Legislators hear about federal COVID-19 funds received by school districts

School districts have or are expected to receive at least $154 million in federal aid to address the COVID pandemic, and some additional funding may be coming. There are large differences in how much individual districts received, based on different allocation formulas. 

The Legislative Budget Committee recently received reports from the Legislative Research Department, the Kansas State Department of Education and the state Office of Recovery on Wednesday. Additional federal aid of $154 million would represent over 2 percent of total school district expenditures reported last year. 

There are ongoing efforts at the federal level to provide additional aid to state and local governments for COVID related costs and to offset anticipated reductions in revenue due to the economic effects of the pandemic, but no agreement has been reached between the U.S. House, Senate and President Trump. 

Direct School District Aid 

Kansas received $84.5 million in federal aid to school districts under Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. Ninety percent, or $76 million, has been allocated to school districts based on their federal Title I allocation, which is based primarily on enrollment and student poverty rates. As a result, high poverty districts received significantly more than low poverty districts with similar enrollments. In addition, some districts had to share a portion of their funds with certain private schools in their area. According to the KLRD report, about $1.2 million was provided to private schools. However, a number of large counties did not show any allocations to private schools, so this amount may be understated. 

The remaining $8 million was used for additional state special education aid, distributed using the special education aid formula which reimburses districts and special education interlocals  based on the number of special education teachers and paraprofessionals. Of the $84 million, $7.4 million was disbursed in Fiscal Year 2020, ending June 30. So far this year, districts have received $22.2 million. Funding must be used by Sept. 21, 2021. 

County Aid for Schools 

The state of Kansas was allocated $1.25 billion in federal aid through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Of those funds, $215.9 million was allocated directly to Johnson and Sedgwick Counties. Through the SPARK process, Kansas provided $400 million to country governments, with all counties except for Johnson and Sedgwick receiving $194 per person, and the remaining $51.3 million allocated to all counties based on COVID case rates and unemployment rates. 

County commissions allocated those funds based on local applications. Reports available as of Aug. 15, show school districts and other K-12 institutions will receive approximately $70 million from county funds. (Neither Johnson County nor Sedgwick Counties have posted detailed reports. 

A report from the Office of Recovery indicates K-12 schools received the largest — about 17% — of the $400 million allocated to counties (including direct aid to Johnson and Sedgwick). But the KLRD report shows wide variations in the amount of county funding going to school districts, from under 5 percent to over 60 percent. The most common uses of county funds reported are related to distance learning. 

County funding under the CRS must be spent by Dec. 30, 2020. 

Other Education Aid 

The state has approved other COVID funds for education-related costs. According to KLRD, this includes $40 million for daytime child care for remote learners whose parents are at work; $21 million for technology support for remote learning; and approximately $20 million for COVID-19 testing in K-12 institutions. 

School districts were also among 84 applicants for $60 million in broadband connectivity grants. These grants, which require a local match, will be used to expand connectivity in underserved areas ($50 million), and to provide support for low income households ($10 million). 

These funds are also must be spent by Dec. 30, 2020. 

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