuses and half for student grants.
Another $113 million is earmarked for schools that serve large numbers of minority students.
LSU is set to get about $51 million. Southern University is in line for $72.7 million, mostly because of the minority student allocation.
The stimulus bill was backed by nearly every Democrat in Congress and opposed by Republicans.
Dollars for individual school districts roughly tripled between the initial, $287 million federal aid package approved for Louisiana public schools in the spring of 2020 and the $1.2 billion authorized by Congress in December.
Louisiana public schools are set to get an estimated $287 million and child care providers nearly $10 million to help offset problems sparked …
If that pattern holds the largest school districts in the state – the Jefferson and East Baton Rouge parish systems – could land another $154 million and $128 million, respectively, from the latest bill.
About 700,000 children attend public schools in Louisiana. Around two-thirds of that number live in low-income homes, which is a key reason why the state is getting such a heavy injection of federal dollars.
Part of the uncertainty on how the $2.6 billion will be used – about $2.3 billion after a mandatory set aside for the state Department of Education – stems from questions about what federal officials consider allowable expenses.
Repairing student learning loss sparked by the coronavirus pandemic will be one of the priorities as superintendents decide how to spend a who…
Wes Watts, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, noted that the earlier federal aid was to "reopen schools" even though many schools in Louisiana have offered in-person classes since August.
"Districts are reviewing the restrictions and timelines attached to the dollars we are receiving to make sure we spend it properly and prudently," said Watts, who is superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system.
Patrick Dobard, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, said the money will help – to a point. "The newly passed stimulus is critical but, unfortunately, insufficient to fill the financial gaps schools face in Louisiana, where funding has been flat for a decade," Dobard said in an email.
He said the money can be used for academic interventions to address lost learning, to assist students traumatized by COVID-19 and help stabilize the teacher workforce after a taxing academic year.
New Schools for New Orleans is a nonprofit group that advocates for excellent schools.
Brumley was superintendent of the Jefferson Parish School District when in-person classes ended on March 13, 2020 – Friday the 13th – because of the coronavirus.
What first looked like a two-week shutdown that day was actually the end of the school year. The sudden move to distance learning for the final nine weeks, and stop-and-start operations for some schools during the 2020-21 school year, has raised questions on how much learning loss students have suffered.
The first standardized assessments since 2019 for students in third through 12th grade are set for April and May.
"Then we will be able to get those results and make decisions," Brumley said. "I would hate to speculate on what it might be."