JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri school districts are collecting more than a billion dollars in new COVID relief funds, this comes after schools have already received millions from previous packages.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said there are restrictions in place on what schools can spend the federal relief money on. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been three different funding sources that have been passed by Congress.
“I think it’s a challenge for all of our districts to think about this over a three-year period and how to use these funds in the most responsible manner,” Deputy Commissioner of Financial and Administrative Services for DESE Dr. Keri Monsees said.
After more than a year of uncertainty, Congress has agreed to spend billions on improving education. 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.
Our Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley asked Monsees if he’s concerned for money to be left over in 2024.
“It’s really early to determine that,” Monsees said. “I think for a few individual school districts that may be the case, but collectively across the state I think we’ll find good uses to put this money to work for the benefit of our students.”
School districts in Missouri have three years to spend the three different packages on materials, maintenance and items within the federal restrictions.
“Part of our role with all these additional funds is to re-engage families who maybe haven’t felt comfortable sending their kids to school,” Monsees said.
Here’s where some of the money has gone so far:
- St. Louis Public School: $57.2 million
- Kansas City Public Schools: $35.6 million
- Springfield School District: $33.8 million
- Joplin School District: $10.4 million
Monsees said there’s still $1.95 billion on the way to the state for schools, but it still needs to be appropriated by lawmakers.
“It has to do with poverty in your local community as significant driver of that and of course the total number of students would impact that as well,” Monsees said.
Schools are required to apply for the grants in order to receive the funds. Monsees said the schools have to agree to certain rules that they will use the funds appropriately.
“All these grants, these federal grants are done on a reimbursement basis, so once they know they have allowable expenditures they can make, they make those expenditures and then request reimbursement,” Monsees said.
He said the money has to go to pandemic-related expenses, like summer school, devices for students and school improvements.
“The capital improvements that a school district does need to be in response to the pandemic, in response to COVID,” Monsees said. “Things in the building itself that impact indoor air quality, so it’s not just your HVAC system, heating or air conditioning, windows and doors can have a big impact on air quality on a building as well.”
DESE receives a large number of calls and emails from school districts asking what they can spend the money on, Monsees said. The department is looking to spend a portion the money to expand broadband.
“It impacted education, but it impacts all aspects of life and continue to do so for our more rural communities,” Monsees said. “Exploring the use of some of these funds for broadband coverage across the state is a significant challenge for Missouri.”
He said some of the federal dollars can also be used to give bonuses to teachers and staff.
“There are methods where additional stipends could be used for specific purposes that would be pandemic response and some of our school districts have done that type of extra stipend for that stuff,” Monsees said.
The money can also be used to vaccinate students and staff if needed, but DESE does not require the vaccine.
“DESE is not tracking individual school districts activity related to vaccine efforts, we certainly encourage the vaccine for all eligible participants,” Monses said. “Until the health department makes it a requirement, we wouldn’t do that as a department.”