COVID-19 caused a lot of problems for school districts. Between staff absences and forced experiments in e-learning, school leaders are not going to have fond memories of the past couple of years. However, all of the additional obstacles faced during that time did bring one good thing along with it: Cash. In order to support schools shifting to virtual settings and to combat learning loss, the federal government has been pumping schools with tons of extra money. Throwing money at them by it’s standards.
But there is a catch: It won’t last.
The federal money is temporary. Schools have until late 2024 to spend it. The money was attached to the federal stimulus bills that passed through Congress. This is obviously better than nothing. Something had to be done. And to be honest, having worked in a school I can tell there has been more money to go around.
- Super high paying summer school jobs available that we never had in years prior.
- Tons of new classroom technology most of which we didn’t even ask for.
- Individual tutors to remediate students in math and reading.
- Super generous leave for both personal and family issues.
- Extra support staff that we had not previously had positions for.
- Higher percentage raises.
- Huge bonuses for literally just coming to work.
We have all noticed these this, and we aren’t complaining. However, we also aren’t naïve. We all know that the other shoe will drop, and we know when. What will that look like?
That all depends on how your school district is spending the money.
For example, if they bought a bunch of technology with the funding then they will likely still have it when the funding dries up (assuming students haven’t broken it by then.) But if they used the money to fund positions, then you can probably expect layoffs when they shift back to primarily using state funding. It will be super hard to take the raises back especially during a massive teacher shortage, but the subsequent raises will likely go back to normal size. Also, you can be pretty sure there will be no more bonuses for simply showing up to work.
Some school districts will have softer landings because they spent money on COVID specific items that they hopefully will not need two years from now. That was the thinking when the bill was created. Instead, some schools have integrated that temporary money into daily operations that will leave gaps when it’s gone. Others have used it to plug gaps that were always there to begin with.
Many school districts are transparent about the funding cliff and have been careful not to make long-term promises based on short-term money.
Every school is different, and every district has their own plan, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense to speculate on a national level, but education leaders do need to start thinking about what the future holds. Unfortunately, we will be returning to the status quo of education being “underfunded” sooner than we think.
See how much money your school district received by viewing the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker.