As federal funding to schools for covid relief is entering its last phase, a lot of people are beginning to ask the question: What difference has $172 billion made for students and our schools?  

Two people asking that question are researchers Katherine Silberstein and Marguerite Roza of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.  Silberstein and Roza offer their sobering perspective in a recent article on the web site Education Next. The researchers look specifically at federal spending from the the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) Act. Highlights of their findings include:

  • Districts are now on track to spend all ESSER funds with a small window left to correct course.
  • Many states have fallen short on tracking what districts are buying or where it’s being delivered.
  • 22 states report no details on how ESSER dollars are spent.
  • Investments in socio-emotional learning  are more popular than expanded learning time.
  • Half of  relief funds are paying for labor, setting the stage for a painful fiscal cliff.
  • ESSER fueled a large jump in vendor contracts and with it a burden on districts to ensure these dollars deliver value.
  • Amidst mixed messages on what ESSER was for, districts are spending steadily on facilities.
  • We’re learning very little about what matters most: Are investments helping students?
  • One final lesson stands out on the ESSER experiment: Each district makes its own choices. 

So What about North Carolina?

As Silberstein and Roza point out, we don’t know as much about the impact of federal spending as we should know.  We know what our schools are spending money on, but not much else.  We don’t know if what we are doing is working, or its impact.  Considering the unprecedented scope of the investment, that’s a huge failure.

 So, let’s concentrate on what we do know.

How is North Carolina spending covid relief funds?

According to data from the Department of Public Instruction, North Carolina has received  $6.2 billion in covid relief funds.  Of that amount, $4.5 billion has been spent and $2.1 billion — about 34 percent of all funds– remains unspent.

Covid spending for North Carolina public schools broke down into the following categories:  

  • 46 percent salaries
  • 9 percent employee benefits
  • 10 percent purchased services
  • 22 percent supplies and materials
  • 9 percent capital outlay
  • 3 percent other

(Figures are rounded, so totals will not equal 100 percent)

Let’s remember authorizing legislation requires that at least 20 percent of covid funds provide to LEAs be used to address learning loss. It’s widely agreed that tutoring is the best method for assisting children with Learning Loss (See here, here, and here). 

How much has North Carolina spent on tutoring?  According to the data provided by NC DPI a total of about $56.6 million or about 1.36 percent of all covid expenditures statewide.

With covid funds winding down, there will certainly be endless calls for more money in North Carolina and elsewhere. .

Was the money spent as intended and shown to be an effective investment?

if you can answer that in the affirmative, I’m all ears.