In “As more federal aid money heads to Louisiana schools, many haven't spent the first batch,” reporter Will Sentell discussed how many schools have not fully spent their first round of federal funding. Given this, Sentell describes schools receiving a second round of relief as an “embarrassment of riches.”
The embarrassment is that our schools are so underfunded. As Sentell himself notes, some schools felt they needed to save up emergency money for fear they wouldn’t get more. There was no certain second round. They made the financially prudent choice.
With the sharp dip in school funding expected as a result of decreased sales tax revenue, schools faced tough questions: If they bring on the additional counselors or interventionists they need this year, can they afford them next year, when they'll remain necessary?
The pandemic burdened already strained finances. New Orleans Public Schools spent millions on personal protective equipment and technology to keep students and teachers safe and connected. But many of these costs continue; schools must keep buying hand sanitizer and paying for hot spot Wi-Fi access.
And as schools respond to the pandemic now, they plan for tomorrow. State school funding has lagged behind operating costs for years. The Census Bureau reports Louisiana’s school funding is in the bottom half nationally. New Orleans’ average state and local per-pupil funding is more than $800 lower than East Baton Rouge's. And since New Orleans’ school funding is highly reliant on sales tax revenue, schools will pay a price for COVID-19’s impact on tourism and sales.
That price is significant. In January, NOLA-PS projected that next year, schools will experience an average cumulative decline of $1,600 per student in state and local funding. Revenues are not expected to recover until fall 2023. For an average-sized school of 675 students, that could be a loss of over $1 million.
In the face of this, schools have to find ways to increase resources and supports for students who have already lost learning time. Despite educators’ incredible work, research finds that the often-remote schooling, coupled with systemic inequities, could mean up to a year of learning loss for Black and Latinx students. Schools need more money to hire more counselors, nurses, interventionists, and support staff to help students catch up academically and heal from this year’s traumas.
The influx of national funding is important but cannot even partially cover the gap between what schools have and what they actually need. Our children deserve better.
So, that idea of schools having an embarrassment of riches? We must move from the embarrassment of decades of funding far below what children need. We will keep working hard and wisely until that day of “riches” for schools arrives.
CEO, New Schools for New Orleans