September 25, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Kansas schools received $1.25 billion in COVID relief funds

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The amount of money Congress borrowed to give away in the name of COVID relief was mind-boggling. Eventually, $190 BILLION was appropriated by the U. S. Congress and signed into law by two presidents. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) was born on March 27, 2020 two days after Idaho became the final state in the Union to close its schools. Intended to assist schools with creating healthy learning environments, and open classrooms, ESSER was a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) a $2.2 TRILLION behemoth to provide assistance to businesses and individuals reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ESSER money came in three tranches:

  • ESSER I: $13.2 billion on March 27, 2020, that had to be spent by September 2022.  Kansas schools received $84,529,061.
  • ESSER II: $54.3 billion on December 27, 2020, that must be spent by September 2023.  Kansas schools received $369,829,794.
  • ESSER III (American Rescue Plan) $122 billion on March 11, 2021, that must be spent by September 2024.  Kansas schools received $831,170,555

Department of Education figures show $8 million of COVID relief was earmarked for SPED in ESSER I, and $24 million was allocated from ESSER II. There are no allotments for SPED in ESSER III.

Kansas’ total ESSER share is over $1.285 billion.

To learn how the money has been spent and what plans are there for ESSER III for the 2023-2024 school year, we reached out to several school districts around the state for answers. Of those responding:

Superintendent Richard Proffitt of USD 250 in Pittsburg:

“We have roughly $500,000 remaining and we have not made any final determinations on our plans to utilize it.”

Superintendent Stacey Fager with USD 257 in Iola:

“All ESSER II funds allocated for USD 257-Iola have been submitted to (the) State Board Of Education for approval on authorized expenditures & approved. So, the unspent amount would be $0.  As for SPED funds, they are spent for Special Education related services each fiscal year as well.”

Julie Boyle is the Director of Communications for USD 497 in Lawrence:

“The district’s ESSER II allocation is $6,039,481.  Our application for use of these funds included academic interventionists, summer school, and air quality/HVAC improvements.  Our summer school costs were not as high as originally estimated, and we decided to use ESSER III funds for the air quality/HVAC improvements.

“The administration recommended and the school board approved earlier this month, moving $2,000,000 in employee retention payments (paid in March 2023, and to be paid in May 2023) originally planned for ESSER III into ESSER II to allow us to use all of our ESSER II funds by the September 30, 2023, deadline.”

Susan Arensman is the spokesperson for USD 259 in Wichita:

“As of 3/31/23, per our quarterly report to KSDE:

Award Allocation Awarded Amount Spent at 3/31/23 Amount Remaining
ESSER II SPED $2,305,134 $2,305,134 $0
ESSER II Direct $75,503,105 $73,041,491 $2,461,614

“The remaining funds in ESSER II Direct should be spent by 6/30/23.  The funds will primarily be used to finalize compensation payments due to employees contracted to perform additional duties (mentoring, tutoring, etc.) as classified under the ESSER allowable initiative “providing principals and other school leaders with resources to address individual school needs.”

David Smith is Chief Communications Officer for the Shawnee Mission School District:

“ESSER II has been spent in full.  ESSER II SPED has about $7,000 left. We anticipate this will be spent before the end of June.”

And Kaci Brutto, Director of Communications for the Blue Valley School District:

“As of March 31, 2023, Blue Valley had approximately $517,000 of unspent ESSER II True Up funds and approximately $179,000 of unspent ESSER II SPED funds.  Both amounts should be fully expended as planned by September 30, 2023, on other activities necessary to maintain LEA (Local Education Agencies) operations and services and employ existing LEA staff, primarily instructional staff salaries, and benefits.”

The learning loss during the pandemic from closed schools and remote instruction has been a focus of ESSER II and ESSER III, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. One of the 15 Allowable Uses for ESSER II funding was to address learning loss.  Communications Director Denise Kahler says nearly three of every four dollars allocated in ESSER II has gone toward that effort:

“The most recent quarterly report shows districts have spent $435 million (72%) of ESSER II funds on learning loss.” A table showing how individual districts spent their ESSER II funds to address learning loss is available here.

As for ESSER III funds for the 2023-2024 school year, KSDE Administrative Specialist Sami Reed says the federal government has attached a stipulation to ensure the alleviation of learning will continue to be a priority:

“There is a requirement that at least 20% of each district’s ESSER III funds be dedicated to learning loss.”

A table showing the ESSER III Learning Loss Set-Aside per district in Kansas begins on Page 6 here. That money is to be spent by September 2024.

With hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID relief money authorized and allocated, the issue of fraud has garnered headlines nationwide. But Kahler  says it’s so far not an issue in The Sunflower State:

“Our ESSER team members tell me they haven’t received any reports of fraud in Kansas.”

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