Missouri State Board of Education questions how Missouri schools are spending COVID relief money

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri is receiving nearly $2 billion for schools through the American Rescue Plan Act, now the question is, can districts spend it and what can they buy? 

Already, schools in the Show-Me State have received nearly a billion dollars from previous federal packages for COVID relief. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education approved another $1.9 billion for Missouri’s education system. 

The State Board of Education is now asking the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) what are school doing with all this money?

“How are you coaching districts to handle that because it’s like you won the lottery, but you also have got to live next year?” board member Peter Herschend asked DESE during Tuesday’s meeting. 

DESE Deputy Commissioner of Financial and Administrative Services Dr. Kari Monsees said the department offers regular webinars to school leaders to talk about how the funds can be used. 

“We try to share some strategies about focusing on some short-term investments that may not be reoccurring when they don’t have these funds available,” Monsees said. 

After 18 months of uncertainty, Congress is spending billions on education. Missouri schools have three years to spend three different COVID-19 relief packages. 

Monsees said in the first package, the CARES Act, Missouri schools received $208 million. At the end of 2020, The COVID relief package passed on Capitol Hill sent $871 million to the state. The American Rescue Plan, passed in March, will send $1.95 billion to schools in Missouri.

Here’s where some of the money has gone so far:

  • St. Louis Public School: $60.7 million
  • Kansas City Public Schools: $37 million
  • Springfield School District: $34.4 million
  • Joplin School District: $10.6 million

There’s still nearly $2 billion headed to the districts, but before districts get reimbursed for spending the money, lawmakers have to approve the department to spend it. 

“How are we measuring impact?” Herschend asked. “You’ve got almost $2 billion ESSER III [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund]. What’s happening?”

“As far as impact, it’s going to be focused mostly on use of funds, how they applied those funds,” Monsees responded. “Impact will be a little more challenging for us because there are so many different allowable uses, and any district might be choosing from one to a dozen allowable uses at the same time.”

Kansas City area board member Carol Hallquist detailed during Tuesday’s meeting how Kansas City Public Schools are spending its money. 

“What they are doing with night school, virtual for 800 students who haven’t come back to school, nursing support and cold storage for food,” Hallquist said. 

She agreed with Monsees, measuring how this money affects students’ learning will be tough. 

“Maybe we challenge our districts to three or four variables that we think you can measure, but it’s going to be really hard to measure the difference of cold storage centers for food, that’s difficult to get at a school level,” Hallquist said. 

The U.S. Department of Education sets the guidelines on how the money can be spent, then local school districts must have their plan approved by the state. 

“School districts are using these funds to try to expand the learning time and doing that through after-school programming and things of that sort,” Monsees said. “One of the biggest areas that I think this last big group of funds will be is investments in indoor air quality.”

Monsees said previously some of the federal dollars can also be used to give bonuses to teachers and staff, along with COVID tests and vaccination for students. 

Of the $1.95 billion ARPA funds coming to the state, 90% went straight to the local school districts. The other 10% going to address the impact of COVID-19 throughout state-level projects and initiatives, like increasing broadband access. 

Between the governor’s office and DESE, more than $450 million COVID-relief dollars will be spent on increasing internet access. 

Monsees said once the department approves local school districts’ spending plan, DESE release them on its website. 

“One of the biggest things we can offer is transparency, so as we get these plans approved, our plan is to link them on our website so communities both locally and statewide can see how schools are investigating their available resources within their plan,” Monsees said. 

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