American schools had a $190 billion Covid windfall last week. Where is it going?

The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2021 led to untenable expectations for American schools superintendents and instructors. In-person instruction alternated with virtual learning, and schools closed and reopened frequently. Once teachers’ unions, lawmakers, and public-health activists agreed to reopen schools in the autumn of 2021. The debate switched to whether in-person learning would need vaccines and masks.

 During that school year, 18 states and the District of Columbia imposed mask regulations, while 11 attempted to impose prohibitions. At least one state, Virginia, did both: it set masks in school last fall but stopped enforcing them by the spring.

Covid Windfall on Kid’s Education 

According to a McKinsey assessment, the typical K-12 kid in the United States has slipped five months behind in arithmetic. Hence, four months behind in reading after the first two years of the epidemic. On September 1, the National Evaluation of Educational Progress issues its most recent assessment of 9-year-olds. It reveals the most significant drop in reading scores in 32 years and the first drop in math scores since the program began testing pupils in 1969.

 According to Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research, if students do not regain lost math learning. They will lose $43,800 in expected lifetime earnings. 

Government Acts and Policies

1- Actions were taken on 2020

But, amid the upheaval, something positive happened: the great education crisis sparked an unprecedented influx of money. President Donald Trump’s CARES Act of March 2020 set aside $13.2 billion for the Elementary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of December 2020 added $54.3 billion (ESSER II). These first two investments, derived from laws approved during the first year of the epidemic, address immediate needs: How can children learn from home?  

2- Actions were taken on 2021

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act of March 2021 contributed $122 billion (ESSER III), dwarfing prior ESSER expenditures and previous government education investments. The federal government typically invests roughly $13,000 per student per year; in some low-income districts, ESSER III funding distributes an additional $30,000 each. “This is the largest one-time influx of government resources ever to come to schools,” says Phyllis Jordan, associate director of FutureEd, a think organization focused on education policy. “It’s an incredible sum of money.”

3- Recent Plans and Actions

This third financial package was granted after most school districts in the United States had already returned to in-person schooling. It focused on a broader issue: how can schools help children recover academically and emotionally? The financing must “assist in the safe reopening and maintenance of schools, as well as address the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the nation’s pupils.” 

 By 2024, all funds must be spent or assigned. In other words, district authorities, this money should help pupils quickly recover from the epidemic. But it’s up to you to figure out how to make it happen.

“We’re lucky today that we have more finances to address not just what the epidemic exacerbated, but some of these underlying educational difficulties,” says Miguel Cardona, the education secretary.  

Objectives to be Achieved

That’s a noble objective, but there’s no direction on achieving it, particularly for the pupils who suffered the most, who were already behind when the epidemic began.

  •  States must allocate at least 90% of funding to districts and local agencies. Using Title I formulas to prioritize low-income students. 
  • Districts must spend at least 20% on addressing learning loss through “evidence-based interventions”. Therefore, it “respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.” 
  • When governments fail to perform the extra work of determining how to spend these billions effectively. The responsibility falls on overburdened, underfunded local district officials.
  • These superintendents and school board members are already dealing with one of the most challenging years in U.S. education history.  One that is historic for all the wrong reasons. Record rates of suicidal students, low test scores, teacher and bus driver shortages, and inflated school meal costs. It Does not mention parents attempting to ban books, and state legislators proposing parental veto of class curriculum. All of this occurs with the continual, overhanging fear of a new coronavirus strain shutting down schools. 

Education Hardships and Solutions


Education has become a contentious and physically hazardous sector as disputes about masks and vaccinations, gender pronouns, and racism. The grown antagonistic in the larger culture; and school board members have requested police protection. Combine that with a competitive labor market, inflation, and historically low teaching compensation. It’s easy to see why, according to a new study, more than half of National Education Association members plan to leave or retire from teaching sooner than they planned.

What are Administrators doing?

For school-district administrators, the most challenging obstacle to using ESSER III funds is finding enough staff members. You can’t adopt summer school, tutoring, or counseling if you can’t find enough teachers, tutors, or school psychologists. If the instructors you currently have are afraid of being caught up in political squabbles.  

This isn’t a narrative about partisanship impeding positive prospects. (Instances of political pandering obstructing the allocation of ESSER III monies are exceedingly rare. Concerns about whether the funds would compel adherence to CDC guidelines caused one district in Kenosha County, Wis., to decline $320,000.)

Creative Solutions

  • Some have been compelled to develop more creative solutions to workforce shortages. During a bus driver shortage in Philadelphia, the district compensated families $300 per month to transport their children to and from school. 
  • Nearly $2.2 million was spent by Atlanta Public Schools to provide on-site child care for 1,800 teachers. So that they could staff summer activities. 
  • Retaining teachers have often come at the expense of other planned investments. The Alamance-Burlington School System in North Carolina intended to spend $36 million on HVAC repair. Although, due to significant personnel shortages last fall, it diverted $10 million of that money to teacher incentives instead.

Techniques to Focus

 Districts have tended to focus on three techniques to mitigate learning loss after they’ve recruited the staff.  Learning includes summer learning, rigorous tutoring, and extending the school day, frequently through after-school programs. According to Burbio, 62 per cent of districts spend $1.7 million on summer learning or after-school activities, while 23 per cent plan to pay $1.4 million on tutoring. 

  • Cost and Size

Costs and size are frequently astounding. Baltimore spent $27 million on a massive summer school program.  It helps in engaging over a thousand instructors to teach 15,000 youngsters at 75 different venues and do over 3,000 home visits. Dallas will invest over $100 million to expand learning opportunities for roughly 22,000 children, including redesigning the school calendar. Instead of a 10-week vacation yearly, a quarter of the district’s schools will add five weekly “intersessions” throughout the year. Children who have fallen behind can still attend school and receive more specialized attention.

  • Learning Interest

However, no matter how much sense it may make to restore lost learning by increasing classroom time, a more extended school year. Unions frequently oppose measures that require more labor from educators, whether it be a shorter summer or longer school days. Or required tutoring, in their campaigning on behalf of fatigued, burned-out teachers. Parents are typically uninterested in tutoring and summer school, especially if they believe their children are not suffering. Many teachers still assess pupils on a pandemic-adjusted curve, which may distort parents’ perceptions of their children’s educational development. According to a recent Brookings Institution research, 90% of parents said their child was doing well academically; few were interested in summer school, and just 28% were interested in tutoring.

  • Objections

Educators’ objections and parents’ apathy frequently weaken plans to extend school hours to the point that they become useless. The Los Angeles Unified School District contemplated extending the next school year by two weeks in the spring. The Board of Education voted to add four extra days of school for pupils. Despite opposition from the teachers’ union and lukewarm support from families. Noting widespread weariness among instructors.  Thomas Kane, faculty director of Harvard’s Center “students in Los Angeles would have lost the equivalent of 22 weeks of math study.” “You can’t make up for 22 weeks of missed learning with four optional days.”

Restrictions from Government Support

The billions of dollars in ESSER III financing will expire in 2024, only two short school years away. It will be lost if districts have not assigned it before then. Even if it has been allotted, they will not be receiving any more.  There will be no additional government support for recurrent expenditures such as new teacher salaries or tutoring contracts. “We’re seeing districts the sudden reduction in financing after the ESSER money runs out,” says a researcher at the RAND Corporation. When Diliberti initially asked district leaders about this in June 2021, slightly over a third were concerned. Especially in metropolitan areas; in her March poll, half of the district leaders expressed anxiety.


If districts can demonstrate how the financing improves student results, they may be able to fight for extra support. When ESSER expires effectively, either from state budgets or from NGOs. Biden advocates for increased federal education expenditure on Title I schools.  Although states and localities bear almost 90% of public-education costs. They will have to be the ones to keep the momentum going.

Cardona Sayings

“Now, leadership across our country must guarantee that the degree of urgency around education financing  are widespread,” Cardona adds. “We can’t merely respond to the pandemic with much-needed resources and then go back to business as normal.”

Tennessee serves as an example of how this may be accomplish. Even before the ESSER funds were reveal, the state’s Department of Education had made clear.  Research-based recommendations for programs to catch up with pupils who had fallen behind due to pandemic learning loss. “We didn’t want to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks,” Tennessee’s education commissioner, says.  Instead, leaders focused on two strategies: summer extended learning and high-dose tutoring.


When the ESSER cash arrived, Schwinn utilized a significant portion of the state educational agency. The Tennessee ALL Corps provides districts with detailed instructions on achieving state education priorities. Districts should keep tutor-to-student ratios no higher than one to four. Tutoring sessions should run 30 to 45 minutes and occur twice or thrice per week.

This method is costly. In Tennessee, tutoring is plan at $1,500 per student per year; with 50,000 kids serve each year. The program is expect to cost $200 million over three years. “This is not minimum wage: we give full-time instructors a salary based on the compensation plan,” Schwinn explains. “It’s a financial investment in students.”

So far, the investment has yielded quantifiable beneficial outcomes. Students have not only caught up to pre-pandemic levels in English language arts but are performing somewhat better. In 2022, 36% of students exceeded grade-level requirements in English, compared to 35% in 2019 and 29% in 2021. They have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels in math or science, but they have made considerable progress. Which is heartening given the massive learning loss caused by the pandemic.

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